BioShock Infinite / Tomb Raider: To Loot or Not to Loot?‏

I, like the vast majority of folk who have played it, absolutely loved BioShock Infinite. The Story, the world of Columbia, the sense of place, the mechanics, Elizabeth; I loved it all. The loot though? Hmmm, I still can’t decide on that one?

The gamer in me certainly loved it. That OCD compartment of my gaming personality couldn’t help but gobble up every last shiny coin, search every bin, every nook and cranny – Columbia had to swept with a fine tooth comb. As a fan of storytelling though, somebody who likes to be swept up in an adventure, well, that side of me isn’t so sure.

If I see a mysterious dead body in the centre of a room; surely that should be my main point of interest. Nope, I’m scouring the bins and tables for a few measly coins like a lowly crack head. Oh look, the majesty of a floating city bathed in sunlight and ordained with magnificent architecture. Sorry, I’m busy stealing food off the floor. The two concepts simply don’t match up, but all the same, I can’t stop myself from collecting everything I see. Is it BioShock’s problem? No – it’s the industries. Much like the story vs murder-rate issue that lies at the heart of the majority of modern day action games (honestly, how can Nathan Drake be a hero if he kills, nay, massacres, that many people?), with storytelling becoming more prominent and increasingly more realistically portrayed, the industry seems to be struggling against the concepts and traditions that have largely defined it since its earliest days.

Are we at a strange cross-roads? Will the industry feel confident and comfortable enough during the next-generation of console development to push forward with more commitment towards gaming worlds that are primarily built upon storytelling techniques and core-mechanics rather than age old videogame tropes? Can we cast collection and upgrades aside in search of a more streamlined, focused approach? Do we even want to?

Personally, I’m not sure. As much as the split between storytelling and incessant collection did grate, in the case of BioShock: Infinite, and the recently released Tomb Raider reboot (a game that suffers with a very similar identity crisis), I actually found the collection of trinkets a highly enjoyable part of the experience. Why? Well, beyond the traditional gamer in me being hardwired to enjoy such frivolities, looting in both games gave me an excuse to experience more of the world.

Yes, neither game implemented their upgrade or collection options all that well, but I for one would be sad to see them go completely. Removing them isn’t the way forward; revision rather than revolution is the way forward if you ask me. In the case of BioShock Infinite; collection is fine, upgrades all but essential – just rethink the way in which upgrades and items are obtained. Having money and health items in every bin means that, yes, I’ll have to search every bin. Put a shiny coin next to a dead body and, guess what, I’m picking up the cash before I check out the dead body. It’s about placement and pacing.

Have loot linked to additional challenges, keep the core story experience free of clutter, especially when that story is as good as Infinite’s. Yes, upgrades and loot are optional, but for gamers such as myself, dangling that virtual carrot in front of our faces essentially makes said option a moot point – I will have to collect. Keep them off to the side though via additional quests and challenges and I might be more inclined to enjoy the story and perhaps go back later.

In fairness, Tomb Raider got it half right. Yes, I wish the whole upgrade collectible thing hadn’t been so, y’know, in my face during the main story, but once that tale was done, my God did I enjoy searching Yamatai at my own pace under after the main story was done. The chance to explore the island and pick up all those little bits I had missed or ignored; honestly, that was almost as fun as the main game and gave the title a great deal of longevity. Throw in a few additional skill based challenges and it almost could have been a game unto itself.

So, to get back to my original question; to loot or not to loot? Me? I say loot. It’s a classic gaming mechanic and one I certainly don’t want to see disappear. I just think we need to think about advancing and rethinking implementation as often, as in the case of both BioShock Infinite and Tomb Raider, story and loot do not go hand in hand.

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