It’s 2021, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic and if I’m going to die on a hill, I’d like it to be this one: BioShock Infinite is good, actually.
Now, I was incredibly late to the BioShock series having only played them properly in 2020. Sadly, at this point, I knew the twist of the first game so it failed to wow me to the extent perhaps it should. BioShock 2 was…BioShock 2. But Infinite? Infinite is the one that grabbed me by the heart and refused to let go. So here, fellow gamers. Let me try to convince you that BioShock Infinite isn’t just worthy of the BioShock name, but is in fact an incredible game well deserving of your love.
Please note the following rant – er – article, contains (signposted) spoilers for BioShock and BioShock Infinite.
While the first BioShock is always going to be one which redefined the standard for storytelling in video games, its hero Jack was a little…blah. Of course, you can argue that this is a part of the narrative, and sure, I’m inclined to agree with you there.
The lack of personality definitely lends itself to the overall story and thematic concerns of the game, but it’s also just another title where you’re playing a character with absolutely zero personality.
Infinite, however, is a different kettle of fish. Booker Dewitt is a character who not only has some humour and wit to him, but who also undergoes a transformation, with a fully-fledged character arc as he discovers more about his life and his choices.
Without going into spoilers, Dewitt’s story is one of acceptance, a major theme of the game. His character – both his flaws and his desperation – are so closely woven into the very fabric of this game and its overarching story, it’s very hard to play this game without it invoking some sort of personal emotion. Admittedly, he does talk to himself a heck of a lot, which is pretty annoying.
We then have our heroine of the tale: Elizabeth Surname-I-Won’t-Include-For-Spoilers. Elizabeth is very much your classic Belle from Beauty and the Beast. A bookworm trapped in a tower against her will, Elizabeth far surpasses Belle with her thirst for life, her incredible knowledge and her very handy lock-picking skills.
Elizabeth is a sympathetic and instantly likeable character, and there’s no other BioShock character quite as honest and relatable as she is. She’s definitely not a character you’d expect to see under the BioShock umbrella, but that’s absolutely no reason to write her off. She’s also quite possibly one of the most useful “companion” characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing in a game. Resident Evil 4’s Ashley Graham should take note.
Let’s not also forget the Lutece “twins”, Rosalind and Robert. Their appearances in the game offer a series of deliciously devious “what the eff” moments, at least on your first playthrough. BioShock Infinite really benefits from multiple playthroughs, and once you know the story of the game, you’re going to get a lot more sense from this duo.
Okay, okay, yes. The story of the first BioShock game is pretty flawless, you’ve got me there. But where that game shines on its tight narrative, BioShock Infinite does the exact opposite: it revels in its own tangles, it glorifies its own mess, and it owns its own sloppiness.
If you get too far into parallel universes, split timelines and time travel, things are going to get messy. Infinite doesn’t try and deny that. It embraces it, still offering up a truly gut-churning look at the highs of lows of human depravity, despair and even a decadence similar to that of the first game.
Booker Dewitt is not a nice man, but we like him because we understand how he arrives at the place he does. Sort of. By the time we’ve learned the truth of his character and his dark past (and future), we’ve already succumbed to his charm and his deep-seated love for Elizabeth.
While Booker’s entire character is made up of poor choices (or should I say life paths?), the game’s story unfolds in a way that means we’re already invested in this man, no matter what he has done or what he will go on to do. Whether Booker picked the bird or the cage, he was always going to end up where he did. There is always a man. There is always a lighthouse. You know the drill.
Game Design and World
The themes of inevitably are present not just within the narrative itself, but also within the game design. Taking the left path will more often than not take you to the same place as the right, highlighting this oh-so-important theme sprinkled throughout the BioShock games. Bird or cage, throw the ball at the couple or not, your choices as both the player and the character are just an illusion.
The world design here is also wonderful. Even contrasting the literal highs of Columbia with the gloomy lows of Rapture, it’s clear from the first 10 minutes of the game that this world is a labour of love that definitely paid off.
While the series definitely pivots from its horror aesthetic with this entry in the franchise, we’re still left with a sense of mistrust and foreboding due to the very dark cultural references and racist undertones spread throughout the world of Columbia. While the city in the sky is gorgeous, we never quite feel safe or secure, similar to our time in Rapture but much less on the nose.
Exploring Columbia is a joy, with its fantastical colour palette contrasting nicely with the questionable comments of its NPCs. The only complaint I have about Columbia is that it’s not open-world enough, but then I suppose that would fly in the face of the game’s themes of set pathways. You seeing how clever this is yet? You should be!
As much as it’s easy to overlook this, the BioShock games are FPS titles. While they definitely don’t have the fluidity of your typical first-person shooters like Call of Duty, the combat still remains fun.
I would almost bet money that the combat in Infinite is not as bad as you remember. Using your guns, Vigors and even your Skyhook are a lot more fluid and, heck, fun than you probably think.
The gameplay is much less tedious than that of BioShock 2, instead favouring the more classic FPS elements we saw in the first game. There’s also no harvesting ADAM, which could be a good or a bad thing depending on your stance on the matter. For me, that got old very fast in BioShock 2, and I’m definitely not the only person who thinks that. Infinite’s return to the series’ FPS roots is something that should absolutely be celebrated.
Constants and Variables: Bioshock And Bioshock Infinite
Now hold onto your diver’s helmet, I’m about to blow your mind from Rapture straight outta the water and into the Columbia stratosphere: BioShock (1) and BioShock Infinite are the same game. At least thematically.
Now we’re getting into spoiler territory, so here’s your warning.
The overarching theme of BioShock (1) is that your choices don’t matter. Your character is simply following the directions of Frank Fontaine. This is reflected in the essence of video gaming itself – you, as a player, are simply following the linear progression of the game as envisioned by the developers.
BioShock Infinite serves the exact same narrative purpose: it wants to challenge your perception of choice, and show you that the concept of “choice” is merely an illusion, just as it is in the original game. Infinite tells you that bird or cage, left or right, your outcome is already predetermined. As Elizabeth herself says: “We swim in different oceans but land on the same shore.”
The game’s themes of “constants and variables” all bear the same outcome, effectively rendering your life choices meaningless. BioShock Infinite is, thematically, just a different way to tell a very similar story to that of the original BioShock. The characters are different, the story is different, even the setting is different, but the point still stands: our choices are not ours to make.
Booker: No-one tells me where to go.
Elizabeth: Booker. You’ve already been.
From its memorable characters to the twisted charm of Columbia, everything about BioShock Infinite is a revelation. On a personal note, the story of Elizabeth and Booker strikes a chord that few other games have managed to touch.
The tale itself, a story of selfish acts, deep-buried trauma, guilt and acceptance, is one that should, on some level, resonate with all players. If you’re firmly in the camp of not enjoying BioShock Infinite, I implore you to give it another go. Go in with an open mind, and fall in love with Columbia just as much as you fell for Rapture. You – and the game – both deserve it!
Featured Image Credit: 2K Games