Tag Archives: Bioshock Infinite

Amatuer Analysis: Bioshock Infinite

Warning: spoilers for the game Bioshock Infinite. If you haven’t played it and still care about playing the game fresh, then stop reading.

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When we first start Bioshock Infinite we see an epitaph which gives away one of the key plot points that was meant to be a big reveal. The epitaph also warns us that all the assumptions our protagonist will be operating on are completely wrong. Even so, Booker DeWitt believes that in order to clear a debt to very dangerous people he has to infiltrate the floating city of Columbia, retrieve a VIP, and bring her to “the men in New York.” For a large chunk of the game Booker is very belligerent about clearing his debt, yet in spite of his mixed up brains it’s a bizarre motivation.

We can safely assume Booker owes a large sum of money which he could probably never repay through regular work on a deadline satisfactory to his creditors. We can also assume they’re also very scary people in Booker’s mind, but so what? Here’s the problem, there’s nothing to stop Booker from reneging on the debt. Booker’s wife: Dead. Booker’s child: No longer in this world. Booker’s work: Hired muscle when you get to the heart of it. Booker’s home: Apparently his rundown office. His life really sucks and there’s nothing beside the moral need to repay what one owes. However, when he finally meets Elizabeth and witnesses her powers whatever obligation he has to repay the debt should have been overwhelmed by the spine chilling horror born of imagination. Elizabeth demonstrates a power which makes mockery of all our ideas of time and space, and handing her off to violent gangsters is a recipe for disaster. For her to stay in Columbia can only end badly for the world, but for her to be under the thumb of the men in New York is hardly better.

As Booker and Elizabeth took over the First Lady for the first time, there were likely more than a few players who got mad at Booker for insisting on going to New York and the flimsy ruse he employed to get Elizabeth on the vessel. Instead of the condescending bullcrap which only got him smashed with a wrench, he should have been direct with her. He did mention he racked up a debt with bad men who are eager to get her, but he should have elaborated that even if Booker failed or betrayed them that they wouldn’t stop. This persistence, and the vicious means the men in New York are willing to employ, are the reasons that Elizabeth must come with him to New York. She’ll be the bait which draws them in, and Booker will kill them.

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Maybe deep down I’m a bad person, but killing the men in New York is a practical option which Booker should have contemplated the second he saw what Elizabeth could do. There’s no reason for him to be squeamish about it, his biography has demonstrated he is really good at making lots of people die. The term ludonarrative dissonance gets bandied about carelessly, but there is something curious about Booker shying from the most obvious solution. Why is he afraid of his creditors when regular gameplay has him bring death to his enemies like a Horseman of the Apocalypse? Hell, by the time Booker and Elizabeth get to the First Lady on top of his proficiency in murder he has: a shield which deflects bullets, the power of Geass, fireballs, and goddamn lightning! There are also the gears, but those are randomized with various degrees of usefulness. It’s not even a set of talents he loses by stepping out of the TV world; he can use them in New York and can sustain his powers through soda and chain smoking.

What makes Booker’s motivations especially frustrating is that a slight adjustment could have put his actions in a completely different light. “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt” is what Booker is told and he misinterprets that as instructions to get Elizabeth… but what if he was told “If you want your daughter back, go to Columbia?” Booker, and players who aren’t expecting the rug to be pulled out from under them, instead operates on the belief that the men in New York are holding his infant daughter as collateral and as before he clears his debt by getting Elizabeth. That could work to put Booker in a more sympathetic light, create tension in Booker (and hopefully by extension the player) as they waver between the drive to save the baby girl and guilt at the thought of selling Elizabeth out, and possibly show a little character development in Elizabeth.

In the game, Elizabeth is eventually resigned to teaming up with Booker as her best shot at getting out of Columbia, but with a Booker motivated to save his daughter perhaps Elizabeth might consciously make herself an ally in Booker’s quest. She still wants her freedom, but the idea of a father wading through great adversity to rescue his child might appeal to a young woman who had less than ideal parental figures in her life. Thus she resolves to help Booker find a way to get wee baby Anna back without not subjecting herself to new prison same as the old prison. At the very least, this should get the player amped from the sensation of the tide turning and the roaring fighting spirit against all who stand in the way of a happy ending.

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If played with well, awareness of Booker’s daughter and the overarching goal of rescuing her could make the big reveal hit harder. Bioshock Infinite’s ending show that Booker had already paid his debt by handing over his infant daughter. Booker’s insurmountable debt was a ploy by Comstock because he needed a blood relation to take over after he died, but was sterile and couldn’t produce an heir naturally. Still a little hazy on how this plan was intended to work, as it seems everything that went wrong for Comstock could be traced back to crimes he committed to conceal the truth about Elizabeth.

Anyway, I know it’ll probably make the plot twist that Elizabeth is Booker’s kid even more obvious than it already was (Seriously, was up with that woman addressing Elizabeth by her real name other than to give away that plot point?), but if there were alterations in the dialogue for Booker and Elizabeth to gradually convey a sense of parent and child in the dynamic between them it could pay off big in the ending. The time spent with Elizabeth gives a glimpse of what Booker could have had is he didn’t give up, and the idea that in spite of himself he might not have been a terrible father. Perhaps the game should have made the reveal about Elizabeth’s origins and Booker’s failure as a man earlier in the story. The ending threw too many twists at the player in too small a frame of time to absorb it all. Pretty sure the audience would appreciate seeing a universe where Booker grabbed a brick and knocked Robert out rather than hand over his daughter.

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Think about it, that moment would have been a perfectly good time to exercise the murder option since the men in New York were comprised of a very mortal Robert Lutece and Comstock without his army of zealous followers is just a fanatical old man.

All said, I still enjoyed Bioshock Infinite and in spite of the shakier parts of the story it’s nice to see a shooter attempt a narrative and themes of some complexity in a market where the single player side is a flimsy excuse to sell an updated version of multiplayer every year. But what the hell was going on in Friendly Patriot World? Those robots were programmed to ruin your day, but there was the option to summon them in some intense battles. It follows that in at least one universe, there were circumstances which lead to Patriots being programmed to fight on Booker’s behalf. Did nobody at Irrational stop and think the players might be curious to get even a glimpse of that world?

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Originally posted by Boogie Knight:

The crop of sequels to AAA franchises has been pretty lackluster lately. Assassin’s Creed III was okay, but was more interested in things that did not involve stealth killing. Dead Space 3 was fine, but the Awakened expansion pack hints at what the main game could have been if EA wasn’t motherfucking EA. Resident Evil 6 so alienated the fanbase, Capcom decided to not go through the motions with another game or two as (a surprise since that’s what I thought they would do) and decided to go straight to a reboot. To be perfectly blunt, Bioshock Infinite was the one game from a major developer which I had any excitement for. Naturally, there was much anticipation and anxiety as I popped in the disc and started playing.

In many respects, Bioshock Infinite borrows heavily from the template that was created in the first Bioshock. This is not an inherently bad thing, and in the early parts of the game I imagine quite a few players will be enthralled by the splendor of the floating city Columbia in much the same way they were dazzled by the undersea metropolis of Rapture. Many of the gameplay elements should feel familiar, and without hesitation most players will get into the familiar pattern of exploring every nook and cranny for scraps, loose change, and recorded messages in which characters spill their guts out (though the removal of the map I think was a flaw, since I missed one side objective because I thought it was past a point of no return rather than demand backtracking). While some players may be less than enthused, conjuring up memories of the first game is deliberate and fits into the big ideas which drive the game.

Our protagonist, one Booker DeWitt, is a man on a mission to retrieve a young woman locked away in order to clear a hefty debt he accrued dealing with some shady characters. He’s also voiced by the same guy who voiced Kanji Tatsumi, which you can really hear when he’s yelling, and this makes me chuckle from time to time depending on the scene. The choice of a talking character was a good move, as a silent protagonist who was also a blank slate would not work for the kind of story that the game was trying to tell. A silent protagonist might have also resulted in the character Elizabeth coming across as one of those “perfect” girlfriends for the blank slate hero through which the player lives vicariously. Thank goodness they didn’t.

Elizabeth is a pretty solid character with an interesting arc (reminds me of Farah from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time), good chemistry with Booker, and not bad to have around. Her talent for opening tears in the fabric of reality to summon allies, cover, equipment, etc. often helps shift the battle to your favor.  Escort missions can easily ruin a good game, but fortunately the game throws away all the rules which ruin the flow and result in the player throwing down their controller in frustration. Elizabeth doesn’t have a life bar to manage, you don’t have to worry about an enemy carrying her off resulting in game over, and she throws guns to you.

One boring feature which Bioshock Infinite lifted from mainstream games is the two guns rule, though the player can carry ammo for every gun in the game. However, the health packs and salt restoring items are consumed like foods, so you don’t get to store them for use as needed in battle. Elizabeth also comes to the rescue with those restorative items, which brings up a bad habit of the game. It seems like the Square button is used to do damn near everything: searching, opening doors, reloading, grabbing stuff, selecting tears, catching items Elizabeth has for you, starting a folk band with Elizabeth (not entirely kidding).

The health bar which needs items to restore is still in play, but like in Darkwatch the player also acquires a shield which regenerates when not getting shot. Yet, combat is more focused on being speedy and quick thinking rather than hugging cover and waiting for enemies to pop up. This emphasis on speed is built on with the inclusion of the Skyhook tool and the rails which the player can use to zip around to both dodge fire and shoot back at the enemies. Vigors work like plasmids did, but each one has a trap function when charged up. There are even combinations of vigor attacks for bonus damage, though for most of the game you can get by with a maxed out Possession like you’re the protagonist from Code Geass.

As for the story itself, early info seemed to emphasis the conflict between the Founders and the Vox Populi, the two major factions with disparate visions of Columbia, but this seems to be more of a B story which is used to move along the main story and might even be an outgrowth of the main story as details come up. While the game itself has lots of story to tell, it seems like it would be hard to appreciate the nuances without rabidly hunting for Voxophones for the recorded thoughts and confessions of the characters. It’s admirable that the developers realized that the story involving Elizabeth and the implications of quantum mechanics would overshadow the political elements of Columbia and doubled down on the more interesting stuff.

That said, I think the plot twists are only shocking if the concepts are new to the player. Pretty early on, one can easily guess a couple of the big reveals, though getting to those big reveals is rewarding. Over the course of the game, the player is given a handful of “moral choices,” but fortunately without an arbitrary karma meter, and no choice is a repetition. Not repeating a moral choice is a good idea, because I recall more than a few people decided to mix things up by murdering an innocent child the fifth or sixth time they were asked and got stuck with the evil end in the first Bioshock. However, it all leads up to a single ending, and this is probably for the best. Events of the story dictate one logical end and the choices Booker makes really about the player asserting their ego as is the standard for Western gaming. About the ending, I’m gonna paraphrase the late Roger Ebert’s comments in reviewing “The Crying Game” for Bioshock Infinite: Play this game. Then shut up about it.