New(ish) Growth – Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock Infinite came out in March – the third game in the Bioshock series. It eschews the underwater city of Rapture for Columbia – a city in the clouds. But is it gaming heaven?

[This transmission came through from Jake, deep within the mobile phone mines that lay unseen beneath the cobblestone streets of London…]

I’ve written this at work, where the grand firewall of [Company Redacted] stops me from doing any ACTUAL research, so I’m going to just spew some words out here, and hope I can coerce Corey into adding some pictures later.

That’s okay though, I don’t need to research because Bioshock Infinite is a game that’s been stuck in my head for a variety of reasons.

Bioshock Infinite is the game – you might remember – which was widely heralded as the game of the year in the weeks before The Last of Us came out. Despite the near-universal acclaim, I didn’t fall in love with Bioshock Infinite as quickly as everyone else. I didn’t fall in love during the opening, which starts, much like the original, with a man and a lighthouse, though a snarky couple rowing a boat take the place of Bioshock’s plane crash.

I didn’t fall in love during the initial fight, when I tore a man’s throat out with his own grappling hook. I didn’t fall in love when I gained the ability to throw fire from my hands or even when I had to start rummaging in bins for cash to spend at any of the vending machines squatting across the map. It wasn’t until I headed into my first gunfight with Elizabeth by my side that it finally clicked.

“Don’t worry about Elizabeth, she can look after herself” the game tells you, or something to that effect. I can’t look up the exact quote in the office, but the essence was there, and for a game that– like Resident Evil 4 – is one long escort quest, it’s frankly astounding that it never becomes a chore. From the second fight, Elizabeth is your willing (if pacifistic) companion in arms, opening tears between universes to provide you with health packs and weaponry.

Elizabeth is the central point that the whole of Bioshock Infinite orbits, and she manages to carry the weight of the narrative on her shoulders with charisma and a few emotionally-poignant moments to boot.
With Elizabeth at your side, and an interesting and narrative-heavy world in front of you, the first two-thirds of the game are fantastic; you stroll from location to location, exploring, making choices and generally being a badass. For a good long while everything is swell, but then you hit the final third.

There are two big complaints about Bioshock Infinite for me; one became apparent within the first fifteen minutes, whereas the second reared its ugly head to ruin the final act.
The first complaint is the game’s shallow discussion of racism. The defence that’ll appear in the comments (If we got comments) is they’re playing the race card to show the rotten core to Columbia’s apparent utopia, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth, and it didn’t add anything to the story as a whole. You simply can’t bring up something as insidious as racism if you aren’t going to deal with it in a full and nuanced way. ‘Racism is bad, these racists are bad guys’ might be true, but it doesn’t say anything new or interesting.

My second complaint is one that has me screaming in anguish from rooftops. Many videogames place an onus on getting more powerful as the game progresses, so you absolutely destroy the enemies you are facing. Bioshock Infinite balances this out by making all of the enemies nearly impossible to kill, so that all of the tactics and upgrades you’ve previously used to take the enemies apart are fucking pointless because they’ve all become veritable tanks. Where the fights in the earlier portions of the game were interesting and dynamic, this made the final third of the game a dull brawl through invulnerable enemies. Here’s a solution that is often overlooked… give us more enemies rather than just stronger ones. Make them dodge, make them flank, make it so when we’ve put down the swarm we can still feel like badasses. Make us feel like we’ve earned it.

All that said, the game’s good. Columbia is one of the most breathtaking cities you’ll ever find yourself inhabiting, and – up until the point where the enemies are made out of teflon – the gun-play is solid. Irrational managed to do the impossible in making what is essentially an escort quest into a gorgeous and interesting game.


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