And the Oscar goes to … Bioshock Infinite

Obviously, capital SPOILER WARNINGS! About everything, past, future and alternate universes.

In a nutshell, Bioshock Infinite is you talking to yourself beyond space and time. And there are infinite options although not everything is arbitrary. It is hard to grasp the depth and the details of Bioshock Infinite’s narrative just after finishing it; there are infinite possibilities to be discussed, and the plot twists near the end – and the end itself – have the potential to melt brains.

Furthermore, Bioshock Infinite is basically split up into two parts: The first one is about exploring Columbia’s utopia which slowly presents its ugly face – or rather faces. The second part is not about Columbia, it is about the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth, or should we say between Anna and Combstock? In hindsight, the most ironic part of the game is Elizabeth asking Booker who Anna is!

The first part of Bioshock Infinite introduces all important characters respectively the ideologies they represent: Religious delusions (Combstock), capitalism (Fink) and communism (Fitzroy). One of the best moments – worthy of any movie – is the arrival:

It comes to an end when Columbia starts burning, and that’s when Levine’s message shines through: Take an ideology to its extremes and it’ going to end badly. Thanks to the tears and the endless possibilities of infinite universes, we also get a glimpse at the worlds where one ideology triumphs – the most chilling certainly the one with New York burning and the following prophecy becoming true:

“The seed of the prophet shall sit the throne,
and drown in flame the mountains of man.”

The important thing to have in mind is – the variable, which ideology prevails, doesn’t matter. The constant is the destruction which follows, be it Columbia or New York. All paths lead to ruin.

Poor Elizabeth. Imagine thinking you’re someone’s child, his seed. After learning you’re not you eventually find out you are his child after all – although you’re the child of the alternative model of this man. And that’s part two – Elizabeth and Booker learning about their duality, the Lucete “twins” (an ingenious example of variables and constants) guiding them, and Booker learning about the horrible mistakes of his past – the debt to be paid. Speaking of it – it raises the question – whose debt? Booker’s or Lucete’s? Both are looking for redemption, for the mistakes and crimes they and their alternate egos have committed.

Finally, there’s the biggest theme of Bioshock Infinite, introduced early and still well hidden: Baptism. Booker is baptised many times, and more often than he wishes, he drowns. Is baptism and drowning Elizabeth’s way of eliminating all “wrong” Bookers? And then, there are more religious components arising: It becomes obvious why Booker is deemed a false shepherd. Elizabeth’s depiction as a lamb is a clever ruse – haven’t we expected her to sacrifice herself for at least a few seconds?

And moreover, there’s Elizabeth. Not just woven into the story, but the actual character. She is simply amazing. Fuck, she deserves an Oscar for her role in Bioshock Infinite! Irrational Games really developed a believable character you have to like – she is helpful in and outside battle, she is vulnerable so you want to care, and she has an interesting story to tell; plus, her randomly finding things and unpredictable comments really give her a (obviously simulated) personality. There is also some character development going on: From the Disney-like princess locked away in the tower to the frightened girl shocked by human misery to the grim version of her who wants to finish things instead of flying to Paris, she grows constantly. Let’s be honest, Elizabeth is the best AI companion ever – she is more human than Liara or Tali (pun intended). And it’s not just the animations, the voice acting for Elizabeth is absolutely top notch! You want proof? Just watch and listen – this minute perfectly concludes Elizabeth’s feelings when she is forced to look at plight and poverty in Shantytown:

For all that’s great and good in the world of Bioshock Infinite, there are two things Rabidgames is not too fond of. the first one is a simple gameplay complaint: Prior to the ending, right before and right after Our Booker kills Future Booker aka Zachary Comstock, you have to endure an endless assault of grunts and the occasional Patriot … and while the final fight with Songbird at our side is fun, the 30 minutes of skirmish before are just plain boring. Rabidgames was bored to death – luckily, he died in an alternate universe.

The second gripe is Cornelius Slate; here, the plot becomes ridiculously thin – we need some special vigour and we can only get it from him. So Booker and Elizabeth travel to the Hall of Heroes and kill all of Slate’s guys … but why? Maybe Rabidgames is missing some pivotal clue but apart from telling us about the revolting racism and the glorification of genocide in Columbia and from getting the Shock Jockey vigour, nothing worthwhile happens. And who exactly is Cornelius Slate?

And then, there are many more mysteries: Who or what the fucking hell is Songbird? Who was Lady Comstock, and what is her ghost? What are the constants in Bioshock Infinite: We know about heads, we know about Lutece, we know about Elizabeth in the tower and Booker freeing her – but is that it?  There are connections to Rapture – why can Booker use the bathysphere? Well, it is time for a second playthrough of Bioshock Infinite it seems …

Rabidgames relaxes: There will be more to discuss for sure, but for now, Rabidgames is finished. Bioshock Infinite complete, brain molten. And this time, the ending is satisfying, it works. There might be some plot holes, there might be open questions, but if you skim through forums or gaming sites, there is no talk about entitlement or artistic integrity, there is constructive talk about what happened and why. Bioshock Infinite has done a great job – not only for 2K and Take Two, but also for real artistic integrity and it is living proof that games can be art. If only more companies dared to leave the beaten path …

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