The release of BioShock Infinite was a big event around the FEZ Palace. After a long, five year wait since the debut of the original game (which isn’t to badmouth BioShock 2), it’s a rush to finally see Ken Levine’s new idealistic shooter land in our laps. As such, we’ve decided to do something new and give a staff review of the game. Cody and I sat down for a discussion on BioShock Infinite and wound up with a mutual score. The following review is the result in a chat-style format. We’ve also marked out spoilers, like this one, which is actually safe: they should only be read if you’ve beat the game.
N: So what were your first thoughts upon getting in the game? Seeing that lighthouse again, getting whisked away to Columbia?
Cody: It felt like a nice return to form, though not starting out in a plane crash sort of mutes the initial impression, instead you’re listening to an unknown man and woman bicker about some nonsense. Aside from that, there was some familiar ground being tread, save for the fact that instead of descending, you’re ascending.
N: Actually, I kinda noticed that. Scaling back the lighthouse here doesn’t have the same impression as coming to in a field of debris in the middle of the ocean, like in the first game, which was one of the most visually impressive moments in a video game I’d ever seen.
Cody: True enough, though I can understand why. They wanted to keep it muted until you rocketed into the clouds. The fact that the speaker voice said “Hallelujah” at the apex of the ride gave the player the impression of reaching the promised land. I even felt proselytized to during your baptism and the motif of water and being submerged never seemed to leave the player, either as a callback to the original game, or as a reminder that you’re still ascending in a way.
N: The baptism motif fits in later on as well. We won’t spoil the story, but the parts I felt were a little lacking early on all come together in the end. People have a real attachment to BioShock‘s libertarian-themed story, but Infinite‘s is so, so much more.
Cody: Indeed. Conservatism at its most dark and fanatical and yet it feeds into a sort of radical view of theology. There is no room for social change. The surface is painted with vibrant and clean colors to hide the shady nature of Columbia. It feels pretty authentic to the period. Do you think Booker was good enough to play the leading protagonist? It was neat to have them introduce him visually through subtle reflections in glass and water to give you a sense that you’re playing as a fleshed out character. Booker felt like a great, tragic protagonist and it seemed like he had a bit more history with Columbia more than he ever really let on.
N: I thought he was a fine character with a really good story thread to pull him through. He’s crass, but likable. Rough, but merciful. I enjoyed him over the null character that you played in previous games.
Cody: Aye, though the intent of BioShock‘s character was to keep you nameless, make you feel more involved as the person filling those shoes. With Infinite, you had story, rather than just the player’s own determination, pushing you up through the lighthouse.
N: What did you think of the racism?
Cody: It felt like an elephant in the room, honestly, and although I know it was meant for authenticity purposes, pointing out the dark side of paradise and whatnot, it didn’t feel all that resolved, even after a big shift later on in the story.
N: So you think it didn’t really serve a purpose, like I felt the themes of American Exceptionalism didn’t have much of one.
Cody: It felt like it was pointing a finger throughout the first half.
N: Like a deliberate ‘this is how things were’ finger? Y’know, it made sense what you said about it not ever coming to resolution in that they never got extreme about it. Compared to, say, Django Unchained, this felt like a banned preschool book in comparison.
Cody: I think it was meant to be a sort of play in the cliche’d “fight against injustice, rebel against tyranny” plot device. I applaud them for bringing forward a very real issue that was relevant to the time period. I do agree that they seemed reluctant to use many actual racial slurs during the expository segments of the game, although there were definitely a few. I suppose they wanted the visuals to say more than the actual dialogue.
N: Let’s go back to the themes of American Exceptionalism, something that they had promoted a lot during the game’s development. I didn’t really see the through-point of having an American-themed city in the sky. I mean, it makes for a very clever setting and some very difficult opponents, but I’m not sure if the theme of a flying “super America” really cashed in. They worship the founders of America like gods and that, but in how it relates to Elizabeth and Comstock’s story, it doesn’t really seem to matter much.
Cody: The illusion was there, but it didn’t stand out, mainly because of the marvel of being in an airborne city. Sure, you caught a Boston accent here, or saw throwbacks to 1912 America, it was all drowned out by the setting. The game could have told me a lot of things about American Exceptionalism of the era, but the way the game points out segregation and injustices imposed by the rich upon the poor, it was hard to keep tabs on it with so many other things going on.
N: Did you noticed how relegated, and perhaps vestigial, vodophone recordings were to collect? More than any other game they felt like a crutch to fill in backstory.
Cody: True, but that’s sort of a hallmark of the ‘Shock series. It was nice that they didn’t have you attached to a radio with an expressionless picture next to it to feed you missions. If anything, the flow of the game felt organic, letting you explore and have you fetch something every now and then.
N: That much I enjoyed. It was off-putting in previous games that most of the people you interacted with were from afar and the in-person encounters were so rare, like when you met with Andrew Ryan and he gives his ‘man chooses’ monologue.
Cody: A throwback to the limitations of System Shock, mostly. Sure, most of the backstory was revealed through recordings, but there are plenty of role-playing games that use recorded dialogue or written script to fill the player in on backstory. It’s more than just a problem in BioShock.