There are some games that you play through, think “oh that was fun” and then promptly forget about- and then there are some games you play through and become so immersed in the story and gameplay that, even after you finish, you can’t stop thinking about it. Bioshock: Infinite, I am happy to say, is one of the latter.
For those who are unfamiliar, Bioshock is a series of first-person shooter games set in creepy, dystopian worlds. The first two games, for example, is set in an underwater city called Rapture in the 1960s. The latest game in the series, Bioshock: Infinite, takes a slightly different turn, being set in 1912 in the floating city of Columbia, which had seceded from the United States about a decade before. The setting is a little more steampunk-y and less scary than the first two, but don’t let that fool you- the game still has its freaky moments.
You play as Booker DeWitt- which is the most 1912 name ever, by the way- a former detective who is sent to rescue a girl named Elizabeth in order to pay off his debts. He manages to find his way to Columbia purely by accident (although, conveniently, that’s where he’s meant to go), and straight away things are a little off. The city is run by a cult leader named Father Comstock, who believes he is a prophet. His brainwashed populace see no other way than to follow his lead.
One thing I love about this game is that it doesn’t shy away from tough issues. Ideas such as religious extremism and race relations are recurring themes, as well as the concept of moral ambiguity- one of my favourite things in every type of media. Not everything is cut and dry, and sometimes good people do shitty things. In this particular case, while the main character is the “good guy”, he is at heart kind of a terrible person. The game doesn’t try to convince you otherwise.
I’d love to talk about the ending, but I don’t want to give anything away. I just want to point out that it is a magnificent ending. It’s rough, raw, and at times a little confusing, but that fits in with the rest of the rough, raw, confusing game. So instead of spoiling it for you, I want to talk a little bit about Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is the heart and soul of Bioshock: Infinite. While at first she starts out as a naive Disney Princess-esque archetype, she actually has one of the best character arcs I’ve ever seen for a video game character. While some parts of her personality are massively unrealistic (she’s lived in a tower on her own all her life but she somehow has no problem navigating social situations? Really?), the way she grows and changes throughout the game is done very realistically. For example, when she first sees Booker kill someone, she understandably freaks out and runs away screaming. A surprisingly normal reaction from a video game character, where most other characters probably would have just shrugged and said, “Whatever, happens all the time.” It’s rare to have a character react to violence as if it’s not normal, because most video games are set in violent worlds.
Throughout the game, we see Elizabeth’s demeanour change. At first she’s cheerful, happy to be out of the tower she’s been trapped in, but slowly she starts to look haunted as the horrors that happen throughout the game start to catch up with her. Eventually she changes so much she’s barely recognizable from the character we first met, but it happens so naturally that you can’t question it. She’s more human that most video game characters I’ve ever seen.
Despite its short run time (it’s only about 10 hours long), Bioshock: Infinite is one of the most immersive, engaging games I’ve played in recent years. I would definitely recommend it even if you (like me) are not usually a fan of first-person shooters, as the combat mechanics make it so much more than your usual “aim and fire” shooter. The use of different Vigors in combat make things much more interesting, although I’ll admit I just used Possession on everything and turned my enemies against each other. Nonetheless, it’s definitely worth a play, especially to see that ending.