Have You Played… BioShock Infinite?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

It’s not all we hoped it would be, but I liked BioShock Infinite [official site]. Am I wrong?

Yeah, it’s not the smartest exploration of race and politics ever made; yeah, it’s not as novel mechanically as we might have hoped; yeah, it’s ridiculous that you spend so much taking rummaging in bins.

But BioShock Infinite lingers in my memory in multiple different ways. There are stunningly beautiful environments and some of the most striking level design I’ve ever seen. I liked the combat when it took you swinging along the sky rails. I liked the spectacle of it, whether it was tumbling between floating city districts with Elizabeth or the successive series of nonsensical revelations that form its last act.

BioShock Infinite feels like a big, wrongheaded action film in the best possible way. It’s the kind of hot mess that always results from giving a creative person too much freedom and too much money. I think, in a certain sense, it is exactly what I wanted it to be – the Jupiter Ascending of videogames.

124 Comments

  1. Tiffer45 says:

    In my opinion this was a very disappointing game. High scores and good reviews encouraged me to purchase it. What I found was a rather pretty, but extremely dull game. The gun play and mechanics were unrewarding, weightless. All the weapons lacked any satisfaction when you scored a hit.

    By the mid point of the game I was just trudging through it to try and get it over with. I shall never replay.

    • Vandelay says:

      This regular comment of Bioshock Infinite receiving great reviews always makes me realise that I read the “alternative” sites. It always seemed to be a very under-appreciated game to me. All reactions I remember was how piss poor the combat was and how it was all a bit silly.

      Which, I must admit, was the antithesis of what I played. I found a really fun, fast paced gameplay, where I jumped between skyrails rapidly, dancing between enemies, whilst engaging in a pulpy but enjoyable story.

      It does feel like the end of an era though. The mannequin npcs standing around waiting for you to approach before doing some kind of performance was starting to feel like it did not have a place in any game beyond this point, whilst the flow of ACTION, ACTION, quiet, quiet felt very choreographed and as if we were at a place when games needed to move on. It wasn’t that Bioshock Infinite didn’t do these things well, but more that nothing would approach it any a different way again.

      Ultimately, I felt like I had a rather different experience from the one many other people seemed to have (at least the people I generally agree with.) I found it was a culmination of everything that had come before and did Bioshock better than any previous Bioshock. Trying to play a pre-Infinite Bioshock now feels rather sluggish and uninteresting to me now, even the much applauded Bioshock 2, which I tried to play Minerva’s Den which I could not get much beyond an hour or so in to.

      • Jerykk says:

        I think I actually enjoyed Infinite more than the first two games. Rapture was a cool setting but the actual combat wasn’t all that great. Guns were much more satisfying to use in Infinite. The powers were more fun to use and combo’d in interesting ways. The skyrails added a lot of mobility and verticality to the combat areas. The tears also added a nice amount of dynamism to the fights. However, I think you have to play on the higher difficulties to really appreciate any of this. On Normal difficulty, you can basically get through the entire game by just using a single gun. In 1999 mode, you’re forced to use multiple guns and powers. Choosing perks and upgrades is far more meaningful because you need to maximize your damage output and minimize damage intake if you want to survive. Learning the nuances of the powers and the strengths and weaknesses of each enemy is also essential.

        I also thought that Infinite’s characters were far more interesting than the ones in the first two games. They were far more mysterious and intriguing and their role in the story wasn’t immediately obvious. Andrew Ryan was a unique antagonist but you learned pretty much everything you needed to know about him during his introduction. Same with Tenenbaum and Cohen. In Infinite, you were continually learning more and more about Elizabeth, Comstock, the Luteces, Fitzroy and Fink and this knowledge had a significant impact on your understanding of and feelings towards these characters. The narrative as a whole was much more focused in Infinite and gave you better reasons to progress than some guy on a radio telling you to do stuff.

        The biggest complaint against Infinite is how linear and scripted the whole experience is. It’s true that the first two games had more open-ended levels but that didn’t really mean much when there was clearly one strategy that was always optimal (hack everything, use the mind control power on a Big Daddy, use him to clear out Splicers, get two Big Daddies to fight each other, finish off the survivor by throwing explosive barrels at him, rinse and repeat). Bioshock Infinite, on the other hand, required different tactics and strategies based on the situation (if you played on 1999 mode). Restricting you to only one active tear at a time forced you to assess the situation and choose the tear that was most useful at that moment. Vigors like Undertow and Ram weren’t that useful when indoors but extremely effective when outdoors. Certain perk builds could make you highly effective in areas with sky rails or when using melee attacks (which combo’d with the Ram vigor). Infinite offered good reasons to diversify and use all of the tools available to you. Conversely, the first two games let you rely on the same one or two tools throughout the entirety of their durations.

    • PancakeWizard says:

      I have to agree. I’ll probably go back to it eventually, because the world and plot are captivating, but compared to its predecessor, it’s like Bioshock: The Theme Park.

    • plonk420 says:

      call me shallow, but i really liked how gorgeous it was considering how it could get really dark. i don’t like 256 dreary shades of grey or poop brown or shadows or depression for an entire game. story was 5/7, but more than enough to keep me playing.

      and it’s not assholelishly hard to take cover from gunfire opposed to Crysis 2. and many other Cover Based Shooters, as Yahtzee puts it.

    • Booker says:

      I loved it. Played it twice and enjoyed it each time tremendously. BSI is the sole AAA game I ever played where an accompanying NPC actually works and is fun to have along the ride. Liz never stood in the way, often made worthwhile remarks and was even useful. That’s really ideal. I wish squad mates in Mass Effect were like this.

      It’s also quite impressive what they did with all the DLC. They didn’t just throw some garbage together but made DLC that was so good, others would have sold this as the next game in the franchise. Burial at Sea is amazing. They even introduced new gameplay elements in the second part. Pretty much no one does this. They definitely went the extra mile here.

  2. Yachmenev says:

    I played it, beat it, and then moved on. The setting was novel, the story had twists, there were plenty of details in the scenery, but that was basically it IMHO.

    It’s gameplay didn’t really stand out in any way at all. The levels were corridors, the weapons nothing special, the enemies bullet sponges, the heavy hitters were overused, the tempo was to high for any kind of tactics, the encounters was to samey, the worst boss battle was repeated three times, etc.

    I definitely enjoyed Wolfenstein: New Order (that I played soon after this) much more.

  3. ssbowers says:

    Yes, and it stunk. Tiny maps with constant hand holding.It felt like, oh I don’t know, an FPS simulator. Is that something?

  4. Banks says:

    It’s call of duty with nice backgrounds and a pretentious story.

    • Booker says:

      Pretentious? Doesn’t that mean that someone thinks they are better than you? How does the game think it is better than you? Does not compute.

      Great game, great protagonists, the DLC was awesome too, should have been mentioned.

  5. BrickedKeyboard says:

    I concur with the above. Maps that look like vast, wide open, incredible places.

    Except you cannot actually explore anywhere but a constrained corridor path. None of the environment or fantastical things are very interactive. None of the NPCs offer any options more than “shoot” or “can’t shoot, your weapon is holstered for this part”.

    Basically it’s like a facade of the Infinite city with no real content to it. Bethesda RPGs have their own problems but at least the environment is full of stuff you can take, alternate routes to go, physical interactions in the world, NPCs you have the option of killing or not, even meaningful alternate endings. This one is a shitty game bolted onto amazing graphics and a twisted plot – but it’s still a shitty game.

    • Asurmen says:

      So what you’re saying is that an FPS has different mechanics and is a different genre than an RPG?

      This isn’t to say you’re wrong but I find your comparison really odd.

      • Josh W says:

        It’s not a mechanical continuation of the immersive sim legacy in any substantial form, it’s not an ultima/system shock/dark messiah game.

        In other words, it was a passable FPS, but it dishonoured it’s family. (Including dishonoured)

      • baozi says:

        Not every game needs to take Deus Ex as a source of inspiration (though more should), but I do think there are good ways and bad ways to handle corridor structures.

        One of the problems with Bioshock Infinite was that it felt staged even if you never attempted to stray off the path. The NPCs were all static and lifeless dolls, and whenever there was an action sequence, they all suddenly vanished into thin air.

  6. draglikepull says:

    The art design was stunning, and I had a lot of fun with the combat, but the story was a mess. It starts off interesting enough, but as soon as it veers into the weird multiple-universes/time-travel nonsense it completely falls apart.

    No story can survive the introduction of time travel. It always creates massive plot holes that can never be satisfactorily resolved. If you are a writer, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, do not include time travel in your story.

    It is a good game, though.

    • Asurmen says:

      There wasn’t time travel but a multiverse.

      • Morgan Joylighter says:

        Yes, but from the perspective of the player the narrative and the player’s character are moving to different points along the same/similar timeline. Elizabeth is opening up tears in a non-linear fashion or else we wouldn’t meet her as an old woman…

        • waltC says:

          It’s a great game…I loved the roller-coaster combat and aerobatics..generally I don’t go in for that kind of thing, but really enjoyed it here. Still I haven’t finished it! I still have it installed and fire it up now and then, but I am finding that the graphics aren’t aging well–and I thought they were spectacular at the game’s release–the game captures the feel of being in Disneyland like nothing I’ve ever seen. I can almost smell the popcorn & cotton candy. I’ll keep plugging…it’s just that I have so many games! Not complaining, of course…It’s definitely the golden age of PC gaming, no doubt about it–all these game that I owned 15-20 years ago are now so much more playable than they were then…! But I digress…

      • draglikepull says:

        Massive SPOILERS for the ending of Bioshock Infinite for rest of this comment.

        SPOILER

        Of course there’s time travel. At the end of the game, Elizabeth has Booker kill himself in the past so that he doesn’t turn into Comstock in some universes, thus altering the present (it’s never explained why there’s only one timeline in the past but many in the future).

        Here’s something I wrote back when the game first came out explaining just how nonsensical the time-travelling nature of the ending is:

        In order to prevent Comstock from coming into being, Booker has to be killed before the point at which he becomes Comstock. The person who reveals this to him (and who ultimately kills him) is Elizabeth, his daughter. In order for Elizabeth to gain the power to see and affect these multiple universes, she must be raised by Comstock and the Luteces, whose experiments give her this power. When Elizabeth kills Booker, she prevents Comstock from ever coming into existence. But in doing so, she must prevent herself from ever being experimented on by the Luteces, which means she must prevent herself from gaining the ability to travel across time and universes, which means she can’t kill Booker, which means Comstock must exist. And on and on in a circle forever.

        • Asurmen says:

          That isn’t time travel. What she did was have him erased from every universe.

          • aliksy says:

            It wasn’t time travel. It was the writer(s) jerking off onto their keyboards and our monitors.

            Hated that ending so much.

    • Gopheur says:

      Have you seen Primer?

    • darthaegis says:

      I ocasionally write a story (just as a hobby, i kinda suck at it) where a scientist just gets stuck in a time machine and goes 800 years into the future, but never actually returns. The “time travel” aspect is only in the beginning an once. Just curious, what do you think about that?

      • draglikepull says:

        I don’t really have much concern about what people do as hobbies, but if it was commercial and I spent money on it, I suspect I would find glaring plot holes and they would bother me.

    • Doogie2K says:

      It’s Stephen Moffat’s Doctor Who. It teases interesting ideas and has some excellent individual bits, but at the largest scale, it gets caught up its own asshole trying to be clever with its own premise, and the final resolution at best only sort-of works.

  7. GernauMorat says:

    Beautiful to look at, but dull to play. And the story was pretentious nonsense.

  8. Premium User Badge

    basilisk says:

    Oh, this is going to be a fun comments section. I personally think Graham’s summary is very fair; it’s flawed in all sorts of ways, but I found it a very enjoyable game, and an interesting one in spite of/because of its failures. And the city is so very beautiful.

    It’s also a game that it very quickly became cool to hate, so… yes. Come forth, angry internet crowd, come forth and give us all your accumulated vitriol. You know you want to.

    • Magniankh says:

      I agree with you. It’s not a bad game, and the writeup is fair. I think what hurt Infinite the most is that it had the BioShock name attached to it…Columbia was pretty, but seemed to lack the dark antagonistic, foreboding, quality that made Rapture so great. For a “city in the clouds,” I hardly felt much vertigo or a sense that civilization was “plummeting,” so to speak. I also felt that the vigors were over-thought, the devs were trying to be innovative, but really I missed the simplicity of the earlier plasmids. Bucking Bronco offered the classic 1-2 punch that the lightning bolt did, but was not as effective since it had travel time. Elizabeth’s AI is a milestone, though, she was a great companion. The game is good, but failed to live up to (my) expectations having played BioShock 1 and 2 a couple times each.

    • xalcupa says:

      I agree with most the flawed bits, but for a variety of reasons this game lingers in my mind as one generally enjoyable and innovative experience.
      Before, you choke on your coffee. The innovative parts for me was:
      1) Elisabeth was a great “companion” character if not one of the best to date. Loved the interaction and character development. All in all the two main characters were well written and acted.
      2) Very bold story line. Sure, all didn’t add up but I loved it all the same and it was a heartfelt touching mature story.
      Regardless of general gameplay, I would strongly recommend this game and its two DLC who sort of complete the character story.

      • Razumen says:

        What interaction? everything was completely scripted. Elizabeth was nothing more than a kowtowed walking Mcguffin.

  9. Morgan Joylighter says:

    This game gave me some of my greatest memories. The action and plot might not be phenomenal but the opening lighthouse elevator and gorgeous, enchanting, vaguely creepy water church…the scene inside the tower where you meet Elizabeth….any scene involving Elizabeth and music…being stalked by the Songbird…I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. Moments like that are why I play video games…to experience something beautiful and New.

    • Morgan Joylighter says:

      And the first explorations of the epic Columbia skyline…the roller-coaster-like skyhook travel…and every scene involving the delightful Lutece twins…stop it this is making me want to go back and play it and I don’t have time for that! :)

    • krisbrowne42 says:

      The scene with Elizabeth and Booker singing “Will the Circle be Unbroken” together… Knowing more later about their relationship… Beautiful.

      I find, more and more, that I play games because I want to be part of a good story. I don’t care how good the gameplay is, if it’s not giving a decent narrative, then what’s the point?

      • xalcupa says:

        hear hear

      • azorius says:

        I thought games should focus about game. We have books and movies for only good story/interactive scenes. Whats the point of playing game without gameplay?

    • Rizlar says:

      Funnily enough those aren’t my favourite moments. That sequence at the end where things go abstract and weird and dark, with the lamp headed things. The seaside resort where a plunky rendition of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun leads you to find Elizabeth dancing in front of the sunset. Finding in the ruined cityscape, when everything has gone to hell, the studio of the artist who heard all these anachronistic pieces of music and tried to recreate them.

      It’s a flawed game, for sure, but full of incredibly powerful moments. Gob-smackingly beautiful, powerfully expressive moments that stick with you. Amazing.

  10. Merlin the tuna says:

    Spec Ops: The Line: Zero Self-Awareness Edition.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    I played this late so the visual spectacle and the novelty of somewhat expanded companion AI in the form of Elizabeth had already been surpassed in other games (though Elizabeth is still a fun character)… for me it didn’t really hold up on its remaining merits. Combat was kind of a grind and felt like it didn’t need to be there at all – actually curious what a game that explored the same thematic and plot elements without the mass murder would look like – and the whole jingoistic fundamentalism aesthetic was just really off-putting. It being intentional didn’t make it less so… and there’s the whole “people resisting oppression are monsters too” theme, which is troubling (and retroactively reframing that later didn’t much improve it).

    I did however rather like Burial At Sea. It was strangely affecting walking around Rapture in its heyday and the colder darker femme fatale Elizabeth was interesting to hang around with… plus stealth gameplay, a bit like Dishonored, worked rather well in that world. I also like that they finally let you freeze large bodies of water, albeit in a semi-scripted way. Been waiting for that since Bioshock 1.

  12. pelwl says:

    In the previous Bioshock games you never knew what lurked around the corner, always had to be on your guard. In this one a musical refrain begins and you know it’s time for a drawn out battle until the music ends.

    Obviously the survival horror type elements of the first two wouldn’t really work in the more open environments of Infinite but it’s one of the main reasons for me why it didn’t feel like a Bioshock game. (Dead Space 3 had similar problems by opting for the button bashing battle binge route instead of a slow build up of tension).

    If I’d known beforehand that it was more a spinoff than a sequel I might have been less annoyed at the game whilst playing, but even then I suspect I’d have found the combat dull and just something to plow through.

  13. GallonOfAlan says:

    Looked great. Played well. Could have done with a lot less self-indulgent metaphor.

  14. kool says:

    I did not know so many people hated this game until i read these comments. Everyone i know who played this game, including me, loved it.

    I guess i never read comment sections about it online until now.

    • draglikepull says:

      People who dislike something are generally much more motivated than people who liked it to take the time to write a comment about it.

      • Phantasma says:

        I don’t know, there are some beloved games i could write pages and pages about, gushing with praise.

        But yes, the “’twas alright i guess” crowd may not be as motivated to voice their opinion.

  15. LennyLeonardo says:

    I loved it. For every moment of genius there were twenty dull minutes, and for every great idea there were ten silly ones, but it was still worth it. The barber shop singing Beach Boys is such a great moment in gaming, and the choice of song was so, so clever.

    • thekyshu says:

      At parts, the game really feels like the departments designing different parts of the game didn’t talk too much to each other. The designers who created the level architecture and the buildings and texture did an amazing job, but they forgot to tell the NPC designers to fill the levels with life, so in the end you have lifeless dolls wandering around that start their performance once you get close, and once you wander away, they go back to their old puppet-like animation. Uncanny.

      The game definitely had its moments, but being called a Bioshock game really held it back. It felt more like Bioshock: The Disneyland Ride than an actual game.

  16. Razumen says:

    City looked beautiful like others have said, but it was so linear. The skyhook was novel, but underdeveloped.

    The vigors were a far cry from the previous plasmids, they were generic and not well distinguished from one another.

    Elizabeth as a companion, for how much they hyped her “AI”, was nothing more than a ammo and health dispenser. There was no reason to defend her, because the enemies would always go straight for you and completely ignore her.They should’ve tried to grab her while you weren’t looking at least.

    I played with a friend and we kinda lost interest after the ridiculous Comstock’s zombie-wife fight.

  17. LazyAssMF says:

    WOW, what’s up with all the negativity on this game in here??? O_o
    I personally love this game as i do Bioshock. In my opinion two best FPS’s ever. The story, visuals, art design, music, voice acting and gameplay are amazing and make these two very, very fun and special. It’s certanly not CoD and crap like that so if you love those shalow, boring shooters you’re probably not gonna like these two masterpiece’s. ;)
    Ken Levine is a legend (in my humble opinion). He knows how to make great and fun games since… forever. :)
    Didn’t care much for Bioshock 2 tho…

  18. Matt_W says:

    It was just so much less than what was promised. The initial demos of the game (2 years before release) promised a much more dynamic environment, a more interesting Elizabeth, and a less straightjacketed story, with the vertical element you might actually expect from a city in the sky. What they actually made was just so small and lackluster by comparison.

    • Phantasma says:

      Correct me if i’m wrong, but didn’t the first one already overpromise a bit much? Spiritual successor to System Shock and the closer the deadline came, the more emphasis was laid on the “spiritual” part?
      Personally my expectations after Bioshock were well set so Infinite was no real surprise.

  19. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    It was OK. I don’t hate it like some people do. I wasn’t a huge fan of the whole rail-shooter mechanic because it was a rail shooter and rail shooters have no place outside of the 90s and lightgun games.

    Those stupid gorilla things were just a pain in the ass. Too much of the game was just difficulty via bullet-sponge. I played through the whole game on hard until I got to the end “boss” and turned it down to easy because I just couldn’t be bothered at that point to keep putting in any real effort to see where the plot was going to end.

  20. Freud says:

    It’s one of the best looking games I’ve played. Just walking around and looking at things is very satisfying.

    Like most Bioshock games the combat and gameplay is dull and the story is a mess.

  21. Premium User Badge

    Frog says:

    I got half way and got bored with the mechanics and really tired of the pretentious story. Never went back.
    I did like the art and design of the world overall though, every so often I think of firing it up again just to walk around and see the sights but haven’t.
    Burial at Sea was fun for me.

  22. gbrading says:

    I liked BioShock Infinite a lot too. It’s no BioShock original, but it still has something. The opening section when you first enter Columbia was the first video game since Half-Life 2 to give me that tingling feeling. It weakens significantly as it goes on, and although I enjoyed the ending it does require a very large suspension of disbelief.

    I’m not sure why people hate it though. It doesn’t do anything egregiously terrible except it initially promised itself to be something completely different to what it ended up being (some of those E3 demos were it said there would be multiple paths were nonsense). It’s a classic take of overselling and under-delivering, but it doesn’t make what they did deliver bad.

  23. Xocrates says:

    I remember quite liking the game, though honestly I had forgotten it about a week afterwards. I really do need to play it again.

    I really disliked the Burial at Sea DLCs however.

  24. geldonyetich says:

    BioShock Infinite in that it manages to be both flawless and flawed.

    In terms of being a straight up emmersive narrative FPS, it is a gloriously wrought visit to a wondrous, novel environment with overwhelmingly memorable people, places, and situations.

    In terms of being a game, it was a dumbed down hot mess of consolitus that fell as far from BioShock as BioShock fell from System Shock. It was sorely linear in progession, the story was too esoteric, the gunplay lacked weight, the tonics were redundant, battles became monotonous, the enemies lacked variety, it was too short, it was too long, it was an exciting high dive into what turned out to be a kiddie pool. But the skyhooks were a good idea.

    • geldonyetich says:

      If Kevin Levine were to read that and think, “Gee, maybe I should try making walking simulators instead.” then that would be a shame because I generally like his games… but also an apt description of what went wrong with Bioshock Infinite.

  25. Peppergomez says:

    probably the most disappointing game purchase ever. awful shooting mechanics, and after two bioshock games, everything about it felt stale.

  26. sfoumatou says:

    Loved the game for what it was: a movie with (mediocre) FPS mechanics tacked on top. I had fun throughout and I genuinely enjoyed Elizabeth’s company.

    Have to admit that’s all it was, though. Jupiter Ascending is a very apt comparison. Beautiful to look at and exciting while you’re experiencing it for the first time, but the whole thing unravels like yarn when you apply the smallest amount of thought.

    And yes, the oppression subplot is shameful and screams of white entitlement. If you’re gonna go for the “everyone is a monster” trope, maybe don’t pick an actual racial group that has fought and is still fighting for equal rights to this day? What the fuck.

    • Buggery says:

      Yeah, the halfway point where they tried to paint the revolution leaders as being no better than the people who oppressed them was equally poorly conveyed and planned–especially when they tried to retcon part of it in the DLC.

      It was remarkably incongruous to have the game say, “hmm, perhaps evil is relative,” by having a black woman threaten to murder a child when:

      A) the game itself shows you that the group she represents has actually been subjected to some genuinely terrible treatment
      B) there is no attempt to build up any of the characters to provide sympathy or motive for why the event is happening (and dropping in some pretty absurd reasoning into the DLC which only further weakens the character).

      The whole sequence comes across as being hamfisted and in poor taste–not the least of which because it ties into real world events.

      It really just strikes home that games are not very good at having genuinely artistic statements. I’d like to think there’s room to discuss ideas of this nature (revolution does not always result in positive change if the leaders involved are just as bad as the oppressors, or another example, Hotline Miami’s exploration of the normalisation of violence and the line we seem to draw when that violence has a sexual element) but AAA development just doesn’t really allow you to do that; particularly if the writing is itself a bit shit. Trying to raise matters of societal ethics just doesn’t carry across when the game itself goes out of its way to indulge in all your adolescent power fantasies and appeal as a mainstream blockbuster title.

      Which raises a further question if maybe games are just too immature a medium (or rather, too immature in what they try to achieve by aiming at their target markets) to actually explore difficult questions like this. I’d like to think not, but I’ve yet to be convinced otherwise.

  27. w0bbl3r says:

    Yes I have played it…. it was mediocre at best.
    Really great art design, lovely world they built, awful story, boring gameplay (walking simulator most of the time) and dumb characters such as a girl locked away for life, escapes in a near-death run from a giant robot bird with a strange man and decides now is the time to go dancing of all things.
    I knew the end before I was even halfway through, and how they tried to go all matrix revolutions ending on it, talking nonsense to try and make it sound complicated and cool (inception-style) was just boring.

  28. ShadowHunter says:

    I thought most of the gameplay was pretty dull, but I think the story was actually a very good allegory for an important idea. I think that most of this is bound up in ideas about what baptism is and means that are central to the kind of evangelical Christianity that was so influential during the time the game depicts and which I grew up in and around, along with some pretty common trends in human history as viewed through the lens of US history. I’m going to talk about that, so obviously there will be spoilers for this game from a few years ago.

    The central idea of the whole thing, I think, is the importance of simply stopping to ask the questions “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” and “do I have a right to do what I’m doing?” The fact that Comstock and DeWitt are the same person is central to all of this. Not only are they the same person in some vague metaphysical, multiverse paradox sort of way, but when the game begins they effectively share the same values. Both are ruthless, goal driven men that will do whatever it takes to achieve their ends. Both want Elizabeth because of the utility she presents to them, Booker to clear the “debt” he doesn’t understand, and Comstock to use her power to fulfill his destiny (though my impression of him through the story is that he really hasn’t asked why he’s pursuing this, though it has been a while since I’ve played the game). Of course Booker engages in unrepentant mass murder. He IS Comstock, who’s an unrepentant mass murderer. The only difference at the start of the game is that Comstock outsourcers his violence, while Booker does his own dirty work.

    As the game goes on, Booker begins to become attached to Elizabeth, though he lies to and manipulates her initially to use her to fulfill his own goals. At some point, he begins to care about her independent of the utility she represents to him, and this begins to change the way he sees himself and the world. This eventually circles things around to the final scene, the baptism that DeWitt walked away from and birthed Comstock in an alternate reality.

    Baptism is viewed in different ways by different branches of Christianity. For some, such as the strains discussed above, it is (sometimes symbolic, sometimes literal) a death of the old, sinful self to make way for a new self redeemed through love and sacrifice. Booker rejects this act and follows the road that the player sees. Comstock engages in the act, as Booker does in the opening portions of the game. However, both of these are seen as false baptisms, as the man that goes in the water and the man that comes out are the same in both cases. Comstock is the same ruthless, selfish goal driven man he was before the baptism, though his goals are certainly different from DeWitt’s. Booker sees this, sees (through eyes opened by the unselfish love of someone other than himself) the suffering and horror that are unleashed by both versions of the person he has been. He finally asks himself if he has a right to do the things he does, and decides that the answer is no. Deciding this, he very literally dies to his old self, breaking the cycle of violence and suffering. This sacrifice opens the way for a new, peaceful life where he gets the chance to raise his daughter.

    That, in turn, plays into the story of Columbia, the Vox Populi, the US, and humanity in general. Just changing your name, changing the signs, changing superficial things isn’t enough to break that cycle of violence and suffering. The person has to change. There are some obvious parts of American history that are drawn on here. A nation that said to the world “All men are created equal” allowed some men to be owned as property as a matter of law. That same nation, which was founded on principles of freedom, self-determination, and rule by the people which it didn’t live up to, committed further atrocities in the name of Manifest Destiny within just a couple of generations. We changed the names and the trappings, but we were just repackaging the same garbage we said we were throwing off, turning the same tools to our own ends. But this isn’t just a problem with the US. It’s a symptom of a disease that the games writers (and, frankly, I also) think humanity suffers from: the unwillingness to ask those two simple questions and answer them honestly from a place beyond pure self-interest. So, in one reality, the Vox continue this cycle, throwing off their oppressors to become oppressors themselves. This may seem unpalatable to you, which is understandable. However, being a victim doesn’t make you a good person in and of itself. For some historical analogues, the excesses of the French Revolution and the early history of Liberia (a nation of freed American slaves that, depending on which accounts you read, either promptly enslaved the native population or merely violently oppressed and exploited them and their resources) seem pretty solid. We might also see a modern parallel in the higher likelihood of abused children to engage in similar abuse of their own children than those who were not abused. Again, stopping to understand your own motivations and to decide whether they are in fact worthy motivations to be driven by is at the core of the games events.

    So, with all of that, I think that the story actually hangs together quite well, and has something pretty important to say. Still no clue about Ghost Mom, though.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      Doesn’t change my mind about the game as such, but I will say that was an interesting and thoughtful read.

    • morningoil says:

      Thanks for that. Really a great deal. I have always thought that Infinite is a flawed game but textually and thematically one of the most interesting and, yes, profound artworks I’ve experienced lately. There’s really a hell of a lot of stuff going on in there, and your post is I believe the first I’ve read to recognise its depth. Hats off to you!
      (FWIW my analysis centred IIRC more on the fusion of the Oedipus and Narcissus myths as a vehicle to critique the (explicit, implicit) sadism and violence of political and social life, as embodied by, for instance, racism, employment, mass media and critically, of course, game design – and our submission to its tropes. Etc.)
      God, writing this post has got me all excited about just how utterly thrilling it was, how daring, how brilliant.

      • morningoil says:

        Not the first. That’s a lie and a disservice to some very interesting critiques I’ve read/watched eleswhere. But certainly (and sadly) one of the few!

    • Buggery says:

      This is an interesting take.

      I’d argue though that the game works against the point it’s trying to make. By removing player agency–and only allowing you to interact with the world by blowing things up and following the rigid path it sets up for you–then sure, you’re stuck on the path of forever repeating the mistakes of the past.

      The game itself taunts you with this. The twins turn up repeatedly saying choice doesn’t matter, even though it clearly does! Furthermore, by showing in the DLC that people were not actually in control of their decisions, you’re effectively saying that there is room for change if only you have the capacity to cause it… but the entire point of the plot is, as you say, that the more things change, the more they stay the same, new boss is the same as the old boss, etc. The game cannot have its cake and eat it too. It suggests that the only way to erase the problems it insists are somehow unchangeable is to somehow go back to the very beginning (before you even join the narrative) and delete it all–which is a very bleak (and unrealistic) view on things. After all, if you cannot change anything, then surely you just have to accept the world as it is? Which again, then implies that there’s nothing to do: oppressed minorities have no way to change their position in society, mass murderers will continue to murder, so on and so on. Someone set the stage for all these things to happen and there’s no going back to fix them.

      What’s especially sad in the game’s failure to convey its own meaning is that games are the ideal medium with which to express this point. Games are designed to be interactive! If you’re aware of the beginning, middle, and end of the game, then you should have some leeway to affect what happens. Even if you cannot affect the overall outcome, you should be able to try to lessen or worsen it in some small respect. In effect though, the only way to avoid the events of the game is to turn it off. Which is silly.

  29. Abndn says:

    Art design was incredible, the rest incredibly bad.

    – Flimsy story that tries to appear deep, but is in fact a clumsy mess if you understand any of the concepts it borrows from (especially egregious in the case of possible worlds).
    – Elizabeth is an awful character seemingly unaffected by her life in the tower, and plagued by political correctness.
    – Gunplay has little punch, mobs are hp sponges if you don’t go out of your way to collect everything to be heavily upgraded.
    – Upgrade system punishes experimentation, and then forces you into using weapons you didn’t upgrade.
    – Trivial and boring bits of loot. Everywhere.
    – Respawn system that ensures you can effectively die your way through any encounter.
    – Tries to portray a racist society, but makes a mockery of the reality of institutional and pervasive racism in the process. Doesn’t dare to go anywhere near far enough to be interesting social commentary.

  30. Carlos Danger says:

    Very pretty game, very crappy story. Got old fast think I made an hour.

  31. Mutak says:

    If nothing else, it’s a great barometer for getting to know other gamers.
    If they think it’s pretentious i’ll probably think they’re shallow.
    If they think it’s a great FPS i’ll probably think they’re boring.
    If they think it’s a mixed bag that does not combine the previous two opinions then we’ll probably have good discussions.
    If they think i’m a judgmental prick they’re taking this too seriously.

  32. C0llic says:

    It wasn’t a bad game by any means, but it did suffer when compared to the pedigree. It does feel like a missed opportunity. It’s still a very good game, and was an enjoyable experience at the time.

  33. shrieki says:

    like some said above- i didnt enjoy infinite much. or better- i did not enjoy it at all. i also did not enjoy bioshock 2 much but in infinite i could get no connection to gameplay,story or anything at all. that happens a lot to me with games that are heavily story driven. what i hated most was that Elizabeth character constantly being in the way. everything about the gameplay was confusing to me. everything was linear in a very artificial way that i just could not hook up to. bioshock 1 stands as a special experience – but everything after that just missed the mark for me.

  34. Shazbut says:

    It’s a very good game. What it lacks in quality manshooting, it makes up for in art direction and narrative ambition.

    • Yachmenev says:

      It does make up for the tedious parts with the aspects you mention, but is it really a good game when 20% good stuff is supposed to make up for the tedious 80%?

  35. Muzman says:

    Jaw dropping stuff. The almost incredible story of a man torn within himself. Pulled in different directions by spectacular hubris and indomitable will to please. A will to create something grand but ultimately built of reflexive, recursive, self defeating denial of himself and his place in the world. A psychological torment so grand you’d think it could rend space and time itself.
    Yet despite all this he still managed to (eventually) ship Bioshock Infinite.

    I’m not entirely joking either, folks. This game’s value to gaming history isn’t as a story or a ‘shooter’ or just about anything else. Its as gaming’s true example of creative insanity on the scale of Mankevietz’s Cleopatra or Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, with a splash of Kelly’s Southland Tales and if all those were at least co-directed by Doug Liman.

    I bet Kojima played it and said to himself “Somebody really needed to rein this guy in! Holy crap”.
    It fails on pretty much every level, make no sense whatsoever. But it does all this with such self certainty and technical accomplishment you can’t help but be in awe. And that’s without even getting into all the meta level stuff of the series and the fortunes of the studio and the company bankrolling the whole thing. Factor that in and we have true gaming legend.

  36. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    I had a thoroughly mixed opinion on it, but now that’s mostly covered in mold, and I don’t feel like digging beneath to find out what the rest looks like.

    What I do remember, though, is that I loathed all the drowny bits, that I loved throwing crow bombs at people, and that the visual and musical aspects were pretty great.

  37. Geebs says:

    I liked the environments, thought the shooting was very disappointing compared with the trailers, and thought the plot was a puddle of cold toss. Frankly I think any writer who pulls the “everyone would be better off if I died” trope out after the age of 18 should be forced to explain what they’ve done to their own mother, and god help them.

  38. Eight Rooks says:

    Yes, I’ve played it.

    Yes, you’re wrong.

    Absolutely dreadful game: a tedious FPS-by-numbers with zero challenge or depth and an insultingly stupid narrative with a patently obvious twist, truckloads of pseudo-scientific gobbledegook that adds absolutely nothing to the story, and a ham-fisted attempt to address real-world social issues that I’ve seen teenagers handle better. It’s crap. If you think it offers deep, complex gameplay, you’re kidding yourself. If you find it a fascinating and compelling world, you’re easily pleased. If you think it’s a mature, thoughtful, emotional story, you really need to read more.

    Jesus Christ I hated it. Bioshock 2 blows it out of the water in pretty much every single respect, and I have little to no interest in what Ken Levine produces next, if indeed ever again.

  39. Jinoru says:

    I hate this game. I played the entirety of the story and its DLC, except for clash in the clouds. I really don’t like when games tell me everything I’ve been doing has actually been because of the agency of some scripted character in the game. It was dumb in the first BS, it’s still dumb here. Take your Skinner ideologies out of my games Ken.

    Bar none, one of the worst high budget games of all time. Pointless variety of powers and weapons (I used the revolver and lighting the whole game), disjointed morality, and worst multi-verse ideas in fiction.

    Never speak of this thing again.

  40. JJRPIII says:

    I didn’t really like the first Bioshock all that much. Some neat ideas and lovely art, but I found the gameplay a bit shallow and repetitive and it was a bit of a slog finishing it.

    I assumed the 2nd one was going to be more of the same so I didn’t bother, but glowing reviews and amazing screenshots persuaded me to buy Infinite at release.

    I was wowed by the art and when Elizabeth first showed up I thought things were starting to get interesting, but ultimately I ended up feeling the same way as I did about the first one.

  41. ariston says:

    Loved it. Played it thrice and will do so again. Great story (“Pretentious” is what people who didn’t understand it usually say – and it’s so easy to pretend to be able to understand the paradoxes of multi-verse theories by writing them off as being illogical), fun combat, lovely setting, Elizabeth, God only knows sung by a barbershop quartet, Girls just wanna have fun played on a Calliope. Great moods, great twists. Yes, corridors, but it’s not a frikkin open world game.

    I’d wager this is one of those cases of a game being loved by a silent majority yet being vilified by a very vocal minority – the self-styled “hardcore gamer” troupe.

  42. Pizzzahut says:

    It was okay. Just another 10hr corridor FPS. It was heralded by many review sites as being some kind of epic, open world FPS though and this wasn’t very ethical.

  43. LennyLeonardo says:

    I like that this game is so divisive, but I don’t like that this makes some people so angry and/or spiteful. Why?

    • Turkey says:

      It’s residual hostility from when Irrational went mainstream with Bioshock. It’s basically the Morrowind/Oblivion thing again.

  44. Shazbut says:

    I’m trying to understand what is fueling some people’s hatred of this. I suspect that those who hated it still likely played most or all of it. It seems that hating something and it actually being a bad experience are not the same thing.

    I suspect it’s because it presents itself as being worthy of our intelligence and being taken seriously, when actually it’s pretty shallow. It’s like the opposite of Hotline Miami, which seems shallow on the surface but makes you think it’s smart underneath. This seems smart on the surface but reveals itself to be shallow.

    I still like it though.

  45. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I liked it. Mostly for the same reasons as you. The spectacle, the level desgin, the combat, sometimes.

    Recently, I’ve watched a person on youtube play this game and I was amazed again how beautiful it is.

  46. Zekiel says:

    I mostly enjoyed it. It had spectacular world-building, let down by somewhat robotic NPCs (Elizabeth aside) who disappeared entirely about two-thirds of the way through the game. It had somewhat enjoyable gunplay with boring guns and wonderful skyhook combat. It had a twisty-turny plot that I generally enjoyed, even if it did forget about the Founders-vs-Vox conflict towards the end. Its a bit of a contradiction. I can’t imagine ever replaying it, but I have some fond memories of it.

  47. Premium User Badge

    Ben King says:

    Oh man, I got a HUGE kick out of the story, and basically enjoyed playing it, although I wasn’t as delighted with the whole sky rail combat thing. The politics of it were delightfully blunt and I got a big kick out of essentially machine gunning the fantasy-land equivalent of polydimensional nazis. I felt kinda like I was playing a mashup of a twilight zone story and a quentin Tarantino movie- Take the tongue-in-cheek madness of Inglorious Basterds, and the heavy handed social commentary and general weirdness of Rod Serling and you get Bioshock Infinite. If you take it all too seriously then yeah it will totally fall apart, but let’s remember you’re shooting rockets at ghosts here, not reading a classic novel.

    I’m also just really happy to see any representation of the horrors of American history- the past of the USA is so astoundingly evil and so completely unjustifiably blood soaked at every possible turn it’s almost impossible to wrap your head around it without resorting to characatures like this. I really reveled in the chance to shotgun a robotic George Washington right in it’s slave-owning aristocratic porcelain face and drop mines on right wing fanatics in the midst of a wacky animatronic diorama celebrating the genocide of Native Americans. Thank you videogames: you are AMAZINGLY WEIRD.

  48. malkav11 says:

    If Bioshock Infinite is the Jupiter Ascending of videogames, then I guess I need to see Jupiter Ascending after all.

    It’s not perfect, sure. The seams show here and there, and I’d have been happy to see more and more varied upgrades, etc (though I did enjoy what was there), but I enjoyed it thoroughly throughout and many of its moments still resonate with me years later. It’s not quite as striking as Bioshock in some senses, but then, Bioshock paved the way, so that’s probably inevitable. (And yes, System Shock before that, but a) I still haven’t played 2 and the first System Shock is hugely different, and b) even 2 is not really a direct progenitor of the Bioshock games the way some would have liked.)

    I mean…I finished it. The whole game. And the DLC. I so rarely do that anymore, and it was not a trivial amount of game to get through. So that in and of itself is a sign of just how much I liked it.

    • Geebs says:

      Seriously, don’t. It’s a YA chosen-one story with a half-hour digression into galactic comedy civil service procedures, and Channing Tatum is a dog. I fell asleep.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      Jupiter Ascending wishes it was Bioshock Infinite. Like Geebs says, don’t waste your time, it’s one of the worst movies I’ve seen in my entire life, and I’m not exactly demanding when it comes to my cinema or TV series.

      Infinite might not be that great in retrospective, but man did it have amazing art direction. It’s a conventionally beautiful game, so even if the story falters and its politics are incredibly stupid I’d never tell anyone not to play it, on the contrary, the whole series, in my mind, is part of the canon of triple-A gaming just because of its art direction and design.

  49. ddaymace says:

    Coincidentally I just replayed Infinite again. My impression of the game improved when I realized the gameplay, especially on higher difficulty actually gets better on repeated playthroughs. The game is not very long but the combat is dense; there are quite a few scenarios and gameplay style possibilities segmented into different ‘arenas’. It’s hard to appreciate this on your first run because you will be absorbing the excellent story and art design, and also learning the vigors.

    Play it again after you have figured out the story and you will appreciate a lot of the foreshadowing of character events and also you can concentrate more on how you approach combat. You will find yourself combining aerial, melee, shooting and vigors, along with movement and finding cover, in a smoother and more strategic fashion.

    What seemed unbalanced at first is actually quite dense and the game expects you to play it more than once to get it.

  50. Turkey says:

    Nah. I could tell they were moving even further away from the immersive sim thing than they did with the original Bioshock, so I skipped it.