The Guns of Navarro: Infinite Judgment

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Posted by Alex (2401 posts) -

I feel like I've just spent the entirety of the past week talking about BioShock Infinite. This is odd, because in truth, I've only spoken to one actual person about BioShock Infinite at any length, and it wasn't even for all that long. In reality, I've mostly just been listening to everyone else talk about BioShock Infinite, which many have been doing with increasing frequency and word count.

We've been talking pretty much nonstop about BioShock Infinite these last couple of weeks. So clearly, the only answer was to write another lengthy piece on BioShock Infinite.

The timing makes sense. We're a couple of weeks past the game's release, meaning that even the majority of early adopting dawdlers have finally gotten around to seeing the game's conclusion, and probably taken at least a few days to recollect and break down the details of their journey through Columbia. For that first week after release, all I heard from anyone was simple reverie over having seen the game's many twists and turns through to conclusion. This week, that reverie turned to deep, thoughtful criticism of Infinite's many themes, systems, successes, and failures.

To some of you, that last one might have seemed like the dominating factor in people's discussions. As with all immediately beloved things, backlash was inevitable. And I don't necessarily mean that in the knee-jerk sense of the word, but more in the sense of critics pushing back on the notion that Infinite is somehow infallible or flawless. I doubt anyone would actually claim such a thing, but seeing that sudden uptick in more negative--or, at the very least, pointed--critiques has galvanized people on both sides of the fence. Thus, this week has been a difficult one to weather if you haven't actually finished BioShock Infinite, because dammit if it isn't the only thing anyone's really felt like discussing, apparently.

Out of all the discussions and essays I've read this week--I think I stopped counting at around 20 individual pieces--a few specific, key criticisms have risen above the fray and seemingly become the focus of the larger conversation. If you'll indulge me, I thought it might be fun to look at the different sides of those points here, and highlight the most interesting takes.

That said, know that to go any further into this column is to accept that spoilers will be coming. If you have not finished BioShock Infinite and intend to do so, turn back immediately.

Do No Harm?

No one subject in BioShock has divided people more fiercely than that of its combat and related violence. There's no getting around the fact that Infinite is absolutely gruesome at times. Gun combat alone can lead to buckets of blood painting every wall and floor in your nearby area, but once you start picking up on the particularly grotesque melee attacks, that's when the game maybe crosses a line.

This has been written about furiously on both sides of the equation, though most of the most passionate pieces lean on the notion that the violence is particularly harmful to the game. Some, like Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton, have called it out for the sheer unpleasantness and pervasiveness of its gore. Polygon's Chris Plante made a similar point in his own piece on the game, referencing his own wife's aversion to Infinite's obsession with viscera. Even former Epic honcho Cliff Bleszinski took umbrage with the ugly shift the game makes every time you enter combat.

I agree with those assessments, though I'll say that the problems I had with Infinite's combat sequences had less to do with the abundance of blood and more to do with the way combat is paced within the game. I actually liked Infinite's combat a great deal more than I did in BioShock. Once I got certain plasmids and upgrades in BioShock, I felt like I was pretty easily able to tear through most enemies, and the guns never really felt right. Infinite's combat worked much better for me. I felt like the guns and vigors were suitably powerful (if occasionally overpowered), the enemies were smart enough to challenge me, and that the the melee hits were much more satisfying, if utterly brutal.

There is just SO MUCH FACE DESTRUCTION in Infinite.

And yet, every time a combat sequence would kick up during my play time, I groaned. Not because I didn't derive any enjoyment from the battles, but because they always seemed to come shrieking in out of nowhere. In this regard, I think my biggest issue is that the game doesn't have enough volume settings, tonally. There are maybe three distinct vibes in Infinite. Quiet exploration, slightly less quiet exploration/dialogue, and HOLY SHIT EVERYTHING IS SCREAMING BLOODY AND ON FIRE. It's super jarring, because most times you'll just be kind of walking around, looking for items and voxophones and whatever else, then you walk through a door or a hallway and suddenly the music swells, people start shouting at you, and it's balls-to-the-wall gunfire and vigoring until that screech of the musical strings comes along to let you know that it's about to be quiet time again.

However, I'm not of the mind that Infinite didn't need to be a shooter, as some have suggested. As Destructoid's Jim Sterling rightly notes in his own write-up on the subject, the violence in Infinite isn't without merit to the story. Booker DeWitt is a man of terrible violence. His self-torture over his role in the Wounded Knee massacre is completely, utterly the focal point of Infinite's story. To have him try to traipse his way through Columbia sans any bloodshed would not only perhaps be a bit dull, but also betray the nature of the character being presented. Booker kills people because that's just who Booker is, no matter which version of him we're talking about.

What I would say is not that Infinite didn't need violence to succeed, but that it needed a different brand of violence to succeed. The violence in Infinite can be effective, especially in more solitary moments, such as the individual confrontations Booker has with Comstock and Slade. But those are the more scripted moments of violence in the game, and without a script, Infinite becomes a blinding din of blood, screams, and explosions. If you go back and watch that E3 demo that won Infinite its embarrassment of awards, you'll note that the combat sequence it shows isn't remarkably different from what ended up in the final game, save for the demo version's apparent and obvious scripting in certain situations. In that demo sequence, Booker is able to deftly jump from skyline to skyline, easily interact with Elizabeth several times, blow up a fucking zeppelin, and kill dozens of guys in the process. It looks incredible, but nothing quite that deft ever made it into the final game. Instead, the vast majority of battles devolve into scads and scads of enemies loudly, breathlessly blasting at you while you try to simultaneously shoot back, find cover, and loot corpses over and over again.

A few of these particularly blistering battles I could have handled, but there's just too much of it in Infinite. So much, that it at times threatened to drown out the details I'd spent so much time accumulating while wandering around Columbia's endlessly fascinating world. By all means, give Booker some guns, some vigors, and let him fight the uglier elements of the city, but do so with pacing and tone in mind. It's more difficult to appreciate a game's quieter moments when you know that you're rarely more than a few moments away from wandering into a white-knuckle free-for-all.

As for the gore itself, yeah, I maybe could have done with fewer instances of people's faces being chewed off by a skyhook, though I'm also a massive horror fan, and stuff like this has long ceased to bother me. The gore of Infinite appears meant to appease my kind, which I appreciate. However, I think I'd also have been far more appeased if that gore were used for more than simple glorification of your character's brutality. If we're meant to look at Booker's particularly nasty fights and feel ashamed, the game doesn't do a good enough job of emphasizing the ugliness of it all without making it look celebratory. Limiting the available body count, and actually providing some consequences for Booker's killing outside of an occasional (mostly meaningless) admonishment from Elizabeth might have done the trick. Or it might not have. I don't know. All I do know is that what's there proved to be my least favorite part of Infinite.

In Defense of Window Dressing

Now here's an especially hot-button topic. There's a lot of chatter out there about how Infinite chooses to use its cultural setting. 1912 is a year in which American culture was absolutely still rooted in a deep and unpleasant view on other races and cultures. You see elements of that throughout Infinite, from simple displays that show you Comstock and the upper echelon of Columbia's distaste for minorities, to deeply troubling acts done against individual characters in the game. That said, there's also not a whole lot of this, and by the time Infinite hits its halfway point, the game seems to almost forget entirely about the plight of Columbia's minority population in favor of focusing on Booker, Elizabeth, and their struggle to figure out just what the hell is going on.

Infinite doesn't try to delve too deeply into the racial attitudes of its era, but it doesn't have to in order for its story to work.

For some, this is apparently taken as a kind of betrayal on Irrational's part. The word "expectation" has been tossed around a lot in terms of how Infinite was theoretically supposed to tackle the larger racist issues of the time. In truth, Infinite is as much about racism as BioShock was about Objectivism. In both cases, the stories are built within worlds rooted within these themes, but the themes exist primarily to service the atmosphere of the individual story being told. Seeing the horrible racism of Columbia's Caucasian elite is jarring in much the same way seeing the aftermath of Andrew Ryan's doomed Atlas Shrugged party was in BioShock. But the core stories--Jack's tale in BioShock, and Booker's in Infinite--don't require the player to achieve a greater understanding of these things. We may think it abhorrent that we are asked to jovially throw a baseball at a tied-up multiracial couple in Infinite's early scenes, and some may find it equally abhorrent that the choice we make to or not to throw the ball boils down to little more than an opportunity to collect more loot later on. I would certainly agree that some of the elements of the city's racial makeup aren't necessarily treated with much care, but I also don't feel the game needed to go into them deeper in order for its story to work.

In seeing people calling out the game's handling of racism, I found myself recalling the nebulous way Ken Levine had talked about that aspect of the game during its promotional cycle. If you go back and read many of his interviews (including this one I did a couple of months before the game's release), you might notice that Levine often seems sort of taken aback that people continually asked him about the challenge of tackling such a hot-button issue. This makes me wonder if there was always something of a disconnect between Levine and the press' perception of what the game was at the time. Journalists repeatedly asked about the challenges of dealing with racist themes, and Levine often responded in a way that, now, makes perfect sense. We may have been talking about the racism as a larger part of the game, but to him, it was always simply a key cultural detail aimed at servicing his altogether crazier sci-fi story.

So yes, Infinite's racial themes ultimately boil down to little more than particularly heated window dressing, but I think there's a defense to be lobbied in favor of such window dressing. Once you see where Infinite's story is headed, it becomes much more about the core characters than it does the tone of Columbia's discourse. You're meant to understand who the people of Columbia are and what they're fighting for. That fight, ultimately, is ancillary to Booker and Elizabeth's plight, which frankly doesn't even require these themes to work. But having them there in any respect at least provides context and color (*nervous collar pull*) to the many characters that inhabit the city around them.

Whether that's a cop-out or not, I won't try and say. I will say that having these elements in the story certainly helped paint a more vivid picture of who I was dealing with and what their intentions likely were. I could certainly have stood to have more of that aspect of the story explained, but to me, lacking that greater delving into the mindset of the era didn't detract from my enjoyment of the story Levine and company were trying to tell.

Where Do We Put All of This Story?

One area where I think Irrational did itself few favors in its storytelling pertains to the game's information delivery method. If you just play through Infinite without paying much mind to those nifty voxophones which have been carefully placed throughout the world, and skip out on really trying to explore the larger areas of Columbia, then you're going to miss a lot.

Of course, that's likely the idea. Ken Levine loves the idea of people exploring his worlds. He wants you to dig through everything, to find those nuggets of information that are key to understanding the motivations of his various characters. I completely understand why, and I'll never chide a developer for trying to inspire curiosity in their players.

I don't think Daisy Fitzroy is the caricature of an Angry Black Woman some have made her out to be, but I don't think she's done any favors by the lack of in-game build-up for her story arc, either.

But BioShock Infinite's story is too big for this to really work as a reliable storytelling method. I collected maybe 60-some-odd voxophones as I played, and there were still multiple key details of the story I only managed to acquire after the fact. By the end of my playthrough, I felt like I'd gleaned a pretty good understanding of Booker's motivations (though I did need a few of our users' handy theories to suss out some of the more complicated bits), and I felt like I grasped the arc of what Elizabeth was, and ultimately became. But numerous other characters, like Comstock, Jeremiah Fink, Daisy Fitzroy, and the Luteces, are primarily fleshed out via voxophones. I listened to many of them, but I also did so in the heat of many different moments, often either post-battle, or right before I wandered into a new one. Often times the on-screen action would either interfere, or at the very least, distract from what I was trying to listen to, which made absorbing the information, and putting it in the correct order to where I was in the story, perhaps more challenging than it needed to be.

This, I think, is why you see a lot of people chiding Infinite for the portrayals of certain characters. When Leigh Alexander talks about Fink and Fitzroy as more caricatures than characters in her write-up of the game--which, by the way, is maybe my favorite critical piece on Infinite I've read thus far--I think she's absolutely right, because the game affords them little room to breathe and grow naturally. By the time Fitzroy's arc started winding to its inevitable heel turn, I felt like I barely understood the character or why I ever would have trusted her in the first place. I can see why some people identify her as a problematic stereotype, though I think the issue with Fitzroy isn't a matter of racial caricature, and more simply one of lackluster build-up and explanation of the character's motives.

Incidentally, there's a good bit of Fitzroy content in the voxophones, and even more useful stuff in the game's companion book, Mind in Revolt. But by putting those details and key characteristics of Infinite's many players so far off to the side, it all but assures that less-exploratory players will simply miss out on some of the context for why anything is happening. At what point do these recordings become less of a boon for explorers and more just a middling way to excise unnatural exposition from your story's regular dialogue?

I wanted to know infinitely (heh) more about all of these people. There's a degree of opaqueness in the narrative that is vital, given that it prevents the player from figuring out where things are headed, but Infinite needed more opportunities to let its supporting players establish themselves and either properly endear themselves to, or properly vex the player. I needed to see a lot more of Daisy, the plight of the Vox Populi, and the general struggle between the city's classes to ever really invest myself in those elements. In BioShock, it was fine letting these characters just sort of exist, fight, and die, because Rapture was a ruined place that could only inform the player after the fact. In Columbia, everything horrible is going on right in front of you, and yet for all the conflict you end up participating in, very little of it has to do with anything besides you and Elizabeth. I think that's just a bit of a shame, is all.

How Does it All Work?

I've spent more time reading up on people's theories and deductions regarding Infinite's campaign than I have with just about any piece of entertainment I've ever experienced. It reminded me a bit of when Inception came out, and people were losing their minds piecing together all the little details, mechanics, and ideas crafted for that movie's intriguing story. Inception is, as my former colleague at Screened put it, one of the purest acts of original world-building anywhere in recent cinematic history. Infinite is, in my mind, similarly gifted, despite some of its troubles in fleshing out its characters. The world of Columbia is amazingly realized in all its massive glory, but Irrational's singular focus on getting you to its crazy conclusion is similarly admirable to Inception's. Neither is particularly worried about you grasping every little detail explaining why things are the way they are. Inception has dream machines and everybody wears suits all the time because that's just how things are in that world. BioShock Infinite has a racist floating city and dimension hopping tears in the fabric of the universe because that's just how things are in that world, too.

When a story is good enough, I don't need explanations for every detail the world offers me. I lament the lack of breathing room Infinite affords its characters, but I'm not mad that it doesn't spend an aching amount of time noting why everybody is racist, why a man would build a floating city, or why he would steal a baby from another dimension. These things all service the story Levine wants to tell, and outside of a few noteworthy gaps, I felt like it told that story admirably.

"Is Anna in the crib?" made for a pretty solid little "Will the top stop spinning?" type ending note, I thought.

Whether you buy into that story or not of course depends entirely on how willing you are to accept the simultaneously tidy and messy conclusion of it all. Watching it wrap up that first time, watching Booker drag himself back to that river just to find himself sinking into the water at the hands of many different Elizabeths, I was too floored to sit there thinking about how in tarnation any of that made sense. I expect that was very much the point. As Infinite pushes you through its final paces, it's inundating you with so much information, so much craziness, that there's no time to properly absorb it. The end of BioShock Infinite is less an immediately satisfying explanation of what's come before than an emotional swell designed to engulf the player. The more you sit there thinking about the infinite universes, the branches, the drowning, the symbolism of the many Elizabeths...well, it starts to unglue itself a bit. But speaking purely on an emotional level, Infinite's ending floored me at the time.

Reading up on the conclusion has helped me both accept it and inspired me to keep picking it apart. The thread on our forums digging through the game's various twists and backstories is incredibly helpful if you're looking to put the last few details together. For the sake of picking things apart, I especially enjoyed Todd Harper's exceptionally thoughtful look at how the game handles its multiuniversal tourism, illusion of choice, and commentary on creators and the current state of video games. Rab Florence tackles many of those things in his more effusively positive piece on the game, which manages to celebrate the many things Infinite does well without being too genuflecting about it.

Maybe most important to any of this is the notion that there's much to talk about in Infinite at all. I realize that's kind of a sad statement, but it's true. I can't recall the last time a video game gave me so many ideas and concepts to think about. I can't remember the last time a game I enjoyed so thoroughly inspired me to seek out dissenting opinions. I can't remember the last time a game got just about everyone talking with such intensity and regularity. That nearly all of the criticisms I've read have been thought provoking, or at the very least interesting, has been nothing short of a wonderful surprise.

Even if we don't agree with the critiques being given, more criticism isn't a bad thing, so long as its thoughtfully constructed and furthers the discussion among players. There is oftentimes a tragic tendency among gamers to shout down opposing viewpoints, especially when those viewpoints are posted on the Internet. I've seen some people try to shout down the many criticisms being lobbed at Infinite now, but thankfully they keep coming unabated. In a week or two, everyone will probably have moved on to something else, as is our custom. Regardless, watching seemingly the entirety of the game industry converge on a single game, and offer such a diverse array of opinions, beliefs, and criticisms has been a beautiful thing to behold. Maybe most big budget games aren't destined to inspire such discussions, but if Infinite helps push even a few more of them in that direction, then it cannot be called anything but a tremendous success.

#1 Edited by PoisonJam7 (357 posts) -

*Edit*

Pfft...figures, now that there are no more quests.

I can't wait to finish Infinite so I can read this article and watch the spoilercast!!

#2 Posted by teh_destroyer (3574 posts) -

I will play this someday, by then I would have forgotten any spoilers for sure.

#3 Posted by Buckydude (29 posts) -

Damn you Alex! I love this feature, but based on the headers, I've been working on an article of a similar nature the last week, and now I can't read yours for fear of looking embarrassing by comparison.

#4 Edited by EquitasInvictus (2030 posts) -

Great article examining both sides.of criticism surrounding BioShock Infinite; you definitely put many great points into perspective!

I especially found what you wrote about Fitzroy insightful! I missed out on a lot of the subtle context the game pushes to flesh her out, so i definitely would appreciate going back to that and see if it changes how I feel about her character.

#5 Posted by TheSouthernDandy (3925 posts) -

I wish I had some insight to add but you kinda nailed my feelings on the game and the last few weeks. Great job Alex as always. Really great. (An I'm not just saying that cause I agree)

#6 Posted by Nilazz (639 posts) -

The number of pieces I've read about Bioshock Infinite right now is WAY too many but I can't stop reading them...This game has me in it's grip and won't let go.

#7 Posted by cthomer5000 (868 posts) -

Great piece Alex.

It's nice to see this level of discussion about and dissection of a game. While I think it falls short narratively, I will concede that at the very least it does feel like an 'important' game, and that feels like a very good thing. Just the fact that it's been the discussion in gaming for a few weeks will help justify some GOTY selections, even if it won't be mine. No matter what the perspective on this game at year's end... I'll understand.

#8 Edited by Vigil80 (435 posts) -

I'm having the opposite experience from most everyone else, seems like. I came away from the game with a negative feeling, and immediately resisted the "Great game, or greatest game?" reaction of most everyone else.

But now I'm recognizing the parts I enjoyed - particularly the music and sound, and the general art design - and feeling good about it.

One point should not be forgotten in all the chatter about the game's story, however: It would have greatly, greatly benefited from a proper, regular save system. Really, just let me save my game, guys.

No, really. Shut up. Let me save.

#9 Edited by Brodehouse (10131 posts) -

I actually just finished it this morning.

You can't destroy causality in front of my eyes and then expect I'm going to care about any event that ever happens again. If all possible events occur regardless of the result of any specific event, and may immediately interfere with the progress of any other event, it kills any sense that what comes next will be informed by what came before.

About halfway through the game I became very nervous about how they were handling causality. The series of dimension skips in the Chen Lin quest. By the end I was completely irritated. When the multiple Elizabeth's show up to drown you, it wasn't mind blowing, it was just another event that happened out of many events that are happening at the same time. This specific one is no more special or 'real' than the others.

As for Anna in the crib, that is purely a Schroedinger's Cat finale. There is deliberately not enough information provided. 'Which' Booker are we looking through the eyes of? What happened in his past to get him to his office? Is it possible to even know, and even if we did, would it actually affect the outcome? In BioShock Infinite's finale, things that happen are not informed by things that came before. They are merely just things that happen, happened and will happen.

#10 Edited by Vigil80 (435 posts) -

@brodehouse: I felt similarly. It's one reason why I think (and hope) that this is the last Bioshock. I don't see where there's left to go that wouldn't be redundant or silly.

Not that that stops other game makers...

#11 Posted by Tarsier (1078 posts) -

bioshock didnt need to be a shooter, but its good that it was. the combat is fucking great. the thing that a lot of people are missing, is that the game is a snore fest on medium . you can play it like call of duty on medium setting. that is not the case on hard. on hard youre basically forced to make use of the unique elements of bioshocks combat to survive . the acrobatics involved with jumping from rail to rail, using tears and vigors , jumping from place to place to restock on ammo or grab new weapons is a really fun and unique experience.

people who play on medium miss out on that, it doesnt happen unless they make it happen. and when youre fat and/or lazy you probably dont care enough and just want to get through and see the story. i think the choice of what difficulty to play on was the source of the recent complaints surrounding the game .. people made the wrong choice, and their experience suffered for it. the game clearly states on the difficulty screen that if you are experienced with FPS games then you should play on hard (something along those lines).. too many people did not heed that, it seems.

#12 Posted by Alex (2401 posts) -

@brodehouse: The Chen Lin part was definitely the least interesting section of the story for me, specifically for the reason you mentioned. Once they just start hopping from tear to tear, I realized that the game had no intention of paying off the Vox Populi storyline with any sense of coherency. It's probably what made the team think the Daisy Fitzroy turn worked as it did, since it was a new universe, and therefore who cares if we felt one way or the other about her in the previous one.

That said, it still kind of sucked. I wanted the Vox Populi section of the story to at least present something noteworthy to the story outside of a large force for Comstock to already be fighting, but the game never really gets to that. It didn't ruin the overall game for me, but that part was kind of a bummer.

#13 Edited by Alex (2401 posts) -

@tarsier: I played it primarily on medium, but I've also played the first few hours through on hard and you're definitely right. It requires a lot more thought and technique to fight that way.

Again though, my issue with the combat had less to do with mechanics of it, and more how off it felt in pace with the rest of the game.

#14 Posted by jonnyboy (2920 posts) -

As a narrative piece, it's clearly highly subjective. My biggest problem with the game is in it's mechanics. Regardless of how you feel about the storytelling, it's a fairly clunky first person shooter that only gets clunkier the higher up the difficulty you go. Little things like your ammo levels being tied to your inventory and not your weapons, the fact that the vending machines don't sell weapons, the vigours are never full explained, demonstrated, or wielded by the enemy and most importantly on the higher difficulties, money is so scarce and also a commodity in itself. All these things combined mean that on the higher difficulties you cannot afford to experiment, turning the game from an possibly fun shooter to a very dull, repetitive slog.

#15 Edited by golguin (4051 posts) -

Looks like the "Spoils, spoiled, will spoil - a Bioshock Infinite FAQ" thread has the Alex seal of approval. I wonder how many other staff members have checked it out.

#16 Edited by Zlimness (573 posts) -

Very nice article, Alex!

But damn, I miss the good old days of late March 2013, when everyone came out of Bioshock Infinite saying "what the F, this isn't Bioshock 1 in the sky at all!" and everyone discussed the ending, instead of how much of a video game it was. As far as most people knew, Bioshock Infinite was a video game up to this point.

But reading some of the reactions now just bums me out. They seem to think it's the second coming of christ. The violence for example. I mean come on, it's not even a thing. The combat was my least favorite part of the game, but it's a shooter and I have played worse shooters. In fact, I think it's even a fairly competent shooter.

I wish I had more downtime in the game, but I knew going in that it's a Bioshock game and that's not how the series work. It's always on in Bioshock, so I didn't expect anything less. In the end, I think Bioshock Infinite is a very special game and it's going to stay with us for a while, and not only because we haven't gotten a really good one in some time. It's just special, period.

#17 Posted by SuperFusion (46 posts) -

Great read Alex! It speaks volumes to Bioshock Inifinite's quality that this much thoughtful criticism can arise from it.

#18 Posted by endaround (2147 posts) -

The one big thing Leigh Alexander missed was how much yes it was artificial, but a huge part of the game is about artifice and myth making. It owes more to Disney (where I thought she was going with her article given the intro) than just how Elizabeth resembles Belle. I mean the game takes you through a theme park. There is a lot the game says in the background about how such things are done

#19 Posted by MrGtD (469 posts) -

I'm having a bad case of "backlash to the backlash", so now I'm hunkering down in my bunker of 'yes BioShock Infinite was actually that goddamned good'. The Last of Us and GTA5 have their work cut out for them to snatch GOTY away, with Watch Underscore Dogs being the dark horse candidate. Or maybe some game that isn't even announced yet will blow everyone's minds. That'd be nice.

#20 Edited by Pie (7112 posts) -

The ending of the game really didn't have much emotional impact on me because it all got very convoluted and nonsensical. I finished it and understood what was meant to have happened but a lot of it didn't make sense still.

I think it says a lot that the first thing Patrick did after completing it was "go look at some forum threads and have someone explain it to me" and that it didn't seem like Jeff had understood things like when the booker/comstock split happens and when anna is born (that's all coming from what I remember of the spoilercast). I don't understand how the game can have an emotional impact on you when you don't understand core parts of the story.

And the after credits scene? That isn't a good inception style ending is it? The pre credit ending implies that all realities with comstock cease to exist but the ones with Booker and Anna continue so obviously the after credit scene would be happening in one of the infinite realities left? What is there to interpret? The end of Inception asks you the nice little question of whether or not Cobb is dreaming and leaves you to decide based on what you have learnt about the character and what you think he would do. Infinite leaves you to question whether or not any of the game made sense? Great.

Good game though.

Nice article too.

EDIT: And I accept I might just be an idiot.

#21 Edited by BBQBram (2294 posts) -

Great article Alex. I really like how I find myself agreeing with some of these criticisms to varying degrees, but still absolutely love the game.

#22 Posted by mracoon (4979 posts) -

I've been reading all the discussion about the game and been thoroughly enjoying it. It's great that we can have so much thoughtful and well written analysis about a game and I hope it continues with other big releases.

@alex: Have you thought about writing a review for Infinite? Jeff mentioned that the redesigned site is able to accommodate multiple reviews for a game and BioShock Infinite would be a perfect candidate for another opinion (although you have covered a lot of your thoughts here).

Moderator
#23 Posted by FoxMulder (1711 posts) -

Re-playing the original Bioshock and planning on playing Infinite again on 1999 mode after I finish 1!

#24 Posted by Alex (2401 posts) -

@pie: If you read through some of the various spoiler threads (yes, I know, still an after-game problem), there are some solid explanations for how the post-credits bit fits into the endgame scenario. It's up for debate, but I like the possibilities that have been floated.

That said, I did understand the core ending when it happened. It took me a few minutes to process it, but as it was going, I basically understood what the game was saying and what Booker's final baptism meant in the grander context of the game. If I hadn't understood where it was going, I imagine that yeah, I'd have had a real hard time connecting to anything it was trying to do. And I'm not suggesting that people should just automatically get it, because it's definitely opaque in places where it maybe ought not to be.

#25 Edited by LackingSaint (1856 posts) -

Excellent article, Alex! As somebody that altogether loved Bioshock Infinite, I totally agree that it seems like Irrational somewhat eschewed the idea of pacing the combat with the narrative. It strikes me as a little old-fashioned the way the gameplay has been designed, the idea of "Well here's the mechanics that make it a video-game and then we're going to layer the important stuff over that".

#26 Edited by Humanity (10115 posts) -

I think the entire game should be taken in as a sum of it's parts rather than judged on them individually. While I didn't find the combat as satisfying as in other games I did walk away from Infinite feeling immensely satisfied. One might go into many arguments over choice and dimensions, which Booker is which and the futility of it all in light of the "multiverse" but I think that is missing the point. For me the game is most enjoyable when you boil it down to the bare minimum of seeking second chances. The ending was really great because in light of movies and books it is nothing especially amazing - but in the realm of video games it is quite a powerful conclusion to a story.

Also I'm not quite sure how anyone could stomach reading that entire Leigh Alexander piece much less saying it's their favorite - unless you mean it in a strictly ironic "this is so bad it's good" sort of way Alex. Although I guess if one has a taste for the overly dramatic and enjoys a good high brow read about completely unrealistic expectations of modern video game storytelling in the FPS genre then you won't find anything better. I would say different strokes for different folks but I think there is quite a thick line of good taste that the article by Alexander briskly jumps way, way over.

EDIT: In addition I have to agree about the story delivery. First time through the game I rushed a little because I was really scared of randomly reading a spoiler online. I was also really enthralled with the story and couldn't wait to see what happens next. As a result, I missed a lot of Voxophones and even some areas entirely. The section of the game where Elizabeth sings while Booker strings along on a guitar? Never even saw that bar my first run through the game. Because so much of the story hinges directly on those recordings I was left out of the loop in the end as to what some of it meant. I understand the main arch, but finer details about the Lutece pair and Lady Comstock were still a mystery as I failed to investigate key areas and find the appropriate recordings.

I always thought "logs" were an awful way of conveying information in video games. Bioshock took the step in the right direction in making them short audio sound bytes that you can listen to on the fly but they should never contain important story beats in my opinion. Other games like Dishonored or Deus Ex: Human Revolution are a lot more rough in their delivery by presenting the player with walls of text that completely take you out of the gameplay.

#27 Posted by bgdiner (293 posts) -

Great article. I do think that people are, to some degree, over-analyzing each facet of the game; I'm not sure that Ken Levine had a giant tapestry of plot points interconnected (as I think Patrick described it). Right after finishing the game, I did indulge myself in the detail-analysis that seems near-ubiquitous now. Now, however, I've moved on to other games, and I'm less interested in piecing together Infinite as I am appreciating it as a magnificent work of fiction. Infinite isn't Joyce's Ulysses, to be dissected throughout the years. It's an interesting mind-bender, but certainly not something to be scrutinized down to every detail.

#28 Posted by Albedo12 (66 posts) -

I've noticed people discussing the rapid nature of Fitzroy's development, but as I was playing the game it made sense to me. Here's my line of thinking: Elizabeth and Booker casually jump into alternate dimensions to save the gunsmith. First, to a reality where he is still alive, and then to another where his machines are not confiscated, without any thought to the other changes that were necessary for those worlds to be different in the way Elizabeth requires. Chen Lin is alive in reality 2 because the Vox are stronger and the Founders never got to him, and then in reality 3 they are stronger still. Why are the Vox stronger? Because, at least in part, in each reality Fitzroy is different. Fitzroy 1 may never have been on the path to lead the Vox to full-scale war, but Fitzroy 3 is a psychopath. Fitzroy 1 does not develop into Fitzroy 3, she is still back in reality 1, waiting for her guns that will never come, losing her battle.

#29 Edited by artsandrules (39 posts) -

Thanks, Alex. I really enjoyed your pragmatic view.

#30 Edited by Weatherking (42 posts) -

@brodehouse: That's funny, I love stories that play with that stuff. I find it really cool when creators subvert the entire experience and just generally fuck with you. After I think the second dimension jump or so I realized and thought to myself: "Wow they really made everything that's happening around Booker and Elizabeth pointless. That's so cool!" Maybe It's because I rarely keep myself invested in any piece of fiction after I'm done experiencing it. Maybe I'm a narrative masochist!

#31 Edited by RetroVirus (1492 posts) -

I enjoyed the article, and I was pleased by the even and measured tone with which Alex presented his opinions. With some of other pieces, it sometimes felt like criticisms boiled down to "I don't agree with X part of Infinite, and because it doesn't meet Y expectations, it is a failure." For myself, I was okay with the more personal story of Booker, Elizabeth, and Comstock because it was interesting, and I felt that the themes of racism and so on were great for setting up the world and providing context for the story. They didn't have to be completely fleshed out or given greater prominence in the specific story of Booker to make it successful.

I enjoyed the combat a lot, and after playing some of BioShock 1, I never felt that the violence felt out of place, just maybe more shocking in the light of day. Rapture is a dark and unnerving setting, where the violence and blood perhaps felt more at home in that mood. Columbia is a bright and vibrant setting, and the excessive violence probably stands out more against the backdrop of an idealized America.

#32 Edited by Jasoncourt (68 posts) -

The end of the game took away from the rest of my time with it. Revealing the “infinite” part of Bioshock unfortunately replaces any satisfying ending for the story I have been playing and the characters I knew and loved. That is my problem with the game as a whole and even though I had a great time playing through it, the ending couldn’t help leave a bad taste in my mouth that hurts my opinion of the game as a whole. Yes, there is a lot to nerd out about, but the vast majority is 'on paper' and is really only effective in retrospect. Sure, there are clues all around and references and events that fit perfectly into the story...but generally after the fact.

Infinite's characters and world, when flipped upside down (infinitely) you leave this player without a satisfying conclusion of 13 hours of story, experience, world and characters that I loved in lieu of the reveal of the Bioshock 'world'. Is it an extraordinarily well realized world in it's details yes, even when compared to similar time/world bending stories. That doesn't change the feeling I got after how rigidly it is presented in the last 20 minutes and how little my experience with the world and characters mattered in the end. Basically, I would rather had a Bioshock 'Limited' or just “Sky-o-Shock” instead. There was plenty of depth and thought provoking themes and storylines before the finale of Bioshock Infinite came to pass.

I realize I may be in the minority, but I'm still sharing. I don't hate Infinite, very far from it, it just unfortunately didn't ignite me as it did you and so many others. Oh, also, I must say that I do understand the ending events and what they mean, perhaps not as with as much detail as some, but I got it...just thought that I should point that out :)

#33 Posted by SonicBoyster (361 posts) -

Fantastic article. Thanks for the breakdown.

#34 Edited by Nicked (258 posts) -

One thing I think Infinite brings to light is the severe lack of critical analyses by the gaming press ("critical analysis" meaning analytic critiques as opposed to software reviews). I'm paraphrasing here, but I feel like a lot of people are going "Just LOOK at all these THEMES". OK, but all games have "themes". Call of Duty has themes. I really like the reaction to Infinite, but I wish that these sorts of critiques happened more often. I have to wonder what makes Infinite so special in this regard. I get the sense that the gaming press is humping it because it is presented as intended to be at least somewhat intellectual and Ken Levine is portrayed as a brilliant and serious writer. (I can't corroborate this and I'm probably being myopic about the amount of analytical pieces from the press, but it's a feeling a can't shake.) Even if you ignore story and like at the critiques of just the shooting/combat mechanics, few reviewers ever go into this much detail. Why can't this happen more often?

I also feel like Infinite was the point at which the "waaa waaa don't 'spoil' the game for me" crowd won. Never before have I seen so many disclaimers to "play the game before I tell you anything about it or you will like totally seriously irrevocably absolutely RUIN the whole experience". Dumb.

Last, as a guy who also really likes horror movies and gore, the amount of games with 1st person face stabbing has given a little pause. It just seems like a cheap and boring use of violence. Feeble attempts from developers to push the limit for limit-pushing's sake.

#35 Posted by colinjw (226 posts) -

I enjoyed this as one of the more level headed looks at the game.

#36 Edited by Pie (7112 posts) -

@alex said:

@pie: If you read through some of the various spoiler threads (yes, I know, still an after-game problem), there are some solid explanations for how the post-credits bit fits into the endgame scenario. It's up for debate, but I like the possibilities that have been floated.

That said, I did understand the core ending when it happened. It took me a few minutes to process it, but as it was going, I basically understood what the game was saying and what Booker's final baptism meant in the grander context of the game. If I hadn't understood where it was going, I imagine that yeah, I'd have had a real hard time connecting to anything it was trying to do. And I'm not suggesting that people should just automatically get it, because it's definitely opaque in places where it maybe ought not to be.

I understood what his final baptism meant (I think) but as it was happening all I could think about was "Where am I right now?. It's the place you get baptised and the comstock split happens but where is the priest and all that? ","Why does killing this old man booker affect all the other realities where young booker is?" and similar things. I understood what it meant in the grander context of the game but stuff like that which doesn't really matter really took me out of it.

I might go read the spoiler threads to see what they say about the post credits scene but at the same time it really does seem kinda silly to have to go read forum threads to understand it. It's not like I will suddenly like it because someone explains it to me. I mean I felt like I knew the post credit scene was happening somewhere because of what I took away from the pre credit ending, I just presumed that their would still be realities with Booker and Anna. Having them show it after the credits made me think I had completely missed the point of the ending.

They introduce all the inter dimensional travel stuff, never really lay down the rules and then proceed to break the rules that they hadn't made all in the space of a few hours.

#37 Edited by antivanti (331 posts) -

This god damned game has made me listen to hymns.. on youtube.. voluntarily! That version of Will the circle be unbroken is really good. Especially when you sit there paralyzed from the ending just staring at nothing for a few minutes.

#38 Edited by Sil3n7 (1199 posts) -

This podcast goes into the ethical and philosophical nature of Bioshock Infinite. Listen here.

#39 Edited by DeathbyYeti (767 posts) -

The common theme I have been noticing is non stop media praise and articles for the game but I guess it should be expected now

#40 Edited by TheManWithNoPlan (6002 posts) -

Really nice article Alex. Even if some of the criticism comes from mismanaged expectations, I think it's fantastic a game has sparked this much conversation. So far, Bioshock Infinite is my personal GOTY, but there will definitely be some fantastic competition later this year. It's very exciting!

I'm still waiting for the inevitable Fox News story.

HEADLINE " Not only are video games promoting violence, now their teaching our children to be racist."

#41 Posted by MiniPato (2752 posts) -

@albedo12 said:

I've noticed people discussing the rapid nature of Fitzroy's development, but as I was playing the game it made sense to me. Here's my line of thinking: Elizabeth and Booker casually jump into alternate dimensions to save the gunsmith. First, to a reality where he is still alive, and then to another where his machines are not confiscated, without any thought to the other changes that were necessary for those worlds to be different in the way Elizabeth requires. Chen Lin is alive in reality 2 because the Vox are stronger and the Founders never got to him, and then in reality 3 they are stronger still. Why are the Vox stronger? Because, at least in part, in each reality Fitzroy is different. Fitzroy 1 may never have been on the path to lead the Vox to full-scale war, but Fitzroy 3 is a psychopath. Fitzroy 1 does not develop into Fitzroy 3, she is still back in reality 1, waiting for her guns that will never come, losing her battle.

I never saw her as developing into a psychopath, there was never any kind of arc from when you meet her to when Elizabeth kills her. I saw Fitzroy as always being psychopathic. I was willing to see her as a level headed person from the audio logs. But then she pushes Booker out of a flying airship for him to plummet 100 feet onto a hardwood dock after employing him to arm her troops. So yeah, she's pretty angry and violent and irrational in every world.

#42 Edited by GreggD (4515 posts) -

@brodehouse: That's funny, I love stories that play with that stuff. I find it really cool when creators subvert the entire experience and just generally fuck with you. After I think the second dimension jump or so I realized and thought to myself: "Wow they really made everything that's happening around Booker and Elizabeth pointless. That's so cool!" Maybe It's because I rarely keep myself invested in any piece of fiction after I'm done experiencing it. Maybe I'm a narrative masochist!

Definitely agree with that. And anyone who got mad and said that they made Rapture irrelevant, well, who cares? That game still holds up, and if Levine wanted to do what he did, why should you care?

#43 Posted by smcn (926 posts) -

DAE have trouble getting past Daisy Fitzroy sounding like southern Ashley Williams?

#44 Edited by KoolAid (1034 posts) -

What I don't really agree with is the idea that the game gives up on the "plight of Columbia's minority population" halfway through the game. While it is true that the game is not explicitly about racism, it DOES have violence as a recurring theme. The Vox are defined by how their uprising became super violent, and the last half of the game features the horror of their revolution as the backdrop.

I feel that the racism is there to create an super bias against the Founders and then that bias is turned on its head. Up until the police station, the Vox have every inch of the moral high ground in the conflict. Even with how terrible the Founders are and how justifiable the uprising is, it all gets turned on its head when the Vox start killing EVERYBODY. Maybe what they are trying to say is that violence is the real enemy? That no one who fights ever ends up with clean hands?

I agree that racism is a huge, deep and complex topic and I agree that it is strange to see it play second fiddle to another story. I think that concept is rare in fiction, which is why is seems so strange to us. But I think Bioshock Infinite knew exactly what it was doing.

#45 Edited by ConsideredDead (30 posts) -

Great article Alex. I'm enjoying the numerous and different critiques of this game. BioShock Infinite has brought out what seems to be literary discourse on a large scale. That's exciting for this medium.

#46 Posted by Daneian (1251 posts) -

My issues with the story surround the fact that so many of its most important beats are initiated by brute force rather than developing naturally.

Going through the Hall of Heroes provided insightful characterization to Booker, Comstock and Columbia but we're only going there to grab the Shock Jockey vigor so we can power the tram to our next destination.

The only reason we help Daisy procure guns is so we can get the ship she stole from us back. That's kind of a weakly expressed turn for a sequence that will go on to explore the same themes of violence that we had just seen with the Wounded Knee and Boxer exhibits while teaching us how to understand the multiverse concept.

Both these moments are crucial to the story (and to each other) but the plot had to be bent to get us there.

#47 Edited by LunaCantabile (82 posts) -

@albedo12: Though this sort of comes back to a problem I and a few other people have with the game, it's incredibly nonchalant about abandoning whole realities simply out of convenience, it trivialises the nature of any single event in the game, in fact the ending only even happens because it immediately tells you that the culmination of everything you did doesn't count because there's other universes where it went differently.

I realise there's a dangerous other extreme that's a rather unfortunate cliche wether alternate realities ultimately become entirely unimportant compared to your own, but this sort of takes in in the equally bad direction of none of them feeling valued.

#48 Edited by Pie (7112 posts) -

Eh I think I probably got too caught up in some unimportant problems I had with the plot and came to it after hearing some ridiculous hyperbole from people like Jim Sterling ("Well, I already said it. BioShock Infinite is damn near perfect.") and Adam Sessler. Might have soured my experience just a bit. To the Moon is pretty good.

#49 Edited by wemibelec90 (1838 posts) -

Great job putting all this together, Alex! I have been poking at the various bits of Infinite criticism over the last few weeks and was surprised at how often I had to challenge my thoughts about the game. It isn't very often that I get to do that with a video game.

#50 Edited by Brodehouse (10131 posts) -

@greggd said:

@weatherking said:

@brodehouse: That's funny, I love stories that play with that stuff. I find it really cool when creators subvert the entire experience and just generally fuck with you. After I think the second dimension jump or so I realized and thought to myself: "Wow they really made everything that's happening around Booker and Elizabeth pointless. That's so cool!" Maybe It's because I rarely keep myself invested in any piece of fiction after I'm done experiencing it. Maybe I'm a narrative masochist!

Definitely agree with that. And anyone who got mad and said that they made Rapture irrelevant, well, who cares? That game still holds up, and if Levine wanted to do what he did, why should you care?

Perhaps not the point, but "why should I care?" should be a question that authors attempt to answer, not one they pose.

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