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A Lighthouse, a Man, a City: What Makes Bioshock Infinite Triumph?

  • Written by Gary LaPlante

Okay so, Bioshock Infinite is kind of awesome. Well to be fair, I’m not sure there are adjectives that can describe this game, so I’ll break down piece by piece what makes it so awesome. Now,let me preface this by saying that there WILL BE SPOILERS. Also this is not review, if you want one then there are plenty of them to be found all over the internet. With that out of the way, let’s get started, shall we?

The start of Bioshock Infinite is absolutely brilliant. What is truly amazing about the first few hours is that it sets the tone of this world. On the surface it seems like this very utopian alternate America, yet underneath this shell there is a very repulsive and seedy underbelly to Columbia. The hyper religiousness of the city leaves you with a sickening feeling that there is no freedom of choice, and that this is forced upon you. All of this is happening along with very subtle foreshadowing and metaphors. During this time you have close to zero combat and are just exploring this extremely well fleshed out world. You aren’t doing it because the game is making you, you’re doing it because you want to. You want to explore this beautiful yet very odd world. You aren’t even aware of the fact that you aren’t in combat, because this world is just so interesting. There are so many details that just engage you - from the posters on the wall, to the people that inhabit this world, it will capture you in a way that few games can.

Another thing that I would like to mention is how they teach you to use your abilities. There are these carnival games in which you can earn money to buy upgrades by shooting targets and/or using your vigors (which are Infinite's version of Plasmids). It might seem like just a meaningless mini game but it’s teaching you how to play the game. Let me tell you, the way Bioshock Infinite teaches you how to play is a lot better than this, which I hate with every single fiber of my being. It’s one of the worst things in gaming, but that’s besides the point. After you have your first experience of combat, which extends for about two hours until you free Elizabeth, you have another extended period of time with zero combat. At this point it lets you explore Battleship Bay with zero combat, you just soak in the atmosphere and get to enjoy this incredibly detailed world that has been created. Herein lies the games biggest strength; it treats you like an adult and not a product of the ADD generation that needs to be stimulated by explosions and enemies non-stop. No, it treats you like an adult and these extended periods without combat show that. From looking around all of the shops, to seeing the stark contrast of the segregated bathrooms, it’s nothing short of an awe inspiring experience.

Now onto something that can go almost unnoticed - Garry Schyman's original score. It really highlights points in the combat where you’re facing more of a challenge, meshes perfectly with what’s happening on screen. It makes things extremely tense, even if your shield is fully charged and you have full health. It doesn’t do it in a way where it feels forced or contrived, but completely organic. You don’t really notice it unless you’re deliberately paying attention to it. Another detail in that audio that is masterfully done is the voxophones, which are audio logs hidden throughout the game. Many games have tried this in the past. It’s nothing new or groundbreaking, but in the case of Bioshock Infinite they’ve built such an interesting world that you’re fiending for more information on it, how it came to be and the people that inhabit it. The information that you get from these voxophones isn’t the kind of mundane or useless stuff that you’d expect from other games. It fleshes out the history of Columbia, while highlighting its key historical figures. You want to find all these voxophones to obtain the most information possible.

The source that you want to obtain the most information from is Elizabeth. The way that she develops throughout the game is a crowning achievement for Ken Levine and his staff. She starts off as this sheltered and innocent child, even if she is a 20 year old. She’s been held captive in a tower for the greater part of her life so her development is very much akin to growing up and being exposed to both the beautiful and ugly sides of the world. She doesn’t have any experiences in the real world and the way that she slowly progresses into a woman is just amazing;  from seeing her discover dancing for the first time on the boardwalk, to hearing her shriek in terror when you perform an execution on an enemy in combat. To finally the moment when she transforms into a woman as she stabs Daisy Fitzroy, gets into a more grown-up outfit and cuts her hair. Sometimes the transitions are subtle, and other times they are more abrupt, but in both situations they work extremely well. Few games can craft characters that are so interesting that you actually care about them, but Bioshock Infinite succeeds doing so. Having a character continue to develop and react to each situation with her past experiences in mind is such a joy to experience.

Finally, the closing moments of the game aren’t done in a conventional way. First, there is no final boss battle, and I’m thankful for that. There was no boss battle that was going to top what the narrative of Bioshock Infinite was building up to. The fate of the world was on the line, what could have possibly been done to recreate that feeling in the game? A battle with Songbird would have fell short in my opinion. So what did they do instead? They have a final battle of sorts followed by about an hour or so of narrative. It was the perfect way to end the game as it ends how it started in more ways than one. It ends with you taking in everything that’s happening, taking in the narrative, taking in every last second of it because it’s just so good and there was no other way to end this game.

Bioshock Infinite aims to tell a story and build an incredible world inside of one disc, and it succeeds on all levels and then some.

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