Continuing my near blitz run of the Bioshock series, I started Bioshock Infinite the day after I finished Bioshock 2. It was the one I’d say I’d seen the most bits about, and one I thought I had a good feel about regarding this story of Booker DeWitt and his rescue/stealing of a young woman named Elizabeth. However, I also went in fairly cold about the actual conceit of the story and about the nature of Columbia, namely, I had no idea it was racist utopia. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but I can’t think of any other way to describe it: to the white citizens it is their utopia, and for the rest, perhaps a version of hell they can’t seem to escape from.
Even in the opening of the game, nothing clued me in as to this part of the game this until Booker wins a raffle that turns out to mean he gets the first throw of a baseball at a mixed-race couple who are brought out tied up on stage, presumably to be murdered by the audience. Talk about a complete blindside! Beyond the shock of the scene from not knowing what was about to happen, it also struck home because my parents WERE a mixed-race couple in the 70. My dad is black and my mom was white. Her family literally declared her dead to them for being with a black man and having mixed-race children.
So yeah, it was all the more powerful to me and, at least temporarily, made me fine with the bloodbath that followed that scene as Booker deals with the cops (because I choose to throw the ball at the announcer because fuck that). Though I also worried that when I did find Elizabeth, she would mirror the town’s views and part of the story would involve her learning better. It isn’t that I have an issue with that kind of story per se, but it isn’t what I would have been wanting to play at all.
Fortunately, Elizabeth was delightful, intelligent, and appalled by the reality of Columbia, even more so that Booker it seemed. And you eventually learn of the Vox Populi, a rebel group trying to take down the leadership of Columbia to free non-white citizens from their oppressors. There is also a group of citizens who clearly disagree with the racist nature of the city, basically the equivalent of abolitionists, though I wasn’t sure if they are also part of the Vox or were white citizens doing their own thing. I’m inclined to think the latter, though the Vox did seem to have some white (or possibly just fair-skinned) members.
Elizabeth, you eventually learn, has the ability to open “tears” in time/space that opens to other versions of worlds or something (a bit of yadda yadda there). Eventually, you use that power in your quest to get Elizabeth out of Columbia, which requires aiding the Vox and eventually gives them what they need to begin their revolution. As part of this, the Vox pretty much goes through the town murdering everyone who isn’t one of them, including children, stealing anything not nailed down, and setting the city ablaze.
This was a scenario that I struggled with processing. While I could understand it and it “made sense” in the world that was depicted, as there were already clues as to what the Vox would do if they won, it still seemed to be a bit of a twisted result, one that made me wonder if the creator had really thought about the implications of having such a storyline in this game. That black people, freed from oppression, would murder all of the white people? I mean seriously, one of the very arguments from slave owners against freeing their slaves and an excuse used in our history to continue oppressing minorities? And yes, there is historical precedence that the oppressed wouldn’t end up being any better than the oppressors, and when they won power or were helped to win it, they were just as bad, if not worse, than those previously in charge. But with the history of the US, it seems like an ill-thought idea to have in this game when there would have been so many other ways to drive home the same broad idea without making it a whites vs minorities thing.
If you look at the broader scenario without the racist parts, then it provides a thought-proking idea on the dangers of helping boost a new group to power without taking the time to confirm if it is any better or worse than the one that’s ruling now. It also gives Elizabeth a chance that doing the seeming “right” thing doesn’t always turn out to be right. Unfortunately, the game also uses the story to take numerous shots at religion, specifically Judeo-Christian religions, and the problems inherent when people blindly follow with a cult-like mentality versus questioning and holding leadership accountable when they go astray.
I did find the first part of the game a bit more draining to play than the rest, partially from the racism, and partially from the level of gruesomeness and violence. Now I certainly don’t have issues with games that are violent or that have some gruesome elements, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. I wasn’t in the mindset for playing that at the time and it was particularly disconcerting and confusing as it was so very different from the first two games. In many ways, Bioshock Infinite felt like a completely different game rather than being related to the other two, beyond the steampunk design and some basic gameplay elements.
The first weapon you get is a spinning tri-blade cutting thing that just ripped people to pieces and cut their heads off. One vigor, called Murder of Crows, which literally had crows rip your skin off was so horrible I wouldn’t even use it the entire game, especially when you get it by killing a crow-man who’d literally just used it on a poor Chinese man. Yeah, even as much as I was cool with taking down a racist regime, that was too damn extreme for me. And some of the plasmoids (now called vigors) that were in the first game, like the fire and shock ones, were also much more brutal, with the fire burning the skin, muscle, and then bones of the victim. While I freely used the plasmoids in the first two games, I barely used them in Infinite beyond possession.
The graphics of the game were great, gorgeous city and just amazing details. There is, however, one huge exception: the subtitles suck seriously monkey nuts! They are almost worse than useless, I can’t read them at all! These pics are with my phone zoomed in from my seat on the sofa. And even then it’s still barely visible! I had to finally just kill the music to a super low volume, lower the SFX volume, and then up the overall volume because I was missing so much of the conversations due to not being able to read them.
I did love the interactions with Booker and Elizabeth, especially how they actually seemed to think about each other’s views and even seemed to shift their views as they contemplated and accepted the other’s ideas weren’t all wrong. I love the whole conceit of the tears and how just a seemingly small little change made a big difference (the common temporal issue). I liked the brother-sister duo that was helping them because they were just fun to listen to.
As for the ending…yeah, okay, that seriously had me going WTF!? Beyond being confusing, though I was able to get the basic idea, it was weird and just felt completely wrong to me. It came out of nowhere and seemed like a total misdirection from where the game seemed to be leading, and not just because it totally went against where I presumed things were going. Nothing in the game up until that point even seems to remotely hint at the things revealed in the end, and it just seemed so against the character types that I found it hard to believe it was even possible. While the other elements of the game were uncomfortable, I would say the ending was the only part that truly disappointed me.
Well, no, I take that back. I was also disappointed in the removal of the moral choices element that could change the endings in the first two games. In this one, you have few choices. There are the occasional prompts, but you don’t get options, it’s just a basic prompt. The only moral choice is the first one, with the raffle. There were times where it seemed like the game was hinting that some times a pickup would be considered “stealing” versus just “finding”, but it doesn’t seem like doing so would have actually had any consequences for Booker or the story, so what was the point of even making it an element? (After saying that, I googled it and apparently the only choice is it can make otherwise non-hostile people hostile, but it has no actual effect beyond that).
Of the three games, I definitely enjoyed the first two far more than the third in terms of story. I could even see myself playing the first two again to maybe find some of the stuff I missed, I honestly am not sure I’d want to replay Infinite again.
And, for the curious, I did not play the DLC because that ending had me pretty much done with the game. I did go read the summary on Wikipedia just to find out how it connected to the other two games. That made me more glad I didn’t play it because it seemed like an even more convoluted mess than Infinite’s ending and I doubt I’d have liked it much.