Shaking the Pillars of Heaven: Reviewing ‘BioShock Infinite’

BioShock Infinite

I was excited to start BioShock Infinite for a couple of reasons. One was that the graphics looked amazing in all of the screenshots I had seen, and two, I had heard a lot of very good things about the storyline from several of my friends. In addition to that, there was the fact that instead of the Ayn Rand love in the first and second games, it slanted in a different perspective. Instead of glorifying the joys of capitalism and psychological brainwashing, things shifted to religious zealotry. All three are serious issues to be concerned about, so the game potentially taking on zealotry interested me. And man, did the game deliver far more than I had hoped.

With the vague setup of the Prophet as a “bad guy,” the game had an interesting start. Booker DeWitt makes his way to the city, notes a lot of strange things and people, then ends up in a very visceral variation of the story: The Lottery. Being thrown into a moral quandary that fast was fun. Do you keep up the pretense and seem like the other racists around you or do you refuse to play into the very powerful racial and class issues being presented? A modern stoning involving baseballs was really screwed up, but all in all, a very satisfying beginning. And given that the targets of this event were an Irish man and a black woman really worked nicely to unsettle me. Since I am Irish by descent and have studied the Irish diaspora and its effects socially, as well as slavery and its fallout, that bit really hit home.

Given that the United States of late 1800s and early 1900s had this degree of subtle and overt issues with both groups, I felt this particular issue fit into the game’s aesthetic rather nicely. It was a historically accurate Othering that gave the WASP majority a target to blame for many of the woes that were of their own making. And to have a “religious” backing for the violence and treatment of these groups also fit the era, as there had been many such movements during that time period. So, kudos to the design team for that excellent bit of historical inclusion. It was clear from a number of aspects that the designers had done a lot of research into the early 1900s in terms of clothing, attitudes, language use, etc., and that only served to make the game more powerful rather than less.

So, facing all that historically accurate weight to the story, I waded into the game, interested in where this journey would take me. The graphics are stunning. The city design is wonderful and there is a consistent architectural concept throughout. The sound work is great and I really enjoyed the various lighting changes in there. All of that definitely created an excellent atmosphere for the events, especially as things began to fall apart and spiral out of control. The combat aspect of the game was also very well done. FPSers are not the most complex of games, given that you run around and shoot things, but this was a whole other level—all due to the storyline.

One of the things I dearly loved about the storyline, aside from the racial and social issues, was the discussions of and the nature of Tears. This story aspect brought in some very interesting internal struggles for the characters, many of which would be difficult to make happen without dimensional hopping. And given how many were brought into play, it became difficult to tell what world you were in. That was a good aspect, even playing into the flow of the narrative such as when Fitzroy mentioned that DeWitt was dead, and thus, your character had to be an imposter. So much fun. Once Elizabeth entered the story as an engaged character, reality seemed to get even more wibbly wobbly (to borrow the phrase).

And that was a great part of the fun. The world of Infinite was tricky to understand, because honestly, which world was the origin world? There were so many questions as to what reality is and where we are that it became tricky to follow, adding to the frenetic nature of the game. True, there was the fact that you could tell what world you were in, to a degree, by what weapons were available, but even then you were in 2 or 3 possible worlds where those versions of weapons were more the norm. It was also difficult to tell which set of horrors corresponded to which world as there were plenty to go around. And through it all, the hero struggled to fight on and make sense of things far outside his understanding.

Booker DeWitt was a decently complex character trying to cope with a number of things: loss, pain, grief, and a growing lack of understanding concerning what was going on. Those important issues of identity and personal history helped drive Booker through these continuously more chaotic events. The voice actor nailed the emotional weight of his story arc beautifully, bringing out the needed pathos when it honestly called for it.

Bioshock

However, I think Elizabeth stole the game. Her character concept and performance made an already interesting and fun game better. This was not a woman to be trifled with, having a great deal of strength of will, but also not reduced to a feminist trope. She had both feminine and masculine traits, which was a surprise to see in an FPS, as usually the storyline is only strong enough to carry the gameplay. Women are often in need of saving, and Elizabeth was not really that kind of girl. She and Booker saved each other with regular frequency. This was a huge step forward for female representation in the series. I have not played the Burial at Sea DLC, but I have heard that she is actually a playable character in that one, which is pretty cool.

There were a number of women represented throughout the game in ways that were far better than the previous two games. Lady Comstock was really interesting the more you learned of her personal history and tragedy. Daisy Fitzroy was rather engaging in the few scenes you had with her, and she was one of the characters who helped shape the growing conflict. In fact, in this game, it was the actions of the women that really drove things. Comstock was just sort of there, taunting the character, providing a target to release frustration upon, but he really wasn’t all that problematic. Getting him was more of a prize hunt than a classic villain hunt.

BioShock Infinite was an awesome game and one I have enjoyed replaying. The first two didn’t have that much replay value to me, though I am glad I played through them because they did have good storylines and concepts. However, Infinite is far more engaging on several levels. I am planning on getting Burial at Sea to finish what is available because the story is so engaging. All in all, I think it was an amazing addition to the series and a fabulous game in its own right.

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2 Comments on “Shaking the Pillars of Heaven: Reviewing ‘BioShock Infinite’

  1. Pingback: Sunday Loot: Top Tweets From This Week | FemHype

  2. “there was the fact that instead of the Ayn Rand love in the first and second games, it slanted in a different perspective. Instead of glorifying the joys of capitalism and psychological brainwashing…”

    Okay this paragraph sorta bothered me, so I thought I would ask did I miss something in the first games?

    From what I remember, the whole point of the first game is “Ayn Rand’s ideology is shit, now here is a city run on that logic for you to explore” and basically showing how the whole free market system with no regulations turned everybody into self absorbed zombies willing to murder anybody in their path, including children, just for their own gain with the city itself crumbling away into ruins. Also your character is mind controlled and is forced to do a lot of terrible things under the influence of brain control, in which you at the end of the game try to break free from it if memory serves me right, how is that glorifying it?

    I don’t remember a lot of the political tones of the second game, but I don’t think it was pro-brainwashing or for a completely free market where murder was okay if profit was made either was it?

    Sorry, I am just kinda confused by this

    Like

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