Bioshock infinite was for me one of those rare experiences in gaming where something truly entranced me. I tried my best to stay away from the internet between when I bought it (before vacation) and when I finally got to play it (last week and again this weekend).
This game is wonderful and beautiful. It’s a difficult game to talk about because so much of it is tied to the story. I’m sure that most previews told far too much of the story and I am saddened for anyone that walked into Bioshock with any more information than I had.
I’m going to give this game a review right now and then I’m going to carry on into the spoiler world after the cut. It is in your best interest to stop reading if you plan on ever playing it or experiencing it. It’s also in your best interest to play it now before someone spoils it for you.
If you press end on your keyboard you should be able to jump down to my theory on the ending without seeing any pictures that might spoil things. But I highly suggest playing the game before reading anything else about this game.
BIOSHOCK SUPER SPOILERS INCOMING!
Like seriously…all the things…
I find myself looking up at a lighthouse, nostalgia settling in. I remember once crawling into a lighthouse and going down…deep down. I listened to the words of a man with so much passion for what he believed that I thought I too might be delving down into Eden.
But in Bioshock Infinite you do not go down, you go up. Each flight of stairs in this journey paved in blood and cryptic messages of rebirth and redemption. “Good luck with that.” your character, Booker, says.
Booker is an interesting protagonist to me because he is not a noble person. He is a flawed person and someone who has made deep and unforgiveable mistakes in his past. Perhaps not unforgiveable in the eyes of eternity but among mortal men it is something difficult for him to come to terms with.
A few bell rings later and we find ourselves standing amidst the deep roars of the heavens, crimson red flooding the skies.
What great evil have we awoken? The moment is incredibly powerful for me because it all stems around the greatest conductor of fear, the unknown. Somewhere above the clouds lies a beast that bellows in our presence. Booker turns to find a chair waiting for him, shackles prepped at the wrists and ankles I knew that something was not right.
But, just as Booker went, I went. Up and up into the clouds I rushed until the very heavens were pierced. Through the blinding light I saw it…
A great city floating high above the world below. Obscured by clouds and somehow unsettling in its incredible beauty. I was a seed floating down to the city, symbolism that would run deep in the story. Booker is the source…after all.
The elevator ride down to entering Columbia presented me with the following message:
Why would he send his savior unto us,
If we will not raise a finger for our own salvation?
And though we deserved not his mercy,
He has led us to this new Eden,
A Last chance for redemption.
This whole scene spoke to me. The events that follow were equally touching and helped to create a sense of wonder within me. This was a place I wanted to explore, a place I wanted to live, everyone was so happy and everything was so clean and bright.
Hidden under this happiness were two things. One that completely slipped by me and caught me off guard and the other that helped to set the tone.
I somehow knew that this would come to bite me in the ass. I wasn’t sure how, but I was prepared. I wasn’t about to let myself get caught in the act of being blindsided by this game.
Well shit. Alright, maybe one photo isn’t that big of a deal. Something here seems comfortable but wrong. I can’t quite put my finger on it.
But I suspect that was what the developers wanted me to experience because soon it would all come crashing down with a single sentence.
“What a beautiful white girl.”
I thought back and it hit me like a train. Everyone I had seen since I had landed was white. Every last person. I hadn’t caught hide nor hair of anyone with even the slightest hint of melanin. Well… the game had an answer to that.
I had quickly realized that the happy raffle I had been entered into was neither happy, nor in my particular case, a raffle. This event was, is, and had been. Here I was standing among a crowd of folks excited and waiting.
Waiting for me to cast the first stone.
Who would have thought that that simple stone would cause ripples so far and wide. This was a tough moment for me because I quickly realized the city would burn. This beautiful place that had so fully captured my imagination and heart would not last the game.
That’s the interesting thing about inevitability. Knowing what will happen and being unable to avoid it, a strange thing. The only real “fate” in our real lives is that of death, no amount of actions thus far has been able to avoid that all encompassing destination. I say real lives but it is something that cannot be escaped in most games either, and certainly not in this one.
The interesting thing about the time period this game is based in is that it is so divorced from the “reality” that we are all comfortable with. I have a friend who is upset about the source of the antagonist being a baptism, but this was a time when many many Americans were using god and Christ as their justifications for slavery and extreme abuse of minorities. These acts were not just moral but they were expected and outright demanded by god himself.
Religion in many ways works like adding an organ post-birth. It must be presented in such a way that it is close enough with the natural way of things that it is not rejected outright. People of faith now tend to assume that their faith was always as ‘nice’ as it is now, but just like people it was never this nice before this time. We are constantly moving towards a world nicer than the one we left, there are bumps along the way where the old tries to influence the new but, like a bad organ, it gets rejected and sometimes very violently.
Stumbling into Lady’s Cult was something of an eye opener for me, it was satire but done in such a way that it disturbed me. Which arguably is the best kind of satire, the kind that elicits an emotional response and demands introspection.
In Bioshock they repeatedly mention the Sword (George Washington), the Scroll (Thomas Jefferson), and the Key (Benjamin Franklin). Here you can see the prominent worship of the sword, force. The inhabitants believe in fighting to protect the most thing precious to them…their racial purity.
The iconography within touches on this much more bluntly.
Yet even now in this bygone era their beliefs are harbored in a building utterly in disrepair. The structure is dark and dank with bird feces strewn all about. Their food rots and the inhabitants look pathetic. They are on the wrong side of history and it is bleeding through into their present.
I march on passed this monument to hate and fear to make my way towards my target. Beyond all these men, their guns, and their beliefs is the reason I’ve been brought here.
It is my job to take from this man, someone who is said to and appears to exhibit clairvoyance…
This woman…who appears to have great taste in literature. If you were curious if the book she’s reading, and in fact every book she touches, has any major relevance on the story.
Yes…yes they do. The foreshadowing is heavy in this scene.
If you are married or dating you’ve seen this face more than once in your life. They captured it effortlessly and throughout the game Elizabeth has a range of emotion so fluid and natural that I’m hard pressed to mention anything that surpasses it. That isn’t to say the game doesn’t have a lot of great things going for it, it does, this just happens to be uncannily well done. No valleys here.
The game doesn’t shy away from the other harsh realities of our past, like marketing drugs to children or manipulating them into military service. You can find either of these things and they are always presented with a weird mixture of in your face bluntness and [I realize the incongruity] subtleness.
Are you a Duke…or a Dimwit? Service or Stupidity. Even now we see this with the proclamation of “Being for the War or Anti-Troop”. The hyper militaristic binary world view has existed likely throughout the entirety of America’s existence. On Columbia it is just more omnipresent because of the faux utopia surrounding it.
Doctor Recommended as the only Cigarette for your children. Helps them grow big and strong.
I wasn’t saying I believe that…
You make your way through the memorial of heroes, another brick to the head reminder of the dangers of idol worship and revisionist history. This entire scene confused me at the time, I wondered what was so important about Wounded Knee.
Why would Comstock lie about being there? At the time I didn’t realize the importance of it. All I know was that Comstock wasn’t there and I was.
And yet here I stood…staring at a monument to him. Another soldier from these battles raging over the intercoms. I wondered to what lengths the mind would go to convince itself of a new history. How easy could it be for the brain to accept a past that was not its own.
Could the changes be big? Was their a limit? How small could the changes be before they were accepted fully? Did Comstock believe what he was saying or was he merely pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes?
Only time would tell. All I knew is that I had done something genuinely terrible at Wounded Knee.
We reached the Blimp that would take us from Columbia, the problem here was simple. Elizabeth wished to go to Paris and I was set on taking her to New York to pay off the debts that had brought me to Columbia in the first place.
Cooler heads prevailed. She hit me in the head with a wrench.
I woke up to find myself staring right into the eyes of the Vox Populi leader, Daisy Fitzroy. Her words filled me with deep concern. She spoke of the enemy of the Vox, very specifically Comstock because he is the god of the White man.
Hate begets hate…I suppose. I was then on a runaway train to arm the Vox for Daisy, a person I was quite certain was no less bigoted than Comstock. Hating is an interesting thing, when you hate but are a member of the oppressed it is usually seen as righteous or natural. Yet in the end you just become the very same people you hate with nothing differing but the paint job.
The prophet apparently was somewhat lazy in respects to this particular woman. Those golden statues have the unusual ability of summoning the Songbird, easily one of my favorite characters from any game ever. The Songbird is mentioned as though he’s a member of a set by a civilian near the beginning of the game but it becomes readily apparent that there is only one Songbird in the game.
A nigh unstoppable school bus sized war machine.
A few toots of that whistle and Daisy would have been toast. But I digress.
We enter into Finks Manufacturing which is reminiscent of the early pre-regulation days of American industry. The age of the jungle, a time when humans were a necessary burden to attain maximum profits. Fink is a terrible man who abuses, manipulates, and extorts the citizens of his industrial complex. He has created a closed loop where you enter and work until you die, stop working and you stop living, but even if you do work there is little keeping you alive and even less keeping you happy.
Fink is the personification of greed and gluttony, one of the many references to a dark page in US history that has been all but forgotten by many voters.
We make our way through his plant to find the arms dealer that will supply Daisy. But unfortunately when we locate him he’s a bit worse for ware…dead. Dead is not something you come back from…
…or is it?
You were brought to the Lighthouse by a pair of redheads, the Luteces, these two repeatedly pop up throughout the game and it becomes more and more apparent that they are not entirely normal. Something super natural about them exists and it feels directly attached to Elizabeth.
“Alive. Dead. It’s all a matter of perspective. Live, Lived, Will Live. Die, Died, Will Die.”
A few moments later we are walking through a rift in space and time. In this new time the arms dealer has changed religions and is no longer dead. However when we find him he’s babbling madly and seems to not realize we are here or that his tools are not with him.
Not only that but other people who had died in the first space we entered are now standing but their noses are bloodied and they are rambling as well. I’m reminded that my nose bleeds quite often in this story and begin to wonder…
Am I dead?
We make our way through a bit more of the story and find another rip. Naturally I don’t care about the ramifications of messing with space and time, I’m a busy man and I have need of an airship.
But lo, is that a poster of me fisting the air?
And…hold on a minute. Did Daisy just say I died for the cause on that blimp? Holy balls I’m in a universe where I died. This is getting a bit out of hand. The Vox have taken to mass murder and are exterminating every non-Irish white person they can find. To clarify the Irish were as mistreated as other minorities so they are the “righteous” white folk.
Previous suspicions have held true, Daisy and Comstock are cut from the same cloth but merely from different patterns. The Vox are armed and its time to find Daisy. I need a blasted airship so I can get Elizabeth off this city.
Alright, I specifically need an airship that isn’t going down in a ball of fire. Let’s make that rule abundantly clear before I start putting a down payment towards one.
A short while after I find myself staring at Daisy through bulletproof glass. She has murdered Fink and smeared his blood on her face. I give her credit, the woman certainly drives home the level to which she believes in her cause.
But I imagine Fink has some diseases that you really don’t want to be getting in your eyes.
Naturally Daisy grabs a little white child and prepares to blow his brains out. She tells you that to cure a problem this endemic you must kill it at the source. Anything higher than the root and it’ll simply grow back. Much like the library scene this is such thick foreshadowing that I can barely see Daisy anymore.
If only someone would turn on a light…
Oh uh…well um. Yeah so. Maybe we should turn the lights back off? That was less than ideal. Care to give me the scissors? No? Alright you can keep them.
After a change of dress, seeing as her current one was ripped and covered in blood, we find ourselves marching deep into Columbia in search of Comstock. We are not, however, the only ones looking.
Just as the Citizens of Columbia treated the minorities of their city as burdens, products, and nuisances the Vox have taken to them with equal hatred and objectification. All that remains is the head of Comstock, the man who set this all into motion. The seed through which all this blight has grown.
This is about the point that the game just spirals down into darkness. People are brought back from the dead and I find myself shooting at a reanimated doppelganger of Lady Comstock. Everything has gotten as strange as it possibly can.
Then it gets stranger.
After a series of events I find myself separated from Elizabeth. I hear her screams through rips, I meet young boys seemingly stripped of their very minds wandering in between this world and who knows how many others. I hear recordings of a girl far removed from the one I had spent so much time with.
The voices are from 6 months after we separated, she has been tortured and toyed with for so long. But where I am is not 6 months in the future, this I come to quickly realize as I see a silhouette of Elizabeth on the horizon.
It’s 1984 and the all seeing eyes of Columbia have descended upon the US and begun wreaking mayhem. You will remember that there are literary references when you first meet Elizabeth, now you are watching the world burn in 1984…subtle.
Elizabeth opens a rift that pulls her tormentors out into a Tornado. Presumably they will end up in another universe where identify and the self is questioned.
We make our way after Comstock. He begins telling me that the moment of redemption is at hand, that I am so self destructive that I will likely kill myself without his help, and that if I wish to wipe the slate clean I must wash away my debts.
I never was very good at doing the laundry.
We kill Comstock and decide to find out the mystery behind Elizabeth. To free her of the last binding holding her down. The tower she was once kept is a device that siphons off her power, it must be destroyed. With the aid of songbird we do so, unfortunately he cannot be left to live because he will forever hunt her and try to bring her back to Columbia.
The only way we’ve found to hurt him is to introduce him to any level of increased pressure. But we are miles away from anything even close to water…
Oh crap, right. I forgot that we had freed all of Elizabeth’s power. Watching her companion die was tough for me because he had equally become someone I was fond of. Sure we had tried to murder one another on multiple occasions and he nearly crushed my skull but there was a camaraderie that cannot be denied.
I watched him die, slowly. All the while Elizabeth comforted him with the most unsettling ease.
But…where were we?
Wait one cotton picking minute.
That passageway looks awfully familiar in the background.
Holy shit we are in Rapture. The sudden realization that both world’s exist in the same “game universe” stuns me. I hadn’t noticed the Big Daddy recordings until my second play through. This moment for me was incredible and utterly unexpected.
A long exposition unfolds where we discuss the nearly infinite worlds that exist. Each choice leading to two nearly identical worlds. Each being slightly more divorced from the others the further along the timeline we go. We have create a large tree of time and it all begins with a seed. But for us what is done is done, we are not interested in the whole of the past. We are interested in stopping Comstock. Because in the world we were just in he might be dead but in a million million other worlds he still lives, he still tortures Elizabeth and he still commits genocide. She with her full power can see all these other hers, she can sense their pain and anguish and she can see the horrors that lie for a million million Earths.
It always begins with one man, one city, and one lighthouse.
The times may change, but in the end the story remains the same. So many doorways and so many choices, already made. You find out that there was a turning point in your own life, your baptism. In one universe you decided to take the baptism and you became Comstock. A man who erased his past and began to build a new one, he kept the lies familiar enough to keep himself sane but different enough to be wholly new.
In the other universe you denied the baptism and remained Booker. You went on to get married and have a wife. She became pregnant and you had a child, she however did not survive the pregnancy. You turned to booze, drugs, and gambling…your life falling apart. Your child was to be your only salvation. A man had come along that wished to have your child in return he would wash away all your debts, clear you of all the money you owed.
That man was Comstock, he traveled through space and time to take your daughter because he could not have his own. He had been made sterile as a result of his own abuse of technology he did not fully understand. But he not only did it to you, in a million million other timelines he had effectively kidnapped a million million other Elizabeth’s. The constants were there, each time he took the girl, each time you came, each time new york burned. But there were variables too, differences in dress, age, height, perhaps even gender for some. In some cases you died long before you could save her, in other cases you continued trying to save her for decades.
But this large complicated tree all stemmed back to one point. That moment where you were Baptised. A moment later you were either Comstock or Booker. Each action after that splitting into 2 universes, then 4, then 16, then 256 and so on. It quickly becomes apparent that you can’t possibly go through each universe and kill all the Comstocks.
To free your daughter you must bring the girl and wash away your debts. You must be killed before the Baptism takes place and make the possibility of Comstock an impossibility.
This leads me to the last part of this little review. I would like to discuss my thoughts on the time travel and what goes on in the game.
What exactly happened in Bioshock Infinite?
The way I understand it is that the Luteces have been bringing Booker’s to save Elizabeth for a while. They’ve attempted something like 122 times before you. It is likely that they were bringing each Booker to the relevant Columbia where their particular daughter was held. In some universes the AD marking on your hand is irrelevant (it actually looks like you are the first Booker to have that marking that they’ve met).
Perhaps your added convictions is what makes you the success. The rapid jumps through space and time during the Arms Dealer segment actually suggest to me that I am not in the end killing the Comstock that I originally set out to kill. This might mean that the Booker to Comstock chase may involve a lot of complicated cross dimensional jumping and that they are predicting their downfalls from a different Booker than they realize.
You and Comstock are different people in the object sense. You are object A and he is object B, while you both stem from the same source you are different. Similar to how any two animals will have a common descendent but that doesn’t make them the same. The idea of killing someone before they can become their future villain is pretty common in theorycrafting, lots of people have suggested killing Hitler as an infant if you were time traveling (why you couldn’t just kidnap him and not punish him for the acts of his future self is beyond me).
When traveling through space and time I tend to look at objects as unique from their timelines. Once you leave your timeline you are no longer part of it. If you went back and killed your parents you would erase you from that timeline but you as the object would remain. You are wholly unique, otherwise you wouldn’t be traveling through time anyways because you’d be locked into that timeline. Bioshock Infinite seems to take a different approach at the end.
You walk into the time when you are getting baptized and are drowned so that there can never be a Comstock (by necessity since you won’t be alive to become him).
You killing you at the Baptism works because the Baptism where you become Comstock is actually different than the one that you denied to become Booker. Killing you at this point would kill Comstock because the entire chain of events that leads to him (namely this specific Baptism) never happen and he is dead. Elizabeth would also be undone this way because she would never be kidnapped by you. What would remain is the Bookers and all the baby Elizabeth’s because they are never kidnapped. Some of them will live better lives than others I suspect. My problem with this is Elizabeth, she is a separate entity from the moment she left the timeline (to me). However I suppose I don’t know how a quantum time jumping person would actually work. This is probably what is intended if we are to believe that drowning you will fix everything (as opposed to drowning the you that would be getting baptized). It’s the only incident in the entire game where you jump into someone else’s body after going through a gate so its out of place.
Although perhaps the dead people from your original timeline are “jumping” into the bodies of the living ones in the universes you travel to and that is why only they are troubled by the knowledge that they died in another universe. Other people might have died in other universes but they have not been forced to hold both their dead selves from one of those universes and their own self. I hadn’t thought about that until literally this moment…interesting.
So I suppose that’s what I think, I had a different theory but this seems to jive well. The alternative is that when you walk through the door you are no longer the Booker you were throughout the game but you’ve walked into the Booker that was about to be Baptized [before all the events happened] or not which leads to the whole universal networking. In this case Elizabeth kind of sort of murders some guy who doesn’t really remember who she is. He does say “Who are you?” which adds to that. So yeah, she drowned a stranger.
I prefer the original theory that I just stumbled upon. It also has the added feel goods of meaning that somewhere in the multiverse there is a Booker or two trillion that are living with their Elizabeth’s in happy lives.
So that’s that I suppose. It’s a beautiful game about time travel and universe hopping with some haunting imagery at the end and a villain that makes you genuinely hate him and all the things he personifies. Classy job by the developers and a very classy game.
Also the “Irrational Games” popup after the ending of the game is perfect. Since at first this game feels very irrational and crazy.