Before you read, this contains A LOT of spoilers. You have been warned!
It’s now been three months since I finished Bioshock Infinite. Three months of life experiences and terrible caravanning holidays, as well as a dozen or so other games which have come and gone. The glare of the gaming media’s spotlight has moved on, with Playstation owners the world over losing their collective shit over The Last of Us, and the Nintendo’s loyal fan base have got all excited over the latest Animal Crossing. Battlefield 4 was responsible for much excited pointing and much clumsily disguised tenting, and the ire over the Xbox One’s feature list gave games writers across the country an easy month in terms of coming up with content.
But I can’t let it go.
It could be that I completed Bioshock Infinite at three in the morning after a mammoth 7 hour session, and a combination of stress and a reasonable amount of alcohol may have been the reason for the emotive response the game evokes in me. But it’s more than that. It took two or three hours a night for nearly three weeks for me to complete it and its entrancing tentacles worked their way into my brain, making it almost impossible for me to put it down.
Like all the truly great love stories, my experience with Bioshock Infinite began with what can only be described as disinterest. I have always been a huge Bioshock fan, but following the first 4 minute gameplay glimpse I saw a few years ago my enthusiasm was tempered; it didn’t look right without Rapture, Columbia just didn’t seem to do anything for me, it didn’t feel right without the Big Daddy’s and the sky rails looked awkward and clumsy. Even when I started playing the game, I wasn’t really taken with it. The enemies were repetitive and even with the difficulty turned up relatively unintelligent, and whilst the story takes an interesting turn quite early on when you realise that you are the false shepherd that the posters warn of, it’s all pretty much on rails. Comstock’s Columbia did not compare to Ryan’s Rapture, even if the story premise started out in much stronger fashion. Columbia has plenty of period references, both good and bad. There’s plenty of racism floating about and I was starting to get the impression that, like the previous Bioshock games, joining in or endorsing the amoral behaviour would come back to haunt me later in the game. Similarly, Bioshock Infinite overcomes the same problem of narrative that the previous two have in the same way; how do we get the main character to decide to take the Vigours (formerly Plasmids)? Ah screw it, just have him shove that syringe straight in there.
Then you meet Elizabeth; so innocent and virtuous, so full of life and joy, so intriguing with the tears and so happy to be ‘rescued’ by you. Then, almost immediately afterwards, you meet Songbird and all hell breaks loose. Escape follows as you sneak through Columbia to an airship, only for Elizabeth to realise your betrayal. This was the first point in the game where my attention was truly hooked. She was so upset! I haven’t felt so bad since the first time I harvested a little sister in the original Bioshock, and almost felt ‘yeah I had that coming’ when she smacked me in the face with a spanner.
The game gets more and more convoluted and abstract as you go on; really angry ghosts of dead parents, bizarre religious sects worshipping John Wilkes Booth, the Vox Populi and their twisted and poorly interpreted ideology, deeper and deeper I fell into the story. Work became incidental, all I wanted to do was get home and get back to Columbia. Realising that the game is on rails is not an issue; this is a story, and the story wants to be told. On and on it went, cutting and thrusting through the streets, drinking in the atmosphere, but ever conscious of the tiredness that was creeping across Elizabeth’s face. It’s profound to see how she changes throughout the game; her clothes grow tatty, her demeanour sours and her face looks saddened and horrified at the world around her. Then she is lost – carried away by Songbird to stop it killing you, after she has told you that she’d rather you killed her than go back to her tower. I hated that bird.
I hated Comstock as well. Having seen the Elizabeth of the future tortured and brainwashed, now a withered and aged woman directing the firepower of Columbia onto New York city, the accusation that I was responsible was more than I could bare. As he stood before me screaming “TELL HER HOW SHE LOST HER FINGER!!!” I was as angry as Booker, and it was the first point in time where I started to put things together. The posters, the AD tattoo on my hand, the false shepherd, the Wounded Knee museum; the story isn’t about Elizabeth, it’s about Booker.
As Columbia burns around us, eventually (after 4 hours and countless swearing) I eventually beat the final battle against the Vox Populi. Songbird, once such a terrible enemy serves us well, and I am at once appalled and horrified when we move through the tear to find ourselves in a familiar underwater city, and the despair in its dying cries actually brought a tear to my eye. From then on I was dragged confusedly and helplessly through the ending of the game. As a parent, the thought that Booker had given away his child was too much to deal with, and the sight of baby Anna disappearing through the tear was unbearable. The words of Elizabeth telling me that there are a thousand realities, and that they all converge and can’t move on until you give the child to the Lutece’s are extremely poignant, and suddenly the whole game falls into place. Everything from beginning to end is pre-determined. The choices you make are of no consequence, the people you kill and the people you spare; this is your universe and everything that happens was always going to have happened.
As the end comes and the Elizabeth’s surround Booker, I was drained. I have never been so moved by a game, film, or any other story that I have Experienced. And the ultimate irony that the game ends with Booker making the choice to die with being no possible option to make a choice sums up the whole game for me. It may be on rails, and the gameplay may be repetitive, but the gameplay is merely secondary. Don’t think of Bioshock Infinite as a game, think of it as a film. A film that you are part of, that you are involved in, that you are emotionally invested in, and an experience that will stay with you long after you’ve finished playing it. Thank God the DLC is finally here!
Drew Pontikis is an avid gamer and writer. A fan of racing sims and first person shooters, Drew is notable for talking almost exclusively using Futurama quotes.He's usually found in front of his Xbox or his laptop, follow him on Twitter as @drew060609 Gamertag: drewski060609