20 April 2013
Okay, after finishing this game, I felt I needed some time to process the whole experience and here's what I've come up with. Warning: Full Plot Spoilers follow:
This game, set in the year 1912, has you playing the role of a former Pinkerton detective and a generally wretched human being, Booker DeWitt. Booker narrates to us how he was hired to find a girl named Elizabeth and bring her back to New York in exchange for eliminating his gambling debts. Unfortunately, Elizabeth can only be found in the city of Columbia, which has seceded from the Union and floats above the clouds like a balloon. A very heavily armed balloon.
Once you get to Columbia, you are awestruck by the majesty and beauty of the city and honestly, those first couple of hours exploring the city were probably my favourite part of the entire game. But it doesn't take too long for you to realize the evil that lays beneath the shiny surface of Columbia and next thing you know, you're ripping someone's face off with an skyhook. Yeah.
Some people have complained about the level of violence being too excessive with this game given the tone and setting of the story, and yeah, I agree that performing executions does come off as more than a little excessive. But to be fair, they give you the choice whether or not to perform an execution or simply melee your foe to death. It makes the game a little more difficult and the end result of death is the same, but it's considerably less bloody if you're squeamish about that sort of thing.
As you continue your search for Elizabeth and gather information through private viewing booths and audio diaries, you also manage to pick up plasmi... sorry, VIGORS which give you supernatural powers. Now this, I had a problem with. While the original Bioshock explained the purpose and reasoning of the plasmids and why they were being used and abused, they just appear in this game for no real reason other than it's a Bioshock game. I mean, I know HOW they appeared in Columbia, but they don't explain WHY they're here or WHY very few residents use them against you.
So, when playing the game, I made the decision to only use Vigors when absolutely necessary, such as powering up a conduit with my lightning. Again, this made the game more challenging, but oddly more satisfying. Of course the game chided me quite a bit when I didn't use them, apparently deciding I was an idiot who kept forgetting they existed, but I tried not to let that bug me... too much. ^_^;
When you finally meet up with Elizabeth and rescue her, she becomes your companion and thankfully, she can take care of herself so the game isn't just one long escort mission. In fact, she ends up bailing you out of trouble by throwing health and ammo at you, and I can honestly say she was probably the most useful NPC I've ever seen in a game.
The makers of the game spent a great deal of time and effort on her character and it shows as she reacts to everything around her and had a well developed personality. By the end of the game she does become a bit 'Q-ish', but I guess that's unavoidable when you wield that much power, I suppose.
Before I go on, there is one major annoyance I want to address. Unlike the first Bioshock, you can't manually save your game here, autosave is your only option. I don't like that practice and I wish it would stop but the main reason it became a big deal for me is because the autosave is buggy and I actually lost about 4-5 hours of gameplay at one point.
It's either a testament to the game's greatness or my own patience that I was willing to play through the game again to finish it, but I was NOT happy about losing that time and I STRONGLY recommend they patch that issue sooner than later. ^_^
Now I'd like to talk a bit about the story. The villain of this game is an insane, extremely racist, self-proclaimed prophet named Comstock who is all but God in this city and declares Booker to essentially be the Anti-Christ who needs to be stopped at all costs. As a result, you're constantly fighting wave after wave of policemen and soldiers as you enter each area.
While the enemies do get tougher as the game goes on, I found it to be a little too repetitious at times and I wish the first person shooting could have been interrupted more often for alternative gameplay other than a few optional fetch quests for ciphers. Perhaps the future DLC will cover this, I dunno.
I will say that the tougher enemies can take quite a bit of damage before they fall, especially the Handy Men, who, while not nearly as compelling character-wise as the Big Daddies in the original Bioshock, are considerably tougher and will kick your ass from one end of the street to the other if you don't keep moving.
Back to the story, Comstock has big plans for Elizabeth, who only wishes for her freedom and the chance to travel and visit places like Paris. She possesses the ability to create small riffs in time and space and either bring back items to help Booker or step through into another reality. It's more than a little convenient for you and even Elizabeth directly refers to it as 'wish fulfillment' but I can't deny its usefulness and it does make sense in the end, more or less.
However, Elizabeth previous attempts at escape are always thwarted because of Songbird, who is basically a Big Daddy reimagined as a huge flippin' bird. Once considered her friend and protector, she now sees him as her jailer and deeply resents it. She can't even escape to another reality because Songbird just appears there shortly afterwards to stop her. Elizabeth even begs Booker at one point to kill her rather than let Songbird capture her again, showing just how desperate she is to escape captivity.
There are other plots going on as well, the city of Columbia exploits and abuses minorities due to Comstock's blatant racism and another prominent figure named 'Jeremiah Fink', a capitalist's capitalist who sees minority workers as nothing more than cattle and treats them even worse.
One of these minorities, a woman named Daisy Fitzroy, was formerly a servant of Comstock until she was framed by him for the murder of his wife. This lead to her starting a resistance movement called the Vox Populi to fight the power which eventually leads to a very bloody revolution and the tormented becoming the tormentors. At one point, Booker enters a reality where he was a martyr to the Vox Populi cause but Daisy still orders Booker's death because the Booker of her reality died a hero and his being there alive, in her own words, 'complicates the script'.
Also, there are two mysterious figures, a man and a woman who repeatedly appear and disappear out of nowhere during the course of the game to speak cryptically about you and your mission. They end up becoming very important to the overall story and thankfully aren't too smug or annoying, as interdimensional beings tend to be. ;P
Their relationship is also a bit creepy as she lovingly refers to him as 'brother' and is content simply to be in his presence for the rest of eternity, which becomes even more disturbing when you realize that he is an alternate version of her. I know it's important to love yourself but YIKES. ^_^;
Another plot has a former soldier named Cornelius Slate whom you once fought beside, demanding that Booker give him and the men under his command a soldier's death because Comstock, whom Slade previously supported, lied about fighting in the battles where Slate's men gave their lives, took credit for his accomplishments, and stripped Slade of his position when he dared to confront Comstock about it.
This leads to a rather bizarre sequence where you're forced to fight the soldiers among two horribly racist exhibits of battles fought at Wounded Knee and the Boxer Rebellion, highlighted with ugly stereotypes of both Indians and Chinese.
While I assume these exhibits are supposed to demonstrate the depth of Comstock's deep rooted racism and hatred, it came off as more than a little ridiculous, and personally, I just found it embarrassing. Whatever the writers were trying to convey, I think they missed the mark and I'm not surprised some people are upset about it.
Finally, I want to talk about the ending, which seems to be the main focus of discussion with this game. Whether you like Bioshock Infinite or not, the fact that its ending has provoked so much discussion is a good thing and I give due credit to the writers for accomplishing this.
Booker DeWitt claims to be a man who deeply regrets his bloody past, he can barely speak about it to Elizabeth when she asks and it seems to greatly pain him. And yet... he's Comstock. To be specific, Comstock is revealed to be an alternate version of Booker DeWitt.
Booker wanted to be reborn and wash away the sins of the atrocities he committed at Wounded Knee, and as Comstock, he falls back into becoming a murderous racist with delusions of Godhood. He shows no signs of realizing this hypocrisy. At all. Yes, you could say he became insane with all the dimensional travelling and reverted back to type but that just seems too easy an answer.
If Booker's racism ran that deep, then what exactly was he repenting? The loss of innocent lives? Killing women and children? Taking joy in the act of killing? It's never made clear and while being open to interpretation can be a good thing, I was more confused about his motivations than anything.
Just to be clear, I don't mind when an evil man simply is, I've complained in the past about villains who were needlessly complex when I was more interested in seeing them get what they deserve than listen to them endlessly drone on about their motivations and philosophies. I encountered this problem mostly in Japanese RPGs, I admit. ;P
But consider the masterful job they did with Andrew Ryan in the first Bioshock game, making him a villain and yet a compelling person whom you could actually sympathize and possibly even agree with at times despite his flaws. By making Comstock merely insane, he basically becomes a shallow criminal, thoroughly uncompelling and implausibly having an army of followers, without whom he'd be nothing. Even if Andrew Ryan had nothing, he'd still be an interesting character. Comstock's just a hypocritical nutjob.
Anyway, Booker DeWitt learns that in his reality, he rejected the baptism that created Comstock but still committed his own sins by working as a goon for Pinkerton and incurred gambling debts so severe that he chose to sell his own daughter, Anna, to settle them. Elizabeth, who we learn is Anna, tells him that to save her and prevent the atrocities of Columbia and the birth of Comstock in all realities, he has to die. Booker accepts this sacrifice and is drowned by several versions of his daughter, eliminating all realities with Comstock and causing Anna to fade away.
This would probably be one of the most depressing endings to a game I'd ever seen except for an epilogue after the credits where Booker DeWitt is still alive and will seemingly gets a second chance with his daughter, whom is now once again a baby. But I couldn't help wondering why Booker would be returned to this specific moment in time, where he's still guilty of war crimes at Wounded Knee, whatever he did as a Pinkerton Agent and possibly still loaded with gambling debts to dangerous people.
Even if we believe Booker wouldn't try to sell his daughter again, it's still a rather grim ending if Booker still has sin on his conscience and has no immediate way to pay off his gambling debts, assuming the interdimensional twins didn't take of it. Granted, a slim second chance is better than no chance at all and perhaps future DLC will continue the story, we'll just have to see.
When the game was finally over, I wasn't entirely sure what to feel, I needed time to process the whole thing. I'm still not sure I've reached a definitive conclusion either since there's future DLC to come that may expand the story further or offer nothing of true substance. Still, I don't think I'm going to return it as it may well be one of the last interesting games of this console's generation to be released.
If you have the chance to rent it, I would definitely do so but I wouldn't buy it unless you were really into the combat aspect or you wait to see if they add a multiplayer aspect and if it's any good, get it for that, I guess.