Spoilerific Staff Talk: Bioshock Infinite – Part I

BioShock Infinite is one of those rare games that’s ripe for discussion as soon as you put your controller down after finishing it. It gets people talking, both for its gameplay, narrative, and everything in between, really. Many words have been written on just about every facet. Those discussions have been continuously progressing and evolving as time goes on, and as more people finish the game and experience its riveting conclusion.

Instead of posting a traditionally styled review, we at Entertainium have been chatting about having a different approach to BioShock Infinite. Sitting down and chatting about our entire experience with the game as a group sounded like a whole lot of fun. So joining in the conversation is senior editor Eduardo Rebouças, fellow editor Callum Rakestraw and contributors Andrew Lim and Gareth Brading. Everyone’s grabbing their voxaphones, if you will, to talk about Bioshock Infinite.

Beware, as the title suggests, we don’t shy away from spoilers in this article! If you have any plans to play BioShock Infinite (and you don’t, now’s a good time to change that!), do not read this article… yet. Keep in mind this is a conversational piece, so subjects can and will shift without the slightest notice.

Guys? Hello! Is this thing on?! Let’s get the ball rolling!

Part I: So how about that story? What an ending! … right?

Eduardo: Welcome, guys! It’s a weird way to start anything off on, but the game’s still fresh on our minds. We all finished it at just around the same time, so hopefully we’ll be forgiven (just this time!) if we talk about the story beats and Bioshock Infinite‘s ending right away. It’s certainly something else, in many ways.

Callum: I enjoyed how the game began before everything went to hell, allowing you to see what the city and its citizens are like. Arriving after things had fallen apart made more sense with Rapture, as it was needed to create a tense atmosphere. Columbia, on the other hand, feels welcoming, if uncomfortably so, at first. Everyone seems so kind and jovial, the city wondrously beautiful. Seems unthinkable that there’d be any dark undertones. Gives that eventual reveal at the raffle impact.

And that ending, too… man. Crazy stuff. Still not sure how to process all of that. I knew Elizabeth was Booker’s daughter going in (was unlucky enough to have that spoiled), but I already assumed there was some sort of relation between them anyway. Booker being Comstock, however, I didn’t see coming. Makes sense in retrospect, but they certainly did a good job of ensuring it wasn’t obvious. The reveal of it all was spectacular as well. Could have easily degenerated into another boring expository dump, but they made it work.

Gareth: Regarding the ending, I have to say I think they did it really well. BioShock had a great denouement in “Would you kindly” and meeting Andrew Ryan, but a terrible finale (bad boss battle with Fontaine). I know Infinite’s ending has quite a few unanswered logical questions, but I genuinely did not see the “DeWitt is Comstock” moment coming until literally Elizabeth says the line “He’s Zachary Comstock” right at the end. Lots of revelations were supplied in quick succession. I had already guessed that Elizabeth was Booker’s daughter, but I didn’t understand how or why she was in Columbia.

Lack of character development on secondary characters like Daisy Fitzroy and Jerimiah Fink. I thought the character arc with Fitzroy going mental didn’t make any sense, although by that point we were in a different universe…

Eduardo: I honestly thought the ending was kinda rushed, although there were a few instances of foreshadowing here and there in the game. Also, the ending segment is still a problem for Irrational, they can’t seem to catch a break doing a decent final fight/enemy encounter. I can only imagine how annoying that fight can get in hard/1999 mode.

I agree about some secondary characters feeling a little underdeveloped, BUT I gave it as a consequence of the many tears you jump through during the armsman segment, like three one after the other? That had to mess reality up, definitely.

The world itself is gorgeous and thrives on amazing art direction. Like the previous BioShocks, the art design in Infinite is a strong part of its charm, as strong as the story. Technically, it’s ridiculously impressive, the things they push that engine into!

Andrew: I loved the introduction as well, that moment when you see Columbia from the pod for the first time is just gorgeous. Even though it is so pristine and cheerful I don’t think the place ever felt welcoming. There was always a sense of discomfort in the whole section, of something is wrong here and not realizing the kind of place that it is until the raffle, with hints to it with the tutorial minigames that just have you gunning down Vox. The lack of Daisy development caught me off. Tonally in the game it goes immediately from scrappy underdog to horrible monster. Going through that tear didn’t hit me as “shades of grey” so much as everyone’s an asshole and should be gunned down on sight.

As for the game’s twists, none of them were a surprise to me. I’m not sure why that was, maybe it was me keeping an eye out more than usual or having heard enough beforehand that I wasn’t going into it completely cold. So I had pretty much been me bloody hoping you don’t turn out to be Comstock for a good half of the game. As far as twists go if you expect one that’s a good meta-gamey guess to go with. As for Elizabeth’s backstory I thought that was done really well. There are lots of things scattered around that all but just enough that most people probably wouldn’t set on the right answer right until the end. The whole multi-verse thing I just don’t like as a plot device in general.

A good portion of the time its internal logic falls apart almost immediately on closer inspection and Infinite isn’t really an exception to that. By the time you get to the end of the final battle, you are Booker that inhabits a world that was ruled by Comstock (also Booker), but another Booker already existed and had joined, fought with and died for the Vox Populi, with no mention to the Elizabeth that should exist in the reality that you are currently in. Also killing Booker back at Wounded Knee only makes sense in game if it doesn’t matter what time period/version of Booker you bring there and kill, the Booker you play as had already made the decision and would never become Comstock.

The moments of peace and quiet in the game were always great. The world is expertly crafted and just walking around and hearing all the incidental dialogue between people and their lives is really believable and does add to that discomfort. Like a mother who’s scolding her son for going around kissing all the girls, but only because he kissed an Irish girl. Or just walking into the coloured and Irish bathrooms and just seeing the complete divide that these people are living in. You get the sense that many of the white people in Columbia aren’t being racist out of maliciousness, but more because that’s the way they think the world is.

Gareth: I maintain the ending (after the zeppelin battle) is great. A lot of that will naturally be down to I didn’t guess Booker is Comstock, but it genuinely didn’t occur to me because of how different they looked and how much older Comstock appears.

This is how I figure the ending. Apologies for how convoluted this is: I was kind of figuring it out for myself. Here’s a slight tangent in the conversation, starting with the Wounded Knee Baptism:

Universe A: In this universe, DeWitt becomes Comstock (Comstock A), meet Rosalind Lutece, builds Columbia, opens tears, steals technology and music from other dimensions and steals Anna from Booker DeWitt in Universe B. Anna is renamed Elizabeth, stays in the tower until Booker from Universe B rescues her. The first half of the game takes place here.

Universe B: In this universe, Booker remains Booker (Booker B). Columbia does not exist. He gets married and has a daughter Anna (Elizabeth B), wife dies in childbirth (I find it weird we don’t know her name). Booker falls into debt, and is offered the chance to wipe it all away by Robert Lutece, acting on behalf of Comstock from Universe A, by giving his daughter away. Booker reluctantly accepts, but then “tries to weasel out” by grabbing Anna back resulting in her finger getting cut off. Thus, Anna is imbued with the power to open tears. Booker falls into a deep depression and doesn’t do much until Robert and Rosalind Lutece open a tear to him from Universe A so he can get Anna/Elizabeth back. When he enters Universe A he suffers amnesia and thus the game begins at the Lighthouse.

I hope a little of that makes sense, but apologies it was so long and rambling! The above paragraphs are another reason I love the ending: Anything that can be debated this widely is fascinating. I love alternative history stories which “tangent” from a point in time, e.g. The Man in the High Castle. Also: Time loops. I know all of this is extrapolating out a lot from what’s said in the game, but I didn’t even go into any of the detail about how Booker might be related to Andrew Ryan…

Callum: I think Fitzroy’s insanity can be attributed to her Booker’s death. When Booker and Elizabeth arrive in that world, there’s a line — “Hey, you’re Booker DeWitt! Hero of the Vox!” — that suggests he was a big part of the Vox prior to his martyr status. His death could have been what suddenly drove Fitzroy insane. She says he before eyes, which makes our Booker’s appearance a shock.

My guess is they were close in that world. So his sudden resurrection could have made her assume he faked his death as a means of leaving the Vox behind; a betrayal, in other words. That or she was always a bit unstable from the beginning. Either way, Booker’s death and reappearance have to be related.

Eduardo: I think that time travel and paradoxes really make for some very difficult writing. It gets confusing for sure. I, for one, think Fitzroy already had a tendency to go ballistic. Like Elizabeth said, there has to be a Fitzroy for every Comstock, like, in a way, there was a Lamb for a Ryan (if you consider Bioshock 2 cannon) or… a Fontaine to a Ryan (although I thought Fontaine was clearly on the more insane side/me against the world side of things…).

Andrew: She mentions that Booker’s reappearance ruins the narrative. Presumably referring to the narrative of her triumphant victory over Comstock. The coldness of her go kill the impostors with no investigation implies her not giving a shit.

As for each one of those Universe’s it’s Dr. Who wibbly wobbly timey wimey logic. There are certainly hints that it should work, but it works more because the plot demands you take it for granted rather than a plot device to be picked apart. Like the fact that the Booker to be killed, the player, is somewhat arbitrary. It works on a surface level, but it seems like the Booker that needed to be killed was the one at that site that started the whole thing, not the Booker several years down the line. It makes for shock factor, but the information wasn’t unexpected for me, so I definitely didn’t have that experience with it.

I had noticed the apparent age difference between Comstock and Booker as well, but Booker knew and remembered Slate the guy from the Hall of Heroes, yet makes no mention to the fact that in Universe B, Booker and Slate’s ages should have been disparate enough it would’ve seemed odd to both of them. I might have missed dialogue or something; I don’t remember anything of that nature being said.

One thing that did pull me out of the world is how during combat enemies just ignore Elizabeth and how she doesn’t find items so much as they just spawn. I get that it’s a gameplay conceit, but putting up a big old message prompt of Elizabeth can take care of herself and then people just run by her as if she wasn’t there reinforced that I wasn’t in an actual place so much. It’s kind of a small thing in the grand scheme of the game, but it bothered me a bit. It would’ve felt more natural if she was in fact moving about the combat area and picking up items and throwing them to you. Instead it’s just you’re low on something and it spawns in her hand. Also it makes it awkward when you know she’s taking cover right next to a crate of health while your head is being shot at by ten different enemies.

Eduardo: I think that having to escort Elizabeth would have been a pain, although it is weird how she gets ignored and how she always has an item ready to go for you. Tough balance. Would’ve made sense if she actually fought them off like the screen prompt alludes to.

Andrew: Oh, absolutely. If it was a choice between game long escort mission and what they actually did, they chose the right one.

Callum: I swear I saw her fight off a couple of goons, but… maybe those were scripted events.

What I like most about her from a gameplay standpoint is that, instead of managing her like you would in just about any other game ever, she’s the one managing you. Thought it was a nice twist on a long-standing trope.

Gareth: Regarding nobody attacking Elizabeth, that didn’t cause any logical problem for me. If Elizabeth is supposed to be The Lamb and is intensely valuable, the soldiers have probably been ordered by Comstock to avoid engaging her and take out Booker first. Elizabeth does have a tendency to warp around though: One minute she’s on the other side of the room, the next minute she’s throwing you coins or guns from 2 feet next to you. Also, who loved the way guns would kind of leap into your hand when Elizabeth throws them? Found that hilarious. I agree Items definitely “spawn” on her; I estimate that she throws you one lot of new ammo per gun you have, two lots of Salts per fight, and then a random amount of coins.

The nature of Comstock being a lot older is explained; there’s a Voxaphone which says his intensive time jumping and universe crossing has aged him prematurely, and indeed he’s close to dying already. I totally agree that the whole plot requires complete suspension of disbelief, but because I’ve already suspended my disbelief to accept A FLYING CITY, anything else is just, yeah, that’s fine. I can totally get why you wouldn’t accept it though.

Andrew: Actually, after wandering a bit about the floating city, I questioned the agricultural viability of such a city and how much food production would be needed to sustain a city of that size assuming period appropriate population densities. The short answer: real bad. And it’s also incredibly unlikely that they are importing the level of food that would be required, seems just as unlikely that they have any terrestrial trade partners. Also, oxygen at that altitude. So yeah – suspension of disbelief!

Callum: The only time Elizabeth not being attacked falls apart is when the Vox become the enemy. They don’t have any logical reason to ignore her. If the Booker from that world were still alive, sure, but otherwise… yeah.

These darn voxophones… they keep running out of tape! We’ll be back soon and continue on with our discussion of Bioshock Infinite, moving on from story details into gameplay and how bad we are at keeping a level head during combat. Also, Andrew chimes in on his as of this moment untreated achievement OCD.

See you then!

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