I Was a Little Late to the Party
I’ve said before that I missed out on a lot of the 7th generation of gaming for various reasons, something that I am still catching up on to this day. One series that I had always heard about and kept in mind to get around to when I got back into the gaming sphere again was the Bioshock series. I had always heard good things, but thankfully managed to remain spoiler free aside from the occasional picture of a Big Daddy here and there. I finally got my chance to see what all the hype was about when Bioshock: The Collection dropped on the PlayStation 4 in 2016. Since then, I have played Bioshock Infinite at least once a year. In fact, my yearly playthrough is currently dangling over me as a reward for when I finish packing to move. In the meantime, though, I’ve been thinking about what exactly compels me to play the game each year now that the conversation has risen up again in response to the game coming to switch.
⚠️ Warning: Minor Spoilers Below ⚠️
10. The Gameplay
It might sound odd that the gameplay is the tenth most important thing to me about this game, but that just goes to show how strong the other elements are because the game-play is absolutely fantastic. The first time that I played, Infinite was one of the first first-person shooters that I had ever played, so I was kind of fumbling about with the controls and dying pretty often. Despite that, I was having an amazing time still and the game play only gets better and better the smoother that I get at it. I know that some were unhappy with the ability to hold only two guns, but I never found it to be an issue since I didn’t usually use more than 3 in each run anyways. Maybe someday I’ll feel ready to tackle one of the more extreme difficulties, but for now I’m perfectly happy to zip around the sky shooting everything that moves.
9. How Active the World is
I have always loved how active and alive the world of Infinite is. Yeah, I’ll admit that this aspect has aged in the years since it’s release, with it becoming more clear where the routines of the NPCs are when they can end pretty abruptly and just stare at you. Still, it’s something that I have always loved that when I am able to walk around an area with people in it, they’re all doing things, even if it is a couple just sitting quietly together on a bench. Even when I know that converstations are just going to last a little bit and go silent, I still like to listen to them. Knowing that once the story gets rolling I can disrupt these places and quiet the world around me actually keeps me from the bad behavior that some other games might punish.
8. The Cult of Comstock
The cult of Comstock is one of those elements that when you first play it seems like a pretty overt condemnation of fanatical religion. I mean, it’s not exactly very subtle. That being said, though. It isn’t really even about religion when you get down to it. Sure, it uses the phrasing and imagery of religion as a shorthand to get the point across more quickly, but it really is about fanaticism in any form. Just look at the fact that some of the founding fathers of America are used as pillars and symbols for the people of Columbia, just a few tweaks to the framing of the entire thing and it could be about the fanaticism of politics and the way that some people are willing to blindly follow a leader just because of the group they say they belong to. Additionally, for all the religious framing, there isn’t actually a ton of talk of god, is there? Everyone seems to be more fixated on following “the prophet”, showing just how much more of a cult of personality this is about than any actual religion.
7. The Opening
The opening sequence to Bioshock Infinite is so good it almost makes me angry. I look at it and it gives me all the feelings that I want something I make to give people and it makes me wonder if I ever will. Everything from the moment that you launch from the lighthouse to when the raffle comes to a very abrupt end, is just the most beautiful setup for the rest of the game. While it is something that you can just steamroll right on through aside from some scripted moments, why would you? You can take your time to get immersed in Columbia and start seeing the cracks from early on, how they were there even before the narrative of the game splits them open. Even though I have played the game multiple times and sometimes rush parts, the beginning is never one of them as I just breathe all of Columbia before the whirlwind of trying to escape.
6. The Quiet Moments
It might sound odd, but the times where you can just walk around and explore the world are some of my favorites in the entire game. I love that they are so clearly marked off for you as the player so you know when you have a chance to look around without worry and without having to look over your shoulder constantly or make sure to be sneaky. That kind of a lack of a safe area prevents me from taking in the world in other games, but Infinite is begging to be explored. Not only are there excellent audio logs scattered through the world, but also the details that you can find just looking around catch the eye every time. I sometimes spend more time here than in combat and I am perfectly okay with that. Even in playing about half of the game to get screenshots for this piece, I was deliberately trying to rush and still ended up taking a ton of time exploring like I usually do.
5. The Soundtrack
The music of Bioshock is absolutely delightful and it’s one of those games that I could never imagine playing without a good pair of headphones. The choice to add in anachronistic music in a style that still fits the time was an element that never failed to make me happy and I always hang around to listen to those whenever I can. However, there is one song that just exemplifies the attention paid to the music. Many who have played the game will be familiar with the hymn “Will the Circle be Unbroken?” as it shows up early in the game and then pops up a few times. I know I end up humming it a little whenever I think of this game. The fact that this song is the first with lyrics to show up in the game is so pivotal, because it perfectly encapsulates where Elizabeth is going and the journey she takes. They’re not trying to be subtle about this either, even having Elizabeth singing part of it if you find the guitar in Shantytown, but since it’s a background element and most of the focus is on the chorus, some miss the story power of the verses. Just take a look at the full lyrics when you get the chance.
4. The Degradation of Columbia
Perhaps what I love the most when it comes to the setting is all the states that we get to see it in. When we first start off we get to see what Columbia looks like on a regular day like any other, then we move to people still doing their best to see everything as okay while a symbol of the city has crumbled and the dreaded “false Shepard” walks among them. This gives way to abandoned streets, to slums, to full revolt. The slow and methodical undoing of everything that Columbia painted itself to be in the beginning is just incredibly satisfying. Whenever I play the original Bioshock, everything has already crumbled so a lot of it can just feel a little one note. With Infinite, though, I get to watch the way things spiral out of control and a city falls apart. Even though some of this is achieved through stepping from one timeline to another, it’s still paints a clear downward path until the city is in shambles. Personally, I’ve always adored the image of the long red cloths fluttering from buildings once you reach the height of the Vox.
3. The Art Design/Art Style
Bioshock Infinite is one of those games that keeps me firmly in camp of “People not Polygons”. I don’t care how real you can make someone look, if I don’t feel that they’re a real person then I am not going to connect with them. The people of Bioshock and the world don’t have an obsession with looking as photo-realistic as possible. Features are exaggerated and so are emotions. Elizabeth in particular has some wonderfully expressive animations that really bring a whole lot of life to her character. It still looks beautiful and I am drawn in even if it doesn’t try to represent real like. The style that was chosen here really fits with the world that is being depicted. Almost as though someone took one of those old postcards or ads from the early 20th century and turned it into a full 3D world.
2. Monument Island
Yeah, that’s right. Much like the opening of the game, I absolutely adore the entire Monument Island sequence so much that it is a point in itself. This massive image of an angel has been looming in the distance for the entire game up to this point and now you finally get to go there and see what the deal is. Suddenly, the wording of “The Lamb” changes to “The Specimen” and it becomes clear that something really is up here. The careful ascent towards Elizabeth’s rooms and then finally getting to see this girl that the game has been telling us to find. By the end of it, this beautiful monument that has loomed over us since we arrived is completely destroyed, selling the impact that our arrival has had. Honestly, I say that I have played the game at least once a year since my first time through, but I have booted it up more than that since there are times where I will start the game just to play through the end of Monument Island.
Elizabeth… I always knew that she would be my number one reason on this list because when I think of Infinite, she is the first thing that I think of. She is undoubtedly one of my favorite characters in gaming not only for the game play innovations that she represented but for the fact that she is a female character that is allowed a ton of agency. It would be so easy to make her a surrogate daughter/hope for the future/male main character’s shot at redemption like we so often see for young women in games (Ex: Ellie from The Last of Us or Clementine from The Walking Dead), but instead she is a partner and companion that is deliberately not given any form of sexual tension with Booker. From the moment that the extent of her capabilities becomes clear, it’s obvious that she is the one with the real control and power, Booker is just lucky enough to have her on his side. Even beyond that, her curiosity, wit, and intelligence make her a lovable character in the first place and so often I play the game just to hang out with her for a while again, even if I already know how it will all go.