Bioshock: Infinite – A Minute Macrocosm

Bioshock: Infinite is the third hit from Irrational Games, and frankly the weakest of the three. I know saying that has just ignited a lynch mob and is bound to fill the comment section with people screaming STFU, but please hear me out.

I acknowledge wholeheartedly that Irrational has created a sweeping experience that slowly carries the player from a place of ignorance to one of enlightenment. It’s a long series of carefully placed clues intertwined with a satisfying story to bring us to the story’s twist (just as there was in Bioshock). And we as players get so bent on looking for and anticipating that moment of revelation that we’re willing to forgive and forget a lot, but it has to be said that the experience Bioshock: Infinite presents is simply not as solid as its forebears.

First, I’ll sing the game’s praises and hopefully tiptoe through the explanation of its weakpoints without giving away any spoilers. So allow me to give a stream of consciousness regarding my first few moments playing.

RAGE at paid day 1 DLC. I already paid a fucking arm and leg for the game, Xbox, and TV. I’m not throwing more money out for the DLC, Xbox Live, and internet when there was no reason other than greed on earth, heaven, and in hell for this business practice—Wow, cool music video! Fuck the season pass store! Rowing, rowing, rowing, learning I’m playing as Booker Dewitt, an ex-cavalryman who served at Wounded Knee. Being talked about like I’m not there by a couple of bickering Brits. Now I’m being stranded. Now I’m reading a threatening note from a creditor that can’t possibly have been placed in such a remote area by anyone other than an inhabitant. Find religious tripe. Repeatedly. Then, oh blue fucking Jesus, a man’s been tortured to death…which I suppose is historically appropriate for religion too. Alright, stuffed into a rocket, then shot into the sky—Where I find the sublime dream of an America that never was in gold, white, and blue. Is this heaven? Crap. They’re all Christian fanatics and I’m seeing triptychs and iconography reminding me of a combination of several cults and architecture pulled from major churches of the Latter Day Saints… This won’t end well.

Bigotry. Religion. Prejudice. Yup. 'Murica

Bigotry. Religion. Prejudice. Yup. ‘Murica

Columbia, the city in the sky, is a metaphor (both in the glories presented and the evils hidden) of a society governed entirely by a unified religion. It’s a metaphor for the promised land that was the American Dream, and our character is a metaphor for the lowly immigrant who ventures across dangerous waters and uncertain circumstances for the hope that the dream is a reality. It contrasts sharply with Rapture from Bioshock, a forward thinking society that had cast out all religion. The subtext of Columbia, whether implied or just plain unavoidable, is that adherence to any one creed in word and not in deed brings about the same earthly evils as any society with or without a religion. The joke whose intentions I’m still questioning is that adhering to any creed in deed will bring about horrors of a different but equally terrible nature. It maintains both capitalist and segregationist overtones while presenting its citizens in a fashion that I think qualifies as uncanny valley.

Unlike in Bioshock, where you arrive to find Rapture already in ruin and are left to piece together in your mind the splendor of yesteryear, Columbia is filled with living, breathing citizens. They say a few words as you pass by. But you can’t respond. And their mood is both so peaceful and bland (reminding me of the Eloi from The Time Machine) that you realize the entire city (with its peoples) is based on The American Adventure pavilion at Epcot Center. There’s even an homage to it with an animatronic George Washington at the floating boardwalk. That in itself could be enough of a hook to pull us in. Sadly, it doesn’t really go anywhere. They all simply disappear when the shooting starts. There are no murmurs of dissent or slowly changing popular opinion as the game progresses and the city spirals further into dystopian ruin. It’s simply a stage early in the game that’s just as easily forgotten, and to match as gripping an experience as the first Bioshock requires that each element of the story and stage of the game lock together to create a tapestry that flows and moves, each piece of the utmost important to the whole.

That doesn’t happen here. You run across segregationists and ant-segregationists, and just leave them as you found them. The same with a floating version of the Ku Klux Klan that hails John Wilkes Booth as the slayer of the Great Tyrant. You are pulled in as a sort of Anti-Christ figure in their religious mythology, but you’re never given a choice. And since one of the major themes in Bioshock: Infinite centers around the choices we make and their consequences, being railroaded throughout the game just doesn’t make any sense. You are presented with a macrocosm of ideas, possibilities, and ideologies, but have only one way of doing things.

Heads or tails? Doesn't matter.

Heads or tails? Doesn’t matter.

Take for example theft. There are areas in the game where you are guilty of theft and attacked if you pick up things off the ground. In other areas it’s considered scavenging and perfectly fine. I would happily pay for the items rather than steal them, but I’m not given the option. So I’ve gotta be branded a thief and kill a bunch of people unnecessarily.

On the other hand, I have many options when it comes to using my Vigors, Columbia’s version of Rapture’s plasmids. But I only use whichever one I currently have equipped since they all pretty much do the same thing. I can fling them directly at the enemy or use them as booby traps, firing with my gun all the while.

Gameplay in Bioshock: Infinite is diminished due to a lack of strategy. Your enemies all have guns. They shoot at you. That’s it. In Rapture my enemies were armed, unarmed, acrobatic, heavily-armored, navigating a maze of ruined art deco buildings and half-flooded apartments. My ammo was limited and my plasmids at best put me on even terms with the enemy. I had to hack cameras, turrets, and other gadgets and take advantage of semi-destructible environmental items to stay a step ahead of the hordes of crazies who wanted to use my skin as a dressing gown. Here I frequent a lot of docks and loading bays and shoot a lot of people screaming prayers, which is what people tend to scream when you’re walking around shooting at random. There’s no strategy. No puzzle-solving. And no story engagement since I don’t ever identify or get to know my enemies. In Rapture I almost pitied the psychotic splicers who had been driven over the edge of sanity by their own warped science.

The only time Bioshock: Infinite breaks from this mold is when you take the skyrails, mixing high-flying rollercoasters with shooting in a fashion I think was done first in the film Zombieland. Still fun as all get out, though. I restarted several times just to play the skyrails over again.

Since Vigors are not used to their full potential, there needs to be a game-changing element here. That element, or so I thought for the first half-hour, was Elizabeth, the quasi-dimensional Tails to your silent and repetitive Sonic. This is the closest to puzzle-solving that you run across. Elizabeth can open portals to other dimensions. She brings you money, salts, and ammunition. And she can even bring into this reality objects and architecture from other realities. But why, if we’re looking at an infinite number of outrageous possibilities, does this boil down to sentry turrets and skyhooks? A year before Bioshock: Infinite was released, Irrational claimed that Elizabeth would be doing crazy things like dropping freight trains onto enemy’s heads and knocking down walls with speeding firetrucks popping out of thin air. They’re working with quantum mechanics and postulating the infinite universes theory here. They could literally pull from anything their sick, twisted little imaginations come up with, and the best they can do is sentry turrets? That’s throwing pearls before swine!

Weapons, wind, half-turning? Criteria for a badass game cover met.

Weapons, wind, half-turning? Criteria for a badass game cover met.

The graphics are breathtaking, and Bioshock: Infinite modulates the mood impeccably, especially when it has a nasty surprise in store, but there are thematic inconsistencies which taint what would otherwise be a satisfying experience. In Rapture, their entire society was based on casting aside their past and full steam ahead to a bright, unfettered future. That future came in the form of plasmids: a substance which could change your genetic makeup and give you unbelievable powers. Rapture’s rise, politics, economics, warring factions, and eventual downfall all revolved around plasmids. In Bioshock: Infinite, the presence of Vigors is not explained. They have no demonstrable impact on society. What’s worse, considering how hidebound and traditional Columbia’s society is, gamechanging elements such as Vigors should’ve been eschewed. Throw in quantum physics, religion, ancestor worship, capitalism, segregation, and there is, in other words, no singular lore to which Bioshock: Infinite ascribes in order to maintain a tight, cohesive world. Your storyline might move along quickly, but in order to plant the seeds of doubt in the player’s mind which anticipates the inevitable twist it sacrifices substance for glitz. Your voxophones, which are recordings you pick up that are meant to give you a greater scope of the world you find yourself in, only encompass a few main characters rather than helping to give the player a grassroots perspective of the situation.

Make no mistake; Bioshock: Infinite does many things well. The voice-overs and dialogue are toe-curlingly good. The character designs are tight. Animations flow believably. The storyline as a whole is radically different from the norm. It will be very hard for any newcomers to take the title from what’s rapidly shaping up to be game of the year. But it doesn’t top the original Bioshock.

And it makes you think in a bad way. While Bioshock made you spend a quiet afternoon pondering hidden meanings, Bioshock: Infinite will have you pounding your head against a wall trying to make sense out of pieces that don’t comfortably fit.

Lampoons our own preconceived notions of America.
Skyrails rock.
Cons:Combat becomes repetitive.
No unifying theme.
Elizabeth is a resource squandered.
Game producer's website:Irrational Games
Official website:Bioshock: Infinite
Game available at:

About The Author

John Richard "Chrysophase" Albers
Other posts by

John Richard Albers, an author, armchair psychologist, amateur historian, freelance, peacemaker, dragonslayer, warmaster, and part-time herald of the apocalypse, hunts ghosts when he isn't hunting crazy people. He holds dual bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and English Literature, is working toward a degree in parapsychology, and is acting CEO of Prior to Print Proofreading LLC, where he gets to torture editors instead of them torturing him for once.

Leave a Reply