In this, the first part of FBT's all-inclusive trip to Columbia, he wrestles with quantum physics and his quantum of patience. *as a complete playthrough review, this contains spoilers*
Bioshock is one of my favourite games. So when that teaser trailer for Infinite showed a Big Daddy as an aquarium ornament and us trapped by sky not sea, I was concerned. Is Infinite going to sing Rise, Rapture, Rise or get in the sea?
At the opening, all the Bioshock references are here – It’s night, we have a box with a gun and a photo and we’re headed for a lighthouse. This time, we’re on our way to ‘get the girl and wipe away the debt’. My name is Booker DeWitt, I’m a private eye – in a rowing boat, with two people in yellow sou’westers. Very noir. This is nowhere near the dizzying impact of Bioshock’s opening; sitting comfortably on a plane hearing “They told me, ‘Son, you're special. You were born to do great things.’ You know what? They were right.” Then the sounds of screaming and the plane crashing. That was an opening. Instead, Infinite gives us a rowing boat and the rowers chatting;
"One goes into an experiment knowing one could fail.
But one does not undertake an experiment knowing one HAS failed.
Can we get back to the rowing?
I suggest you do, or we're never going to get there.
No, I mean I'd greatly appreciate it if you would assist.
Perhaps you should ask him. I imagine he has a greater interest in getting there than I do.
I suppose he does...but there's no point in asking.
Because he doesn't row.
He doesn't row?
No. He doesn’t row.
Ah. I see what you mean"
So do I. It means you’re pretentious. And that’s just a slice of what we endure during the game. The rowers are The Luteces and as our guides, they pop up just to aggravate you. They’re award-winning characters with a strong fanbase who think they’r
e brilliant and subversive. They’re not. Freed of the Luteces (or as they would say; freed, free, will be free – sod, sods, sod off), I head into the lighthouse where I find a dead body and a warning not to fail. I get launched up into the sky rather than sink into the depths and I’m … I’m in Pixar’s Up the Video Game? It’s kinda cool and surreal, it looks like Bake-Off. I’m forced into a baptism and emerge from the purifying waters to see statues of the American founding fathers. Welcome to Columbia; worship and submission vs Rapture’s self and laissez-faire lifestyle. Why is this called Bioshock? If Infinite is yet another ‘spiritual successor’ to Systemshock (let it go), why not call this Godshock? Skyshock?
By now I’ve wandered into a fair, with stalls and candy-floss. I like the walking with the enemy style, I don’t even have a weapon or see any threat; but there’s a rot creeping in; I notice white people enjoying the day and POC cleaning up after them, deeply offensive advertising that encourages kids to fear the minority races below. How did we get above though?
Rosalind Lutece discovered how to make an atom float or something and for some reason shows it to God-botherer Comstock, who wants to build a floating city he saw in a vision. They do so, and Columbia is proclaimed a new state of America. It goes on a world tour, announcing the USA’s new superpower status but after firing on China, Columbia is disavowed then disappears. Comstock becomes a Prophet, able to see sins and the future, gaining the devotion of Columbia’s people while his daughter is set to lead the Prophet’s flock to the Promised Land. I bet that’s the girl we need.
While I am itching to start putting things right as violently as possible, I kinda hope I have to keep up the pretence rather than everything go black and white (as it were) shooter style. I take in a show … and see a mixed-race couple wheeled onto the stage to be stoned (with that symbol of America, the baseball). It falls to me of course, to make the Ceremonial first throw. He winds into the pitch and … the game actually gives me the option to fastball the couple. What? I choose not to and risk blowing my cover; I aim for the ringmaster instead but get stopped before making the pitch by a conveniently placed policeman, who spotted a brand on my hand – ‘AD’ - apparently, the mark of the ‘False Shepherd’ prophesied to steal the daughter. You’d think the Luteces would have warned me about that. Booker even spots it on a poster, warning the populace - but he doesn’t try to hide the mark because too easy. In the panic I murder the policeman with his own melee weapon; the ‘skyhook’. A wrench with gears on it, the Skyhook allows me to beat them to death or pop their heads off like a cork. It’s gory and extreme but they’re racists so it’s okay. The rest of Columbia has scarpered rather than stop the false shepherd, so I guess they’re not evil after all. They even left their baseballs behind. But before I carry on, I could stone a mixed-race couple?
I reload and reach this point again, and this time aim for the couple. Same result; same copper stops me, same branding, same mayhem. That’s unsettling. I expected to remain unknown if I did it. I’m guessing this has a future impact – It is Bioshock afterall, master of the moral choice and this can’t go unanswered; you just play as racist or not? I reload again, feeling a bit disgusted and aim for Ringmaster to set things right. Later, the couple offer me a power-up as a thank you. That was it? I was originally reminded of Sherley Jackson’s The Lottery as that scene started, and an isolated, extreme community that’s lost its humanity, a futuristic paganism-style Wicker Man instead of Atlas Shrugged could make for a good game, but now I’m unsure Infinite is going that way; soon after, the Luteces’ block my way and demand I flip a coin, which lands the same side as has done dozens of times before. Before? Ohho, we’ve done this before haven’t we. It’s about constants and variables isn’t it. That suspiciously suggests all this class-struggle, racism and religious extremism is a smoke-screen for something ‘mind-bending’. The only mind-bending I’m doing is how that justifies being allowed to stone someone. It just bothers me, and it bothers me that this is based in the game series where choice means something; again, call it something else because if this doesn’t have key themes of Bioshock – self-determination for one, it’s going to start annoying me.
Still, hoping there’s more to it, I press on, now weaponised. Weapons in Columbia follow a standard loadout but you can only carry two at a time because Booker is a pussy. Jack, who was technically a toddler could carry eight weapons. But, we have Vigors.
Why do we have Vigors? Because you’re in a Bioshock game. When you wandered Rapture, you saw advertising for the Plasmids - Incinerate’s ad showed a man lighting his date’s cigarette; they were fads, the protein shakes and slimming pills of Rapture. That they became weapons during the war showed the desperation and ingenuity of Rapture’s people but Columbia’s Vigors already are weapons. Who are they defending themselves against, pigeons? A Murder of Crows to peck people apart; freeze, fireballs, bullet shields; what does your everyday Southern Belle need with a bullet shield? While we meet the occasional copper or mini-boss who’s full of Vigor, not one regular opponent or by-stander has them – so why can I buy them from vending machines?
Now public enemy number one, everyone wants to kill us so we return the favour. Tramlines snake around the buildings to ferry goods and you can use the Skyhook to travel on them, leap from building to building or swing to higher ground. Should be great, yeah? It’s not.
Fighting in Infinite is the same as fighting in any FPS – as in, being miles in the sky makes no difference. The Skyhook doesn’t add the aerial combat you’d hope for. Scratch that; it doesn’t add the aerial combat that absolutely should have been key to the entire game; the tracks contain you within the fight and since you’re always flying over cloud it’s not particularly exciting or nerve racking - Booker’s 30ft leaps are explained by the Skyhook being magnetic (?!) and if it’s highlighted he’ll make it, meaning there’s no thrill, no hope-for-the-best leaps. Fighting across floating buildings should be more thrilling than not at all thrilling. I should be leaping through neighbourhoods like Ferris Buller meets Jason Bourne, scrambling from building to building, desperately grasping for edges and ledges and making nerve-shredding jumps - Assassin’s Creed without the ground. And why isn’t there a Flying Vigor?! If I can summon crows surely I can float? There’s not even a stealth or parkour element to it. But the biggest let-down is that you can’t be let down; neither you nor the bad guys can fall off the edge and if you do manage a swandive, you’re mysteriously and conveniently transported back! How can I never feel scared of heights?! The fights are standard as it is, if being in the air doesn’t actually offer anything beyond the standard FPS fare what is Infinite offering? At least the story has some depth. Right?
When we finally reach the daughter, Elizabeth, it turns out we’re saving a Disney Princess – huge eyes, over-exaggerated movements and reactions. It’s Belle. Before we can rescue Rapunzel from her tower though, we must get Songbird out of her hair. A huge raven-like mech, Songbird is utterly devoted to Elizabeth. The first time you see him you’re staggered. He’s steampunk Goth and a tragic character because you assume there’s the Big Daddy-style remnants of man inside; his love for Elizabeth is heart-breaking and scary - it’s the best thing in the game until it becomes clear Songbird will only get in the way when we find an exit, and it loses all threat. They’re always great moments but Songbird is as terrifying as it is incredible as it is underused as it is frustrating.
Liz meanwhile, is cute, care-free and excitable now we’ve freed her, and it is fun trying to keep tabs on her as she discovers the world outside her prison tower. The game, at least early on, is split between battle arenas and peaceful spots we navigate through, and during those times we learn more about Liz’s backstory and Comstock’s rise to power, how he’d been baptised and born again, determined to return the world to a God-fearing place. Liz knows she’s a part of that plan, but we don’t have a picture of how; yet. But Liz’s little parlour trick might have something to do with it.
Throughout Columbia we find rips, supposedly in the space-time continuum or something. Most folks ignore them, but our little princess can open and control them. And that means escape! That means we have a weapon! No it doesn’t mean those things. And this is where the stupidity of the Vigors really comes to the fore –why not have Liz open tears like Plasmids, dropping ice, rocks, the sea, storms, lightning, hurricanes, random things that could make the fights better or worse; imagine how thrilling that would be, or tears we can fight through like a shooter Portal, asking her to open them behind bad guys to give us any edge, oh the fun we don’t get to have with this. All Liz can muster is hooks, ammo or an occasional turret and they just signal there’s a battle ahead like an suspicious Auto-Save.
On top of that, Liz herself is a huge disappointment. Firstly, she can’t be killed. Second, if you get killed she nurses you back to health then nicks money off you (She steals from her saviour while he’s unconscious? Why!?) yet points out money on the floor. Thirdly, since she can’t get involved in battles Liz is reduced to passive ammo-finder and shrieker. She’s a little sister with mega-plasmids at her fingertips and all she can do is hide? At one point, she opens a tear into a corn field. To let out a bee. And we still don’t escape. A bee. Meanwhile I’m hanging off an imaginary hook in the middle of a firefight. That makes no sense. But never fear, the Luteces are here. They explain the tears as rips into parallel universes. Okay cool, got it. They continue by using a coin to explain; Heads, tails, two sides, same coin (Gotcha, let’s go) Someone might be dead in our universe but in the other he’ll be alive (Okay!) It’s a matter of perspective (I KNOW), it’s like riding a bicycle, you – Why? WHY?! Why go on about it, it’s not rocket science to a gamer, we’ve been pissing about with portals since Jet Set Willy. The perspective I see is padding – you’ve still not explained why Liz can also create portals to places other than Columbia but only Bees can use them. This is a major fault in Infinite, it seems to thoroughly enjoy telling you how mind-bending it all is, but the more it does it the more you pull your ‘bullshit’ face.
Liz opens a tear into another Columbia where we find a revolution in full swing. The Vox Populi, an under-class uprising is taking the city by force; so we’re gonna fight alongside those guys to explore and tear down nationalism, extremism and racism right? Nope. We were sent into this dimension to get ‘our’ Vox Populi some weapons to begin their revolution in return for access to the airship and escape. I think. We reach the gunsmith but he’s a ghost – Liz explains it thusly; ‘remember we found him dead? How would you reconcile that?’ Well, I'd lie down and, wait … what? Levine smugly claimed theorist Max Planck once said ‘If thinking about quantum mechanics doesn't make you angry, you're doing it wrong.’ But Levine is making me angry. Quantum mechanics can make no sense but the game has to; you’re making it all up as you go. That would make Planck angry but what makes me angry is Liz then papers over it with; ‘I don’t know if I brought us to a world or created one’ – where are you getting that from?! You think can create alternative universes with your mind? So think of Paris and get us TF out of here. FFS don't create an opportunity then ignore it, it's like Doom giving you the BFG but no ammo.
It’s all forgotten anyway because soon after we have the head of the Vox blocking our exit. She’s holding a child hostage. Now they’re the villains? We’re putting down the revolution? And I kill every Vox that appears, yet the theocracy-loving, isolationist slaver population can’t be shot? Is there a reality where this game isn’t misjudged?
As we fight towards the Airship and our escape, Liz carries on with her wild assumptions and even wilder actions such as reanimating her dead mother. Liz explains the ghost is actually her own feelings of resentment for her father; you what now? And the Mother makes us follow her about opening tears to past events - So not only are the tears interdimensional but Liz can conjure key events from the past she didn’t witness. At one point Liz says ‘I don’t understand it either’. Oh for fucks sake. The only reason this isn’t a Rage Quit review is I want to see what bullshit they come up with next.
We’ll take a breather here and let FBT calm down. But read part two where he completely loses it (Nobody tell him about the DLCs being set in Rapture)