Endings have the ability to completely make or break a game. We all saw what Mass Effect 3‘s ending did to the public’s view of the title, and if we can recall back far enough, we’ll remember how BioShock‘s final act was a complete blemish.
BioShock Infinite is still able to use its powerful ending to make me overlook the game’s second act faults. It’s left an incredibly lasting impression on me and it show just how effective a story can be when you cross your T’s and dot your I’s at exactly the right time. It’s almost as if the team at Irrational Games learned from their previous mistake. Well, to a degree at least; both BioShock and Infinite have faulty acts, but Infinite‘s happens during the second, and we all but forget it after the game’s conclusion.
It’s actually a bit hard for me to call the game’s middle portion a “weak act.” The game certainly doesn’t hit the same sour note as the original’s boss fight with Fontaine, nor is playing through the game’s middle portion entirely bad, though one enemy will stand out as an incredible annoyance. But I instead wonder if I view the game’s second act as weak due to how it doesn’t measure up to the opening and closing. As expected, there’s going to be a lot of visual shock and awe when you first visit the floating city of Columbia, just as there was that initial shock and awe when you made your way towards Rapture. Yet it’s not the visuals of Columbia that take you away, but the hidden themes and feelings that await.
The city of Rapture was founded by businessman Andrew Ryan in the 1940s for artists, thinkers, and scientists to live free from governmental control. It was supposed to be a utopia. While Columbia was originally founded in 1901 to symbolize the idea of American exceptionalism, it evolved into becoming the only “pure” American city in existence, differentiating from the cities on the surface below. The idea of Columbia becoming a purist’s American utopia was ushered in by the prophet Comstock and eventually become a fanatical religion. Propaganda was spread: “It is our holy duty to protect against the foreign hordes” and “We must all be vigilant to ensure the purity of our people” are some key examples, but the propaganda is actually backed up in the game. BioShock Infinite never strays away from dealing with issues such as racism and class warfare and uses them in an effective manner. The initial shock factor is indeed shocking, but I promise you it all comes together in the game’s ending. It’s also important to note that unlike Rapture, Columbia is a living, breathing city, one which you’ll see a change in throughout the game. While this leads to less of an atmospheric horror experience, Infinite instead offers a sense of exploration and wonder. The art direction is simply beautiful and the locales of Columbia are inviting.
While Columbia may be one of the stars of the game, it’s not the playable character. Our tale takes place in 1912, where you’ll assume the role of Booker DeWitt, an ex-Pinkerton agent who hasn’t had the greatest of lives since the Battle of Wounded Knee. Having found himself starring down debts and alcohol, he’s given a chance for redemption with one simple job: “give us the girl and wipe away the debt.” The girl in question is Elizabeth, a mysterious 17-year old being held captive. While Columbia is indeed full of beauty, art, and life, it all pales in comparison to what Elizabeth offers. Obvious connections will be made to various Disney princesses, but there’s something that needs to be said for Elizabeth’s sense of wonder. Compared to Booker’s cliche detective lifestyle, the two are able to play off on another in ways never before imaginable in a video game. They grow together and eventually aren’t able to function without one-another. Had Elizabeth managed to simply not become an awful escort quest, I can assure you we all would have been ecstatic, but the fact that she’s able to transcend the medium is an incredible accomplishment.
Of course, none of this would work if the gameplay fell completely flat. After all, while BioShock Infinite is a fantastic storyteller, it wouldn’t be worth it had the game didn’t play well. Thankfully, Infinite plays well, but I often found myself longing for the halls of Rapture, missing the threats of the Big Daddy. We’ve traded those claustrophobic spaces for the wide open skies, flying along rails and lunging on top of enemies, avoiding new threats such as the Motorized Patriots and the Handymen. While there’s something enjoyable about jumping through the skies that feeds my inner primal rage, again, I ultimately longed for the halls of Rapture. Which is a bit strange, seeing as the combat feels more honed this time around; Infinite plays like a better shooter than BioShock. I’m never really afraid to pull out the shotgun, charge in with a vigor, and blow my enemies away. In fact, the feeling of doing just that is extremely satisfying. It certainly helps that Elizabeth is always ready to refill my health, ammo, and salts (refuels vigor powers) should I need them. Also helping the game’s combat succeed is its intensity; you won’t have time to carefully plan my attacks in a similar manner to Big Daddy fights, so there’s going to be a lot of thinking on your toes. Firefights offer a feeling that truly cannot be replicated in most games, if any.
BioShock Infinite isn’t a perfect game. It meanders in the middle and slightly loses focus. As gorgeous and inviting as Columbia is, it’s no Rapture. I even kept thinking during my play-through, “this is it? Really? Was I too excited for this game? Am I being let down?’
And then came along the game’s third and final act. Then came the ending. I was blown away. Infinite isn’t something that can be compared to its predecessors or peers, instead standing toe to toe with other artistic pieces of media. Its messages are deep, its visuals striking, and its impact will be felt for years to come. Go ahead and make sure you see it through until the end. Regardless of your expectations, chances are you won’t be disappointed.