Tag Archives: Columbia

Another tour of BioShock Infinite’s American exceptionalism

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In this post over yonder, I said I had beaten 73 games in total for all of 2014. I wrote that because it was true and, at that time, I hadn’t expected to complete anything else during the madness of Christmas and traveling and New Year’s Eve hijinks. Surprisingly, I was able to sneak in one more game before that big disco ball dropped in Times Square and Terry Crews took his shirt off to flex his chest muscles, clearly making Carson Daly uncomfortable; I really should’ve been watching The Twilight Zone‘s “Midnight Sun” at that exact moment, but it wasn’t my place, my television set.

Here’s the truth. Ever since I rushed through and beat BioShock Infinite in early 2013, I’ve wanted to replay it. Not on a higher difficulty or with a plan to use the Huntsman Carbine more over the Paddywhacker Hand Cannon or even to nab some missed Achievements, but just to experience it again. At a slower pace. A gentler walk through this strange yet familiar land–when obviously not in a skirmish or zipping along the skyhook tracks–to absorb every last sign, poster, painting, smeared blood writing, and hung piece of Columbia propaganda. There was a lot of talk happening and surrounding Ken Levine’s darling during its initial release, and I was shockingly interested (pun intended) in being invested in these dialogues, which meant hurrying through the game to get to its muddled ending. That way I too could have trouble comprehending it for a few days, along with seemingly everybody else. The word zeitgeist would probably work here.

Even at around 12 hours on the Normal difficulty, I’d say that BioShock Infinite is still too short of an experience and needs more time to open up for exploration and reflection, not more unsatisfying and rarely rewarding skirmishes. The shooting/Vigors-lead action is merely filler, a buffer between Booker looking at something interesting and finding something even more interesting to gawk at. Namely, a story beat. If there are any parts that I continued to rush through, it was blasting people in their faces with crows and then taking them out with a shotgun, though tossing people off the world later near the end of all things with the water stream spell was, admittedly, pretty enjoyable, but maybe that’s because it is a quicker and quieter kill than loading them up with bullets. The combat and violence constantly feels shoehorned; please explain to me again why equipping this hat helps me do better melee damage with the skyhook.

Anyways…it’s 1912, and Booker is trapped in a flying, floating city built on racism, heavy religious undertones, and American exceptionalism. Think about that for a bit. Try to name another game that uses those pillars as foundation for its game’s world; I’m struggling to think of many. Because of this, everything you see and hear is slimy, tinted with a second coating of meaning. That poster might seem positive, cheering on so-and-so, but it’s actually deeply dark, labeling people of color and the Irish as barely human. This is a place bursting with warm sunlight, children playing in the streets, and astonishing views that also harbors a disgusting, contagious sickness, the kind that poisons a community and changes it for the worst.

You’ll get a decent amount of this if you follow the main path, but searching out every nook is where the world truly comes to life, like examining the difference between upper-class and lower-class bathrooms, spaces you are never forced to visit for plot purposes. Hold on. Let me tell you about a really small, special moment I discovered, something I missed during that first sprint through in 2013. In fact, it’s easily missed if you begin shooting too soon in this specific area, as doing so scares away all the NPCs. Right, well…while exploring around Soldier’s Field, near a carousel, I discovered a young black man smoking a cigarette just behind a building, clearly in hiding. The man asks Booker to not tell on him, and Booker is friendly, promising his secret is safe.

In a game fueled by racism and racists, many of whom want to physically harm the player, it is a little strange to not hear Booker be more vocal about his opinions. I mean, he comments on mostly everything else around him. Like giant, mechanical bird-guardians. One gets the feeling he’s not 100% on board with how Columbia operates, but he also doesn’t openly condone it. Early on, during the lottery sequence, you do a QTE that boils down to a choice: throw the baseball at an interracial couple or throw the baseball at the announcer. Either pick results in the same story moving forward, but if you spared the couple some pain, you’ll run into them later and collect a piece of unique equipment. Booker doesn’t decide this; you decide for him, but it’s a rare moment of choice. Later, when Elizabeth’s sheltered innocence asks why one bathroom is for colors and the other for whites, Booker replies “It just is,” and keeps on moving. You don’t get to decide that he goes on a tirade, forcing everyone to swap thrones and be nice to each other for the good of all humankind.

Once again, I tried to find all the Voxophone audio logs and telescopes/Kinetoscopes without a guide, but missed a few by the end. A shame as some of the better and more interesting story bits are hidden away in these, like how Fink Manufacturing operates or what’s the deal with the Lutece twins. Pretty sure I hit the same numbers as my first go, which is funny, but I guess I walk the path I walk and look where I look. I suspect that you can get to a few hidden areas via the skyhook rails. I ended up using the same weapons/Vigor combos as before, relying way too much on the bronco one to lift enemies in the air and then a pistol to take ’em down. It was always a straight line to end combat as fast as possible, which meant always opening a tear to a gun turret over a Mosquito or mechanized robot-warrior.

Alas, after two full playthroughs, I still can’t tell if BioShock Infinite is the bird or the cage, but it remains an undeniably interesting audio/visual treat set in a genuinely unique world, a gorgeous walking simulator constantly sidetracked by racist goons and crank gun-wielding George Washingtons trying to blast holes in your chest. I’ll probably play it for a third time later this year, and I don’t know why. It just is.

The sky’s the superpatriotic limit in BioShock Infinite

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The way my brain works, I can literally come up with any excuse to buy a new videogame. The latest? Well, I’m trying this juicing fast thing for a few days, and the worst days are generally the worst, which I planned ahead for and made sure were on the weekend where I could hide out at home and crawl into bed if the hunger troubles growled too loud. I figured I could also use something new to play on either the Xbox 360 or PS3 as a way to distract myself for several hours. And so, on my way home from picking up more green groceries, I snagged a copy of BioShock Infinite and immediately flipped the cover art from macho-man-centric to art deco. I kinda wish all game boxes came with reversible cover art.

Anyways, before I get into Infinite, let me talk a bit about the original BioShock, a game I came to late that I can appreciate, but had a lot of trouble playing. I found Rapture and its inhabitants to be frightening; no, really. The creaking of floorboards, everything wrapped in shadow, the way voices of enemies would find me in any corner–gah, I can’t. It made for slow playing, as I was continuously anxious about moving to the next location, especially once I got the ability to turn invisible when standing still. But I did eventually soldier on, comprehend what the Internet had been talking about, and finished the game. Never even picked up BioShock 2.

However, the look of BioShock Infinite is too good to ignore. We are no longer deep underwater; in fact, just the opposite. The city of Columbia, which separated itself from the United States for reasons, floats high in the sky among the clouds. Buildings bob up and down, and zeppelins move to and fro, with streets disconnecting as sections of the city move around. Mechanical skylines allow for speedy travel, too, if you’re into high-soaring sensations. You do go inside places as well, but nothing so far has been as stunning as throwing open a door and walking over to a balcony and just sitting the world below, opaqued by a layer of clouds.

You play as Booker DeWitt, a less-than-good man who is tasked with stealing a girl from a locked tower in Columbia to wipe away his past crimes. What his past is all about is a mystery, as is the girl who he is off to steal; her name is Elizabeth, and she has the power to open “tears” to other realities. Stealing her from the tower happens relatively early in the game, and the plot only becomes more complicated from there. In honor of spoilers, I won’t say much more about it just yet though the racial themes presented throughout make me very uncomfortable, much more than the religious elements.

Story aside, BioShock Infinite is a videogame, and just like in the original game, you have magic spells in the left hand and guns in the right hand. At this point, I have four spells unlocked–now called Vigors instead of Plasmids–and my favorite is naturally Shock Jockey, which sends lightning into an enemy, temporarily stunning them just long enough to get popped in the face with a gun. Weaponry is rather standard, with pistols and shotguns and RPGs, and I’ve been most comfortable with smaller guns, relying more on Vigor powers to take dudes down. The Possession one is also great for turrets or the larger-than-life Patriots, letting others do Booker’s dirty work.

I’m enjoying the game despite the turmoil it puts in my non-superpatriotic heart, and a part of that has to do with the fact that, thank Comstock, it’s not very scary. The old-fashioned music and art style puts me at ease, as does being out in the beautiful videogame air, swinging wildly on the skylines. I am definitely taking my time as there is a lot to grok in Columbia, from posters to shop windows to audio logs and those movie things that I can’t recall the name of. It all exists for a reason, to make a world whole. Most fights so far often take place in well-lit areas, and I’ve done absolutely zero crouching, just confidently tossing open doors and seeing what’s on the other side. However, sometimes the movement of the vendor robots freaks me out if I turn around and don’t remember they are there. That said, nothing to keep me at bay here.

I’ll be back later to talk more about BioShock Infinite. Especially that lottery scene.