These are just some quick, unpremeditated thoughts from my experience with Bioshock Infinite so far.
In a word: wow.
I consider the original Bioshock one of the best games I’ve ever played, mostly because I was so incredibly impressed by how well written, and told, the narrative was. The actual first-person shooting mechanics of the game were cut and paste to me; not offering any innovation that I could ascertain, yet also not feeling archaic or clunky either. It played well and felt competent in comparison to my somewhat limited familiarity with the genre. I hadn’t been keeping up with the then current generation of games, but Bioshock really got me back into modern gaming. It was a bold and deep story, the likes of which I had never witnessed in the medium before. It was a rare beast; I could enumerate on its subtleties and themes as I would a novel or a film, something I had never done with a game before.
So, when (ostensibly) the same team and the head creative director of the original Bioshock announced the “real” spiritual successor to that fabulous experience (the sequel Bioshock 2, was not made by the same people and is not considered true canon for the Ken Levine directed series) I was immediately sold.
Since the game was first announced I have carefully kept myself in blackout mode, watching only the (really inspiring) official trailers. Otherwise, I’ve purposefully kept myself in the dark in regards to the game’s nature and narrative. I went into the first Bioshock “blind” and it managed to affect me greatly, so I am eager to recreate that sort of feeling afresh with Bioshock Infinite, hence my many year-long blackout mode.
Did it pay off? Well, again: Wow. Holy shit. Fuck, fuck fuckfuckfuckfuck and one thousand more vulgar expletives which are the only recourse for my reeling mind right now.
Already, only a few hours into the game, I’m absolutely blown away by everything on offer. There have been several jaw-dropping moments in terms of aesthetic and narrative – and if it stays the course I can safely say that as much as the original Bioshock impressed me, Infinite is, well… infinitely better in every conceivable way.
The opening sequence was beautiful, deranged and compelling as any I’ve ever experienced in a game. The mysterious and downright frightening way you begin this game is genius; there is obviously something very peculiar about the main character, Booker Dewitt’s circumstance and disposition far beyond the seemingly banal trope you’re first presented with; “Deliver the girl, wipe away the debt”, etc. An existential meditation on reality and existence is at play here, told through the lenses of religious fanaticism and jingoistic bigotry, yet tantalizingly underpinned by an even larger, and more subtle, narrative involving theoretical physics and quantum mechanics (a field of study I’ve always had a deep attraction to).
At a base level of “set-piece” experiences I have to say, two particular moments really stand out for me so far:
The first was an early scene involving a baptism that struck me as heavily influenced by one of my favorite contemporary films; Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. The buildup to this moment is incredibly intriguing, stirring, and frankly, rather haunting.
The second is the single most emotionally disturbing moment I’ve ever experienced while playing a video game – something which was revealed so unexpectedly that the only way I can adequately catalog it is to say it is probably the only actual portrayal of the banality of evil ever used in a video game. All I will say to those of you who have played the game so far to suitably clue you into the moment I’m speaking of is “#77”.
Not only is this scene wonderfully written from a structural, narrative-based standpoint, but the way it fits into the larger context of the ‘game’ is brilliant too; it heralds the first “fight” in the game and as such, immediately orients you into Booker’s viewpoint and in one glorious instant bonds you with your avatar in a way that most games cannot manage to achieve throughout their entire durations. In a scene which only lasts a few minutes you are cemented into Booker’s character and the game shifts into a completely new experience than what was expected. It is a medium defining experience and I think it is safe to say that it can be used as definitive proof to end the argument that continues to drag on about whether videogames can be considered art or not.
I grieve for Mr. Levine and the rest of the developers if the media decides to cherry pick this moment and hold it up out of context to further marginalize gaming as a dangerous pastime – yet, in a sense, it could be the best thing to happen to the medium in recent memory. I think exploring this game, and perhaps, the moment I’m speaking of in particular, could once and for all shake people out of their apathy and challenge their predetermined associations with the medium.
In any event, as you can tell, I’m greatly enjoying the experience of Bioshock Infinite so far and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Buy this game and do some thinking with your thumb twiddling.