Bioshock Infinite is special. Okay everyone, thanks for clicking the link, that’s all I have to say for today! Alright, you caught me, I have more to say than that. Bioshock Infinite has that smidgen of indescribable something that gamers fall over themselves to experience. It’s a winner of awards, honored by oodles of nominations, and ranking in the top five favorites of gamers everywhere. While I’ve had the privilege of talking to a lot of fans over the years about the game, the thing that I love most is that everyone has a different take away for why they love it. That’s largely impart because there’s a lot to love! After finishing my fourth full play through of the title recently I was inspired to put together a little something to explain why so many of us keep coming back after five years in the sky city of Columbia. Welcome to Top 5 Bioshock Infinite Things.
WARNING. Spoilers, so many spoilers.
5 Will the Circle Be Unbroken
“Will the Circle Be Unbroken” is a Christian hymn that by all rights has no business being on a video game Top 5 list. And yet, here we are! For Bioshock Infinite the song has some lyrical and stylistic variations from the dozens of recordings that came before it, and overall the song compliments the narrative beautifully. Each verse we hear in the game’s rendition of the song can be tied back to what we’ll ultimately learn from the story by the end. Take this lyric for example:
One by one their seats were emptied,
And one by one they went away;
Now the family is parted,
Will it be complete one day?
When the big reveal hits and all of the Elizabeths from across the multiverse appear before Booker we come to hear the truth. Booker DeWitt is Zachary Comstock. Our hero has been the villain from the start. After the deed is done, Booker/Comstock has been snuffed out of existence by the Elizabeths, but our Elizabeth isn’t there at the end. One by one, they all fade away. Once again in our journey we see a father being separated from his daughter. But is it truly for the final time? We don’t see our Elizabeth in those final moments. Even though the story is telling us that this is the end, that the circle has been broken and Booker/Comstock and Elizabeth will never be reunited again, that lyric gave me pause before the DLC had additional story to explore. An extra detail like a stellar song choice is just one of the bright spots in Infinite.
4 Independent Woman
Elizabeth spends her entire time as Booker’s companion bailing him out of trouble. You don’t have to do anything special to keep her alive, worry about her dying, or concern yourself with where she is during battle. She’s got this life on the run thing all figured out from the start. But there’s so much more to her than that! As a character, Elizabeth has a lot of depth, so much so that I often struggle with whether or not to call her a protagonist. While we play as Booker DeWitt, the core of the story is centered around Elizabeth. She’s what sends Booker into Columbia, but she’s directly and indirectly the cause of every conflict that follows. She exhibits tremendous growth from the time she is freed from the tower. Her behavior and actions are molded by what she’s seen and had to do. Even before the dramatic haircut and costume change following her murder of Daisy Fitzroy we see small changes in her appearance. She becomes more aware of what she can do and what her abilities imply. Rather than being a static NPC she looks at and comments on the world around her. Elizabeth humanizes the story of Bioshock Infinite because through her and in real time we see the toll that Colombia’s world has taken on her.
3 Dies, Died, Will Die
Ah yes, the Luteces. Robert and Rosalind show up unannounced and cryptically sass you into a state of confusion. They have approximately zero time for your questions because anything that takes them away from sciencing is trivial. They act as the human bumpers to Booker’s bowling alley of life. Every time Booker starts to step off of the narrative path, every time he has a crossroads where he (theoretically anyway) could choose to divert his attention from the main goal, in come these smarty pants red heads with a coin flip.
The Luteces serve to display the illusion of choice in a game that has all of your moves mapped out for you. Why would my character ever choose to do this thing when doing this other thing would make so much more sense? The Luteces from that very first coin flip set the tone. You can’t do that thing because you’re not meant to do it. They make a case for constants and variables each time they appear to be bickering with each other and on their voxophone recordings. They frazzle and annoy Booker with their double talk, and on my first playthrough I grumbled along with him. After several times through the game I can honestly say that I look forward to each time that they pop up. Paying attention to the Luteces and knowing what’s to come from the narrative allows you to catch on to parts of the story that you may have overlooked before. Their dialogue is full of easter eggs that are hidden in plain sight. If you know where to look.
2 That Guy That Does All the Voices in Video Games
No, Nolan North isn’t in Bioshock Infinite, we’re talking about the other guy that does all the voices in video games, Troy Baker! Mr. Troy Baker is the man. Full stop. He is one of my very favorite dudes to ever do dude things. He stole the show as Joel in The Last of Us. He became the pluckiest comic relief as Hawkeye in Avengers Assemble. He’d go on to do a hilarious YouTube show with that other guy Nolan that does all the voices in video games on Retro Replay.
But before all that he was the voice actor for Booker DeWitt. Baker delivers a layered performance as the game’s roughneck pinkerton protagonist with a gambling problem and questionable moral compass. He takes us through a wide range of emotions and he sells us on the story. He’s believable in his confusion as Booker leaves the Luteces and enters the lighthouse at the beginning of the game. And that believability never falters. We buy that Booker is just a man, trying to do a job to save his own skin. As the pieces begin to fall into place, Baker’s portrayal of Booker broadens. We hear Booker snap under pressure, shout his thanks to Elizabeth in combat, show sincerity in his willingness to find answers, and express deep remorse. The emotions are varied, but always delivered with conviction and appropriate for where we are in the game.
Part of the reason that I enjoy Bioshock Infinite as much as I do is because characters are important to me. Troy Baker makes me believe in Booker DeWitt. The pinkerton, the false shepherd, the martyr of the Vox Populli, and the dad with the self-induced financial trouble. So often in a title there can be awkward voice over moments where a characters tone doesn’t fit the scene or even the character themselves. Sometimes that’s the developers mistake and sometimes it’s the performers, but it can quickly ruin an otherwise immersive experience. Troy Baker as Booker DeWitt gives us none of that and it’s one of the many reasons that fans keep playing this single player title at a time when multiplayer is all the rage.
1 Dat Narrative Tho
Constants and variables. The story was artfully crafted and written by Ken Levine with a notable attention to detail. Through repeat plays I’ve found myself stunned by the little crumbs of things to come that are sprinkled around Columbia. Take Battleship Bay for instance. Shortly after finding Elizabeth, an NPC can be overheard on the beach talking about a suitor, she says that she hasn’t encountered a man who knew his true self. I’m paraphrasing the line now, but at the time I yelled at my television. “How dare you!” The benefit of having played before lead me to shake my fist at the now obvious spoiler. I’ve played this game four times and this last time was the first that I ever noticed that line. Each time I play I seem to find more bits of subtle foreshadowing. It’s obvious that Levine and the rest of Irrational Games paid a loving amount of attention to all the little things. I’d just like to formally tip my hat and say that five years later it’s still paying off.
A critical part of the narrative is the multiverse concept. It isn’t for everyone and it often gets criticized in media as being lazy storytelling. Some people don’t like it because it can easily explain away a lot of things. Others don’t like it simply because they can’t or are unwilling to entertain a concept that’s theorized to be a point of fact in the real world. It’s a heavy theory to dive into, but it’s also been panned as the equivalent to the overused ‘it was all a dream’ trope. But that is not how the multiverse is used in this game. It’s used thoughtfully and thoroughly at every turn in Bioshock Infinite. Woven seamlessly across all aspects of the game, but not necessarily spoonfed to the player. If you’re looking for context clues that hint at different impacts of the multiverse, you’ll find them if you’re paying attention. If you just plow through the game, objective after objective, you’ll still have fun, but you’ll miss some things that would otherwise answer some of the questions that you’ll have at the end.
As Booker DeWitt we come to question reality as we have come to know it up until that point in the story. We have to get the girl to wipe away our debt. The girl is a prisoner, we have a mission though. The girl is a victim, we need to keep her safe. The girl is a friend, we will help her seek revenge. The girl is our daughter, we have to wipe away our debt, but our only true debt is to her.
The girl is, was, will be our prisoner, our victim, our friend, our daughter. We are the source of all her problems even as we fight by her side to solve them. As Booker we come to realize that every action in our universe is a point of diversion in another universe. How can Booker possibly ever trust that his choices were his own? How can we as the player not look inward and consider that idea? Am I the constant in my own universe or am I the variable? By the end of our story Elizabeth has the burden of knowledge and realization. On their way to the Prophet’s airship Booker vows that he won’t let anything happen to her. At this point Elizabeth knows through a message from her future/alternate self what the player does not know. Booker DeWitt is Comstock and the only way to end and prevent her suffering is to sacrifice him at the point of diversion, Booker’s baptism. There’s a startling parallel to be found upon repeat play throughs. Ultimately Elizabeth chooses to sacrifice Booker, who she cares for, because of what he will become in the form of Comstock. But also because of who she will become under Comstock’s care. Much like how Booker had sacrificed his daughter Anna, who he cared for, because of what he had become. Both actions taken in the hope of salvaging a better future for themselves, though both choices have opposing motivations. Is, was, will be.
There you have it folks! That concludes the lengthy Top 5 Bioshock Infinite Things that no one asked for. We thank you for taking this trip down memory lane with us whether you are playing, have played, or will play Bioshock Infinite. For more original content and gaming news keep it locked right here on Mammoth Gamers.