Bioshock Infinite, Game of the Year?

Published on May 10th, 2013

Howdy, Pop Nationers!

First thing’s first. I saw Iron Man 3 last night, and found it superb. I had great faith in Shane Black’s ability to deliver a fun, entertaining movie. (If you have not seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, RUN, do not walk, to see it.) But IM3 actually surpassed my expectations. No spoilers here, but I think any fan of the Marvel films is going to have a really good time. There is one major plot twist that I can see bumming out a lot of the hardcore comic fans, and I can understand that, but for me it made perfect sense in the context of the Cinematic universe, and I actually think it was a great decision. You’ll know it when you see it.

Side note: Who the hell are these people who go to see a Marvel movie and leave before the credits are over? Don’t they know the deal by now?

Now down to business. And by business, I mean Bioshock Infinite, which, I’m going to go ahead and just say it now, is likely going to be THE game of the year. The Bioshock franchise is something that typically comes up in discussions of “whether video games can be art”. Which is odd, considering they’re first-person shooters with more than their fair share of ultra-violence. Case in point, the first bit of action you experience in Infinite is so sudden, so brutal, and so gory that I actually gasped out loud. And yet, these games also manage to function as morality and thought exercises, mind-bending spectacles of design, and flights of intense imagination. And Bioshock Infinite continues in that tradition, even managing, in my opinion, to up the ante for future games in the series.

The year is 1912, and you play as Booker DeWitt, an ex-soldier and ex-Pinkerton, now a private detective second and a problem drinker and gambler first. You are given a straightforward command: “Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt”, and then sent into the clouds to discover Columbia, a steampunk metropolis floating far above the United States, where they have created a society based on a deification of the Founding Fathers. Once there, it’s your mission to locate and rescue Elizabeth, the “girl” in question, and survive the many foes and challenges that Columbia will throw at you.


It’s a simple enough premise, even dipping its toes deep into the water of video game tropes. The idea of “saving the girl from the big castle” is nothing new, and usually features a chubby plumber as the protagonist. But Infinite goes far beyond the normal constraints of the genre to tell a thrilling and fully engrossing mindfuck of a story where reality is a fragile thing, as easily torn as tissue paper, and what you think you know is almost never actually true.

I’ve done my best to avoid spoilers, because the game is so special and, to me, was so deeply moving, that I think everyone should engage it as fresh and as spoiler-free as humanly possible. But a warning, from here on in, it’s going to get vaguely spoiler-y. Beware.

The biggest complaint I’ve heard about Bioshock Infinite is in its lack of choice mechanics. In the previous installations, your characters actions could bring you to one of three possible endings, a “good”, a “bad”, and a “so-so”. Which ending you got depended largely on how you behaved in key moments of moral choice – Do you show mercy to a bad guy? Do you drain all of the lifeforce from the creepy little girl to further power your magical murderhands? Bioshock Infinite has choices. Plenty of them. But they will largely end you up in the exact same place. The places you most desperately want to make a choice are the places where none exists, where you have one singular option; to press the button and watch fate unfold. The game therefore becomes a bit of a thought-piece on fatalism, and the choices you make become more of a Rorschach test for you as the player. Some gamers are complaining that this reduces the replay value of the game. For me, though, it increases it. The trick of Bioshock Infinite, how they get to where they are going, is so clever and such a metatextual commentary on the nature of video games themselves, that I found myself immediately wanting to do another playthrough just to watch how they managed to do it. It’s the video game equivalent of a movie like Inception, or The Sixth Sense. Even after you have seen them and know the twists, they become fascinating to rewatch and see how artfully the tricks are laid out before you.

I would also say that a deep part of my love for the flow of the game and it’s “I never saw that coming” ending is my adoration for Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. As the game reached its conclusion, I kept thinking of the words of Jake from The Gunslinger.

“Go on then. There are other worlds than these.”

Follow me on twitter @travisholyfield where I swear a lot, complain about the cover bands at the bar behind my apartment, and gush over how great Game of Thrones is this season. Tell me what you thought about Bioshock Infinite, and hip me to what cool Pop is happening in YOUR Nation.
Travis M. Holyfield