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Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea
Review and Reflection

  When I did manage to get around to playing Bioshock Infinite earlier this year (that is to say, when it was cheap enough for me to play), you may recall I was more than a bit excited about it. Nothing really compares to being able to jump kick a rampaging racist off the side of a floating city to make him contemplate where they went wrong in life in the minutes-long plummet to the ocean below. And sure, there were people who don’t like it, but I thought it was a blast, a clever use of misdirection and showmanship to set up some of the bigger story elements.

  Between then and now, my initial gushing has tempered a bit and some of the flaws stand out in grander contrast to the good. Elizabeth looks particularly less capable and active with distance, although I still maintain she’s at least more useful than most NPC support characters. But that’s her main role – support. Outside of a few scripted story events, the story about her is largely told through the big strong man folk.

  I think the proper way to do this would be to effectively make Booker the NPC support – have him protect you with his jaw capable of stopping bullets and his ridiculous array of weapons while you figure out ways to manipulate reality to actually win fights. Effectively, Booker’s role would be to suppress enemy movement while you get into position to affect the greatest amount of change to the environment in a way that can effectively halt enemy movement. It would turn it into a bullet-themed Portal, with an emphasis on sneaking and movement.

  But I digress.

  The real reason I’m writing this short blog post is because I finished playing the downloadable content expansion-thing, Burial at Sea. Because of Infinite’s chronological and temporal fuckery, the story is just on a tangential time-line... or something. The much-hyped return to Bioshock’s original underwater city of Rapture is interesting, if nothing else. You play perpetual sad-sack and father of the year Booker DeWitt as he proceeds to fuck up in an entirely new city. Elizabeth pops over to him and hires him to find another lost girl – particularly, one that he lost during a poker game because he is terrible at everything.

  So, I’m going to run through the things I like, which won’t really take long. I find the visual aesthetic of art deco in Rapture much more appealing that the turn-of-the-century buildings of Columbia. And, as always, I’m a sucker for the 1950's and their insistence on media-as-moral-guidance-tool and their hilariously stupid advertisements.

It... was a different time.
It... was a different time.

  But here’s the rub, ladies and gents: although it is nice to see Rapture before the inevitable rebellion that would leave it in shambles, it feels a bit forced. I only say that because it seems that every couple is talking about glorious leader Andrew Ryan’s philosophy. A few actually talk about events within the world itself, but most are just walking around with their head in their ass and being pretentious. I mean, I understand that these people are assholes, but Jesus, the city was built in, what, 1946 and people are still talking about their stupid philosophy as if they’re not surrounded by like-minded idiots?

  Now it may be a minor point, but I think it gets to the heart of what the problem is with the Bioshock series – it is a good, self-contained story, but efforts to flesh it out are awkward and wholly unnecessary. I know that Bioshock 2 – the sequel no one asked for – is much maligned, but it did a much better job at telling a story through the locations you found yourself in. And populating it with people – as much as I like Grace and Augustus – was just silly.

  The designers return to these places and give us new areas, but never really justify why we’re doing what we’re doing. Instead, we’re doing things specifically for the fans, referencing things that they know because they’re important to them. It’s like Darth Vader’s importance in the prequel trilogy of Star Wars – the only reason he’s so vital to that story is because the audience knows who he is. There was no need to make him – to quote Red Letter Media – Space Jesus.

  Elizabeth and Booker running around Rapture just smacks of fan service. And it’s not particularly good fan service – the game is glitchy as all hell. One game had Elizabeth fail to spawn and when I wandered into a cutscene, I had to completely start over to get the game to unglitch. Another instance had the game have a heart attack behind a load screen disguised as an airlock, leaving me trapped in a small room with Elizabeth giving me angry eyes for an eternity. I can’t blame her, though – she must be in constant pain after this fiasco:

"Good god, are you..."
"Good god, are you..."
"I'M FINE!"

  Because of the game occasionally freaking the fuck out, my urge to explore was sufficiently stifled. This is especially onerous considering that, more and more, manual saves are being replaced by checkpoints. So when I spend forty minutes exploring, finding more ammo and gear and drop-kicking mutants only to have the game slip into a coma while the next area loads, I lose all that progress – not because I suck, but because the game is an unstable rushed mess.

  The story itself deserves special focus because its ultimate resolution is a resounding “so what?” I realize that this is part one of a two part series, but the climactic battle with a Big Daddy (shame on you if you think that’s a spoiler) is followed by a ham-fisted reveal that is about as shocking as the alphabet beginning with the letter ‘A’ – especially after Bioshock Infinite. And yet it’s still set up as this big mystery plot when the player is already in on it.

  Spoilers ahead, so go out and catch butterflies if you are afraid of tainting your experience.

  So Booker is Comstock who, in one reality, accidentally beheaded Elizabeth when he stole her from drunken Booker. He gets all sad and is sent to Rapture so he can forget about being a total monster. He ends up finding an orphan and takes care of her, only to lose her at a game of poker. Not lose in the “he bet her” sense, but lose as in being a child in Rapture is a great way to kidnaped and converted into a Little Sister, walking plot devices which have magic sea slugs in their stomach.

  He is sad again until Elizabeth shows up and offers to take him to the girl. They go on a straight-forward adventure, meeting precisely one famous person from Bioshock who is super crazy and is in on the black market child-stealing. The two are sent to a department store where they kill drug-addicted mutants, find the little girl, and Booker kills her attendant Big Daddy – a horribly mutated dude locked up in a diving suit who pulls double duty as a care-taker for the underwater city and protecting Little Sisters from other mutants.

  He suddenly has an epiphany and remembers what happens, apologizes to Elizabeth who is very mad at him. Then gets murdered by a Big Daddy. And then it just ends.

  That’s it.

  That’s what you get – thanks for playing.

  I know they’re setting up for the next part, but it’s just so fucking pointless. Are they gonna put Booker in a Big Daddy suit? I’m pretty sure being killed first wasn’t part of the assembly package. They’re not zombies, goddamn it. And what purpose would that effectively serve? Also, that seems entirely antithetical to what we know about Elizabeth, the young woman who killed someone to save a child in Infinite – pettiness isn’t in her nature. And while this is a different Elizabeth (possibly), I have no sympathy for someone who is a fucking god and kills out of spite.

  If the entire point was to make Booker feel bad about what happened, why didn’t Elizabeth just show up and tell him what happened? If he had to die, why didn’t she just kill him? She doesn’t even flinch when the guy is gored in front of her, and gone are her protests and gasps of horror when Booker kills someone.

  See, the beauty of the ending of Infinite was that it was entirely possible for anyone with access to the pan-dimensional device or whatever to go back and kill Booker before he had a chance to become Comstock. But ultimately, the choice was left in the hands of the main character – he had to atone, and that atonement had to be his.

  And maybe I should be reserving judgment for the next part, where the hint is that you will be playing as Elizabeth. Maybe I shouldn’t be criticizing something before it has a chance to finish playing out. But I cannot imagine anyone being happy with the product we got. Fans of the series will be disappointed by its brevity, its bugginess, and lack of narrative cohesion. The shout outs feel tacked on at best and pandering at worst. I don’t care about Sander Cohen; I care about the people of Rapture. I don’t care about the pontificating of selfish pricks – I care about their humanity, their struggles of trying to be perfect in a world where perfection is in a bottle.

  Give it a pass until the next installment comes out. And then, only if they manage to justify this contrivance.

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