BioShock Infinite – First Impressions

Attention, I’m here writing about the opening of BioShock Infinite, so there will be spoilers. If you’re anything like me, you won’t even want the beginning spoiled.

I have been waiting in anticipation for this game for over a year, ever since seeing the vision in the first trailers for the game. While I will write up a more in depth review of BioShock Infinite, I just wanted to log some of the impressions of the first 3 hours of the game.

I spent a good 30 minutes trying to find the best graphics settings, as the frame rate dropped at times and my mouse look was sluggish.

I hate that kind of thing. There I am trying to soak in the experience and the spectacle, and half my mind is preoccupied with whether the sensitivity is all wrong or some graphic setting is messing with my mouse look. In the end I just put it all on “low” and lo and behold, the controls are fine now.

BioShock Infinite

Even on low, this game looks absolutely breathtaking.

And that is all because of the visual design sensibilities of the developers. I love it when a game not only has a good looking style, but when it is implemented in such a technically proficient manner that it does not depend on fancy effects alone.

The opening is extremely similar to that of BioShock yet has a different tone. 

As in the first game, it starts you off in a vehicle of sorts (airplane vs boat) and you end up at a light house. At that point, Infinite does a literal 180 and you don’t descend, but ascend, up, up, up into the sky. It is an intense moment when your shot into the sky strapped to the fancy chair, only to break through the clouds and feast your eyes on the gloriously heaven-like sight of Columbia. The whole sequence has a frightening combined with awe-inspiring quality very much like the reveal of Rapture was in the first game in the bathysphere (another similarity). I like how the sky is cloudy and atmosphere is gloomy when you step onto the lighthouse platform, as it serves as a great contrast to the white-golden beauty of Columbia. One could even claim that it serves as an analogy of dying and ascending into heaven. Which is fitting because the people of Columbia view the entrance into the city as a rebirth.

BioShock Infinite

I understand how religious members of the 2K Games team were uncomfortable working on this game.

So as soon as you land in Columbia you see biblical phrases everywhere, about redemption, death, lambs and whatnot. There is a prophet named Comstock and he seems to run this place. He is similar to Andrew Ryan as he is a leader of men, building a city for his followers. Only where Ryan’s followers simply shared his philosophy and were attracted by the opportunity Rapture gave them, Comstock’s authority is based on religious grounds, putting him well above anybody but god in the people’s eyes.

Comstock Statue is over the top

Comstock Statue is over the top

He is the prophet and there is clearly a cult around his person. Where I think religious, and especially christian team members felt uncomfortable, is the presentation of Christianity. As soon as you step out of the bathysphere thing you arrived in, you step into a church like place. You walk into a group of people trying to gain entrance into the city through baptism. They all wear white robes and listen to the preaching of a priest.  This is where it gets uncomfortable for me too, because I’m not Christian and Booker DeWitt (the protagonist) isn’t either. He’s just here to do his job and get out. A quite powerful moment then happens. The priest demands to baptize you if you want to enter the city. You are left without choice, yet the game leaves the act of agreeing to be baptized to you. You need to walk up to the man and press the button. In other words, you willingly get baptized, and as the process happens all in first person, it really feels like being baptized yourself, as much as a game can translate the experience. Of course, you have to in order to actually progress, but BioShock has always been quite willing to take away control from you when it wants to, so this whole sequence was very deliberately constructed. Its saving grace is that it fits in with what Booker would do. At least the impression that I had gotten of him up to that point. He’s a rather simple man and just wants to get the job done. So if he has to go through that, so what? There’s worse things than can happen to you, like getting shot.

fa1a73f1944c15a4cbff8a9f435b91903183915aIt looks to me like Comstock is a religious fanatic who abuses people’s faith in God to elevate himself above others, brain washing them to direct their worship of God to worship him instead. Everywhere you go, there is propaganda and brain washing and brain washed people going on around you. I think it is very important to see that 2K Games does not try to hate on Christianity, but that Christianity was used (and to a lesser extent nationalism) as something that could be abused by a man to build a sect around his persona. It could’ve been any other religion and any other country. It simply happens to be Christianity and America because this is what would speak most to the target audience I think.

Lastly, I’m merely 3 hours into the game, so it is hard to know if this is really all that Comstock is. There are super natural or retro science fiction elements woven into the world, so finding out how all this relates to Comstock, and Elizabeth is going to be very intriguing. Already, Comstock seems to have God like powers over what happens in Columbia, so I am expecting more twists.

The combat is a lot better than BioShock’s

This is a really pleasant surprise. BioShock’s combat was by no means bad. It’s just that it felt a bit wooden and rigid. The controls, animations of characters and feel of shooting have become a lot more smooth. The guns feel responsive and have a satisfying oomph to them. If Dishonored was the smoothest first person stealth game in a long time, BioShock seems to be the same for first person shooters. The enemies are quite challenging (I’m playing on hard) and the vigors are just as fun to use as the plasmids were in the original, if not unique enough in my opinion. They add the same strategic dimension to the fights.

I have to give props to the music or rather soundscape of the game. There is a metallic hammering that just pumps up the adrenaline up up up when you’re in a fight, giving it a frantic feel, even if the enemies sometimes don’t press as hard on you. When you defeat the last one of a group, there is a really cool ending bit with string instruments that just gives me the chills. It’s really cool.

BioShock Infinite Elizabeth

Meeting Elizabeth is a great and exciting sequence

The whole of the first three hours are about getting to Monument Island, where Elizabeth is located. It was a nice reward getting to explore the place she’s held captive in, because just having a look around in this game is so visually rewarding in the first place. 2K Games have done an excellent AAA job of doing visual storytelling and evoking a sense of place yet again. You don’t just go up to Elizabeth and talk to her. In order to get to her, you explore this whole facility where she is held captive and studied like a test subject. Everywhere there are references to the “specimen”, but that’s not what you associate with a pretty young lady. You try to find a door leading to her apartment, and on the way you get to watch her from the outside, like from a mirror/window. It feels voyeuristic and made me feel a bit guilty even. Once you do get to her, a spectacular escape sequence starts and she realizes that she’s been watched and studied like an animal all this time. You get to feel sympathy for her in this short while, and it’s all that’s needed. When it ends, I really like the bit when she called me “Mr. DeWitt”. It’s cheesy, but succeeds in stirring the protective side of me.

I’ve got to get that girl out of here.

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