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Bioshock: Infinite

by Bobbin Threadbare

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Original Thread: Let's Play BioShock Infinite: A Series of Lectures



"BioShock" is a variation of "System Shock," an old-fashioned term which refers to what is now known simply as "shock." Shock is, medically speaking, a sudden drop in blood pressure typically brought about by intense physical trauma (such as a large bleeding wound), sepsis, a severe allergic reaction, or a spinal cord injury. Shock can also be brought on psychosomatically; if you are, for instance, frightened beyond all understanding, your brain might end up giving your heart an overdose of adrenaline, sending it into an abnormal rhythm which can quickly lead to shock. Shock is extremely life threatening and can easily lead to death if untreated.

System Shock is also the name of a cyberpunk/horror game made in 1994 which was born into the muddy period between 2.5D and proper 3D first-person action games. Its evolutionary path did not diverge from iD Software's Wolfenstein/Doom/Quake line so much as it ran parallel: the developers at Looking Glass Studios cut their teeth on the Ultima Underworld series which actually beat iD to several first-person milestones while at the same time maintaining an interesting story and RPG elements. The first System Shock included such things as the rogue AI SHODAN yelling at the PC during gameplay, a plot which the player steadily uncovers by reading logs and emails, an upgrade system, and more weapons than the player can actively carry. System Shock 2 built upon this with audio logs of surprisingly decent quality, a more robust skill upgrade system, a full menu that provided inventory, research, and even minigame options, and a method of respawning which cost money rather than the time it takes to reload a save. And while Warren Spector would later snatch up a number of Looking Glass alumns to work on Deus Ex 1 and 2 and Thief 3, other members left a bit earlier and founded Irrational Games, which would go on to create Freedom Force, a squad-based superhero game; SWAT 4, a first-person police procedural game; and then finally BioShocks 1 (but not 2) and Infinite.

These days Irrational no longer exists, although the core team is still with 2K Games; evidently while Infinite may have been a commercial and critical success, 2K did not appreciate Ken Levine's seat-of-his-pants development style and so he is now in charge of smaller story-driven games.

While BioShock Infinite's gameplay is entirely a refinement of Irrational's previous works, the setting is an almost complete departure from anything they did before. The basic BioShock formula is the same, mind you: there is a city in the [sky/ocean] based around the principles of [American Exceptionalism/Objectivism] and the natives can use special powers thanks to [quantum physics/genetic manipulation]. The story, however, is significantly more important, and the main character is not only a real person rather than a silent protagonist but he also has an AI companion who provides both mechanical benefits and conversation throughout most of the game. There are even stretches in which the protagonists are able to interact with peaceful crowds of civilians and NPC's, something rather lacking in previous titles in the series.

BioShock Infinite was an immediate hit upon release, receiving not only exceptional critical praise but also outstanding sales, distinguishing it as very possibly the best Shock game of them all. That said, the game is not perfect, and so after its initial success Infinite went through a period of backlash once the hype levels inevitably surpassed the game's actual quality. The plot has some issues, after all, such as important characters making seemingly irrational decisions (pun not intended), decisions made more for gameplay or (protagonist) character development purposes than because the characters would have considered them the best possible options. The themes themselves are hamfisted at times, and I wouldn't really call Infinite an open text, but I feel I should point out that BS:I is downright subtle compared to other video games with a Message and the racism is if anything less cartoonishly horrible than it actually was in 1912. The ending is also...esoteric, and I'll be getting into my analysis of what all it means and doesn't mean when the time comes. As for the gameplay, while I must say it's the most fun I've had playing a Shock game, I will admit that there are way too many weapons for just two slots and I don't really appreciate how half of them are weird variants of the other half which need their own ammo and upgrades and only appear long after you've started to invest in the normal versions.

So is BioShock Infinite a perfect game that lives up to all its praise? No, but neither would I say that it's a bad game that got mysteriously popular. Either way, though, it does feature plenty of references to history, science, literature, and philosophy, and if you'd care to join me I'd like to take some time and explore these themes in detail.

Spoiler Policy: Go Hog Wild!

As I've said in the past, I believe an informed audience is a more appreciative audience, so allow me to state what is both an advisement and a warning: please do not bother tagging your discussions of BioShock: Infinite for any reason. If you are unspoiled and believe it best to remain that way, then I suggest you limit yourself to reading this OP and the table of contents.

Finally, in case you were wondering: yes, I will be playing through the Lost at Sea DLC once the main game is finished.

PS: Debate is fine, but please keep in mind that no matter what your opinions are and no matter what the other guy's opinions are,


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