The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

BioShock Infinite

The mind of the subject will desperately struggle to create memories where none exist.

One of my friends have long been asking me to play BioShock Infinite, the third installment in the Bioshock franchise, since the summer. However, during the summer, I already had a sizeable collection of games that I wished to get through, so I replied to her that I would beat the games I had first, then get BioShock Infinite on the next sale. When the game went on sale for ten dollars during the Steam Winter sale, I decided to give the game a shot; I found out on Boxing Day that the Salvaged Crate from Team Fortress 2 I had put on the market for 20 dollars was finally purchased, and suddenly, my Steam Wallet was 20 dollars richer. I bought Trials Evolution (which I will review soon, along with AudioSurf), and when the sale for BioShock Infinite was announced, I decided that it was now or never. After the winter break ended, and winter term began, I set aside Battlefield 3 and made my way through BioShock Infinite, beating the game over ten hours spread between January 6 and February 20.

  • It’s been over two months since I beat BioShock Infinite, which I acquired on a Steam sale during the winter holidays. Contrasting the previous BioShock games, Infinite is set in a floating city rather than an underwater city, and recommends a GPU equivalent to the GTX 560 or ATI Radeon 6950 for an optimal experience.

  • With everything maxed out, at 1080p, I’m averaging around 70 FPS in BioShock Infinite. The game looks absolutely beautiful in the opening parts, if somewhat haunting owing to all of the religious imagery that exist in the atmosphere. I’m immensely grateful to have a PC that can run almost anything under the sun (except Battlefield 4 and Crysis 3) at full settings: one of my friends on Steam purchased the entire BioShock series when it was on sale, but a PC rocking the AMD Athlon 64 and the GeForce 6150SE nForce 430 integrated GPU is going to have a tough time running even Half Life 2.

  • In fact, the GeForce 6150 SE is so outdated that higher end tablets out there might just perform better: said friend played through BioShock Infinite on the University’s gaming computers. These machines have impressive specs, but despite their price tag, I was able to build a significantly more powerful computer for less a year ago. The end result is a system that allows me to experience most games without needing to queue for a computer on campus.

  • The colour palette in BioShock Infinite led me to compare it with Suisei no Gargantia, an anime I picked up back during last summer. It turns out that Columbia is a floating city, compared to the underwater cities in earlier installments in the BioShock series, and as such, the blue skies are almost the only thing that Suisei no Gargantia really shares with BioShock Infinite.

  • Items, such as food, salts, beverages and money can be found almost anywhere in the game, whether it be in rubbish containers, sitting on tables or lying around in the open. Consuming and taking these items will replenish health and salts, although most of Columbia’s citizens won’t react to Booker randomly taking items. Of course, there are amusing implications associated with taking a sandwich and orange juice from a trash can that actually replenishes health, rather than causing it to drop as a result of pathogens.

  • The combat against Columbia breaks out after I refuse to stone an interracial couple and instead, make to punish the event host. After that, I get to melee enemies, a combat option that is gruesome, causing heads to be torn in two. Fortunately, partially shredding some sap’s skull results in a bloody stump rather than anything that is anatomically correct. That would be disturbing to the extent where I might have not finished the game.

  • Perhaps it’s me, but I’ve noticed that the graphics in BioShock InfiniteCrysis and Crysis 2 are the best in the beginning of the game, but things slowly taper off as the game progresses. From a technical perspective, the graphics haven’t actually changed, but the atmospherics have, and I think that warm, ordinary conditions allow for more familiar lighting compared to the darker lighting later on in the game.

  • The shooting in BioShock Infinite handles and feels a little like Halo 4: when I first picked up the game, the default controls kept throwing me off, and so, I eventually spent a small bit of time configuring the game so it played a little more like Halo, with the controls for looking down the sights mapped to what was originally grenade tossing. After these changes were made, BioShock Infinite finally felt more intuitive.

  • There are infusions scattered throughout the game, and even though I’ve beaten it, I have yet to actually find all of the infusions or max out one of the three attributes (salts, health and shields). When picking which attribute to boost, players should opt to upgrade their salts capacity if they enjoy using the vigour, and those who are playing BioShock Infinite like an ordinary shooter should improve their shield capacity. There’s no real advantage to increasing health, since shields pretty much fulfill the role of regenerating health anyways.

  • I ended up spending more of my money on weapon upgrades rather than improvements to the vigours’ performance. However, the vigours do add a dimension to the gameplay, allowing me to take out groups of enemies quickly, stun automaton or set traps for them. I use them about as frequently as I do grenades in other games, preferring some over the others. The crows one, I hardly ever use.

  • The carbine is my preferred weapon early on in the game, allowing me to drop distant enemies with a single well-placed headshot. I suddenly realise that I don’t have very many screenshots with Elizabeth, whose ability to create tears come in very useful, providing extra supplies, firepower and cover. Her story forms the core of BioShock Infinite, and it’s quite nice that I can go about my usual FPS business without worrying about her being lost to enemy action, although she’s programmed with a path-finding algorithm that puts her in my face every now and then.

  • The weapons can be improved by purchasing upgrades such that they have increased damage, firing rates and ammunition capacity, although these are statistical bonuses and won’t affect how the weapons look. The sniper rifle is only useful in a handful of contexts, and is limited by its small carrying capacity and magazine size. However, it does allow players to decimate distant targets, although the distances in BioShock Infinite mean that the carbine is more than sufficient for most contexts.

  • After reaching this point in the game, things take on a surprising turn, as Elizabeth opens up tears to alternate realities, inadvertently entering universes where things turned out differently (usually for the worse). This brings to mind the effects of time travelling in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, where every successive use of time traveling made a bad situation worse. The moral behind most stories with time travel seems to be that merely because people have judgement and knowledge about events, tampering with them may introduce consequences that wind up being even more undesirable than their original state.

  • The Handyman is a heavily armoued opponent that Booker will encounter later on, representing the classic juggernaut. However, these Handyman have a frightening origin, being crudely-wrought cyborgs who are in constant pain and will lash out at anyone out of suffering rather than malice or duty. Headshots and shots placed at their hearts are the fastest way to down them, although it would be prudent to take down the small fry they’re with to reduce the number of enemies complicating the situation.

  • Besides American Exceptionalism, BioShock Infinite also supplies imagery pertaining to economic disparity and the Occupy movement. However, despite all of these elements, Booker is powerless to really change the course of the story, subtly hinting (at least to me) that there are many things outside our control, although in spite of this, the player still has a task to see through to completion, and it is sufficient to focus on that.

It turns out that BioShock Infinite‘s strongest aspect is the atmospherics; the story is a little hectic, with Elizabeth’s powers and origins being the catalyst that leads the protagonist, Booker, to discover a conspiracy behind Columbia’s founding. Originally, Columbia represented American exceptionalism, but events gradually revealed the founder, Zachary Comstock’s, intentions. As a theocratic police state, elements of religious fanaticism and racism are present throughout the game: shortly after arriving at Columbia, Booker is greeted with a seemingly utopian world of blue skies and content citizens, but the first sign that Columbia is darker than it appears after Booker is asked to stone an interracial couple. I opted to throw the rock at the exhibition host, and soon found myself in a firefight with Columbia’s law enforcement. As I progressed further into the game, I became very uncomfortable with all of the religious imagery, which represented the consequence of fanaticism and devotion transcending reason. To me, the fact that such things can happen is frightening: this was a society that was blinded by their devotion to the cult of personality surrounding Comstock, and the fact that the game could evoke such feelings of discomfort is a testament to just how much effort went into crafting a world that could immerse the player sufficiently as to evoke these feelings. Despite the fact that these elements were secondary to the game itself, they add such a substantial amount of immersion to BioShock Infinite that it’s quite difficult to imagine the game without it.

  • As the game wears on, the atmospherics become gloomier, and this is reflected in the lighting. Whereas the earlier parts of the game were permeated by brilliant blue skies and fair weather, as Booker and Elizabeth work their way towards the truth, things really start turning ugly. By this point in the game, I have a maxed out carbine: I had around a thousand silver eagles left when I beat the game, and spent most of my money on weapon upgrades.

  • Silver Eagles can be found almost everywhere in the game, and I found myself digging through nooks and crannies, as well as making use of Elizabeth’s lock picking to get at different areas. Sometimes, her lock picks are necessary, but at other times, the rooms or safes turn out to contain cool stuff, like clothing upgrades that confer bonuses. I typically equipped clothing that improved shield recharge and returned health for performing melee fatalities.

  • Even though I’ve been playing FPS for nearly ten years now (therefore, I should know about weapon utility and balance), some days, the cool weapons paradigm (“the cooler a gun looks, the more powerful it is”) still takes over, and at points in BiosShock Infinite, I abandoned my effective weapons to try the more exotic weapons, such as the volley guns or heater. Curiously enough, the weapons with the most utility are the carbine, machine gun and shotgun. The RPG and sniper rifle can fulfil unique rolls at some points, but other than that, it is possible to get by for most of the game with nothing more than the carbine and a secondary weapon of some sort, which confers combat effectiveness at all ranges.

  • Take a gander at that lighting. By this point, the Vox Populi have instigated a revolution against the Founders, throwing Columbia into chaos and making their way towards the main city. I recall that two years ago, when I was writing my MCAT practise exams, there were a lot of verbal reasoning sections involving the civil rights movement, something that I only had moderate familiarity with. I touched up and did more readings on that, becoming increasingly disappointed with the Confederate.

  • At one point, I am forced to engage the Lady Comstock’s ghost in battle. Despite my über-micro, this was a tough battle. The sheer number of targets (both the ghost and the undead minions) means that I was running out of ammunition and salts very quickly, even with the stockpiles lying around the graveyard and those obtained from Elizabeth. However, firepower and brute force, coupled with my über-micro, soon wins out, showing that most ghosts in J-horror movies wouldn’t stand a chance against the overwhelming firepower conferred by small arms.

  • Writing about games I’ve beaten months ago can be difficult, given that much has happened since when I started: I can’t quite remember what happened here, but I know I had a thought when I came across this room. Back in January, I was finalising my applications into graduate studies and for scholarships. Since then, results have come back, a few unknowns about my future have become known, and now, I’ve finished all my exams and handed in all my assignments for this year, meaning I can finally enter the summer. After taking the remainder of this week off to relax and sort out a few things, it’s time to update my lab’s computer to Mac OS X Mavericks before kicking off the summer’s work.

  • In most cases, on my first play-through of a game, I tend to skate by hidden places, secrets and bonuses, but sometimes, I get lost in a map trying to find an exit and find myself in unusual places. Here, I stumble across a secret room of some sort and found a range of things: collecting things is one of the more amusing parts of BioShock Infinite, although I have yet to find every item in the game.

  •  Given that it’s been some two months since I beat this game, and so, as I write this post, I can’t quite remember why the weather shifts to snowfall from the gloomy smoke that resulted from the Vox Populi’s revolution, but now is the time for a firefight of epic proportions. While BioShock Infinite excels at storytelling and atmospherics, the gunplay is familiar, and the AI from the enemies is a little disappointing. On the other hand, Elizabeth has incredible AI and always seems to have what I need or be on hand to help, without accidentally putting herself between my iron sights and the enemies at the other end of the barrel.

  • The fight on Comstock’s airship is quite fun: in this section of the game, the skyhook becomes immensely useful as Booker jumps between airships and different levels of the main airship. The aerial combat is incredibly entertaining, and I spent a better part of this mission getting sky rail kills to unlock achievements. Of all the achievements I have in BioShock Infinite, I think I have roughly two-fifths unlocked, and to date, haven’t played a perfect game for any of the Steam titles I own (i.e. unlock all achievements in a game).

  • Despite its high rate of fire and magazine capacity, the crank gun is actually a cumbersome weapon that isn’t particularly practical. It is often dropped by the mechanised Patriots. Shooting them in the back is supposed to finish them quite quickly, but as they keep moving around and firing, the suggestion is to use the Shock Jockey vigour to stun it, buying enough time to flank it and blow it away.

  • Booker’s murder of Comstock was one of the more sickening moments in the game: while Comstock is a vile character who gave me very little reason to sympathize with, I found his death to be particularly disturbing, if only for the fact that he was killed in cold blood, drowned under haunting religious imagery. I was hoping that the final fight was with Comstock, ending in an impressive battle where I would defeat Comstock while he had a weapon in hand.

  • The worst part of it is that the player isn’t given the choice of whether or not Comstock should be spared: I probably would have chosen to spare him even after his misdeeds.

  • The final battle is against waves of the Vox Populi, while trying to destroy the Siphon that is restricting Elizabeth’s access to her powers. During this battle, the songbird becomes an ally and can be directed to sink airships. When the dust settles, the shooter part of the game ends, and the remaining portions of the game wind up being a very cinematic sequence that ends the story.

  • Elizabeth opens a tear to Rapture, an underwater city that was the setting for BioShock and BioShock 2. Apparently, this is set in a different dimension, and indeed, the ending of BioShock Infinite might be a little difficult to follow. Fortunately, conversation with the friend who recommended the game to me seems to have cleared things up a little.

  • Now that I’ve beaten BioShock Infinite and written about it, I think it’s a game that deserves at least a few play-throughs so all of the subtleties in the environment can be picked up. As much as I’d love to do this, though, there are other things that I’d like to do with my time this summer, so a subsequent play through will probably materialise somewhere in the future.

As far as the story and gameplay go, the story was reasonably entertaining, although I found it a little difficult to follow. In a sense, it’s like the ending to the Madoka Magica Rebellion Movie, leaving the audience with more questions than answers. Elizabeth’s presence adds much to the story, bringing to mind Alex Vance from the Half Life 2 games and providing the player with combat advantages, as well as a source of interaction to humanise Booker and paint him as someone who is genuinely trying to atone for his past actions. In spite of this, because this is a first person shooter, Booker is nonetheless required to use violence to push further into the story. These elements mean that whenever I make to melee, the opponents’ skulls can shredded by a fatality, leaving a bleeding stump that was once someone’s head, or snapping their neck with the same kind of brutality we saw from Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Similarly, in the final confrontation with Comstock, the player has no choice but to watch Booker drown the former. Such scenes leave a painful impression of helplessness, bringing to mind the extreme circumstances that warrant such actions. These things contribute to the experience in BioShock Infinite, which, despite playing like a run-of-the-mill shooter, has so much going for it in terms of atmospherics, moods and story that it definitely must be played to be experienced. BioShock Infinite demonstrates that even though gameplay has reached a plateau in first person shooters, it makes all the difference in the world to take the time and build a believable, yet frightening setting that changes the meaning of the protagonist’s fight, marking a much-welcomed and refreshing (if somewhat macabre) departure from hunting down missing nuclear warheads and saving the world from rogue factions.

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