My Building Sense of Disappointment About Bioshock: Infinite

Having completed Bioshock: Infinite a few nights ago, I was surprised by the incredible sense of disappointment that I was left with. And with more time put into analysing the game, that sense of disappointment has only grown.

I’m a fan of the Bioshock series – I spent a long time pulling apart the game narrative of the original game, believe that Bioshock 2 doesn’t get the respect it deserves and Bioshock 2’s Minerva’s Den DLC is fantastic. I’d planned to do some detailed analysis on Bioshock: Infinite.

But now… apart from thinking about finishing that Bioshock plot guide, I’m not sure I have the motivation. I still think that an overall Bioshock-focused analysis of consistent themes and symbols is on the cards, but Bioshock: Infinite has killed my interest in analysing these things as a stand-alones.

Here’s why. (Oh yeah: ***SPOILERS*** FOR THE NARRATIVE OF BIOSHOCK INFINITE. AND BIOSHOCK. AND BIOSHOCK 2.)

The Bird or The Cage? Doesn’t Matter – They Both Lead to the Pet Store

It used to be that I’d cite STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl for the worst last level exposition vomit, where the game “throws up” all key narrative points at the player at the same time. Not anymore – Bioshock: Infinite is the new champion. After spending the vast majority of the game working with Elizabeth to free her from Comstock’s grasp, the post big battle ending reveals that:

  • DeWitt is Comstock, depending on whether or not he accepted the baptism following the events at Wounded Knee
  • Constants and variables rule the million million dimensions
  • Comstock may or may not accept the baptism, which suggests that this is a variable
  • Anna was the baby daughter that DeWitt sold to Robert Lutece in order to have his debts cleared
  • DeWitt wanted his daughter back, so he chased Robert Lutece only to see Anna passed to Comstock (with Rosalind Lutece looking on) in another dimension
  • The rapid closing of the dimensional portal ends up cutting off Anna’s little finger on her right hand
  • The ‘AD’ that DeWitt has carved into his hand stands for Anna DeWitt
  • There’s always a man, a city and a lighthouse
  • DeWitt and Elizabeth arrive in Rapture, Elizabeth drowns Songbird and both leave in a bathysphere that takes them to a lighthouse
  • The lighthouses link the infinite worlds together
  • Twenty years after selling Anna, DeWitt is dragged through into Columbia’s reality by the Lutece’s in order for him to reclaim Elizabeth and stop Comstock’s long-term plan of destroying the United States
  • But DeWitt forgets all this because of the effects of transdimensional travel
  • And the only way for DeWitt to save every dimensions’ version of Elizabeth is to let her drown him before his baptism, therefor ensuring there is no Comstock
  • So the multiple Elizabeths drown DeWitt and wink out of existence (or do they all… ?) which makes two drowned protectors for Elizabeth in the same 15 minutes

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, but the final sequence is a machine gun of PLOT POINT! PLOT POINT! PLOT POINT! that feels incredibly unfocused and rushed.

Jack from Bioshock reaching out to a Little Sister.

The various elements of Bioshock link together to form a strong narrative chain.

There’s just not enough linkage between the ending and the rest of the game narrative that it feels connected. Bioshock’s twist – that you were Jack, the cloned offspring of Andrew Ryan who had been created by his enemy Frank Fontaine / Atlas as a controllable assassin to murder Ryan – was completely connected to the narrative. You could go back and find the puzzle pieces that meant this reveal made sense. “Would you kindly… ?” went from an antiquated turn of phrase to key game statement (and meta-narrative comment on the nature of FPS game objectives – the words make it sound like you have a choice, but the player really doesn’t.)

There are some minor signs in-game that DeWitt and Comstock share some kind of bond – the first time DeWitt sees Comstock he gets a blood nose, while zipping around the Hand of the Prophet airship DeWitt finds himself finishing Comstock’s sentences – but most of the above is completely out of left field. DeWitt also mentions the name “Anna” a few times when in a flashback or coming out of unconsciousness, but there’s no evidence of who she is up to it’s revealed that she was DeWitt’s daughter AND he sold her AND she was taken to another dimension at the cost of her little finger AND she’s Elizabeth AND AND AND. It’s a poor ending that feels tacked on because that’s where the author wanted to end up rather than where the narrative naturally flows to.

There’s also no player agency at all. Once you get to the ending sequence, the only choice the player has is around how long they wait before moving onto the next section, or which path they take (that leads to the same point anyway). It’s deeply ironic that a game with the pedigree of Bioshock: Infinite seems to relish making player action feel so restricted.

DAMMIT BOOKER - YOU HAD ONE JOB and this is how it ends up?

Ken Levine has some parent-child issues to work through, methinks.

This restriction is immensely frustrating, particularly when it comes to the drowning of DeWitt. The drowning of DeWitt prior to his baptism is forced on the player – it is predestined. Is there no alternative, such as DeWitt being so profoundly changed by his experience with Elizabeth / Anna in Colombia that across all multiverses all versions of him refuse to be Comstock? It makes just as much sense as suggesting that drowning DeWitt in one dimension kills all Comstocks across all of time and space. And it creates the paradox of DeWitt being drowned by Elizabeth / Anna who can’t exist because DeWitt now dies before having ever having conceived a daughter.

Even if you put aside the paradox issue, the drowning of DeWitt actually violates the rules of time / space travel as indicated by the game. Bioshock: Infinite shows that 1) if you enter a dimension where you are dead, you are bombarded by the memories of your ‘other’ self and 2) if you enter a dimension where you are alive, the brain creates memories to deal with the dimension jump, but both ‘selves’ now in that dimension remain separate (although their personal traits may be eroded according to one voxophone recording). So at the end of Bioshock: Infinite where the older DeWitt-who-saved-Elizabeth first rejects the baptism and is later drowned by Elizabeth / Anne, it should make no difference to the younger DeWitt-on-his-way-back-from-Wounded-Knee.

Robert and Rosalind Lutece from Bioshock: Infinite

I’m secretly hoping that the DLC reveals that the narrative of Bioshock: Infinite was just the Lutece’s having some transdimensional revenge on Comstock for having them murdered.

Rosalind and Robert Lutece can exist in the same dimension. Comstock and DeWitt can exist in the same dimension. But this rule apparently doesn’t hold true for the climax – instead DeWitt is meant to have been slid back down his own timeline to the point before his own baptism and thus be the One and True DeWitt, which doesn’t happen anywhere else in-game. It really feels that Bioshock: Infinite threw away its own rule set for cheap narrative convenience. You could make the argument that now that Elizabeth / Anna is super-charged she can do this kind of thing, but if she can break the rules then it throws everything up for grabs.

For some games, these kind of large narrative flops don’t matter. The Bioshock series has always stood out for offering a strong narrative, so when Bioshock: Infinite’s plot collapses in on itself during the last fifteen or so minutes, it really shows.

Colombia: The World’s A Stage

Setting as character has also been a big part of the Bioshock series. Rapture, with its leaking glass, claustrophobic dampness and general signs of this-place-has-gone-horribly-wrong was critical to setting the atmosphere for the first two games. Pretty much everyone inside Rapture had gone insane thanks to ADAM and the societal war being fought out – the player was a day late and several dollars short to that party, but part of the narrative was a journey of discovery about why things went wrong and then how badly.

Colombia lacks that atmosphere. DeWitt arrives in a fantastic setting in the clouds that looks pretty, but fails to ever feel like a city. There’s not enough attention given to the details of Colombia compared to life in Rapture. For instance, Rapture contained a lot of audio diary commentary about how individuals felt about Little Sisters and Big Daddies; Colombia makes do with two voxophone entries about the Handyman from the wife of one. How do the ordinary folk of Colombia feel about the Handymen? About Songbird? About Comstock?

Nina Carnegie's body, with candles and decorations arranged about it.

And after Nina dies, the children cared enough for her to arrange her body and decorate the space. Heartbreaking.

Rapture’s world was fleshed out by letting ordinary characters talk about their lives and provide exposition to the player. For instance, in Bioshock 2 three audio diaries are provided by school teacher Nina Carnegie that show the popularity of Ryan Amusements as an attraction, what happens when Rapture starts to riot on New Year’s Even 1959 and her final concerns about what happens to the children in her care after she starves to death. It’s a sad, human story in a place of misery and it builds the world.

This isn’t the case with Colombia – outside of the few exceptions like Hattie Gerst’s Handyman statements above and Constance Field’s search for a female role model, the focus is almost entirely on the main characters. This may help to drive the main narrative forward, but it doesn’t tell us what it is like to live in a fantastic floating city. Without that explanation, Colombia ends up a moving stage for the mobile murder cloud that is Booker DeWitt.

A History of Violence

A lot has been written about the amount of violence and blood in Bioshock: Infinite. Unlike a lot of other people, I don’t see much of an issue with it given that the Bioshock series has always contained similar things – the burning corpses thanks to your plasmids, the flying blood from the Big Daddy’s drills, the atrocities that you uncover as you journey through the setting. Perhaps it stands out more because Colombia seems so clean compared to the rotting damp of Rapture, and maybe the close range executions brought it home to players more, but the Bioshock world is a violent, nasty place.

The Undertow vigor causes huge blistering holes to appear in DeWitt's arms.

Violent game or not, that’s just gross.

In fact, body horror is a core feature of the Bioshock franchise. Plasmids / vigors corrupt the body, giving it immense new powers in exchange for grotesque deformity and eventual loss of humanity. As such, it’s never going to be a group of titles that you can show to the squeamish, even if it contains some philosophical issues they might find interesting.

BUT… the combat of Bioshock: Infinite is incredibly ordinary. It gets dull very quickly, with it becoming difficult to track where damage is coming from within some of the open spaces where fights occur. Combat within Rapture was much more self-contained due to the smaller environments, making fights more intense and over more quickly because the Splicer was almost always nearby. Colombia sees you repeatedly placed in longer range combat that’s just soulless. The fact that dead enemies turn into lockboxes containing loot on death means the end of battle isn’t viewing your slaughter but more like raiding a bunch of lunchboxes someone left lying around.

Flying around on a skyhook is fun. Pity it’s so abuseable – either as a get out of range free-card, or as an easy way to rack up kills through on-rail attacks (see an enemy coming towards you on the rail, just keep mashing the melee button) or through drop-down attacks.

Also gone from Bioshock: Infinite is the longer-term strategic battle planning seen in Bioshock and Bioshock 2. Within these older games it was a strategic decision to hack turrets and cameras so that you could turn the environment to your side. Placing traps in Bioshock 2 was a way of stacking a fight in your favour – the small environments in Rapture meant you could guide attacking enemies down a certain path, or at least deal some damage to the bigger enemies who are rushing you.

A room that's been trapped with mines, rivet traps and turrets

In Bioshock 2, there was a point to trapping a room. Although Bioshock: Infinite gives you a lot of trap options, they are rarely as useful to use as just throwing vigor effects directly at targets.

Bioshock: Infinite’s larger areas means that there are often too many areas to try to trap, while any enemy with a ranged weapon tends to stand back and shoot from cover. The Possession vigor and opening allied machine Tears replaces hacking as a way of gaining environmental aid, but Possession wears off very quickly while the Tears are completely spammable (since they recharge after destruction) and / or useless (such as the mechanical George Washingtons that were placed too far from the combat and took forever to get in position to do something).

On top of this, Handyman fights are exercises in panic. They appear generally without warning and are on you quickly, so the strategic planning and preparation that went into attacking previous Big Daddies is out the door. It’s pretty much hit-and-run the entire time, which doesn’t work out that great given the Handyman’s speed and melee attack range combined with how slowly DeWitt moves.

For a much more detailed look at why Bioshock: Infinite’s combat is often a step backwards from its predecessors, Critical Missive has an excellent evaluation.

Race To The Finish Line

Prior to launch, a lot was made about how Colombia was a racist, filled with ugly stereotypes of African-Americans, Chinese, Native American, the Irish and the like and that players would have to confront that racism. Those attitudes are certainly there, mixed in with a big healthy dose of economic classism as well. But as pointed out by others, the impact of these abhorrent images is quickly muted whem the underclass driven Vox Populi becoming a murderous mob that is indistinguishable from the Colombia forces thrown against DeWitt previously.

Daisy Fitzroy, leader of the Vox Populi in Bioshock: Infinite.

Daisy Fitzroy, the only significant character of colour in Bioshock: Infinite. The first time DeWitt meets her she steals his airship; the second she’s got her eye on killing a defenceless white child. Because RACISM.

Daisy Fitzroy is someone that the narrative of Bioshock: Infinite wants to make as sympathetic – or to at least have a justifiable viewpoint – but fails miserably. She is an African-American brought to Colombia to work as a servant, but is framed for the murder of Lady Comstock and is forced to run. Recognising that there are seeds of discord in Colombia that could be cultivated, she becomes the leader of the Vox Populi and works to overthrow Comstock and the Founders.

Which is all understandable, right up to the point that Fitzroy kills greedy captain of industry Jeremiah Fink (justified within Bioshock: Infinite’s world, given his treatment of his workers) and then smears Fink’s blood on her face and makes moves to shoot a white child for being white (… what?). In one fell swoop Bioshock: Infinite plays the “everyone’s a racist” card and sweeps aside whatever genuine grievances the Vox Populi might have had aside. There’s a big step between “riot at a factory due to poor working conditions” and “leave no Caucasians alive in Colombia”.

I’ve read the arguments that such things only reflect what US society was like back in the 1910s. Sure, there’s an element of that, but the ‘nuanced’ message ends up being, “US white society might be racist, but the poor will murder you all if just given a chance!”. By having an African-American separatist – and that’s exactly what Fitzroy is by the time DeWitt deals with her – as the voice of the Vox Populi, there’s little reason to try to find justification in either side’s ideology. Both are just ugly ideas that lead to ugly behaviour. (Andrew Ryan’s Objectivist leanings may have led to ugly behaviour, but Objectivism isn’t of itself an ugly idea, just incompatible with actual human nature.)

Fortunately DeWitt is an egalitarian – he puts bullets into people at the same rate regardless of their age, skin colour or gender.

Devils in the White City

In Rapture, you arrive in a city that’s torn itself apart due to its own internal stresses and discover the narrative that is behind that breakdown. When it comes to Colombia, the stresses might be there but the player is the one who leverages them open. The fall of Colombia is entirely DeWitt’s fault. Rather than finding a new flying ship when the Vox Populi co-opt his first one, he sets out to get a gun manufacturer to supply the Vox Populi with weapons and ends up triggering the revolution, ending in a lot of dead Colombia folk. Not bad for less than 24 hours in a city.

A picture of Dr H. H. Holmes, American serial killer.

Dr H.H. Holmes. Had a hotel especially built that made it easy to murder people at his leisure and dispose of their bodies. May have killed up to 200 people (which is still a lower figure than DeWitt achieves in game). Was finally arrested by Pinkertons’ detectives.

One often-cited source for Bioshock: Infinite is Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City about Daniel H. Burnham, architect and driving forces behind the 1893 World Far in Chicago and serial killer-come-hotelier Dr H. H. Holmes. If you draw the parallel between that book and the game, Comstock is the genius architect of a fantastic city which leaves DeWitt as murderer who kills people for their money and possessions.

Come to think about it, that’s scarily accurate. But there’s another link here as well.

When the Vox Populi become the new opponent group, it means your targets swap police uniforms for… devil outfits. Bioshock: Infinite literally ends up with devils in the whites’ city. SUBTLE.

Whenever any side puts on devil outfits – masks and everything – they’ve pretty much ceded all ability to keep popular support within a Christian society. Although Comstock may be the religious leader of one side, the underclass of Rapture is shown to still have its own Christian tenets, given the African-American preacher you see in Shantytown (plus it is extremely likely that the Irish in Colombia would be devoutly Catholic or Protestant given the era).

There’s obviously symbolism in having the Vox Populi red devils taking on Comstock’s white-and-blue religious forces. But it seems like an anachronistic aesthetic picked because it looks cool rather than because it actually fits the Vox Populi. Unless one of the points of Bioshock: Infinite is that rebelling poor people are actually the minions of Lucifer, that is. (There may be some actual historical precedent for such outfits, but I’ve been unable to find it.)

Two Vox Populi members dressed in devil outfits.

What exactly did Ken Levine learn from his Occupy experience anyway, if this is how the Vox Populi ended up?

Going back to Bioshock 1 and 2, the Splicers wore masks and were overdressed in a shabby-chic-post-apocalyse way because 1) they were hiding their deformities caused by ADAM and 2) they were psychotic. In Bioshock: Infinite, a devil mask is one of the approved outfits of the revolution and worn voluntarily.

Elizabeth is the Best Damn Vending Machine a Boy Could Ever Have

Elizabeth from Bioshock: Infinite during your first meeting.

A woman holding a quantum physics book? NEVAH! You can’t fool me, you obvious fake geek girl.

A lot was made pre-release about how great the relationship would be between Elizabeth and DeWitt (and by extension, the player) and how Bioshock: Infinite would avoid the usual pitfalls of escort gameplay: bad AI and pathfinding, escort characters getting in the way of combat, players failing missions because the escort did something dumb / got killed, etc. To this end, Bioshock: Infinite is successful in avoiding escort problems, but unfortunately Elizabeth failed to connect with me.

This is partly my fault and partly game play driven – there’s so many containers to search through in Colombia that I spent my time rummaging even when Elizabeth spoke. Given the quick realisation that she’s always nearby and indestructible, there’s no need to worry about her at any point.

Elizabeth’s key role (outside of driving the game narrative objectives) is during combat, where she throws you ammunition, salts and health packs as well as opening up Tears for you to use. I’ve got a strong belief that for a lot of players this is the basis for any attachment they may have to the character – she’s a beneficial vending machine. If Elizabeth just stayed out of the way during combat but didn’t offer any in-combat help, there would be lengthy portions of the Bioshock: Infinite where she’d virtually disappear.

Elizabeth's new blue dress shows off a lot of skin.

Also, who helped her in to that corset? Did she have a beautician back there?

Elizabeth goes through a curious ‘growing up’ experience across the game narrative. When you meet her she’s dressed as a schoolgirl despite being 20 years old and is a bit naive after spending that time mostly cut off from people (but not socially awkward or an introvert or anything – years spent alone with only books and a Songbird don’t harm your communication skills at all, it seems). After seeing a lot of violence she is finally put in a situation where she kills someone (Daizy Fitzroy, as covered above) and runs off in reaction to what she’s done. Shortly after catching up to her, she hides and changes clothes, while also giving herself a perfectly trimmed haircut. The dress she chooses takes her from girl to woman – something any male players would undoubtedly notice given the amount of cleavage she’s now got on display.

It’s a dress that’s completely out of fit for the rest of the conservatively religious Rapture – looking around in-game, there are no other female characters or images that show off that amount of flesh. The game gives the excuse that it was there weren’t any other clothes to wear, but that’s more of a justification for Elizabeth to sexy up than anything else. There’s a hint that she’s dressed in Lady Comstock’s clothes (or similar), but Lady Comstock is never shown wearing anything so low cut.

Tweetybird

Songbird holding Elizabeth from Bioshock: Infinite.

Songbird has such a great appearance yet is nowhere near as interesting as the Big Daddies were.

Songbird really is irritating, isn’t he? And not in an impressive way. After seeming so important during the pre-promotions, it turns out Songbird is just a narrative convenience to stop you succeeding in rescuing Elizabeth until a certain point.

Songbird is the most literal Big Daddy analogue in Bioshock: Infinite, so it’s sad to see him treated so poorly. A large part of the Bioshock mythos has arisen from the Big Daddies – visually distinct and incredibly iconic in both sight and sound. Songbird doesn’t have anywhere near the same kind of impact in this title, and while Big Daddies get a lot of audio diary attention to flesh them out, Songbird gets a measily one or two.

Vim and Vigour

Vigors are – as revealed through the game – Colombia’s version of Plasmids, stolen through the Tears into Rapture by Fink. There’s just one problem here: a massive part of Bioshock’s back story is the discovery of ADAM from underwater sea slugs that gave Rapture’s scientists the ability to create Plasmids in the first place. Instead of EVE and Plasmids, Fink creates Salts and Vigors, but the question remains: where is the ADAM coming from?

Rapture society ripped itself apart to get more ADAM and eventually started planting sea slugs in little girls in order to keep up with demand (and then needed to create Big Daddies in order to protect the Little Sisters from being ‘harvested’). Vigors and salts might be newer in Colombia, but they are everywhere. That requires a lot of ADAM. It’s unlikely that Fink is stealing it from Rapture – it appears he can only observe through the Tears, because he never mentions going through one – which means it requires another source. Given that Colombia is a city in the sky, it’s a long, long way from the sea slugs it needs to fund the ADAM economy.

Perhaps the DLC will reveal where all this ADAM is coming from, but it’s another example of where Bioshock 1 and 2 tried to build a quasi-working world that explained itself, Bioshock: Infinite is happy to throw things at a player and say, “Why? Just because, that’s why!”.

The Reviews Are In

Despite the above, I don’t think that Bioshock: Infinite is a terrible game, just a remarkably ordinary one that was over-hyped and is the weakest title in the series thus far.

Bioshock: Infinite on PC - 95%

Consider the above to be a minority report.

But I’m one of the few. Looking at the Metacritic scores for this game, 62 out of 62 reviews (PC), 29 out of 30 (X360) and 24 out of 24 (PS3) professional reviewers rate this game 80+ out of 100. They see the game as “a genre-defining game”, “as near perfect as a game can get”, a title that will be “left in the back of your mind for years to come”. Instead I see a title that is a step backwards in almost every way to the rest of the series.

Sometimes I think that games writers are so desperate for video games to be considered True Art that they latch onto anything that might fit that definition. The Bioshock franchise has a pedigree of being a thinking FPS and this was the return of Ken Levine as Bioshock lead, automatically giving the title extra bonuses to its “Art” credentials. Throw in a strong start, aspirations of nuance and an ending that can be argued over – even if it doesn’t really fit or make sense – and suddenly these reviewers appear wowed by the flash and afraid to look too much deeper in case going, “Hmm, still a lot of flaws here” would provide ammunition for those looking to deride all video games.

The alien walking gif from Aliens: Colonial Marines that shows off some terrible animation.

“We were bad, but it was on purpose, so you can’t criticise this at all!”

Even those who pick up on the numerous flaws of the title downplay them, still wanting to make Bioshock: Infinite something of a historic monument. I’ve read the arguments that Bioshock: Infinite is meta-narrative on player agency in video games, a meta-commentary on the illusion that DeWitt has free will in a fixed narrative structure which seems to put the title in a can’t-lose situation – if you didn’t like the lack of control you had in game, or that none of your decisions mattered, then it’s your own fault because that was the author’s intent! Of course Bioshock: Infinite is meant to be on rails – you travel via sky-rail in-game, don’t you? It seems that if only Aliens: Colonial Marines had pitched itself as a satire of licensed games that fail to deliver  then that title would have been received a lot more positively.

On top of which the original Bioshock was a much better examination of player agency in games. “Would you kindly…” had a lot of impact for a reason and it was actually partly refuted by the multiple endings – players did have moral agency over how they behaved, even if the game itself set fixed objectives. Bioshock: Infinite replaces that with a pure Calvinistic Predestination model that suggests nothing changes regardless of what the player does.

Be good, be evil, be an angel, be a devil – doesn’t matter. Died, died, will die.

As I said before, it’s amazing that a game with “Infinite” in the title ends up being so damn fixed in place.

37 thoughts on “My Building Sense of Disappointment About Bioshock: Infinite

  1. I hate to poo-poo the whole “video games are legitimate art” movement, and that’s really not my intention here. BUT … I honestly feel like people hold the narrative portion of games such as this up to an impossible standard. You simply can’t achieve high art when the one and only true purpose of your plot is to support and justify massive amounts of bloodshed, all perpetrated by a single protagonist. Truly, it cannot be done. And don’t even get me started on time travel (even the sideways variety found in Bioshock). I can never take any time travel story seriously because TIME TRAVEL CANNOT EXIST WITHOUT CREATING LOGICAL PARADOX. Period. Until you accept this truth, you will always be disappointed by time travel stories, maybe without really knowing why.

    • In my opinion, there’s still a lot of ground to cover on the “are games capital-A art?” question.

      Video games might be creative and artistic, but that doesn’t make them Art.

    • But this was not time travel. This was traveling between parallel dimensions where different versions of events can occur concurrently. Therefore, daughter from reality 1 can travel to alternate reality 2 and kill her father as a young boy. This act would not erase her existence and, therefore, would not cause a paradox.

      • If B:I kept its dimensional travel rules consistent, I’d agree with you, but it doesn’t – the whole point behind drowning player DeWitt at that point in time is that it would prevent all Comstocks and all DeWitts in all dimensions from ever existing from that point forward, but doing so means that Anna / Elizabeth can’t have ever existed, meaning she can’t exist to drown the player character DeWitt.

        It’s a paradox.

        Previous information in the game would seem to indicate that only one dimension at a time could be effected, but they through that out for the big twist ending.

  2. lol If you honestly think that there were no clues and the entire plot was just “vomited” up onto you, then you are EXTREMELY dense.

    The game drops hints the entire way through. Even at the VERY BEGINNING OF THE GAME you’re rowed out there by the Luteces, and they are talking about how this is all a thought experiment.

    I mean come on. don’t be mad at the game because you are dense as fuck.

    • They even talked about how they didn’t want big daddies and the original bioshock to have a huge role in shaping the game.

      This just seems like the author went into the game with poor pre-conceived notions and was disappointed by expecting something else.

      One of the poorest reviews of the game I’ve read.

      • I’m not that interested in what the designers said around the game as what we see happening in-game. And if Irrational wanted to make Bioshock: Infinite it’s own creation, having part of it set in Rapture seems an odd choice.

        So instead of Big Daddies having an impact, instead we’ve got Songbird and the Handymen, who are clearly linked to the Big Daddies.

    • There are some clues that tie things together, but not so many that B:I doesn’t feel the need to spend 15 minutes walking you through doors in order to provide an explanation while adding in layers of symbolism for the Bioshock series. Or that it ignores its own ‘rules’ about transdimensional travel to make a twist ending.

      The Luteces say a lot of things, coming across as detached and odd characters. They also say that the experiment has already failed and yet the ending of the game seems to indicate that it hasn’t.

      I’ve seen the “you just don’t get it” argument thrown at those who raise issues with the ending of Bioshock: Infinite. Here’s the thing: I get it and have a lot of complaints about it. Understanding doesn’t mean acceptance.

  3. great essay.

    the game reminded me a lot of the television series “lost”. levine and co., like the “lost” braintrust, are very good at creating big, iconic moments that feel both familiar and mysterious at the same time. i think this is the quality most fans and critics (deservedly) gush over. however, both the game and the tv series create a mystery that is too vast, too convoluted (messing with space and time will do that) and the only way to offer closure is to ram exposition down the throat of the viewer/player.

    i think the reception to “b:i” shows how seriously most fans and critics take storytelling within the medium. people seem satisfied with “good enough”, when really we should be demanding “the wire”.

  4. Thanks for posting this article – I was starting to think I was the only person who wasn’t in love with this game and you’ve described a lot of the reasons better than I would have.

    To me, the biggest disappointment was how the potential opportunity to make a profound statement about racism and society was completely abandoned the moment Daisy Fitzroy went nuts. There was so much hype about the world/society Bioshock infinity created, and how it was such an important commentary on American history… but we only began to scratch the surface when it all got thrown out the window.

    Instead of giving us this creative and inspired plot that presents issues in history in new and exciting ways, we wind up with this inter-dimensional sci-fi stuff that’s been used time and again in popular fiction. It’s such a shame that the opportunity to make a profound impact about real issues was utterly missed here.

    • I’m honestly curious to see a post-mortem of B:I and what was left out of the game. There’s plenty of screenshots and videos that seem to indicate a number of changes were made and I wonder if the time travel / dimensional shift plot was used to paper over those holes.

  5. Bioshock Infinite was indeed a HUGE disappointment.

    The weapon/ammo system was FAR less engaging than in the previous Bioshock. I was bored to death with Infinite’s extremely limited combat mechanics.

    Sadly, there was none of the cool gadget-type stuff that helped make the previous game so much fun: no hacking, no trap ammo, etc. I wanted to be using all kinds of different ammo, setting traps with my weapons (trap rivets, spear traps, etc.), hacking lots of machines to fly around and help me out…. but none of that was in this game. I couldn’t believe it.

    The powers/perks system was surprisingly lackluster this time around too. No ice power so you could freeze enemies? WTF?

    The enemies themselves were also boring as hell. There was nowhere near the variety of interesting splicers and whatnot from the previous game. Most of the time it seemed like you just fought regular-type dudes, and every once in a while you’d fight a robot patriot guy. YAAAAAAWN. The enemy selection for Infinite was downright awful.

    No Big Daddies/Little Sisters? That is a Bioshock trademark, and yet they took that out and replaced it with really lackluster enemies. Unbelievable.

    Lastly, Elizabeth was there to do the rogue-ish stuff (i.e. pick locks), but a huge flaw was that she didn’t really contribute much to the actual fighting. She should have been able to use her powers to damage/confuse enemies, but instead she just threw you ammo every once in a while and allowed you to open “tears” which weren’t very interesting.

    Overall, the story/characters/graphics in Bioshock Infinite were good, but the gameplay was downright TERRIBLE, especially compared to the previous game. Bioshock Infinite just wasn’t fun at all.

    Bioshock 2, on the other hand, was absolutely awesome… both in story AND in gameplay. The best in the series, hands down.

    • I totally agree, it was disappointing as apart of the franchise series. It could perhaps be seen as a great fun game on its own terms, not apart of the series. If it wasn’t called ‘Bioshock’ i would’ve mistaken it for something else!

  6. I totally agree with this the game was good but I did not love it like the other two, I found it boring and i was not excited, Just walking around shooting and not having much of a story, not knowing any of the people that lived there, I loved Bioshock I loved the dark and having that slight fear and the hoards of splicers and weirdness of it, this had none and the ending that was the biggest disappointment, It lacked intelligence. I have noticed how games are becoming too easy, this game was easy and its like all other games now dumbing down just for violence, the story was not thought out properly for 6 years to do it yeah it is a disappointment, Dead Island Riptide, 2 years fantastic game, story gameplay, brilliant, With me its never graphics it the story and gameplay and this was not that good and is the worse game in the Bioshock franchise and I hope if they do another they should go back rapture, i was thinking they could of done rapture during the beginning and how it all went to pot and the little sisters creation etc could of even done it from a father eyes to save his daughter or summat but no they went with a new place as it did not feel like bioshock they should of called it something else.

  7. Its a shame the game wasnt more like the one shown in the original trailers (the ones they got the awards for – funny they havent returned those awards, have they?) and endless interviews. They then made left turns several times as the game mutated (and delays extended). and probably rushed thru as their bugdet of time and money ran out.

    Limitations – if you dont know what you want, they will get you in the end.

    The best ending they could actually have (after all the quantum BS pseudo-science/fantasy) would have been for Booker to wake from his fever dream (brought on by bad patent medicine he was taking for a toothache) and to then swear off drinking ever again.

    • Sorry for the delay in replying.

      I agree that it seems like B:I seems to be a game made up of a number of different parts sown together and is a long way from where the trailers made it seem that the title would end up.

      And this just drags further on B:I’s legacy for me, given that I thought the original BioShock ‘Splicer versus Big Daddy’ trailer was one the best, most mood-setting trailers I’ve ever seen.

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  9. Finally, some satisfaction. I agree with many of the issues you brought up in this article. This story left such a bad taste in my mouth. I think the thing I was truly looking for while searching for articles on this topic was a similar opinion of the Vox Populi. They go from idealogical freedom fighters to psychotic mass murderers in the blink of an eye. This part of it you’ve covered. There is something else however, I’d like to call attention to, their relationship to DeWitt.

    DeWitt is the hero of the Vox Populi. They even put him on their posters. But just because Daisy Fitzroy decides he is better off staying a martyr, the entirety of the Vox Populi are willing to give their lives in an unrelenting attempt to murder DeWitt. That makes no sense at all.

    There were other indicators before this, but this is when I knew this story was taking a serious turn for the worst.

    • It was very lazy plotting to have Fitzroy turn on DeWitt because it was a better story to sell to the masses. But then Fitzroy is arguably the character most abused by B:I’s narrative. She comes to Colombia as a place of freedom, only to end up a house slave, then gets framed for murder by Comstock, then leads the resistance (and is demonised by the white citizens of Colombia) in a tough situation, to having a brief moment of winning when DeWitt / Elizabeth flip universes only for her to go ‘evil’ and turn on DeWitt and look to murder white children. Fitzroy’s end is to be stabbed in the back by Elizabeth.

      It could have been much better handled. Imagine a story where Fitzroy turns on DeWitt because he won’t give up Elizabeth, someone that Fitzroy recognises as important to Comstock. DeWitt gets painted as the resistance-hero-turned-traitor. It’s a more natural fit than Fitzroy going, “It makes for a better story if you are dead”.

      I’m continually amazed at people who say they loved B:I for the narrative. It makes me wonder how low video game standards really are if B:I is held up as a shining example of the stories games can tell. (That said, I’m seeing a lot more people now say how problematic they found the game play and how ordinary the whole FPS aspects were. You didn’t see much of that around B:I’s launch.)

  10. The time travel aspect of the story ruins the narrative. I just dont understand why people use it in the first place when it’s an illogical and inconsequent nonsense.

    Luckily the setting and charaters are good, so as long as you don’t try to puzzle together the events of the story, which of course just wont fit, it’s a very enjoyable game.

    Still, I wonder how the story creators can get away with this. I thought a great story writer is someone who can create a thrilling one that is consequent and the event in it fit together seamlessly.

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  12. Played Bioshock Infinite over the last week, and felt disappointed for almost exactly the same reasons you did. Thank you for so eloquently commenting on what was wrong with the game.

    The worse thing is that the game has a lot of potential, all squandered. What’s left isn’t a bad game, just a distinctly average game wrapped up in (superficially) pretty art design. Why Bioshock Infinite has been so applauded is a slight mystery.

    • I’ve seen that B:I has appeared in several Best of 2013 lists at various gaming sites and it often seems reviewers have noted all the flaws in the game, but choose to ignore them because of a variety of factors – the beauty of Colombia, Elizabeth, the pedigree of BioShock and Irrational, etc.

      I don’t think the good parts of B:I outweigh the flaws at all. If anything, they highlight (as you note) the squandered potential of the game.

  13. I’m currently playing through the game again [on 1999 mode on the PC] to see if I still loved it as much as I did the first time. So far so good, so allow me to respectfully disagree and acknowledge some of your grievances:

    I agree that there’s a lot of exposition in the ending; perhaps too much. I found the final twist of Booker being Comstock was a tad excessive [I found the revelation of his relationship to Elizabeth to be satisfying enough without that added twist], but it didn’t bother me because even though the main plot up to that point didn’t deal too much with the multiverse, or Booker’s past, I felt it thematically fit with the rest of the game. The ending is all about how one particular choice made by one man could affect so many lives due to the weight that choice carries. The choices you make in game are deliberately inconsequential, and that’s just because of the nature of those choices. The crowd spots you as the false Shepard regardless of the where you throw the baseball. Killing or sparing Slate will still leave Slate with no future since the Founders lobotomize him. Choosing between a Bird and a Cage is a meaningless decision since, despite its visual relation with Elizabeth and Songbird; it’s just some fashion accessory. I see it as a commentary on the butterfly effect which can be an interesting theory, but the reality is while some seemingly meaningless choices we make can have a great impact, it does not necessarily have to either.

    Also, while I remember feeling pretty bad about being drowned in the sense that I hadn’t deserved it since I [the player] had no memory of selling Elizabeth and such, the more I thought about it, it felt fitting. In order to get through the game, you have to kill a lot of people. Booker has a violent past which spurs his baptism, and depending on the choice he makes, he either accepts his violent acts as justified so he can continue doing so as Comstock, or he realizes he can’t shake off that past, yet at the same time does not swear off violence since he still racks up kills throughout the game. While the kills are a form of self-preservation [unless you willingly shoot citizens], the cops and Vox aren’t portrayed as monsters per se. They all following a leader they feel is worth following. In fact, you could argue since the founders follow Comstock, and the Vox movement is spurred with an alternate Booker Dewitt becoming a martyr for the cause that all of the people you fight are essentially extensions of yourself.

    Whether the whole multiverse concept makes sense on a logical level, I concede it probably doesn’t. Neither do most uses of time travel in stories, but it seems foolish to me to abandon interesting ideas like those solely because they can’t exist in reality. Despite its complexities, I’m pretty certain Inception ultimately makes no sense, but it doesn’t bother me because it completely commits to its central implausible idea.

    Okay, I don’t want to be mean since you raise an interesting opinion, and I don’t want to say you’re flat out wrong since it’s all a matter of perspective. However, in terms of there not being as many voxophones relating to everyday people like there the audio diaries did in Bioshock, it’s because unlike in Bioshock, the civilians are still alive. You get to hear first-hand what they think of Vigors, and Handymen, and the Songbird by walking up to them. I agree that it doesn’t feel like a real city in the same way that GTA 4’s Liberty City does, but that’s more a restriction of the medium then a proper flaw I’d argue. I suppose Rapture is fleshed out more in explaining how a city like this could exist, but the fact that Columbia’s in the sky [i.e. they have their oxygen, sunlight, making it possible for food to grow] and tears in the fabric of reality to get extra goodies made me question the plausibility of how the city could function less. After all, it’s a bunch of buildings floating in the air, so you do have to stretch your suspension of disbelief a tad.

    I keep hearing people complain about the combat, but what can I say, I enjoyed it. Part of this is comparing it to the original Bioshock. There are a lot of things I admire about the original Bioshock, but I don’t think it quite achieves greatness and that’s partly due to the combat. Frankly, you have way too many weapons and powers at your disposal. You’ve got about 8 guns, each with 3 types of ammunition, 6 available plasmids [and more to switch through at given terminals]. That’s all overwhelming, but it wouldn’t bother me so much if the weopons were fun to use. I never got into them in Bioshock because they just didn’t feel right. Kind of hard to describe except that it’s something to do with the sound use, the impact they seem to have on enemies and whether the cursor felt accurate or not. Bioshock Infinite’s weapons meanwhile all clicked in the right way for me in terms of the above criteria, and though you can only carry two weapons, the ammo you get carries over so I didn’t feel too limited it. The plasmids weren’t that great to me either, and I think that has to do with many being interchangeable. Electricity, fire, ice, and bees all do more or less the same job in terms of damage, albeit in slightly different ways. Really, the only plasmid I had fun with was telekinesis, which ultimately felt like a watered down version of the gravity gun from Half Life 2. Conversely, while vigors like Bucking Bronco and Crows and electricity are similar in that they are for stunning, they vary in uses due to their consumption rate and the damage they deal. They also have very useful vigors like Undertow, Charge and Return to Sender that change one’s play style.

    It is true Rapture allowed for more thought in preparing for its fights, but that’s because it was a dank, claustrophobic environment. It fit the nature of the game. Columbia’s fights meanwhile are more action packed so the open areas and more direct forms of engagement [possessing instead of hacking turrets] help keep the momentum flowing. I get if you prefer one approach over the other, but I don’t think it’s fair to say they failed to do it in the way you prefer if they were trying something else entirely.

    Okay, the race aspect is very tricky, and one I’m probably not clever enough to do justice to. Here’s what I will say… The very first scene in which you meet Daisy is one where she steals your airship, forces you to get their army guns and then throws you out of it. Point is, she never felt like someone to me who I was supposed to empathize with or even trust. In terms of racism, the way I interpreted this was less about a commentary on race, and more a commentary on whether the ends justify the means. Daisy and the members of the Vox are treated violently by the society they live in. They want to improve their stature. They do this by using more violence, and many tactics like propaganda that the enemy they’re fighting are using. The comparison between Comstock and Fiztroy has nothing to do with their ideals or causes, but rather how they go about meeting their goals. I also like how she turned on Booker because that universe’s Booker died logically making this Booker an imposter or something else to be feared. The fact that she’s not even willing to understand who this Booker is and decides to just have him killed because he’s a complication was something I found very interesting and I think it speaks volumes about her character. Daisy threatening to kill a young privileged boy [I hesitate to say white because there are white people in the Vox] felt a bit extreme I admit, but given the abuse she and her kind has suffered, the fact that it could reduce her into a psychopathic monster did not feel inconsistent with how she was portrayed earlier.

    I also posit whether, instead of using black people [whose civil rights struggle was notably peaceful], they had used a rebel group we’re accustomed to seeing perform terrible actions in the name of a greater cause against their terrible oppressors, like rebels in Middle Eastern countries. I question whether people would be questioning race in the same way.

    Okay, I don’t have much to say on the whole devil outfit thing, I just saw it as a way to have thick armour to scare your incredibly religious enemies. Honestly, it feels like a minor detail to nitpick, though you raise some interesting points.

    I will say that I did get attached to Elizabeth. Not that there weren’t parts where her idle dialogue clashed with what I was doing, but, again, it’s a restriction of the medium. To keep Elizabeth always grounded and natural at all times, regardless of player input would require either doing a near infinite amount of work from a design perspective in predicting all the micro decisions the player would make, or severely restricting the player so that nothing interferes with her narrative moments. Given the complexity, I found they achieved a healthy balance between the two. It’s possible much of my attachment came from her use in combat, but it worked for me because Booker and Elizabeth’s journey is a mutually beneficial one. Booker, having been a soldier can dish out violence, and Elizabeth, given her isolation has experience with her tears and locks to help with navigating the environment. Booker benefits from Elizabeth’s help, but Elizabeth also benefits from Booker’s. It’s a collaborative effort is what I’m saying, and since Elizabeth has a character, does make choices that affect the plot and she undergoes an arc also flesh her out so that I got attached to her through gameplay and narrative. So much so that when she changes her wardrobe to the one with more cleavage, while I noticed it, I didn’t dwell on it at all since at that point I was invested completely in her character and her clothing could mean less to me.

    Granted, it is a little weird that for someone who grew up in a tower and was raised by a giant mechanical bird, she’s not very socially weird. Then again, she’s sort of based on Disney princesses, and rather than trying to cross the uncanny valley and make her photo-realistic and believably human, they go more for stylization, which has its own place. If nothing else, I felt her humanity still shine through in those moments where she’s just chatting with you, or looking curiously at the environment, so I didn’t feel the kind of disconnect the uncanny valley induces.

    I agree that Songbird was a bit of a wasted opportunity. He was built up so much in the press, and in the game, that I was hoping for a more in-depth look at his relationship with Elizabeth. Granted, I don’t blame them for not having a boss fight since I don’t see how one could fight something massive like that. If nothing else, I like how he was implemented in the final battle.

    I also agree that the explanation for Vigors could have been handled better. It is weird for the power to electrocute be given so much context in one game and so little in another. Still, for the sake of gameplay, I’d much rather have a flimsy pretext for Vigors being there then eliminated entirely because they made no sense.

    As for game reviewers loving it and propping it up as art? I grow weary of people claiming that the game review system is broken just because they themselves had a different opinion. It’s not a perfect system, but game criticism and film criticism don’t carry over completely in terms of their principles. When watching a film, you can take assurance that at minimum it won’t burst into flames, or be unwatchable because a film reel is missing or something. Games have elements of products like cell phones and MP3 players do in that they have to be able to function, and the nature of the medium doesn’t always allow this to be a given, even as technology improves. I feel game reviewers are rooted in the tradition of rating a game not only in terms of enjoyment, but how technically proficient it is. This is all to say that when many reviewers give Bioshock Infinite such a high score, it doesn’t bother me because I feel like there’s a certain technical level that can be judged objectively.

    Whether it’s art or not depends on how you define art. Some say anything can be art, some say there are rules that disqualify games. At the end of the day though, I think art is not about what something is, but the reaction someone gets from it. In that context, given how much time I’ve spent talking about my experience, as you did yours, hell yeah I’d argue it’s art. I can’t think of a game that’s created more fascinating discussions then this one has, and I’d recommend anyone play it, not because I expect them to love it, but because I think it’s something most anyone would respond to, be it in a positive or negative way.

    • Thank you for your comments.

      On a number of points I think we agree more than we disagree. I found B:I disappointing for the combination of factors that I couldn’t overlook; perhaps if there had been fewer issues (e.g. combat flowed better, Colombia had been better fleshed out) then I would have been more absorbed in the whole fabric of the game.

      • Thanks for reading all that. It was excessive, but I got into a groove I guess…

        The one thing I’d ask [and not saying this to question whether you ‘got it’ or anything] was how you played it. Not in terms of system [though I maintain mouse and keyboard beats dual joystick any day], but in the manner. When I play a game, I typically don’t rush through it just to get from narrative beat to narrative beat. I like to explore the world, find all the knick-knacks I can and soak in the atmosphere as best I can. Not everyone does this though, and some who play games professionally [hence have a deadline and can’t loiter] or those solely invested in the story are likely to just go from important point to important point with little down time in the middle.

        In that sense, the combat flowed for me because after each hectic battle, there was cool down time for me to look for goodies and pick up voxophones and listen to the people that I got a good sense of the world around me.

        Still, I do agree that Rapture is more fleshed out as far as game worlds go, but very few game worlds are in comparison. I guess where I’m coming from is as someone who liked Bioshock a lot, but found that one to be a bit overrated [just a bit…] with Infinite fixing most of my grievances with it and taking it into that greatness realm that I believe you hold the original in.

      • I played it through and tried to explore things, but it felt like there was less to do in Colombia than there was to do in Rapture. There were also fewer side stories told through Voxaphone equivalents that helped bring the world to life.

        Rapture had a lot of sadness wrapped up in the world, like the couple who saw their daughter turned into a Little Sister and committed suicide in their room, which the player could find by tracking back through messages they left their daughter. B:I seemed to have no time for that kind of world building, with nearly everything focused on events that tied to the narrative.

        I don’t think I rushed in the first play through, but there didn’t seem to be much to explore. On the second play through I was quicker though.

      • Fair enough. I suppose the direction they went with for the original Bioshock was since pretty much everything’s dead, they had to plant all those elements and details to give a sense of what happened versus what they do in Infinite where you get to witness it first hand. I think they could have handled what you witness a little better. The e3 2011 demo shows more of a sense of wandering into a slowly brewing storm that erupts into combat, whereas in the final game there’s either no tension because this area is meant to be just for walking among the regular people [though you can shoot them], or the fights have already begun and it’s all about surviving to the next flight.

        I guess ultimately, I agree the world-building isn’t as strong, but I do find the narrative-building to be stronger, and more interesting the more I think about it. I also felt I did get enough details from the visual design, the voxophones, and hearing what the common folk said that, and the plot specific moments I witness that I did still get immersed in the world of Columbia.

      • As I pointed out in my article, I may well be in the minority report about B:I. 🙂

        I’m waiting to play the Burial at Sea DLCs and see what those are like, and how they add to the Bioshock mythos.

      • I don’t know. Despite the many praising reviews, I’ve also heard a lot of backlash, so it has forced me to re-evaluate my opinion. Fine by me, it’s led me down some fascinating areas of thought. Don’t think you’re in that big a minority.

        Also [don’t know if you’ve played Part one yet, so not spoiling it…], as much as I’ve been defending Bioshock Infinite, I won’t defend Burial at Sea. It was one of those cases where the ending soured the whole experience for me. The one saving grace I’d say is there’s still a second chapter to tell, so I can’t quite form a full opinion on it yet.

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  17. I know this is 2 years too late, but I stumbled upon this essay after I just replayed Bioshock Infinite for the first time since 2013. I wanted to see if I still felt the same disappointment from it, or if coming back at it more fresh would help me appreciate it more. I was planning to write my own deconstruction of the game, but I think you raised most of the points I would, so now I’m relieved that I won’t have to.

    I just want to raise a couple of points. Since release I have been trying to find the meta commentary Infinite makes on video games themselves, similar to what Bioshock 1 says about player agency. The thing that I have always thought of was how the multiverse represents each time we get killed and reload a save; we are seeing a different Booker in a different world succeed (or fail) where the previous one failed. I also thought it could be reflective of all the different gamers playing the game… all completing the same story, but taking different amounts of time, using different weapons, etc… (Constants and Variables). I haven’t seen this theory posted anywhere else but in my own mind. I hope it has been posted elsewhere by others, because I think it is a great theory, and lends some credibility to the pseudo intellectual nonsense that the last 15 minutes of the game became.

    You brought up some phenomenal arguments, and I especially liked your commentary on games as art. I remember when the first Bioshock came out there was a lively debate on whether games were or were not art. I think even Ebert chimed in to say they were not art, or were not art yet. Suddenly in 2012 Mass Effect 3 comes out and any criticism of the ending is shot down with the argument “Games are art and developers are artists, you cannot criticize art/artistic vision!” Which: A. defeats the entire purpose of art. B. Wait! We were having a debate, when did games suddenly become undeniable art?

    The best commentary I have ever seen about the Mass Effect 3 ending echoes exactly what you said. To many who want to see games as art yet do not have any understanding or background in art: “This ending was written by someone who believes ‘art’ is created by adding in specific items off a checklist, like vagueness, a down ending, a Christ metaphor, and so on, and if you add in enough of those things, it becomes ‘art’ and above criticism regardless of its actual quality. It is a superficial imitation of art by someone who does not understand art in the least” (Something Awful Forums, 2012). I think this applies to B:I just as well as it applies to ME:3 or any game for that matter.

    While I have been praising your commentary to high heaven, there are a few points where I believe you and a lot of your commenters are off base and seem to have missed the point. Let’s start with the Devil costumes of the Vox. Columbia is an exaggerated turn of the century White Protestant society. White Anglo Saxons are seen as pure and holy people, while literally everyone else including non-Protestant (Catholic) whites are seen as less than human. In the propaganda of Columbia they are portrayed as sinners and the “other”… as monsters. There is one mural showing the Angel Columbia surrounded by immigrants and they all look like monstrous/stereotypical exaggerations of different ethnic groups. This mural is based off of actual Nativist propaganda from the Progressive era. Columbian society portrays them as devils because they are the adversaries of Columbian society… just as the devil is the adversary of Christianity. They dehumanize the ‘other’ by portraying them as the devil… something evil and frightening. When the Vox dress as devils it is not some subliminal racism by Irrational, it is the Vox choosing to scare the living shit out of Columbia by literally dressing as the devils that society has portrayed them to be.

    The second point where I have to object is your argument about the violence of the Vox, frankly I believe you are allowing your own biases to come in the way of seeing the whole picture. I agree with you that there is absolutely nothing subtle about B:I, which is a symptom of over ambitious writing by people who don’t really have the skill to pull it off. From the moment you enter the city you are beaten over the head by “Racism is bad”, “Classicism is bad”, “The rich are mean”, “Capitalism is bad”. Unfortunately not everyone who plays the game is going to be a hard-left extremist so the game does what it can to offer some balance to the narrative. And frankly, it is an accurate portrayal…look at history. Yes the working class oppressed in the game. Yes we naturally sympathize with their plight. Should we be completely caught off guard when they violently revolt? Umm… if we know anything about the politics and history of that era… no! Hmmm charismatic leader… red banners… the workers overthrowing the factory owners… Hmmm this doesn’t seem like an out of nowhere turning sweet little workers into monsters… this looks like the Russian Revolution. Something that actually happened… This also looks like the French Revolution(s) things that actually happened.

    Daisy Fitzroy was not feeding the workers of Columbia Christian hope… the preacher in the slums was not holding a Bible… they were preaching Communism (The book the street preacher is holding does not say “Holy Bible” it says “The People’s Voice”, for all intents and purposes it is the Communist Manifesto) . The overthrow of the Bourgeoisie by the Proletariat… an actual economic/social theory that requires a violent revolution. By the end of the game the violent, historically sound revolution of the Vox does not takeaway from the racism and abuses of the Founders. It is commentary that political extremism on both ends of the spectrum dehumanizes people and leads to violence. That is a much more profound (Albeit hamfisted and poorly written) message than “Racism is bad”, “Capitalism is bad”, “Look at the poor Vox” that you seem to have been expecting.

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