Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Bioshock Infinite - Burial At Sea

If you've been keeping track of this blog for a while, you might recall that I absolutely loved the game Bioshock Infinite,  I spent weeks after I finished it debating the ending with people I knew.  I spent hours thinking about how it affected me both on an intellectual level and an emotional level.  It wasn't my favorite thing of 2013, but I'm rather surprised I didn't put it higher than The Last Of Us, if only because I still sometimes think back to Bioshock Infinite and what everything meant, but The Last Of Us has been out of my mind for quite some time.

However, there was something I wasn't proud of.  As of this last weekend I was yet to play the downloadable content "Burial At Sea," a two-part add-on to the game that, from my understanding, took place back in Rapture, the city from the first Bioshock.

So I decided to fix that.

And now I love the game even more.

I honestly can't say why it took me so long to play this.  A film-noir style mystery where femme fatale Elizabeth hires "total stranger" (people who played the game know why this is in quotes) Booker DeWitt to find a missing girl.  Taking place before everything went terrible in the city of Rapture, you get to see the city at its peak, mingle with the social circles, see the roots of where it all started to go wrong.

Now, I can't go into much of the game without revealing some spoilers, so if you also haven't played this DLC from 2014 and were still hoping to be surprised, now's the time to jump ship and come back later.

All set?  Everybody here is ready?


The first chapter, where you learn more about the battle between Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine and learn what the secrets of this Booker and Elizabeth are is great.  Exploring Rapture again, trying brand new powers, and seeing all of the things I loved from the game play of Bioshock Infinite was all just great.  The twists that come later in the game were a surprise even though I figured out a few things ahead of time.

And then the ending comes, and my jaw hit the floor so hard I'm surprised neither bone nor floorboard cracked.  Learning the relationship between this version of Booker and an Elizabeth who was clearly more than she let on, well.  It's not quite up there with "would you kindly," but the levels of manipulation, the surprising reveal, and the final reveal from one of the characters...wow.

I put down the controller and just thought about everything that had just happened.  Obviously, this wasn't the same Elizabeth I knew...

...except it was.  As Chapter Two started, and I realized I was playing as Elizabeth, moving through the streets of Paris just to find myself back in Rapture again, I realized that this really was the same Elizabeth.  The game goes out of its way to plant the idea in your head that there is only one Elizabeth any more, all the other ones are gone.

Suddenly, the game introduces new ideas all over the place, turning the game from a tactical "hide behind cover, consume everything you can, wield fantastic power" set-up into a stealth tactical game, where you have to lure enemies away from groups in order to secretly take them out without making any noise.

And, of course, you find yourself smack in the middle of everything bad that was happening up to the start of the original Bioshock.  I wasn't sure how the game would be able to really connect the stories from the first game to the second game, but as the story progressed and I realized just how important Elizabeth was to everything, I found myself hesitating before progressing.

The game puts the idea in your head very early on that you are not going to walk away from the fight between the factions of Rapture and live to see old age.  You know that everybody you're dealing with is a monster of some kind.  The only real friend you have is the disembodied voice of Booker DeWitt in your head, advising you, asking you questions, and providing what little support a voice can when things get tough.

Stripped of her ability to open "tears" in reality or to see the future beyond brief flashes, Elizabeth seems like a small, frightened figure in the game.  She dies if hit twice by most enemies, and the game points out "she has no chance of killing a Big Daddy."  However, she's quite possibly the smartest person in the city, which gives her an advantage when she has to further the plot by fixing a piece of technology, assemble the parts to repair a system, or just analyze building blueprints and structures.  This was someone who the entire city of Rapture (and, initially, myself) thought was a weak-willed, frail girl but who would out-sneak, out-manipulate, and out-think everybody.

The game makes a point to remind you that you can't play Elizabeth as if she's weak and ineffectual by making you go into a peep show/erotica store where she reveals "oh, I've been here before, I stole someone's clothes" and casually mentions "my library didn't have books like these in it."

But for me, the highlight of the game was finding all of the connects between the Bioshock franchise.  Learning about connections between Rapture and Columbia, finding the truths behind dangling threads and questions from the first game, figuring out new layers to characters I had previously thought rather two-dimensional and realizing just how much characters I initially dismissed as pointless had sacrificed just to make sure the Booker and Elizabeth from Infinite succeeded in their story...it was eye-opening.

At the end, when the pieces all came together and story came to a close, the game managed to deliver another total emotional punch to me.  This was on top of every other time I felt emotionally pained by acts happening to characters (particularly Elizabeth) I cared about.  There's a moment where you're being interrogated by the new power in Rapture, Atlas, and it left me anxious and emotionally spent afterward, but I kept playing.  I had to complete here story.  If I was to admit just how much the game sucked me in, I would say that I knew how much Elizabeth had sacrificed to see this mission of hers through, and to not do as much on my end would leave me feeling... I can't think of the word offhand, but that bond between myself and this young woman made up of bits of data was so connected, I couldn't let her down by letting her suffering be pointless.

I walked away from the second chapter feeling empty and yet also strangely satisfied.  I had all the answers I wanted, I had a clear image of how two very different games were, in fact, very connected.  I had an answer to my questions about what happened to Elizabeth after the last game I saw her in, and I had a clear-cut ending to her story that left no real room for confusion or doubt.

I also had absolutely no doubt that I made the right choice in my "which video game character would you bring to life" question way back in the day.

It might seem weird to think that out of all the video games I've played, the characters I've felt the strongest connection to are a professor, a surrogate father in a zombie apocalypse, a starship commander, and a girl/woman who spent her life a prisoner just to finally find her purpose.

This will be showing up on my end of the year Top Eleven.  You can bet on it.

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