Bioshock Infinite has quality gaming experience, 'overwhelming' story lineBy Nathan Proctor | 04/07/2013 11:00pm
Mechanics, genre and even medium aside, the advances and storytelling of Bioshock Infinite make it a must-have experience first and game second for anyone invested in the industry. Though its gameplay, visuals and audio design are dynamic and occasionally incredible, they fail to innovate as well as its overwhelming storytelling.
It’s no surprise such a project has come from the mind of Ken Levine and his cohorts at Irrational Games, (grown from Looking Glass Studios). Though heralded for their history of well-developed games, such as Freedom Force and Tribes: Vengeance, it’s “Infinite” predecessors in System Shock 1-2 and the original Bioshock that have fundamentally challenged the status quo of storytelling in games since 1994.
Though less revolutionary now, the depths and twists to the System Shock plots were unprecedented for what was nominally a first-person-shooter, and SHODAN’s deceptions are strides beyond what many of today’s AAA games of this ilk bring to the table. The System Shocks and Bioshocks strove to immerse its world in environmental design, texts and audio logs and incidental stories that speak to themes that connect to an overall plot. But, they act alone as thought provoking dialogues with the player, whether through System Shock’s musing on humanity’s relationship with technology and itself or Rapture’s examination of Randian objectivism.
Story stretching beyond plot alone is important to the genre, but these are baby steps contrasted with other storytelling mediums. What makes these games, and Infinite in particular, outstanding are their masterful use of storytelling devices that only video games can exploit.
The first Bioshock throws the player constantly by slyly undercutting expectation and overtly taunting the game’s silent avatar with proclamations of the constraints of gaming, the inevitability of linear plot progression and the necessity of obedience under the guise of objectivistic and utopian rhetoric. The first Bioshock took an intellectually, (and not simply 4th-wall-breaking) approach to meta-game commentary, it simply suggested the player think about player agency in gaming. It’s “would you kindly” twist accomplished this in a thoroughly shocking and poignant way, but leaned back onto typical Western story structure and a run-of-the-mill (and perhaps old-school) final boss who’s defeat brings about a neatly wrapped end, however you played it. Infinite takes this to another level.
The game, based in the floating utopia of Columbia, trades objectivist themes for those surrounding nationalism, racism, historical idolatry and the nature of religion as applied to the 1910 United States. However, Irrational pulls back its active commentary, but rather establishes its world to be used as a stepping-stone into a dialogue on causality, time and the nature of choice through your, (or your character’s) manipulations and discussions on actual quantum physics. The audacity to tackle these subjects, and to present them so well, is on its own an achievement of the industry, but, again, it’s how it tells this story that makes it exceptional.
Skirting any specifics about the game’s plot, the protagonist’s journey through the world and your effect on it, though your choices are mostly singular, are what gives it such resonance and power within the player. You tackle Bioshock’s questions head on. You’re not watching a story that deals with the nature of choice or passively learning of Columbia’s tenants, but living them out, (though you may not realize it your first play-through). What Infinite delivers is so unique and throws its genre and its industry so far ahead so unceremoniously is simply incredible. Bioshock Infinite is a must play for anyone with any interest in video games or the art of storytelling.