(There will be HUGE spoilers in this post!) From the moment I heard it, I knew Bioshock Infinite would be one of the most special experiences in games this year. I, as Booker DeWitt, had only just been cast onto the skyward grounds of Columbia, and was drinking in the atmosphere of a small flower stall. And then, coming into prominence above all the noise and all the chit chat of Columbian residents, were the voices of a Barbershop Quartet.
For those who might quite get where I'm coming from, Bioshock Infinite is set in 1912. God Only Knows, one of the Beach Boys' most recognisable hits, was released on July 11th, 1966. Yup.
Almost from the get go, Infinite pulls the wool from over the players eyes with subtle touches like this that set you on edge, that tell you that there's something not quite right, the moment the realisation hits you. What's real? What isn't? Are the Tears Elizabeth opens the real world? What is Elizabeth? Is even Booker real? But I think one of the most pertinent questions I got coming from the game was, are any of these people wholly good?
Comstock is a religious zealot gone mad. Daisy Fitzroy is a repugnant, murderous villainess, wrapped in the guise of a noble freedom fighter. Booker is a Pinkerton thug with a nasty, violent, booze-riddled past. Not even Elizabeth, the game's closest thing to a shining light, comes out of it clean - literally, in the case of her blood-doused clothing after she stabs Daisy in the back. In fact, Elizabeth might just be the most screwed up character of the bunch, as indicated in what is probably my favourite dialogue in the whole game:
ELIZABETH: Are you afraid of God, Booker?
BOOKER: No. I'm afraid of you.
(Also one of my favourite 'musical mindfucks', I had to mention this. Like, holy shit, it blew my mind recognising this as I walked along Battleship Bay with Elizabeth. GODDAMN BIOSHOCK WHY IS YOUR SOUND DESIGN SO GOOOOD)
The Booker/Elizabeth pairing was fantastic throughout. The way they make you care for Elizabeth without her being a nuisance to the player, to avoid a laborious 12+ hour escort mission, is stellar. Her animation is fantastic, whether it's a look in her eye during a line of dialogue, or the way she'll run off and go peer at something on a desk whilst you're searching around, or the way she'll lean up against a wall waiting for you. She feels very real, and as a constant presence she calms both Booker and the player... so when they rip her away from you for the first section of Comstock House, against the Boys of Silence - easily the most petrifying part of the game, and now I have a deep, irrational fear of America's founding fathers because of it - you feel like you've lost something important, you feel all the more afraid in that section because Elizabeth isn't there. Not because she's not there to give you ammo or salts or sustenance, but because you miss her deeply and you want the security of her being by your side. Elizabeth's presence is so crucial to what makes Bioshock Infinte work, is so great, that even her absence defines her.
But what you're really here for is to see what I thought of... well, what I thought of this:
(Nice use of the original, bustier Elizabeth design as a parallel Liz, Irrational. Clever!)
Frankly, it kinda blew my mind. Elizabeth is Anna DeWitt, and Booker is in turn Zachary Comstock. There's a universe where Booker turns to religion after Wounded Knee and has the baptism, becomes Comstock - and there's a universe where he doesn't, remains Booker DeWitt and loses Anna to his debt problems, and becomes the player character. And to stop Comstock from taking Anna, Booker has to kill himself before he becomes Comstock?
And the Infinite of the title refers to the Infinite amount of multiverses there are, that Elizabeth's powers (and Lutece's science) can open gateways to. In one, Booker becomes Comstock and builds Columbia. In another, Andrew Ryan is born and builds Rapture (by the way, OH MY GOD THEY WENT TO RAPTURE WHAT THE WHAT!). So... what happens now that there's a universe where the Elizabeth Ensemble drowns Booker? Columbia, in that universe, is gone - but is Elizabeth as well? Her father is dead. But in the post-credits sequence, we see Booker and Anna together again. Is there a universe now where they live happily ever after, free of debt and with the events of the game erased? I think so. My head hurts a bit thinking about it, but I think that's what happened.
Constants and variables. Man, it was pretty great. It's been a very long time since a game has enveloped me in its world and drawn me in, and made me want to think about it as much as I do with Bioshock Infinite. What a splendid piece of video gaming that was.
Also, I might have cried a little at the video of Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper singing Will the Circle Be Unbroken (I almost dropped a cup of tea realising the importance of that title. That's how british my amazement was!) during the credits. Maybe.
Oh, Kanji Tatsumi, you lovable bastard, strumming on that guitar of yours. Beautiful.