Crisis of Infinite Bioshocks

This post will be followed by a few more posts, all to be labelled with “Bioshock” puns, and all are my brother’s fault. He should feel proud of that. (I’ll hopefully feel proud of the Bioshock puns, too)

Firstly, I should lay out that they will all be driven by my experience with Bioshock Infinite. If you are in the midst of playing through this game for the first time, I’d advise you don’t reed any further, as spoilers will be present. However if you have played through, or have no plans to do so, would you kindly read on? If you’re completely new to Bioshock, watch this trailer: this is the world I want to talk about.

Still here? Good.

Let me start by explaining how my brother got me to write this.
We both love games, games of all kinds: computer, board, card, you name it. He has been involved in my most vivid memory of Cluedo, where his trademark clown-like behaviour was used to deftly conceal an extremely early (and equally astute) solving of the game. However, when it comes to computer games, our tastes are poles apart – whereas I gravitate towards strategy or story-based affairs like Alan Wake, Fallout and XCOM, he will be just as happy seeking out titles such as FIFA 13, NBA2K13, or many other sporting acronyms whose name ends in a year.

And then, quite surprisingly, we found mutual excitement in Bioshock Infinite.

I’ve been wanting to write about this title since I finished my first playthrough – this numbering is important to me, as I fully intend, but have yet to embark on a subsequent playthrough, which is all as a result of how the game left me feeling. I had a very strong emotional response, and I’m still working through exactly what this new state is. The confused feelings, along with the sheer amount of stimuli in the story and experience has led to a form of option paralysis – I have so many thoughts, starting points and statements to make, I simply don’t know where to start.

And then the text messages began. The first came from him, telling me he had started Bioshock Infinite, and played until 4am in the morning. I can clearly remember the last time I did this – it was after attending the midnight launch of Batman Arkham Asylum, and was in reality only a session of a few hours, but this gaming-against-fatigue (in a cape, no less) was fueled by the unfolding of a world so rich in detail that I didn’t want to leave. This was quite a departure for him – I have no doubt he’s had game sessions lasting that long, but rarely was it a story-based game; a single, continuous narrative. And so we continued to discuss the game. I was eager for him to complete it so we could talk about it as a whole.

It’s a week on now, and we’re still discussing it, and in a thought that only occurred to me on the weekend (and that Kotaku beat me to the punch on), this is probably my favourite form of multiplayer. The game itself is a singular, solitary experience, and yet we’re getting such a wonderfully interactive, deep experience from having shared the same (and yet different) story. It also echoes my experience with the first Bioshock game, where my other brother and I played it together, taking it in turns to play whilst the other observed. Because the narrative and characterisation is so strong, this doesn’t feel like being a spectator – it feels like being an audience. The difference between them being that an audience is to be engaged and carried along by the story, whilst a spectator merely watches.

We’re still texting. Just this morning we’ve been discussing the links between the games, from the glaringly obvious, through to the minutiae most likely inserted by a dedicated creative group, wanting to leave something that says “I was here”. It’s these touches, from the obtuse to the blatant that make it feel like a real world – in this case, a world that is of complete fantasy, but has disturbing connections to our own. (just wait until you pick the calliope music being played – and if you can’t wait…would you kindly click here) It’s a beautifully fulfilling idea that a game I tried to absorb wholly in just under 12 hours is giving me such a bigger, away-from-the-box-entirely experience.

When completing the game, you unlock “1999 mode”, an extreme difficulty mode named after an era where games were less forgiving. If you die, your game can end there and then – not the penalised “start from where you left off” that so many games offer these days. Initially I could not bring myself to start again, the combined increase in difficulty and the experience still being so raw, having personally being moved by the story, to restart it so quickly felt…wrong. These discussions with my brother have made me appreciate the game a lot more, and really want to play through it again, discover the things he saw and I missed, and ultimately just to visit the floating city once again.

Back into the rowboat, I will now happily go. Back to that lighthouse that starts it all…

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~ by nick on April 22, 2013.

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