I’m going to say this up front, just to get it out of the way.
I didn’t PLAY Bioshock Infinite.
I watched a three and a half hour YouTube video of the story cutscenes and voxophones (audio logs) instead. While many would argue that I missed out on the “full experience” of the game, I would counter that all that I missed was the same, repetitive Bioshock combat that was present in the first two games. It’s not that I’m not a fan of it, but I’ve already played a recent title with those same mechanics in place: Dishonored. And to be honest, I like the setting and story of that game far more than that found in the new Bioshock. Columbia just doesn’t appeal to me aesthetically, and neither does the story (or at least it’s ending certainly doesn’t).
I’ve read reviews. I watched the excellent, extensive and informative Giant Bomb spoilercast. I understand that Infinite is a good game, but I would argue that it’s not really a great one. If the best part of your game are the parts that happen between actually playing it (the story far outshines the combat), then maybe it shouldn’t be put on top of the Game of the Year list quite so fast. Likewise, while I certainly think the story in Infinite is compelling, it left me with a very familiar and unsatisfying feeling.
Experiencing Infinite was a lot like experiencing the television show Lost.
Concluding the story of Booker was like concluding the story of Jack. Both of them end up making choices that end of torturing them later in life, and both long for redemption. But I’m not here to over analyze Infinite. It’s being done to death already. And that’s the main thing it has in common with Lost. Ken Levine is the J.J. Abrams of video games. He litters infinite with the mysterious, the odd and the unexplained, and as you get deeper into his world you are led to believe that all will be revealed. Only it never is. Time travel, multiple universes, paradoxes… Levine doesn’t really answer the biggest questions Infinite asks. Instead, just like Abrams, he simply poses the questions and lets his audience argue over the outcome.
Booker is Comstock. The only way for Comstock to never exist is to kill Booker at the baptism after Wounded Knee.
Okay. But wait a minute.
Wouldn’t that also prevent Elizabeth from existing? How did that simple baptismal choice create such a vastly different persona? How do these different characters even resemble one another? What is Comstock’s motivation to destroy the world below? How did Elizabeth even gain her powers? Can anyone just leave a finger behind in another universe and become a Time Lord? Why is it that Booker is the only one in the entire game who can use powers that anyone can gain simply by drinking glowing jugs of magical moonshine? (Dishonored at least explains how its protagonist gained his abilities in a convincing way, and then defined why he was one of the few to ever have them.) If there really are infinite universes, why isn’t everyone walking around with nosebleeds? Infinite possibilities would mean everyone is dead in at least one of them. Infinite possibilities also means Booker never fought in Wounded Knee in some of them, making his drowning completely unnecessary. And even if you buy into it all, doesn’t hitting that reset button invalidate the entire story we just played through?
But there I go again, falling into the cleverly laid trap that Levine and his team at Irrational have laid for us.
They let players ask these questions and come up with all of these wild and complex theories, and we as gamers exalt the game as a masterpiece of storytelling in the process. But the truth is that there are no real answers. Like Abrams, the questions are left there intentionally because these theories we propose and argue over are much more engaging than any truth ever could be. That’s the real magic of Infinite, just as it was in Lost. It’s a trick. It’s a fade to black. It’s the spinning top at the end of Inception.
There are no answers.
Some people will enjoy having this little trick played on them. Others will feel a bit cheated.
I love Inception. I enjoyed Lost until the final season. Fringe is one of my favorite Sci-Fi shows. I like mysteries and complexity as much as the next person. But I like it most when it proves how clever it is. What I don’t like is being dropped in a narrative maze without any real solution.