Expectations were high for this game, and it now stands as one of those few games that surpassed those expectations.
Indeed, Bioshock is nothing short of a masterpiece. One of the few Post-Modernist video games out there, sitting comfortably beside Portal and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (all of which are personal favourites of mine), its influences ranging from George Orwell to Ayn Rand, its truly immersive environment and tight storytelling won the hearts of many. Playing Bishock from beginning to end was a complete experience. The story of Rapture had been told; we did not need to go back again.
So naturally they made a sequel.
By no means the worst sequel to a game out there, Bioshock 2 just could not live up the masterpiece of its prequel. The story wasn’t half as compelling, the grab of being able to play as a Big Daddy quickly loses all intrigue when you realise you play exactly like a normal human, and the fact that most of the game revolves around the worst mechanic from the original game all added up into a very disappointing game.
It was no surprise that another Bioshock game was announced, but it was not initially met with warm reception. We’d already been to Rapture twice now. What could a third visit really give us that was new and substantial?
But in the end, they didn’t take us back to Rapture. No, they took us the sky.
Released on March 26 2013, Bishock Infinite spread its wings and took us to the sky city of Columbia; a setting that shared as many differences with Rapture as it did similarities. While many aspects from the original game return (albeit with a few tweaks and remodelling) the game is very much a different experience; touching on themes of racism, religious propaganda and deconstruction of American Exceptionalism. Adding to that of course was the main character Booker Dewitt being a speaking character instead of a silent character.
And of course Elizabeth; arguably the most important-and probably best-aspect of the game.
Like Bioshock and unlike Bioshock 2, Infinite was been universally acclaimed by critics and is currently considered by many as the reigning video gaming champion of 2013; a title that will be hard to take from it. But is it better than the original? Does Infinite take what was great about the original Bioshock and makes it even better? Or does the original Bioshock still stand as the dominant game in Modern shooters?
There’s only one way to find out, and I know we’ll all asking the same question, so let’s start. This is Bioshock vs Bioshock Infinite!
Bioshock vs Bioshock Infinite
When I originally started this comparison, I was gonna say it was an open and shut case, and that Bioshock Infinite took the point with ease. After all, how could a silent protagonist like Jack compare to two fully realised characters like Booker Dewitt and Elizabeth?
But, looking at them again and listening to some peoples view, it’s…not as clear cut as I initially imagined.
First, let’s start with Bioshock’s main character, Jack. As you all know, Jack is a silent protagonist. Well, forgetting the first line in the game where he speaks, but the rest of the time he keeps his yap shut. Nowadays silent protagonists aren’t met with much enthusiasm. Some feel they take away from the story when characters are constantly speaking to someone who never replies back, and often times this can be true.
With Jack however it is different. Much like Chell from Portal, Jack in many ways needed to be silent.
As I mentioned before, Bioshock is a post modernist video game, but why is that exactly? Because just like Portal and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Bioshock’s narrative involves the player be guided by a figure not physically present, telling you-yes, literally you as the player-to go down a very linear path and set of events and do exactly what they say.
And in all three cases, you are tricked and deceived. Raiden turns out to be an unwitting pawn to The Patriots, GlaDOS intends to kill Chell as soon as she is no longer useful, and finally with Jack, Atlas/Fontaine tries to get rid of you as soon as you take out his biggest threat, Andrew Ryan.
But that’s not all. Not only has Raiden, Chell & Jack been betrayed, but you-the player-has been as well. You have blindly followed their commands and have acted like mindless puppets dancing to their strings.
All three games are fascinating looks at the relationship between video games and the people who play them, and how differently we act in these fictional worlds compared to our own. It’s this that put both Jack and Chell above the average silent protagonist, but ultimately, that’s the only thing they have. In the end Jack and Chell are just storytelling devices, and quite obviously neither have any three dimensional characteristics (you can choose to make Jack good or evil with how he treats the Little Sister, but let’s face it, it’s pretty one dimensional).
If anything, that’s something Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty had over the two later games. It was able to juggle post modernist themes whilst still having a three dimensional main character.
So originally, this was the part where I was gonna point about how Booker and Elizabeth won by a landslide because they were three dimensional characters, but as stated, it’s not so simple. Let us start with Booker Dewitt.
Booker Dewitt……has problems.
Okay, for those of you who don’t know, some people knock Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series for his constant wisecracking in the midst of fire fights and some claim him to be a sociopath. Personally speaking I disagree with this sentiment. In the entire trilogy there’s only been one moment where I felt he needlessly killed people. Most of the time he goes out of his way to save innocents and is one incredibly loyal friend to have, and I would argue his constant jokes were just his way of coping with the immense pile of shit thrown at him on a daily basis.
To be fair, I see the argument, but I don’t agree with it. What I would argue however is that Booker Dewitt has kicked Nathan Drake off of the ‘unintentional psychopath’ throne.
Here’s the thing; it’s made clear early on that Booker Dewitt has done some horrible things. The atrocities he caused at Wounded Knee, the Pinkerton fiasco, the gambling debts……Booker was not a good man at all, and this is before we find out he sold his own daughter to pay off the debts.
But, Bioshock Infinite is partly about Booker’s redemption, becoming a better man and no longer the violent murderer he once was, and he does this by……
…Killing hundreds and hundreds of people on Columbia……in often very gory ways…
Worse yet is the ending scene after credits, where Booker wakes up to a crying Anna, implying he can live a normal life with his daughter. I initially assumed this was a pretty happy ending. Booker has regretted his past actions and will try to clean up his life and be the loving father Anna needs.
Then I watched TheSpoonyOnes review of Bioshock Infinite, and I’m not gonna lie, he made me rethink this ending completely.
I realise now that I based my assumption that Booker remembered the events on Columbia on nothing. They were erased from existence, as was the Booker Dewitt we played as, so this is a Booker Dewitt from a timeline where Comstock never offered to pay off the debts in return for Anna, since Comstock never existed. So does that make this all okay?
If this is correct, no it doesn’t, because this Booker has not gone through any of the character development he went through in the game. This is the same Booker Dewitt who butchered hundreds at Wounded Knee, got kicked out of the Pinkerton Agency, got into Gambling trouble, but worst of all would willingly sell his own daughter to pay off his debts.
That’s…um…that’s quite horrifying.
It’s admittedly up to you how the final scene is interpreted, but I can’t help but worry that Spoony may be right on this one. So ultimately Booker’s character is a mess and a failure at what Irrational Games were trying to do with him. So, does that mean Jack wins?
Well, I can’t say yet, because we also have to consider Elizabeth.
I, like many people, have fallen in love with Elizabeth. How could I not? Bioshock Infinite has been out less than two months but already Elizabeth has become one of the most popular female characters in video games. Out of everything in Bioshock Infinite, Elizabeth seems to be the one aspect given the most attention and love. Fitting, since she is effectively the core of the game.
With Bioshock Infinite, it’s Elizabeth’s growth that kept us invested, not Bookers. We see her go from the sheltered but inquisitive innocent to the shell shocked determined woman she becomes. Everything seems to make her life more and more like hell and her woes keep tugging at our heartstrings, but her determination to see things through lift our spirits back and make us admire this woman. It also really helps that despite most of the game being essentially an escort mission, Elizabeth is always a helping hand and never a hindrance to the player.
Where Booker fails, Elizabeth truly does make up for it. Hell, one could really argue that Elizabeth is the true main character of the game, and I’d sympathise with that view.
So, I’ve been ranting about main characters for a while now; have I made a decision?
As…much as I love Jack’s role in Bioshock, I have to concede that Jack is ultimately a storytelling device. He’s a fantastic storytelling device, but without it he is nothing. He’s got no personality traits or anything for us to latch onto him as a person.
And while Booker is flawed, he’s not annoying or a pain to play as. His whole character arc is just fucked up, but he’s never unbearable to be around. And who knows, maybe he does remember his time on Columbia at the end and he does become a better father. I certainly hope so…
With that said and done, Elizabeth steals the victory for Bioshock Infinite. There’s something to be said about a character who you genuinely get invested in and feel for like a real person. Oh how I’d love to dance with her on the Beach, then take her to Paris and see the Eiffel Tower…
Edge: Bioshock Infinite
I am Andrew Ryan, and I'm here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?
'No!' says the man in Washington, 'It belongs to the poor.'
'No!' says the man in the Vatican, 'It belongs to God.'
'No!' says the man in Moscow, 'It belongs to everyone.'
I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible.
I chose... Rapture, a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, Where the great would not be constrained by the small!
And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.
It’ been over five years since we first heard Andrew Ryan say those famous lines, but still do they leave an unforgettable impression.
Andrew Ryan is easily the best character of Bioshock, despite only having one physical scene. Much of what we find out about is detailed in the above monologue and recorded messages found all over Rapture. Through them, we are painted a picture of a charismatic man who on some levels we could agree on. Taking heavy inspiration from Ayn Rand’s beliefs of rational self interest, we can understand that Andrew Ryan wanted to create a world where the intelligent, the creative and the determined were not undermined by the society they lived in. He wanted a world where people could work to their full potential without restraint or adherence to a set of rule.
We understand why Andrew Ryan wanted to create Rapture, and we see how even though it has gone to hell, how Ryan still clings to the world he has created, never showing regret for what he has caused. That’s one hell of a villain.
Bioshock Infinite had a big challenge to match Andrew Ryan, and they turned from a political extremist to a religious and patriotic extremist in the form of Zachary Hale Comstock. Believing himself a Prophet, Comstock created Columbia, a floating symbol of American ideals at a time when the United States was becoming a world power. When told to stand down due to an incident in China, Comstock saw this as a betrayal and seceded from the United States, seeing it as a shell of it former self and labeling Columbia as the true America.
Comstock turned his patriotism into a religion, having his followers worship the Founding Fathers as the prophets of God’s great plan. He also saw Caucasians as the only truly free race, and viewed minority races with contempt. He declared Abraham Lincoln "the Great Apostate" who brought nothing but war and death upon the country. He also saw Columbia as the key to usher the world into righteousness and became determined to make it a reality.
On the plus side, the attention to detail towards Comstock’s minsdet is praiseworthy, and I can’t help but find it quite socially relevant to today. With groups in America like The Tea Party and the Westboro Baptist Church who probably dream of America being like this, this extremely negative portrayal of extremist Christianity and patriotism gets my approval.
Of course, not all Christians are like the ones in this game, and here’s where there are issues with Comstock. I’m sure as many of you know by now that Comstock is in fact Booker Dewitt from an alternate timeline. Our Booker had a chance to be baptized for his previous sins, but turned the chance down, believing dunking your head in water does not erase your past. An alternate Booker however went through with the Baptism and became Comstock, the racist mad man he is now.
One could interpret that as saying that religion made Booker evil, and while I’m not personally offended (I’m a Humanist) I can respect why some people might by. Hell, somebody who worked on the game nearly quit because of this.
As many of you might’ve well guessed, Andrew Ryan is easily the better villain. As previously mentioned, you can to some extent understand Ryan’s motivation and you’re enthralled by his charisma and passion. Comstock in the end is just a racist, fundamentalist mad man whose most interesting characterization is his connection to Booker.
‘But what about the other villains?!’ some of you are not doubt asking. Well, for starters, how can you talk about Bioshock without talking about Frank Fontaine, the true final villain? The man who led the civil war against Andrew Ryan, Fontaine plays the part of Atlas through the majority of the game, making you believe he was your friend, your ally, your only hope of survival…
…only for him to reveal the truth, in one of the most shocking moments in video game history.
For that alone he’s a great villain. He doesn’t have the slight ambiguity that Ryan had, but he didn’t need it. He was the man you trusted who stabbed you in the back, and had been planning before it all even started. That’s one hell of a villain.
As for Bioshock Infinite, the only other noteworthy main villain besides Comstock is Daisy Fitzroy, the leader of Vox Populi, an army consisting of Black people and Irish who fight against Comstock. She…could’ve been an interesting villain; her first appearance showed her to be a cold but compromising leader, making a deal with Booker whilst at the same time personally helping a wounded soldier.
Unfortunately, her subsequent appearances portray her as a psychopath who has no issue killing a small child. It’s true this Daisy is an alternate timeline and therefore with difference, but it is a shame how little developed she was. Unfortunately this is an issue with much of Bioshock Infinite’s story that will be addressed later.
Quite obvious who wins wouldn’t you say? Point goes to Bioshock!
I think we all remember the shock and awe we felt when we first saw Rapture. The aquatic city astounded us with its breathtaking visuals; none of us had ever seen anything like it in a video game. We soon learnt that the underwater haven was in truth an aquatic madhouse, but that didn’t stop it from being a beautiful madhouse.
What made Rapture so brilliant was the fact that a lot of attention was made to show how at one time, this horrifying city was once a rather welcoming place. Sure, it’s gone to shits during the game, but the developers went out of their way to show that once this was a prospering city with more than a few wonders. And we see them, distorted and ravaged. No doubt about it; the design of Bioshock alone is a good argument for video games being a form of art.
Arguably no game afterwards could match the design of Bioshock, even with more polished graphics. Therefore Bioshock Infinite had heavy expectations to meet. In the end, did Bioshock Infinite meet those expectations?
No, it didn’t.
It met them, span around them, jumped around them, and flew past it with grace.
I’m gonna slightly spoil a later part of this comparison, but I’ll come out and say it: the best part of Bioshock Infinite was its first hour. The initial awe of Columbia easily trumped that of Rapture’s, and I spent several moments just standing still and watching this world around me. I had to search every nook and cranny, every little detail to this strangely welcoming world. I was entranced, but could still notice the dark secrets this façade of paradise was hiding.
Ultimately, Bioshock Infinite succeeds over Bioshock in design in two ways. The first is that as opposed to Rapture, which had already gone to hell and was already a mess when you arrive, Columbia is in the midst of its war and much of its higher class lived in blissful ignorance. Several areas are covered with average civilians seemingly enjoying themselves, or showing grief when something goes wrong for them. We know just how corrupt Columbia really is, but seeing these areas where people are happy and content made the setting much deeper than your average fascist location.
There is a downside to this however. When the bullets do start firing…all of the civilians just disappear. They’re not to be found. It’s like there’s a billion hiding holes scattered all over Columbia.
The second reason Columbia succeeds is due to something a good friend of mine brought up. You see, Bioshock Infinite has a very dark story. In fact, it’s a very violent story, but when you look at the design of the game on its own, overall it’s…
…Very bright and colorful. Huh.
This is significant because it shows that when making a dark story, you don’t need to make it look dark. You don’t have abuse the colors black and gray when designing the look of your story. Bioshock Infinite is a dark and mature game, but the colorful design of Columbia perfectly fits the patriotic madness of the city and it is a lesson to aspiring writers that just making things look dark is ultimately superficial.
All of this coupled with newer graphics make Bioshock Infinite the clear winner!
Edge: Bioshock Infinite
Of all the parts on this comparison, this might be the hardest to talk about. Both have flaws and aspects over the other. I can safely say with both games though that they are fun and engaging to play, despite their issues.
First, I feel I need to talk about a recurring issue with Bioshock Infinite. As a sequel, Infinite tries to add to what the original did whilst still fitting it within the new setting. They also tried to answer some of the issues other people had with Bioshock. You wanted the setting to be used more gameplay wise? You got the Sky Hooks. You didn’t want Elizabeth to become an annoyance? She’s never targeted and helps you in battle.
A lot of these new ideas work…just don’t think too hard on their existence, or else these issues will arise:
• There are tons of Vending Machines in Columbia selling Vigors for your leisure…and yet nobody else on Columbia even thinks of using them besides you.
• The Sky Hooks…existence just don’t work. First of all, no one in their right minds would’ve created them to be used the way people do in their game. You’d have to be mad and suicidal.
• Furthermore, it’s amazing Booker and Elizabeth don’t break their legs jumping off of them!
• Finally, whilst Elizabeth is very useful in battle and she never becomes a load…why the fuck does nobody target her? Seriously, you’ve got these hundreds of people her are supposed to capture her alive, but they’ll often just run past her like she’s invisible. I know we didn’t want her to be a load, but come on
That’s not to say the original Bioshock didn’t have issues. The regeneration chambers made the game too easy due to their frequentness, and I would have liked to have seen underwater aspect used in the gameplay. Overall though, I prefer Bioshock’s gameplay for two reasons:
First are the boss battles. Both games have only one real boss fight each, Bioshock’s being at the end, Infinite being around the middle, and both are…well, shit. Really lackluster, but here’s my personal philosophy about final boss fights: the final boss in any game should be the most difficult fight in the game…whilst also giving off the feeling of a finale. Especially in story centered games, the final fight should feel like the culmination of everything you’ve been up against so far. A true epic finale.
Take for example the final battle with the Joker in Batman: Arkham Asylum. The fight is insultingly easy…but the size of that fight was incredible. Playing it, I truly felt like I had reached the end; that everything leading up to it had been for this moment, and whilst it was incredibly easy in the end, I still came out of it satisfied.
The same can be said with Bioshock’s final boss: Fontaine. Again, too easy for my taste, but I did at least feel like everything had been leading up to this moment, and this was the end of this dark, twisted journey where I would come out on top. It may have been an easy win, but it was a satisfying ending regardless.
Bioshock Infinite however doesn’t have this excuse, and whilst the boss fight against Lady Comstock was easy….my god was it annoying. Honestly my least favorite part of the game, gameplay wise.
But that’s only one reason why I put Bioshock’s gameplay over Infinite. What’s the other?
Simple: The powers.
It’s admittedly the case with both games that in the end, you’ll pick certain PLASMIDS of Vigors to use and stick with them for most of the game, but here’s the major difference; Bioshock’s PLASMIDs were different enough that playing the game again could be a completely different experience.
You could just electrocute the enemy over and over, or you could choose the power that improves you aim, or the one that allows you to control machines. They were all different enough that a second playthrough with new powers could involve completely new strategies and tactics to play with.
Infinite however, not so much. Besides the power to loot vending machines and the returning machine controller, all your other powers just allowed you to kill people in admittedly creative ways, but more or less the same: with brute force. There was just less diversity, and if you’re like you just stuck with shooting Ravens at groups of enemies over and over. The nail on the coffin is the upgrades, which were much more lackluster in Infinite.
I hate to sound like I’m bashing too much on Infinite. It was still a very fun game to play, but Bioshock was a much more solid and less flawed experience for me. Point goes to Bioshock!
When writing this comparison, I realized something; the comparison between Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite is not too different from the comparison between Portal and Portal 2
In terms of story, both Bioshock and Portal are damn near flawless. In fact, the latter may just be the only video game I consider ‘flawless’ (and the critic inside of me is weeping admitting that). They are tightly written, perfectly paced and take video gaming to a level originally only achieved by Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty by studying the very nature between the game, and its player.
Both Bioshock Infinite and Portal 2 had gigantic boots to fill, and I consider both to be very admirable efforts. Portal 2 is arguably the best game of 2011, but neither succeeds their predecessors. They both may be bigger, but neither was better.
So, what went wrong with Bioshock Infinite’s story? There was certainly a ton of potential and some fantastic elements; where did it falter? I’ve already gushed about Bioshock’s near perfect story, so I’ll be mostly talking about Infinite here, and I think to best understand what went wrong, I’ll have to narrate the game from beginning to end.
I mentioned before that the best part of Bioshock Infinite was its first hour, and I’m not saying the because the rest was crap. No, the opening hour of Bioshock Infinite is fucking SPECTACULAR. We are blessed with this fascinating setting that manages to teach us a lot about it without the need for forced exposition: the blissful ignorance of its 1st class citizens, the violent racism, the extremist Christianity, their blind reverence to Comstock, their hatred of Lincoln…this is a fine example of how you can convey so much without long winded explanations.
You then meet Elizabeth in another great scene, and quite soon after the plot point of alternate universes comes into play, and it’s a fascinating idea. It initially isn’t a huge part of the story, but as the games goes on it becomes more and more relevant, minute by minute……
…And at the same time however, the civil war in Columbia between Comstock and Vox Populi becomes less and less important.
This is where I get to the point of my problem with Bioshock Infinite. The game ultimately has loads of great ideas, but struggles desperately to balance them all, and some of its most interesting ideas do not get the attention they deserves. I honestly wanted to learn more about the civil war in Columbia, about the history of this marvelous city, about the characters that inhabit.
Alas, I do not get that. By the second half of the game it’s pretty clear this is a character driven story for Booker and Elizabeth, and while that is done mostly well, much of what was brought up earlier is left to the wayside. Perhaps if Bioshock Infinite had been a TV series these various elements would’ve gotten more attention, but sadly it’s not.
It doesn’t help that the middle section of the game is largely a bunch of boring fetch quests and don’t lead to well to each other. It’s like I’m playing a really clichéd JRPG during these moments, minus the Moe.
Then there’s also the ending, which I already discussed. When you really do stop and think about it, this is not the supposedly happy ending I think the game was trying to express. Again, its interpretation, and I wish that it was a reformed Booker with Anna, but part of me tell me it’s not.
I loved what Bioshock Infinite tried to be, and it does succeed at some of what it tries to be, but I can’t help but find it unfocused and too large for its own good. When you compare this to the tightly written and perfectly paced Bioshock…it’s, kinda obvious whose won, isn’t it?
Despite my harshness towards the game at times, I truly enjoyed Bioshock Infinite and what it tried to be. It was a game that tried to be a lot and with a bit more focus it could’ve succeeded much more, but in the end it cannot match the one of a kind genius that was Bioshock.
That said, I highly recommend both games (if you’ve not played either yet and have skipped my review just to see who won at the end), for they are some of the best modern video gaming has to offer. Who knows? You may play both and prefer Bioshock Infinite. I could certainly see why.
For me however, it will always be Bioshock, and it is still one of my all time favourite video games. The winner is Bioshock!
Bioshock Infinite: 2
Hope you enjoyed my comparison, and please feel free to leave your thoughts and views! Till next time folks!