Appleton: 'BioShock Infinite' tells worthy tale

FresnoFebruary 21, 2014 

"BioShock Infinite" was the best game of 2013.

It certainly had some stiff competition from games like "The Last of Us" and "Grand Theft Auto V," but no game delivered the total package quite like "BioShock Infinite."

What makes "BioShock Infinite" worth your time? It tells a compelling and unique story that unfolds in a beautiful and eerily familiar setting.

The first thing I noticed was the scenery. The angelic city of Columbia rests high in the clouds and serves as a safe haven from the corrupted surface. Beautiful 1910s- era architecture is on display. The citizens of this utopia line the beautiful streets in their very best formal attire. This is paradise.

Or so it would seem.

The game takes every assumption you have about perfection and beauty and twists it around. These wonderful contrasting themes create a unique and amazing gameplay experience.

As I peeled back the layers of this model city, I began to see the true colors of Columbia.

Further inspection of the beautiful paintings and stained-glass windows indicated that many contained racist imagery and inscriptions. Paintings of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who are worshipped as gods in Columbia, often advocated violence toward minorities. One of the very first missions asks the player to throw a baseball at an interracial couple who were found together and arrested for their "crime." I elected to throw the baseball at their captor instead, but I was stopped by some pesky guards.

The clean and shining upper level of the city was actually the ugly part of town. Every person I ran into on this level wanted me dead.

The dirty lower-level slums were filled with caring individuals who wanted to protect their families. This is where you can get supplies and help with your mission.

The game draws heavily from actual American history. The city of Columbia could certainly be viewed as a model of what Southern secessionists envisioned life would be like after winning the Civil War. While I marveled at how beautiful this imaginary world was, I couldn't help but cringe at the same time because Columbia serves as a harrowing what-if scenario.

It is important to note that "BioShock Infinite" is not for everyone. It is extremely violent, and I say that as a hardened veteran of violent games.

There are two schools of thought on the violence found in the game.

The first is that this violence goes too far and actually detracts from the game's imagery and story. The amount of killing you have to do seems excessive and meaningless. Many of the deaths seem to stem from coincidence; your character walks into a room that just happens to be filled with guards, and you are forced to kill them all just to walk 20 feet. Certainly the mortal battles between the player's character and the many antagonists are important, but do I really have to kill so many unnamed guards just to get those fights?

The other school of thought is that this violence is necessary to create the ultimate dichotomy. Columbia looks and feels like Heaven, but it is actually Hell. The beautiful city in the clouds is filled with people who want to kill you, and shooting hundreds of people in this angelic location played some weird tricks on my senses.

Some experts also believe that the violence is simply par for the course. The game was a big-budget sequel that was expected to sell well, so it had to up the violence level to be able to compete with the likes of "Call of Duty" and other hyper-violent blockbusters.

I think it is probably a mix of all of these factors. I don't really know why it was so violent, and I don't really care either. I ignored most of it. It was simply a means to an end for me. I was more interested in the game's visuals and in progressing through the central narrative, which just happened to require that I kill dozens of bad guys.

It is fitting that such a great game will be the last one ever developed by Irrational Games. Ken Levine, one of the founders of Irrational Games and the writer/director of "BioShock" and "BioShock Infinite," is dissolving the company and starting fresh with a much smaller team. The "BioShock" franchise will now be controlled by 2K Games, who had previously only funded and published the games. I am sure there will be another game in the series, but it probably won't pack the punch of Levine's most recent masterpiece.

Rory E.H. Appleton is the associate editor for www.corruptedcartridge.com and a journalism student at Fresno State. You can reach him at rory@corruptedcartridge. com or @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.

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