BioShock Infinite: A Steampunk’s Perspective

by Wellington Thornhill Books Esq. on April 2, 2013

We are pleased at the Ministry to invite one of our journalists to discuss about a new æthergame which is all the rage currently, so with any further fanfare, please indulge Tee Morris as he gives his own personal account of BioShock Infinite.

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To use the lingo the hardcore gamers are using, I’m a total n00b when it comes to the BioShock lore and — let’s be honest — gaming. With plenty of projects on my plate, I have no real spare time on my hands for losing myself in video games. However, I suspected that I would be pre-ordering BioShock Infinite when in 2011 I saw an online preview. I was sold on the steampunk elements of it alone; so I am coming at this First Person Shooter game from that point-of-view, an author and an enthusiast of steampunk. As such, I can say this is not only a huge step forward in steampunk breaking into the mainstream, this is a very positive step. What an amazing experience!

One of my passionate arguments about steampunk is that works tend to either dance in the light-heartedness or dwell in the darkness, rarely covering both. It was something that Pip and I caught heat for when Phoenix Rising suddenly turned a corner for readers. A few critics asked us “Where did that come from?”

If you must know, it came from the same place as “the baseball moment” in Bioshock Infinite.

Let’s go into the story, this compelling, immersive, and multi-layered story that propels you into a breathtaking steampunk world. It’s only a few years into the new century, but former Pinkerton now independent detective Booker DeWitt has been given a simple job, or at least it seems very simple. Booker is asked to find in the city of Columbia a girl named “Elizabeth” and return her to his client in New York City. His payment: All debt will be erased. (Whatever that means.)

While the game begins with an opening that can be best described as foreboding (because nothing says “This isn’t going to be a picnic in the park…” like a corpse with a bag over its head, a bullet in the brainpan, wearing a note that says “Don’t disappoint us.”), you are lured into this beautiful, breathtaking “Heaven on Earth” that is actually floating above the Earth. Yes, much in a manner that makes Jared Axelrod and Steve Walker smile, the city of Columbia is flying high in the skies. From Booker’s point-of-view, you wander through what truly appears to be a utopia.

Then you reach a carnival (“the baseball moment”) where everything — and I mean, everything — changes.

It should be clear that I am still working through the game at the posting of this review. I just left off with Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth entering a parallel universe in search of weapons for the abolitionist and leader of the rebellious Vox Populi underground network, Daisy Fitzroy. After a week of playing BioShock Infinite, I cannot rave harder on how mind-blowingly, eye-poppingly, woah-that-just-happened awesome this game looks and feels, both in its whimsy and in its darkness. With every development, with every turn around the corner, you are pulled deeper not only into the story of Booker, Elizabeth, and this world, but you are also facing both sides of steampunk. One minute you are enjoying the fun touches of this game, such as barbershop quartet and blues covers of pop favorites like The Beach Boy’s “God Only Knows” and the Gloria Jones’/Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.” Only a few moments later, you are facing racism, classism, propaganda machines, and manipulation from the powerful and of the powerful. The beauty and splendor of Columbia is equally matched by its sinister foreboding; and on discovering Columbia’s truth, you remain always on guard. Even a child’s “Duke or Dimwit” pantomime leaves a sour taste in your mouth, and you only find yourself driven to find out more about Columbia, about Booker, and about Elizabeth.

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BioShock Infinite is a delightful piece of steampunk storytelling, and I think as strong as its visuals and its anachronistic technology all are, the writing behind the game is its strongest attribute. The secrets of Columbia, along with Elizabeth and Booker’s own stories, keep me coming back. I have yet to play and not be surprised by what I’ve discovered, and I look forward to what waits for me.

I’ve heard some people who are reluctant over First Person Shooter games pause and reconsider BioShock Infinite based on the reviews; and I not only echo their sentiments, I encourage steampunks and storytellers alike to have a go with this epic experience. This has been a wild ride from the day I picked it up and propelled myself into this world. It not only meets the hype, it surpasses it. If you want terrific storytelling, play BioShock Infinite. If you want an incredible steampunk experience, play BioShock Infinite. You will not be disappointed.

 

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