Anatomy Of An Intro (To A BioShock Infinite Review)

When I left PC Gamer a few months back, I wrote up five things I learned from my 9 years there. I also promised to pick apart something I’d written to show how I’d tried to apply this stuff in practice.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, not to give myself the free pass of spouting rhetoric without having to demonstrate its use. But as soon as I wrote it, it sounded awfully douchey. It’s really hard to explain why you wrote something one way without sounding like you’re insulting everyone who wrote something different. So I did what any writer would do, left it in my drafts folder and never spoke of it again or responded to people’s requests for it.

But people have requested it, several times, and maybe it’s even douchier not to post it. So perhaps I should put it up and just trust that you understand:

  • I do not think everyone should write this way.
  • I do not think I am particularly good.
  • This is just me trying to show how I apply what I’ve learned so far.

Actual copy is in bold, click any part of it to see the annotations – some extraneous line breaks have been added to make that work.

When I finished BioShock Infinite – don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything – I was dumbfounded.

I wanted to tell someone what I thought, but for a moment I had absolutely no idea. I’d experienced a kind of excited panic, then total delight, then momentary confusion, and then a rush of extraordinary sights, powerful scenes and sudden twists that left me struggling to keep up.

It’s incredible. It’s just a shame it doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Infinite is a wonderful game. Every single person who can should play it. It’s a genuinely unique, breathtaking, fascinating and gruesomely fun adventure in an extraordinary place.

But the plot truly jumps the shark. It jumps many sharks. It jumps BioShark Infinisharks.

That’s not uncommon in cinematic first-person shooters like this, but I’m mentioning it up front because the game’s mysteries are such a big part of its appeal.

The fact that you’re aboard a flying city of magical racists in 1912 quickly drops to being only the fifth or sixth most puzzling thing about your situation.

Who are those two? Why are they talking about me? What’s with the giant cyborg bird? What does AD stand for? How does he know… why does she think… when did they… why can that guy shoot crows from his hands? And how do these pants help me reload?

The intro says you’re Booker DeWitt, a private investigator here to retrieve a girl named Elizabeth, but I played it more like a crazed looter and narrative junky, scouring the city for spare change and clues.

In bright contrast to the original BioShock’s deep-sea madhouse, the city of Columbia is still thriving, still beautiful, and still populated – albeit with magical racists.

That lets Infinite litter the city with more revealing pieces of these puzzles, and hoovering them up into a wonky jigsaw of what’s going on is the greatest pleasure of the game.

I think it still would have been, even if a tear had opened in the fabric of spacetime and future alterno-Tom, stroking his goatee, had told me the plot doesn’t ultimately add up.

So I’m telling you, in the hope that you can still enjoy the process of assembling that wonky jigsaw, without being disappointed when the game itself cuts off all the nobbly bits to cram the pieces together the way it wants.

When you’re not obsessively checking every shop, bathroom and bin for an audio diary or change, it’s because the guards have recognised you. For reasons I won’t go into, you’re unwelcome in Columbia but not widely known: an announcer warns the public to be looking out for a frenchman or a one-eyed midget. So while there’s usually a calm period when you enter a each new district, at some point the jig is up and the guns come out.

Really, it’s just a pleasure to have a game this substantial to explore – and one that gives you the breathing room to do so. You still spend a lot of time killing things in BioShock Infinite, but it knows when to give you space. You get to know Columbia as a tourist: a dazzling dream of an impossible city in an impossible place – tranquil, prosperous and happy.

Further reading:

5 Replies to “Anatomy Of An Intro (To A BioShock Infinite Review)”

  1. Thanks for this Tom. The penultimate paragraph seems broken?

    I also note that there’s a repetition of certain phrases (such as “magical racists”), is that done intentionally?

  2. I gotta agree 100% that was my reaction too. I was in sheer awe through the whole game, really captured by its magic. But once you really start thinking about it and analyzing its true many things break down. I guess its one of those games you just got to enjoy for the experience and not dwell on too much.

  3. The very end of the game, and actually any of the many twists that happen before the ending, just kind of ruined the whole experience for me. I’m glad I read this review, as it makes me appreciate some of the good parts more, but at the time, I just couldn’t get past a lot of the nonsensical elements that were preventing me from investing emotion in places where the story clearly wanted me to. When all’s said and done, Murder of Crows with the aforementioned upgrade was the highlight of the game for me.

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