Why Bioshock Infinite Probably Isn’t As Good As We Think It Is

My mind’s bouncing a bit around the Buddy shaped hole in our lives. But I wanted to say this about Bioshock Infinite since I finished it last week.

Let me state right off the bat, Bioshock Infinite is a must play game. It’s worth your money and you should play it. No, really I’m dead serious. Stop reading this and go play it then come back so we can talk about it. I’ll wait.

Second point, this post is going to be more spoilery than that sandwich the creepy eye transplant doctor fooled Tom Cruise into eating in Minority Report.

I mean it, I am going to spoil the living hell out of Bioshock Infinite if you keep reading.

Ok?

Ok.

I’m serious though.

Ok.

Endings are tough. As a writer they are incredibly daunting. Sometimes you get lucky and you come up with an ending before you even have a story. That’s the best scenario from a work perspective because you already understand how things turn out. Working backwards is just a matter of giving your ending some justice.

Then sometimes you come up with an ending in the middle of the story, which is harder but also a bit of a relief.

The absolute worst is starting off without an ending. Because holy shit, where is this all going?

And yet the best stories, at least in my mind, are the latter ones. Sometimes when you start off with an ending, you often can’t do it justice because in the working backwards you concentrate too much on that wonderful ending.

Bioshock Infinite has, in my opinion, a bad ending. One that it feels like someone thought was a wonderful ending.

Now, I don’t mean that the ending is cheap, or that it didn’t involve a lot of thought, or that it’s a cop out or anything.

If anything, it’s just a bridge too far. The story builds up to it backwards in a way.

Let me explain, and here is where I will TOTALLY GO INTO SPOILERS.

During the third act of the game it’s beating you over the head that all this time you are Father Comstock. They even mix Dewitt’s voice into Comstock’s voice at a couple of intervals. The Voxaphone extras are equally blunt. As I was playing, I actually said out loud once “Ok I get it I’m Comstock. Jesus, stop already.”

Then at the end, Elizabeth takes your hand and shows you the lighthouses. I was a bit annoyed because at this point I was waiting for her to just go “SURPRISE YOU’RE COMSTOCK!”

But that didn’t happen. That didn’t happen at all. Instead I spent the next few minutes gobsmacked as the game walked me through the alternate worlds and the fact that Elizabeth was my daughter, a daughter I had sold to Comstock years ago to erase my debt. What debt? Well it could have been my debt of guilt over Dewitt’s participation at Wounded Knee, or a financial debt, or perhaps even a dimensional debt required to balance the alternate universes.

I was floored, here I thought it was just going to be this cheap twist ending that I was the bad guy the whole time (which didn’t make sense that Dewitt was Comstock given his guilt over Wounded Knee but ok whatever) and instead I was offered this amazing tantalizing ending that would leave me with philosophical questions and something to ponder. What debt was I paying? The emotional payoff of Elizabeth losing her finger was deep and satisfying. The idea of the amorphous debt, the twins’ manipulations, the baptism metaphor, Dewitt killing Comstock in a rage, and the thrilling final battle sequence before the game’s end reveal left me reeling and thinking I had just played one of the best games ever written.

They had head faked me into thinking I was Comstock with the obvious voice tricks and dialogue and the baptism metaphor etc etc. I mentally congratulated the writers in their ingenuity at giving me a much more satisfying ending than just making me the villain all along and fooling me into thinking they were taking the easy way out.

Then the game continued and NOPE! SUPER DOUBLE TWIST YOU WERE COMSTOCK ALL ALONG!

I don’t think I’ve ever been more let down in a game in a long time in just a few minutes, which is a testament by the way to how good the vast vast majority of the game is.

It just makes no sense that Dewitt is Comstock, even in the multi-universe sense. It’s deeply unsatisfying. Guilt ridden Dewitt over his massacre of innocent Indians at Wounded Knee is, in an alternate universe (or maybe even the same one), racist Hitler-esque Comstock? Comstock who in at least one universe is sterile yet still Elizabeth’s father? Or bounces around dimensions made him sterile but Dewitt isn’t, so what’s the point of that except to make you think you’re not Comstock? I….there’s so much…what? Yes the baptism created a different person yet the drowning at the end…makes Comstock? Or not?

I’ve now played the ending two or three times over again and tried to make sense of it and sorry, it doesn’t work. And what’s worse is that it’s constructed in such a way that it’s somehow proud of its insights. And what are we to make of the coda at the end of the game’s credits? Dewitt is alive? Elizabeth is in the crib? I…what?

Dewitt being Comstock robs the game of some emotion and, I think, is a bridge too far. The coda at the end of the game’s credits compounds the issue.

I hate the ending of the movie Wall-E. It’s one of the best films I think I have ever seen but its ending is a cop out. When Wall-E suddenly for no reason regains his memory it negates the emotional impact of his previous sacrifice for Eve. What would have been a better ending? He loses his memory and then during the credits sequence (which features the story of humanity reclaiming the Earth), we see Wall-E slowly becoming who he was again over time and with Eve’s help. Wall-E is probably the best example I have of a movie that faltered fatally in its ending, for the payoff of not wanting to make the audience work too much. It’s almost like Bioshock Infinite failed in the same way, because the writers felt like the dimensions, the lighthouses, and how Elizabeth lost her finger just wasn’t enough twist.

I’m no expert on ending stories. I have taken that tone here I know. But at the end sequence of Bioshock Infinite when the multiple versions of Elizabeth kill Dewitt through the baptism metaphor I rolled my eyes and put my controller down.

So let me stop and remind you that if you made it this far and yet have not played the game GO PLAY IT. I might hate the ending, but I love the care that went into the game and it is, above all else, fun and beautiful and a piece of art that deserves support.

But having talked to a number of friends who have played it and were blown away by the ending I just wanted to express I think it would have been cleaner and more satisfying to stick solely with the Elizabeth emotional payoff. It feels very much that since Bioshock had a wonderful twist, they needed to one up themselves. Like a third movie from M. Night Shyamalan.

I’m saying all this only because I care about it. For sure if you hate the endings of my own stories please feel free to tell me how I don’t actually get endings at all.  Open-mouthed smile

Oh and one more time, yeah buy this game. I do want to see more like it.

4 comments

  1. thespawnpointblog says:

    Hey Stepto, I love you man but I have to respectfully disagree. I loved the supposed closing of that multiverse timeline with the baptism scene. I think it wrapped things up in a way that still gives me a warm tingly feeling. If anything I think the post credit baby in crib scene does more damage than good.

    Thanks for posting this and I will say the discussion that this game has promoted has been fascinating. Seeing and hearing all the ideas on the table has been awesome. I just had my own spoilercast the other night, would love to hear what you think.

    • Stepto says:

      Thanks so much for your opinion. I think it’s a very complex game which is why I took pains to tell people to buy it because I didn’t want to come off like “oh this game sucks” it was more an examination of endings. Very glad you enjoyed it.

  2. First, I disagree totally about the ending of Wall-E. I thought him “getting his memory back” was kinda’ the point – that who he was went beyond circuitry. Sure, there’s no logical reason for it from a strictly technological standpoint… but then, there was no logical reason why a machine created for a single purpose was able to develop the relationships it did (not just with EVE but his friend the cockroach, Moe, etc.). It was the implication that this machine had a soul, not just something limited to the parts that made him… and it’s not an uncommon theme in modern science fiction.

    As to the ending of Bioshock Infinite, here’s my thing: I -LIKE- when an ending leaves me wanting to discuss it, whether it be in movies, games, etc. I don’t want everything tied up in a neat little bow, and I think Infinite ends in a way that gives you a logical framework for discussing the ending while leaving enough questions for you to truly think about it. It’s that type of writing that, IMHO, differentiated Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite from Bioshock 2’s ending. And I find that the more I discuss Infinite’s ending with others, the more I get where they were going with it. I also think that the game GREATLY benefits from a second playthrough, much in the way that movies like Memento or The Prestige benefit from a second viewing once you know the revelations at the end.

    Another thing to consider is this: We know DLC is coming. If they answered everything now, what would be the point of future DLC? I’m hoping they use the DLC not to answer every little question, but to fill in the blanks in a way that merits FURTHER discussion.

  3. Zack Stein says:

    I thought the scene after the credits was the perfect coda to the entire story. Booker erased all Comstock from all timelines. He goes back to the moment when Anna is just a baby, moments before he gives her away. We realize that’s the point of fracture that sets the entire ball rolling. He gets one more shot to make things right.

    It’s a lot to chew on. I may be totally off. But I spent a lot of time thinking about this. And then I went and read a few very insightful blogs that seemed to agree with what I thought was happening. I can see your frustrations – I felt that way about Inception.

    Also, when you sprinkle in the Bioshock scenes into the batter, suddenly it’s so apparent how Bioshock can be layered over this game, and how many of the characters, mechanics, and themes match up. I’d love to hear your take on it.

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