The Re-Review: Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock Infinite’s ending was designed to get the game a 10/10. Or an A. Or five stars.

Upon the game’s release last year, Metacritic was swarmed with incredibly high review scores, leaving Infinite at the top of the all-time high score list for games with an aggregate score of 94. Critics were unanimous in their praise, while academics were critical of the deeper themes of the game. Does Infinite deserve the praise?

Yes.

Upon completing Bioshock Infinite, I would have given a ten. A year and a half ago, before I started to really take games journalism and the idea of reviewing a game as seriously as I do, I might have given a Kill Screen-style 11/10. The ending of Bioshock Infinite blew my mind. It was a form of artistic ecstasy that few works of art can bring out of me, and which it would be unfair to deny in the course of writing a review.

This reaction has much to do with my history with games. The original Bioshock was the first game I played on an HD console, having held out from that generation until my Wii could no longer satisfy me. My relationship with games changed as I worked my way through that story; I began to understand what they were, what they were becoming. Bioshock was the first world that felt as full as that of the best of any other medium. I waited for years for a sequel, was disappointed by Bioshock 2, and waited some more.

For all its problems - the questionable way it handles race, Elizabeth’s outfits, the serviceable combat - Bioshock Infinite was what I was waiting for. It is a tremendous game with heart; countless millions of dollars put towards a singular vision in a medium where games of that size feel watered down. Where Assassin’s Creed feels like a board room meeting, Bioshock Infinite feels like a conversation. What a coincidence that Infinite should be released the same year as The Last of Us, another singular vision released to well-deserved critical acclaim.

 Pictured: Ken Levine

Pictured: Ken Levine

Bioshock Infinite’s world is at once less and more interesting than its predecessors. For me, it summons less familiar imagery, as Ayn Rand-era art deco stylings evoke a much more significant reaction that Americana does. Having said that, the floating cityscape of Columbia has left as lasting an impression as the sunken city of Rapture, while what Columbia stands for inspires far more unsettling emotions.

In hearing the complaints of racism and sexism leveled against Bioshock Infinite, I am sympathetic. In tackling these issues head-on - which is no doubt the intention behind showing such point-blank imagery as having a public stoning of an interracial couple - the game doesn’t manage to eschew enough video gameness to do these ideas justice. Elizabeth’s attire, of which there is simply less than there was in earlier iterations, reeks of a corporation that realized who their target demographic is and pandered to them. And yet I feel Irrational deserves credit for trying to make a statement about the things they do. They don’t handle a conversation about racism well, but they wanted to have a conversation about racism when the vast majority of games do not.

To Infinite's credit, it doesn't tackle race with a parable or metaphor; it straight-up talks about race relations, albeit with questionable results

Would I give Bioshock Infinite a 10/10 today? Or, if I was writing this review for Kill Screen, a 100/100? Knowing what I do now about the way people feel about the racist and possibly sexist subtext of the game, can I praise it for telling a meaningful and mature story? I don’t know that I can do so and feel good about it. And yet, at the same time, it is dishonest, as someone writing a (Re-)Review, to deny the reaction the game got from me. Bioshock Infinite amazed me. When Booker DeWitt stepped into the world of the original Bioshock, I screamed, out loud, “Fuck, no, fuck! What?” When the game ended, I started it again and finished it the next day. I was en-Raptured.

Eh?

I’m not going to give Bioshock Infinite a score. A review and a score should function as a recommendation as to whether or not a reader should buy a game based on the reviewer’s subjective reaction to that game, and I’ve discussed Infinite too much at this point to even know what my subjective opinion of it is. But, fuck, do I like that game.