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Top 10 Moments in BioShock Infinite
BioShock Infinite is a revolutionary game. Never before have I experienced such astounding beauty in narrative, setting, characterization, or conclusion in a game before. I didn’t think it was possible for a video game to do what BioShock Infinite does so consistently well, which is surprise me with incredible atmosphere, pacing, and tantalizing, moving moments. This is a collection, in chronological order, of my favorite stirring scenes from Irrational Games’ latest title. Needless to say, this article is full of spoilers; stay away until you’ve beaten the game and experienced all its glorious wonderment for yourself.
The Rocket Ride
BioShock began with a plane and ended up in an underwater city. Infinite begins with boat and ends up in the sky. As Elizabeth says, “There’s always a man, always a lighthouse, always a city.” It’s astounding to me how well Infinite’s intro mirrors the original game’s. After being strapped into a single chair at the top of a lighthouse, Booker is blasted into the sky. A prerecorded female voice tallies the rocket’s ascent. “Five thousand feet. Ten thousand feet. Fifteen thousand feet.” In the background, you hear the panic of Booker as he forces himself to remain calm. Finally, the woman lets out a monotone, “Hallelujah,” and the city is before you. Booker lets out a single “Wha–?” as he stares out the single window of the shuttle at the splendor of the city of Columbia. A giant zeppelin even floats between buildings, a callback to the swimming whale found in the first game when seeing Rapture for the first time. A perfect piano melody sets the tone for this brief moment. Within five minutes of beginning Infinite, I had experienced beauty I had never before witnessed in a video game. I knew I was in for a treat.
After the shuttle lands, it descends into a building. Booker stares out the window, reading signs that pass in front of him as he lowers. Right away I notice the music. A quiet, hymnal rendition of “Will the Circle be Unbroken?” plays in the background as Booker finally exits the rocket. Looking around, I see that I’m in a church that’s flooded knee deep, complete with candles and flower petals floating on the surface of the water. Giant statues and stained glass art compliment this beautiful setting and set the tone for the religious themes that are threaded throughout the game. As I walk through the water, looking into the different sanctuaries, I take a moment to be still and listen. For some reason, the music is entrancing enough for me to spend five or so minutes simply enjoying it. I knew that Infinite was more than a simple shooting game after experiencing this moment. I move on and listen to a preacher’s emotional speech before being baptized and introduced into Columbia.
The Raffle and Fair
Upon waking from the baptism, Booker finds himself in a garden, complete with statues of Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson and robed monks praying in the foliage. The striking colors and excellent lighting effects cement this moment. I take my time walking through this environment, admiring the pristine beauty of it all, perhaps looking at a humming bird or listening to a monk’s prayer. After moving on, I get to the heart of the city. The entire town is alive with activity. I enter shops and listen to people’s conversations. I take a minute to listen to a barbershop quartet version of the Beach Boys’ song “God Only Knows.” I enter the fair and look at the wonders around me before making my way to the raffle. A rising rendition of “Goodnight, Irene” echoes in the distance. By now I’ve been playing the game for well over an hour and haven’t seen any action, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Looking back, I wish there was more to explore. Wandering the streets of Columbia feels like experiencing a chunk of heaven. Before the dark realities of racism and the Vox Populi arise, Columbia is a delightful place to be.
Escaping the Tower
Booker finally makes his way to Monument Island to rescue the girl he’s been after. After meeting her, Elizabeth panics, knowing the dreadful Songbird is on his way to make sure she doesn’t escape. The duo make their way to the top of the tower to the rising crescendo of the Songbird’s imminent arrival. Finally, the creature is upon them. Booker jumps to a skyline and zips away, Elizabeth with him, as the accompanying musical score raises the intensity. Half of Monument Tower crumbles into the abyss to the Songbird’s rampage, and I am in the middle of the chaos. Even though this section was basically a cutscene disguised as (literally) on-rails gameplay, I felt the fear Elizabeth and Booker felt as they desperately fled the scene. I give major props to the composer; without the music during this part, the moment would have fallen flat.
Booker wakes up on a man-made beach after barely escaping the frightening Songbird with his life. Elizabeth is gone, and he has to find her. Exploring the beach is fun enough, as is watching the sun set over the rolling clouds in the distance. But the real treat is when you find Elizabeth dancing to live music at the end of a dock. For one pure moment, Elizabeth is free and happy. As she dances to the claps and cheers of strangers, you can tell she’s never been this joyful in her secluded life of being locked alone in a tower. I wanted nothing more than to let her dance forever, or, at the very least, have the option to join her for a few seconds of happiness, but Booker decides to pull Elizabeth from her audience and move on. She complies, and we’re off, leaving behind possibly the happiest single moment of Elizabeth’s lifetime. It’s a chilling thought.
At one point in the game, Elizabeth and I are wandering the streets of a shantytown full of diseased and dying laborers. The scene is nothing short of harrowing. Signs proclaiming families’ sickness and need of food line the walls of bricked buildings housing the poor. Entering a bar, I notice solemn workers drowning their fears and despair in alcohol. I round a corner and head into the bar’s basement, and something catches my eye. A child was looting a pile of apples for food before noticing me and retreating under the stairs. After exploring the basement a bit, I hear Elizabeth mention a guitar and how she wishes she knew how to play it. I approach her and notice it leaning against a chair. Walking up to it, a button prompt appears. My heart stops for a second as Booker picks up the instrument and strums a couple notes. Suddenly, Elizabeth breaks out in song, singing a couple lines from an acoustic version of “Will the Circle be Unbroken?” as she picks up a piece of fruit and hands it to the lonesome child as Booker plays along. This scene may be my single favorite moment from BioShock Infinite. What’s special about it isn’t just the fact that it’s a moment of beauty amongst all the chaos and death surrounding the game, but that the performance is actually done by the voice actors of Booker and Elizabeth. That fact alone adds a certain magic to the whole experience.
Eventually, as Booker and Elizabeth move through the game, they encounter Daisy Fitzroy, the leader of the Vox Populi. Daisy holds a child hostage behind a glass wall. Elizabeth, certainly not okay with this, sneaks into the room where Daisy is as Booker distracts her and, in a moment of passion, stabs her in the back. Daisy falls into a bloody pile as Elizabeth backs away in horror, shocked by her own actions. Booker tries to console her, but she runs off into an airship’s dressing room. Booker knocks on the door, trying to persuade her to come out, but she doesn’t respond. As Booker sets the ship’s coordinates, Elizabeth emerges, wearing the dress of her supposed mother. It’s clear that Elizabeth is a new woman at this point. She even follows the classic “rite of passage” trope by cutting her ponytail off as a symbol of her transformation. For the rest of the game, this new, headstrong, determined, and powerful Elizabeth is your partner, leaving the naive and sheltered version behind.
Near the end of the game, I discovered a small interaction between Booker and Elizabeth that stuck out to me. There are plenty of exchanges between the two characters throughout Infinite, but this one is different. As the duo walk the body-littered streets of Columbia, Elizabeth stops and looks down at one of the deceased on the ground. “Look at him,” she says. “Do you think he wanted any part of this?” She gently flips the man onto his back and places a flower in his hands as she folds them over his chest. Elizabeth was a kind woman, and made me reevaluate my violent actions throughout the campaign at the most desperate of times. No other game has made me consider my actions in the way that Elizabeth forced me to. Scenes like this set BioShock Infinite apart from other first-person shooters.
The entire ending sequence is obviously the climax of the game. A lot happens here, but I decided to condense it all into one moment or I could write forever. The murder of Comstock, drowning Songbird, the multiverse revelation, and the pinky scene all stand out for different reasons. But perhaps the most beautiful moment, for me, was visiting the baptism scene for the first time. This is where the big reveal that Booker is actually Comstock is beginning to be played out. The first time I arrived here, I let Elizabeth and Booker finish their exchange before I simply sat back and listened. Booker is standing before a preacher and a group of religious folks in a shallow creek in the middle of the country. The landscape is beautiful, but, like the church, it’s the music that gets me. The people before me are humming “Will the Circle be Unbroken?”, and the whole scene is a perfect reflection of the beginning of the game when Booker stands in the flooded church while the same song plays in the background. It’s also interesting to note that in both scenes Booker is eventually baptized and that it’s actually the same exact preacher that baptizes him in both instances. These details, along with the pretty setting and wonderful music, make this moment great, and it’s haunting knowing that Booker’s last memory before he’s drowned by different versions of Elizabeth is this serene location, the exact place he became Comstock. The ending of Infinite’s narrative is a tremendous conclusion to a story that I won’t ever forget.
The credits finally roll. Comstock, Elizabeth, and Booker are dead (or never existed at all, in the case of the former two), and the player is probably sad and a bit confused. I personally sat while I listened to the credit music and pondered over everything I had just learned, floored by the incredible story and climatic twists the game ended with. I tried to think of a way the game could have surprised me more or the story could have been better and realized that Ken Levine had crafted a nearly flawless narrative that gamers will be talking about for years to come. I was in awe, to be quite honest. And then, as the credits ended, I found myself in control over Booker again. The calendar reads some time in the 1800s, long before the event of Infinite take place. Booker calls out Anna’s name as a soft, lullaby melody plays from the next room. I open the door. The music grows a bit louder. “Anna, is that you?” Booker asks. Just as Anna’s crib turns in to view, the screen cuts to black and the song concludes. And thus ends the game. The amount of interpretation for this short scene is nearly limitless. I like to think that Booker, somewhere in another universe, got the life he deserved with his daughter, but I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.