Grokking Bioshock Infinite’s Stunning Ending
April 3, 2013 - 10:15 am
Avoid this post if you don’t want the story and ending of Bioshock Infinite spoiled for you. You’ve been warned.
Yesterday I graded Irrational Games’ Bioshock Infinite a 3.5 out of 5. I hadn’t played the game to its ending yet, so the grade was based on what I had seen and done in the game up to what turned out to be the final boss battle. What the game offered up to that point was very good but not great, hence the 3.5 rating. It felt too derivative of the first Bioshock. That turned out to be unfair to the game.
Last night I finally got through that final boss battle. It was absolutely epic, and demanded that I use just about every tactic available in the game. The only tactic I didn’t use was the sniper rifle from the perch atop the airship (if you’ve gotten to that point, you know the spot I’m talking about). But I had to use the skyline, the targeting from the skyline, the leap attacks, the vigors and traps, especially Devil’s Kiss and Possession, the RPG, the shotgun, Elizabeth’s skill with the quantum tears, and probably half a dozen other weapons and tactics that blurred by during the battle. So everything up to that final battle had been preparing me, the player, to win it. Every single battle made a real difference, and every tactic the game offered actually mattered. You can’t really beat the game without mastering probably 90% of the tactics and weapons in it. Along the way you also pick up clues to what the story means, and if you fail to scavenge well, you won’t understand the ending even after you’ve seen it. Bioshock Infinite is very demanding, but also very rewarding.
After the final battle, you’re taken through a series of cutscenes that show who you and Elizabeth really are, why they have been brought together, and what has to happen next to undo all the damage that Comstock, the prophet who built the false utopia in the sky, has done. Along the way, you learn who he is, too.
I don’t want to spoil the ending too much or go over ground that has already been written up well by others who’ve beaten the game. But Bioshock Infinite’s finale is mindbending and amazing. It ties the first Bioshock together with Infinite in a strange, brief scene in which Elizabeth opens up a tear to escape from danger, and that tear leads to Rapture, the city at the bottom of the sea that features in the first Bioshock. That brief trip, and your ability to control the bathysphere, is a key to understanding the quantum theory that drives Bioshock Infinite and gives the game its title. It also neatly connects both games while sparking questions about what it all really means. Players who get hung up on this or that boss or character may miss the big picture: Rapture and Columbia are the same city, in parallel universes. Once that truth is revealed, a cascade of other truths about the game follow. In the end, you’re left with what on the surface appears to be a downbeat, melancholy conclusion, but turns out to be the only happy outcome possible in the multiverse. All the suffering shown in both dystopias is erased and the villain/hero is redeemed through sacrifice. You have to watch the credits, getting past the cheeky ragtime take on “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” to see that abrupt but happy conclusion. It’s great sci-fi. It’s temping to say that Bioshock deserves to be a movie, but it’s doubtful that a movie could present the full story in all of its detail without running several hours long.
Once you play through the ending and understand it, the Bioshock franchise grows into something that either Rod Serling or Alfred Hitchcock might come up with if they were alive and working in today’s interactive media universe. Yes, it’s that good.
Having seen and grokked the ending, Bioshock Infinite now gets a 4.9 out of 5.