When I played the first Bioshock game, I got chills. I had never experienced a game like that. And yes, I did play System Shock 2. But Bioshock had something different. Maybe it was the perfect audio design. Or the way Rapture was truly a world that we all wanted to be a part of, even though we knew that Hell it became. Maybe it was the narrative that pulled me in and didn’t let go until I was laying exhausted, on the floor. The reality here is it was a perfect storm of all those things. A game that was, to me, pitch perfect. And somehow, they did it again, all those years later, as I got swept up in the recent tsunami that was Bioshock Infinite. Could there be a more fitting way for us to have ushered in, and to see out, the current generation of gaming? I, for one, think not.
The moment I realized Bioshock had me was about five minutes into the first game. You are sitting in the bathysphere, and you just arrived at Rapture, yet you know nothing about it. And suddenly, from the shadows, a splicer bounds forth, apparently rabid with blood lust. He is leaping about like some cracked out cricket, and he has a hook he is tearing the metal apart to get at you. I remember looking frantically around that tiny area to see if there was a weapon, as I was SURE I was about to be killed. I didn’t end up getting killed, but I knew, right there, the game had me. That powerlessness the game made me feel exhilarated me. It had sunken its poisonous tendrils into me, and I was hooked. And EVERYTHING about Rapture was perfect to me. Every brick and sign and strewn corpse was true art, and the narrative weaved a spell I would best call “intricate”, absolutely absorbing me in the world they created.
The only thing he is smuggling now is bullets in his abdomen.
But I also knew I was screwed. Even before I beat the game I knew this series had just raised the bar to a disgustingly high level (a problem I encounter often in my life) and that most games I played in the wake of Bioshock would not have the impact that game had on me. And to reiterate how much that sucked, Bioshock was the reason I bought an Xbox 360, and was the first game I played on the system. So right away, I felt like I had skipped all the bullshit launch titles and game system filler (oooh, another racing game), but in the same breath, I felt like a reader who had skipped grade school English and gone right to Shakepeare. It changed the game before the game had been fully revealed to me. And my fear would prove to be justified. While many great games came out in the years following Bioshock, outside of Red Dead Redemption, none had the profound impact on me that Bioshock did. And while I did not hate Bioshock 2 (or Bioshock 1.3 as I so lovingly refer to it), it did nothing to further the first game, and simply felt like a fun, fifteen hour DLC.
I also found it weird that the Big Daddy beta from Bioshock 2 was CLEARLY Bomberman in steroids.
But now, we fast forward to the very END of this gaming generation (the best gaming generation, outside of the NES arrival, in my opinion), and we have another Bioshock. And let me tell you, few gaming experiences I have EVER had have been as awe inspiring to me as the first hour of Bioshock Infinite. Make no mistakes, I adored the entirety of that genius game, but those first fifteen minutes, when you are exploring the world fair at Columbia, I swear to you I could smell warm popcorn and candy apples wafting through my living room. I could feel the sun in the sky, beating its warm breath against my face, even though I was playing the game inside and at midnight. It filled me with the exact feelings I used to get as a child when I go to an actual amusement park. I was enamored, excited, overwhelmed, and again, somehow, the series gave me chills.
If these two don’t get an amazing DLC based around them telling us more of their story, I may summon Songbird to fuck some shit up.
And no matter what you think, this game operates about five moves ahead of the player. What I mean is, to truly grasp all you experienced, you owe it to yourself to immediately experience it again. Why? This game is like a ten handed chess player, and at all times, it is making a move. From the subtle to the obvious, there are moments of narrative and storytelling in Bioshock Infinite that are on par with any of the best fiction that has ever been presented. You are talking brilliant stuff here. Metaphysics, string theory, and multiple realities, oh my. It is about fate and love and death, and how we are all intertwined, even when we think we are not. But the most profound thing about Bioshock, as a series is, it may be the first series of games that does not pander to the gamer in any way. Stupid people CAN play this game, and they can enjoy it, but make no mistakes, they will not enjoy it or take nearly as much as those who took time to take it all in. This is not a game in so much as it is an experience, and it is an experience that I truly believe every gamer and non-gamer alike needs to take.
The sad moment when you realize that even androids can grow a cooler mustache than you.
So the next time someone shrugs off gaming, or tells you it is not art, you toss them a copy of this game, and you tell them to come back and talk to you about that in twenty hours. It was this series that ushered in the new age of gaming, showing all the game producers and all gamers alike that the medium of video games is and always will be, ever evolving. And while we had games before the Bioshock series that had amazing narratives and amazing environments, Bioshock upped the game, redefined the game, and took some of the stigma off “video games” being a dirty word. For that reason alone, we owe a great debt to this series, and for that reason alone, the Bioshock series is the perfect bookends for this gaming generation.
Rapture or Columbia? Which failing utopia would you want to be part of?
Now the crappy part begins when we have to wait ten years for another one. From the track record, though, and whatever wonderful world they may weave for us, it will be well worth it.