Saturday, 3 May 2014
5 Failings Which Ruined Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea
A warning to all about to read this article: There will be spoilers. Lots and lots of spoilers as this is going to be discussing the whole damn Bioshock saga from beginning to end. If you've yet to play any of the games, this is one you might want to skip.
Seen by many as a love letter to the fans, Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea served as a final tribute to the worlds of Rapture and Columbia. Along with a return of many characters, it offered the player an opportunity to witness events otherwise unseen in any previous titles. To see Rapture in a time when it was relatively stable, to speak with Atlas (or Fontaine if you prefer) when he was leading his revolution or to explore Fink Industries when it had been overrun by the Vox Populi.
The issue is that, for all of this, you only needed to scratch the surface to see the many problems Burial At Sea caused. In the name of fan-service, this love letter managed to utterly wreck the stories of both worlds and cause no end of continuity issues and narrative failings. Nearly all of these served only to mix up the games' messages and dilute what was once a very strong story.
So, here's five failings which ultimately ruined Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea.
The Decay of Rapture
One of the most interesting parts of Burial At Sea was the opportunity it gave to see Rapture at a time of apparent prosperity. It was a look into the city's beautiful design before the ruins of war, before the madness set in and before even the affects of Atlas were felt. The problem is that, as great looking as this was, it was completely at the wrong time. The story of Rapture always emphasised the city's internal decay yet the city here is almost completely stable and without problems.
While Fonrtaine certainly accelerated the fall of the city with his own ambitions, cracks were already beginning to appear long before he was involved. The failings of Ryan's own ideology resulted in deaths, poverty and the common worker receiving no kind of support nor income. There was no minimum wage, and the dog-eat-dog mentality of the world meant many were left to rot thanks to the monopolisation of the industry by rivals. Many more were missing the spiritual faith which Ryan had outlawed, and even the city itself was suffering from the lack of hands maintaining it.
Even without that, within months of the introduction of plasmids the less sane examples of splicers began to appear. The novel Bioshock: Rapture, which received support and approval by Levine, shows that instabilities from ADAM withdrawals and the most violent splicers emerged very early on. Burial At Sea reflects none of this despite being in Rapture's final days before total civil war, and appears to be almost utopian in many respects. There is no violence, no problems, and you even see individuals using the highly unstable exportation plasmid without issue.
When you finally do see the city in ruins, it is when Atlas is unleashed upon it, mere weeks later. Apparently Burial At Sea seems to impress upon the player that it took only a brief conflict to turn Rapture into a watery hell hole and not any socio-political tensions. It completely undermines the themes of the first and second games, and makes it seem as if any negative affects originated only from Atlas himself.
Of course, this is nothing in comparison to the damage done to the story of Bioshock Infinite.
Comstock's Only In It For The Money, Fitzroy Is Really A Hero
Easily the most infamous changes on this list were the sudden retcons of motivations behind Infinite's villains. As the player stumbled through Fink's Vox Populi infested factory, you come across details which completely change how to view the characters. Neither of which were the better and only served to sabotage any of the serious bite the game had when confronting its themes.
The idea behind Infinite was that neither side in the civil war was truly good. Comstock's regime was racist, blind and corrupt while the Vox Populi were bloodthirsty, manipulative and just as prone to wanton violence. Unfortunately, on the game's release many people seemed not to understand this. As a result forum posts and Youtube videos promptly exploded with people arguing how the Vox Populi should have been the good guys because they were fighting Comstock. Usually accompanied with accusations of misogyny or racism due to the skin colour and gender of Vox Populi leader Daisy Fitzroy.
So what do you think happened next? Yep, sudden retcons which turn this war of no heroes into one of black and white morality, sense and substance be damned.
Comstock was suddenly suggested to have never truly believed in his religion and merely used it for his own benefit, something strongly indicated in Fink's personal prayer shrine. The words within stating the likes of "able prophet, untold profit." This was backed by a similar shoehorned retcon jammed into the Clash in the Clouds DLC (Playing Prophet).
Fitzroy meanwhile was suddenly turned into a martyr. One whose apparent determination to totally rid Columbia of the upper class was facade to mature Elizabeth so she could kill Comstock. She was not just as bad as Comstock, she simply had her hand forced and was sacrificing herself betterment of others and actually helping the heroes.
Both are as horribly tacked on as you would imagine, neither being the focus so much as Ken Levine saying "Oh, also this happened."
So, in order to placate the kneejerk responses of social justice warriors we just ended up with two complex characters being stripped of all ambiguity or mature themes. Unfortunately, in an attempt to address the apparent elephant in the room, the writers drew attention to the mammoth...
The second episode of Burial At Sea marked the first time Bioshock has had the player taking control of a female character. While she might have played an integral part of Bioshock Infinite's plot, seeing the world through her eyes was none the less a major step in this game. Unfortunately it's hard not to raise an eyebrow given just how she is treated throughout her Episode.
Along with being stripped of her powers, Elizabeth wakes up from unconsciousness facing down a man with a gun at her head. She is then only able to survive thanks to Ghost Booker's advice (oh wait until we get to that point) and even comes across her own corpse. Her major act which ultimately changes her into a mature figure, killing Fitzroy, is turned into an event staged by others. She is then tortured, forced to carry out the actions of a psychopath and the finally gunned down in some unknown part of Rapture. The only other protagonist who even comes close to suffering this level of sheer trauma (or so frequently cold-cocked) is Subject Delta, and he was slowly dying throughout that game!
While I hardly think this is the case of any misogyny or bias on any writer's part, it's hard not to raise an eyebrow when you realise Elizabeth is Bioshock's first female protagonist. The first and only one we have had so far. While every main character went through a vast amount of manipulation, strife and pain, few suffered to the same degree as Elizabeth did here.
Of course, this is hardly helped by the next point...
Elizabeth DeWitt - The Destroyer of Rapture
This is mostly a follow-up to the opening point noting Rapture's apparent pristine state with few to no problems, tensions or even notable issues. The moment Atlas returns everything goes to hell, devolving into full scale city-ruining war within mere weeks. Prior to that he and all of his followers were safely locked away down in the sunken Fontaine Department Store, which had been detached from the city as a makeshift prison. We'll overlook this completely ignores the role Persephone played in the city and just focus upon this - To get one child back, Elizabeth openly assists with their return to Rapture. Something which was otherwise utterly impossible and required knowledge beyond anything they understood.
To help them escape Elizabeth rebuilt an artificial rift between worlds, headed back to Columbia, and stole a device which could lift the building back up to Rapture. The end result of this, and her lack of planning, was Atlas double crossing Elizabeth, torturing her and the release of several thousand psychopaths upon the city. This seems to have only been done to help show players more of Rapture's history, but it creates no end of problems for the story.
This failing is purely Elizabeth's fault and nothing ever done truly rectifies or makes up for the countless thousands of people she is effectively an accomplice to murder to. This one act doomed the entire city, turning it from a (again, as presented in the DLC) relatively stable environment into the blasted hellhole we see in Bioshock. It creates a barrier between Elizabeth and the player, and her sheer inability to truly prepare for Atlas' betrayal makes her look dull witted at best. It's not as if he was trying to hide his untrustworthiness, as the second episode opens up with him ready to shoot her in the head until she offers something of value.
Even ignoring all of that, it yet again undermines the original, much more interesting story behind Bioshock. There's no gradual collapse, no spark which ignites a firestorm resulting from the downtrodden masses having no way up the social ladder nor the instabilities created from plasmids. Instead that initial uprising was perfectly contained, any dangerous splicers taken down with Atlas, and everything only went wrong thanks to Elizabeth helping them.
It's a pointless move which served only to damage both the story behind the city and the tale the DLC was trying to tell.
It's All About Jack
As if to make up for her death, the ending tries to chalk up Elizabeth's actions as being the ultimate way Atlas was taken down. Her final act before being killed is to bring the W Y K code to Atlas, opening the way for Jack to arrive in Rapture and triggering Bioshock's events. Unfortunately that just makes thing vastly worse. It effectively turns her into an errand girl, fulfilling her role so she can open up the way for the actual hero. While this was almost certainly something intended to bring the story full circle, it really diminishes Elizabeth's value to the story and doesn't provide a truly satisfying ending for her. A sad or tragic ending? Okay that works, but not one which effectively peters out after showing a few clips of Jack doing something she could have easily accomplished herself.
What doesn't help this to any degree is that Elizabeth is a true character, fully voiced and fleshed out to stand out on her own. Jack meanwhile was a cipher, a faceless drone intentionally created without any voice or history to drive forwards the plot's message. Having one die off to introduce the other is always a difficult move, but when the one replacing the hero barely counts as a character it feels like a very poorly made decision.
Perhaps the biggest error of all though is the fact that this causes Burial At Sea to have no ending or closure in of itself. Seeing some ending to Elizabeth's story, Comstock's history or even just a real focus purely upon the viewpoint characters of the DLC would have been fine. Instead what we get is just a few re-used lines from Bioshock, repeating the ending from that game. While it worked nostalgically, it really diminished the value of the characters involved with the events of Burial At Sea itself.
So those are five failings which ruined Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea. Believe it or not though, we're actually not quite done with this yet. While definitely big problems, this is just the first half of the critical failings found within the DLC's story and the biggest ones are still yet to come.
Still, we're not done yet. This was just the first part. Here's five more failings within the story which really damages the overall universe.