And that, my friends, is a Skyhook to the face.
This is one BioShock Infinite‘s most memorable scenes, in which the insanity meter goes from “um, things aren’t quite right here” to “motherfucking 11” in a fraction of a second. See, before this, you spend your time exploring the beautiful flying city of Columbia, which has some weird religious things going on as well as some blatant racism. You never really get comfortable here, because of the aforementioned religious things and blatant racism, but you’re not actually forced into combat until the Skyhook moment. It provides this great contrast between the beauty of the scenery and the absurd level of violence. Which is exactly what it intends to do.
But after that, you’ll spend twelve or so hours filling pretty much every resident of Columbia (besides Elizabeth) with lead.
I guess I never really had a problem with it. I mean, this was hardly the first game in which I’d been asked to mow down hundreds upon hundreds of people ruthlessly. And Booker, the protagonist, is a man with a long history of violence, so the fact that his first means of solving any of his problems was to start murdering people was kind of sort of to be expected, or so we’re led to believe.
But then I started reading all the backlash. “BioShock Infinite is too violent,” they said. “It’s taking us out of the story,” they said. (If you’re interested, Kotaku did a pretty great job collecting a lot of this criticism and making it one coherent piece, complete with hyper-violent .gifs. So there’s that.) I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
It all came into perspective when I played The Last of Us, though. Sure, you spend a lot of that game killing people, but you FEEL. EVERY. KILL. Twelve hours into the game, when you’re playing as Ellie and stab a dude in the eye socket, it disturbs you as badly as the very first time you pick up a brick and smash a smuggler’s face in. The Last of Us never lets you forget that this is a violent and disturbing game, and that’s the whole point.
In BioShock Infinite, you kill people simply because that’s what you’re asked to do. You probably do so without remorse; you’re numb to it. Violence simply doesn’t accomplish for BioShock Infinite what it accomplishes for The Last of Us, and in hindsight, that lessens the impact and sort of makes Infinite seem like it’s just violent because it’s a videogame and it’s supposed to be violent.
And therein lies the real flaw. It’s not real violence; it’s cartoon violence. In a game that’s begging us to take it seriously, it’s out of place.
And really, Irrational Games, did all those heads need to explode?