The Choices and Triggers in BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea

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Oh, the spoilers you will see. I had such high hopes for Burial at Sea Episode 2. Episode 1 was appropriately BioShock in feel, wonderfully noire in all the right parts with the darkness of Rapture before it becomes the Rapture we know. The twist, that this Elizabeth is the same Elizabeth you see in Infinite, come to Rapture in 1958 to track down another Comstock who tried to hide from his past.

I’m happy they made Episode 2 from Elizabeth’s point of view. Both BioShock and BioShock 2 featured silent protagonists, and Infinite introduced a fully voiced player character in the form of Booker DeWitt. I am increasingly glad we are stepping away from silent protagonists all together, because they are lazy attempts to engage a player by allowing you to project yourself upon them so that everyone likes the main character.

But here’s the thing: A main character doesn’t have to be likable, and that’s okay. There are so many stories out there featuring main characters and protagonists who are down right awful human beings, and they still have massive fanbases. Making the choice to have Booker be a man with a history and a voice, hearing the change in the way he said Elizabeth’s name, were very well made choices.

But back to Elizabeth. The mechanics here are different. Because she is a woman, a booksmart one with no real combat training other than a few self-defense moves, you can’t approach Burial at Sea like other first person shooters. There’s more sneaking in the form of the Peeping Tom (ew) plasmid, and crossbow bolts meant to knockout and distract. Sure, you have the trusty handcannon and shotgun, but there are no upgrades, and they almost seem sluggish in Elizabeth’s hands. You can no longer kill people with a one shot melee strike without sneaking up on them first. You can crawl through vents and pick locks. It’s a nifty change, and one I had been curious about since it was announced you would play as her.

The part where she stole a burlesque dancer's clothes from a sex shop was pretty great, too.

The part where she stole a burlesque dancer’s clothes from a sex shop was pretty great, too.

I think a lot of my praise is going to end here. Where Burial at Sea succeeded with mechanics, it fell rather short in narrative choices. Elizabeth, as it turns out, is the pivotal character in both Colombia and Rapture, but it comes at a cost. For Elizabeth’s story to be told, she is stripped of what made her special in Infinite: her ability to see the doors and tears in the world around her. Why is that? Oh, because she’s fucking dead, impaled through the heart, buried in the walls of Rapture because she got too close to a Big Daddy.

We all know death has some weird quirks in the BioShock Infinite world. The Lutece twins are dead, and yet we see them appear at will almost anywhere they please. Death, it seems, is really just the best word we can apply to their state, because it is not limited to one physical dimension. Because of Elizabeth’s unique nature, this leaves her stuck in Rapture, a normal woman for the first time in her life. To navigate between Rapture and Colombia, she must travel via a Lutece Device like everyone else.

Everyone deals with their multidimensional status differently, I suppose.

Everyone deals with their multidimensional status differently, I suppose.

An interesting choice. Not one I like, but one I can respect for the sake of the narrative.

Choices, and their consequences, are a huge theme in BioShock Infinite. The choices that lead Booker to becoming Comstock, the choices that Daisy makes as a leader of the Vox Populi, and the choices Elizabeth makes while trying to write the wrongs of those who came before her, all come together to bring closure to a story almost a decade in the making.

Thank you, Ken Levine, for creating a world (or two, or three) that held itself together.

I’ve just got one big problem with something.

I cannot respect, and I loathe, the implementation of a torture scene towards the end of episode 2. I hate torture scenes. I hate them. I refuse to watch movies like Saw and their ilk because they give me panic attacks. I spent the next 24 hours after playing Burial at Sea convinced that I am overly sensitive, that it was no big deal, that I was over reacting. But no. Torture is gross. Torture as a narrative device that had nothing even come from it or of it is gratuitous and insulting.

What are we supposed to gain from a scene like that? Didn’t we already have to rescue Elizabeth from a similar circumstance in Infinite itself? Now we are forced to sit there through another scene of her strapped to a chair with a man threatening to cause her physical harm because he wants something she does not want to give him.

No one is surprised Atlas is a dick, but this entire scene...

Would you kindly fuck off, Atlas.

I’m sick of torture scenes, be they in movies, video games, books, or whatever. I hate feeling trapped into watching these scenes because if I mute my TV, or leave the room, who knows what I’ll miss that will be important later. I’m sick of worrying that something is going to make me hyperventilate at two in the morning in the middle of something I thought would be fun.

Purple-haired Pepper Potts.

1 Comment

  1. Kelly

    April 4, 2014 at 2:55 PM

    This is so, so disappointing. Not only is it super triggering content, but really discouraging that Elizabeth is the character strapped down and tortured — twice.

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