Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Thinking-Man's Shooter (continued)

Watch this intense gameplay video from the newest BioShock game, would you kindly? The third installment of the series, BioShock Infinite shares several obvious symmetries with the previous two games. Yet the stunning originality and intellectual brilliance that characterized the original have clearly returned in this immersive, politically-charged first-person shooter.

As I've previously noted, BioShock 2 disappointed due to its much-too-obvious theme of collectivism. The original BioShock, although terrifyingly beautiful and technically superb, really impacted me because of its path-breaking focus on extreme libertarianism gone hellishly awry. The core identity of the BioShock series is a complex plot based on a political philosophic concept. Selecting a theme for the third game was always going to be challenging because the concepts in the first two games were drawn from a single philosophical idea, namely the libertarian-collectivist political spectrum. BioShock Infinite necessarily had to blaze a new trail by establishing a fresh political theme.

And they've done it: tea-party conservatism applied to its logical end. Our hero journeys through the floating city Columbia, a hellish amalgamation of jingoism, racism, anti-immigrant xenophobia, theocracy, originalism, exceptionalism, homophobia, and gun-obsessed militia culture. In keeping with the series' stylistic trends, clever visual flourishes abound (this time in the form of political campaign posters, rather than business advertisements) and a strong architectural theme exists (early 1900s America instead of 1960s art deco). As before, a heavy steampunk influence really spices everything up.

Another important observation is the introduction of a new symmetry in the series. The first two games were set in a dark, underwater city. In Infinite, we explore a bright, floating city kept aloft by dirigibles, with multiple structures interconnected through a network of rails. This polarity of below-ground and above-ground fantasy is intellectually rewarding, further testifying to the creativity and depth of the BioShock series. Can't wait!

Prediction: if the series continues its political symmetry thing, we'll be in for a real treat with BioShock 4. Think about it--what's the logical opposite of tea-party conservatism? Environmentalism, multiculturalism, redistributionism, appeasement, moral relativism, etc. What the extreme logical extension of liberal democracy is, I'm not sure, but crafting a dystopian vision from these colorful ingredients sounds. . . fruitful. Think Bioshock 4: The End of History and the Last Man.

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