Thursday, May 30, 2013

Game Review: Bioshock Infinite (Spoiler Edition) Part 2

Alrighty, part 2.  Last part, I talked about the first level of the game, mainly covering the visuals and story telling elements.  I'm going to try to do the same thing here for the next, larger segment of the game.

When Booker sits down in the chair in the center of the lighthouse, something rather unexpected happens to him.  The chair, as if by it's own will, straps his arms and legs to the respective arms and legs of the chair.  The next thing the player may expect to happen judging by this rather devious twist of fate, is for Booker to be a) tortured by a madman who has been lurking in the shadows, b) dropped into the ocean through the middle of the lighthouse, c) electrocuted, or any other number of life threatening and equally horrifying things. What actually happens is quite the contrast to that expectation.  Instead of dropping or dying, Booker begins to very rapidly ascend up into the sky.  How does this happen?  He has no idea, but finding out isn't his top priority.

As he reaches "the top", his apparent destination (or at least the chair capsule's destination), Booker witnesses a city floating above the clouds: Columbia.  The place is breathtaking, but before he can get a chance to gawk at the scenery for long, his chair pod descends into a building which appears to be a cathedral.  The thing that really stands out about this place is that the entire floor is covered in almost a foot of water.  Floating on top of the water are candles, still burning since who knows when.  On the walls though, is the greatest spectacle of it all.  Massive stained glass images, mostly of an unknown old man who appears to be represented as some sort of savior.

So I'm going to stop here for a minute to take a closer look at this starting room.  All of the other rooms in this building are quite similar and not quite so grand, so we can afford to just focus on this one.  The first thing that the player should notice about this room (consciously or otherwise) in contrast to the lighthouse is the lighting.  The lighting in the lighthouse was very dim, and full of rather ominous blue-gray shadows.  The light itself was almost an amber colour, not a far cry from the style of lighting in this cathedral, except that in the cathedral the light shines through in shafts from the windows with a much more natural tint.  This, coupled with the candle light really gives the cathedral a warm feeling, despite the water and the fog coming off of it.  This an extremely effective technique really since even though the character has clearly arrived at a new location where things are very different from what he has seen before, it has a sense of almost ethereal familiarity.  It's the whole "same but different" concept.  This lighting contrast is just the beginning to the many strange contrasts in the game, and even in this very first level.  The water right below the character's feet and the fog hovering just above it speaks volumes to this.  We will later learn that the water actually serves a purpose in the story, albeit a small one, but almost nothing is done by accident when creating a visual story, especially not in such an involved artistic story.  The visible layers in this scene represent the layers of thought had by the character, and also very possibly the player.  The sunlight streaking through the windows is the light being shed on something new, but also the majestic nature of this new, unknown place.  The ambient candle light is the warmth of the cathedral and the welcoming feeling associated with the place.  The fog is the confusion and the mystery behind the place, while the water is the promise of things to change and the foreshadowing of hardship.

Now you're probably asking yourself, "where is this guy getting all this crap from?"  Well let me explain myself.  The light from the windows and the light from the candles are pretty straight forward concepts, they're essentially just a gut feeling that most people would get.  The fog is an archetypal element that has generally come to be accepted as meaning confusion since it obstructs vision and promotes cautious travel.  It is difficult to predict what is ahead when looking through the fog.  The water is a little more difficult to interpret.  In similar archetypal fashion, a flowing river is the standard to represent change or the passing of time.  An ocean is seen as a challenge to be overcome or as a long journey to take.  The water in the cathedral is really neither of these things, so you have to look a little deeper.  When you think about walking through shallow water, it may not be that big of a deal, but when you really imagine what it would be like, or actually do it, the reality is that it is much more difficult to walk through say, a foot of water than on dry land. The resistance from the water causes you to move more slowly, and if you aren't careful, you could easily fall in.  The other thing about walking through water is that if you aren't wearing the proper gear, your shoes and socks and feet are going to get very wet, very fast.  Push a stiff breeze through a wet body and suddenly things start cooling off too.  The long short of it is that you're going to be quite uncomfortable for a while, especially if you have to deal with it for a long time.  A lot of this symbolism stuff can seem like someone's just making it up as they go along (well in some cases, they are), but if you actually look at the reasoning behind it, it gets much easier to understand.

So let's recap.  Booker winds up in a rather grand looking cathedral-esq building.  He has no idea where he is, the lighting is good.  Symbols.  Boom, ok good recap.  Next part, I'll talk about the actual city of Columbia, so even though I know I said this would be a 3 part series, it's looking like it will be closer to 5 or 6 at this point.

Okey Dokey, so that's it for this part of the review, check back now and again to read the next bit.

Peace off...

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