BioShock Infinite Is Insanely, Ridiculously Violent. It’s A Real Shame.

BioShock Infinite Is Insanely, Ridiculously Violent. It’s A Real Shame.

Okay, it’s time to talk about it. About what, you ask? About how totally bananas the violence in BioShock Infinite is.

The beginning of this game is astonishing. Flat-out. It’s one of the most effective, intoxicating game-introductions I’ve seen in recent memory.

So let’s to do an exercise. Let’s imagine watching the opening of the game as if we’d never played a video game before.

For this exercise, you’re not a person who plays games. You’re just some person. You like movies and TV, you like stories, and you’re interested in seeing what this game is all about. Maybe you heard about it on NPR, or saw a big story in the New York Times. It got you curious.

You fire up the game.

Opening scene: You’re on a boat, in the rain.

The people on the boat are speaking in riddles, and you’re already intrigued.

You enter a lighthouse.

It’s all religious portent…

…reflections in the holy water…

…Dang this is cool. You come upon a guy who has been tied to a chair and shot.

Okay, kind of bloody… the blood on the floor seems a bit over the top… but hey, alright. Dude is dead. Moving right along. You ring some bells at the top of the tower, Close Encounters-style, and crazy red light fills the clouds.

Then you climb aboard a rocket ship:

and launch into the clouds, where you see this:

accompanied by what is just the most haunting, lovely piano theme. You go through a place that looks like this:

And it’s all so beautiful and mysterious, and then you come into the city and it looks like this:

And at this point you’re pretty much like:

And you can just walk around drinking it in, and you’re eating all kinds of candy and hot dogs and there’s this amazing carnival tutorial section where you can launch magic at a hidden devil and there are posters, so many posters, posters everywhere, you read them all and see all these names and brands and colours, and you keep having to just sort of stop and stare, and there are flowers everywhere, and a woman offers to sell you a flower to stick in your lapel and then there’s this huge robot dude standing there and oh my god it’s a barbershop quartet singing the Beach Boys and whaaat…

…I mean you’re probably in full-on overwhelm here, you’ve got mysterious twins offering you weird choices, a telegram with a weirder prediction, and a sign telling people that there’s a “false shepherd”…

…with a mark on his hand that matches the mark on your hand and there’s just so much and it’s all so cool and then you go to the raffle and suddenly oh wow, they’re asking you to throw a baseball at an interracial couple, which is, dang, that is loaded imagery…

…but OK, you choose to try to throw the baseball at the announcer instead, the jerk, and then you get grabbed, and tussle with two cops, and then…


…well then, this happens:

You grab one police officer and RAM HIS FUCKING FACE INTO A SPINNING BLADE and like, BLOOD AND SKULL-CHUNKS BLOW EVERYWHERE and WOW what in the world and then everyone starts shooting and then this happens:

…what the shit just…


…Holy SHIT…

…Okay, OK. Let’s come back to reality, stop pretending we’ve never played a video game, or that we weren’t expecting this. But it was a worthwhile exercise. Here’s why:

BioShock Infinite is in many ways so, so close to being That Game, the one we can show to our non-gamer friends and say “See? Look at this! It is so awesome! Check out the story! It’s like LOST! How neat is this?” But it’s not That Game, because it’s so hilariously, egregiously violent that a large number of people will never give it a chance.

Plenty of others are voicing similar thoughts. Over at Polygon, Chris Plante has written a smart op-ed about how Infinite‘s violence limits its audience, including his wife:

Levine has been outspoken about his ambition to please both the meathead and the brainiac since the release of the original BioShock. But what about my wife? What about the people who can stomach only so much aggressive violence and unchecked cruelty? Defenders of the game’s violence have compared BioShock Infinite to Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, which melded together the cerebral indie aesthetic and the mind-numbing blockbuster spectacle. But every comic lover knows the difference between Booker DeWitt and Batman. Batman doesn’t kill people.

I tend to look for games that I could show to my sister, and have a similar feeling to Plante about Infinite. I wish I could show her this game, but after about the hour-mark, I’d lose her attention. She’d see the absolutely insane violence of the melee kills and say “Well, this is dumb,” and get up to go do something else.

Over at his personal blog, former Epic design director (and Gears of War maestro) Cliff Bleszinski wrote a thoughtful post about the game, which he very much liked. In it, he mentions the violence:

So, the guy that brought you a chainsaw gun would now like to get on his soap box about violence. Have fun judging me.

This is one of the few games that I’ve loved that I felt the violence actually detracted from the experience. The first time I dug my skyhook into someone I actually winced. I love shocking people in these games (it’s not called BioShootBeesAtThem) and I found that nearly every foe I zapped to death had their heads explode, Gallagher style. After the 400th head I was like “come on, already!”

Funny, right? That I’d say that? I know, it’s weird. Maybe it’s the fact that they did such a fantastic job of making this nuanced world that hitting you over the head with those moments felt out of place for me.

When the guy whose game featured a reverse up-the-crotch chainsaw melee kill is telling you your game is too violent, it might be worth listening.

Over at Buzzfeed, writer Joseph Bernstein has voiced a similar complaint, pointing out how some of the game’s most interesting storytelling moments are muddled, seeing as how they’re told via ultraviolence (spoilers):

The penultimate stretch of the game involves coming to terms with the memory of a dead character. Again, it’s an important story moment, one that calls out for a sensitive handling. Instead of solving a puzzle, or navigating dialog, or any of the ways that you might be expected to confront long-suppressed emotional pain, the ghost challenges you to three long and frustrating gunfights. Yes, you shoot a bazooka at childhood trauma. In most games, absurdities like this don’t bother us, because we don’t expect much from most games. In BioShock Infinite moments like these, when the demands of genre bleed into the narrative, we feel disappointed, even betrayed.

The guys at Penny Arcade point out the problem in their own way:

And on, and on. Yesterday, I wrote an analysis of Infinite‘s combat that took the violence as a given, and simply talked about why, in my opinion, the shooting doesn’t work all that well. But even then, it’s difficult to talk about the game’s combat without talking about the elephant in the room: The fact that by simply existing, the violence harms the game.

Smartly using our (new! exciting!) image-annotation system, Brainy Gamer blogger Michael Abbott “pointed” to the real problem with Infinite‘s combat, which he says isn’t the pacing or shield regeneration, but rather the fact that it exists at all. Here’s Abbott:

Brilliant as the game is – and as earnestly as it tries to explore social-political issues – Infinite is tethered to its mechanical nature as a shooter in ways that undermine its aspirations. It’s possible to love the game for all it does (and tries to do), but still feel smothered by its insistence that so much of my experience is delivered staring down the barrel of a gun or other destructive weapon. The issue for me isn’t about being pro or anti shooting games; it’s about how standard FPS design limits the narrative possibilities of a game that clearly aspires to dig deep. How might I have behaved, and how might I have reflected on Infinite’s provocative world had I not spent so much time shooting or avoiding being shot? The game’s story isn’t really about shooting at all, but the player’s lived story is, and that collision is hard to overcome.

But what of Infinite‘s creative director? Back in February, Stephen sat down with Ken Levine and among other questions, asked him why this game had to be about shooting people. Levine’s answer was as lengthy as it was, frankly, impenetrable:

“In terms of the shooting, it’s weird, right? Games have this interesting thing. When you see some people experimenting, like Kentucky Route Zero and stuff like that where they are starting to experiment with sort of not having a game element or even Walking Dead has a really reduced element. My problem is, I like games. I like challenge. I like having a skill component of it. And so what is that skill component? It is weird in some ways that all of a sudden you bust out a gun and start shooting. It would make sense maybe in a [Levine interrupts himself] but the scale and the amount of shooting that you have is heightened obviously, but, you know, so is Indiana Jones. The dude is an archeologist and he’s busting caps in people’s asses left and right. He probably kills 100 people in that thing.”

“It’s a limitation of the medium,” Levine said. “I can sit down and write a scene about just about anything. It’s really tough to make a game about any particular topic. You go see a movie like Margin Call, which is a fascinating exploration of how emotionally and the kind of pressures that led to the financial meltdown were on people. To turn that into a game would be a real head-scratcher. But to turn it into a movie is really a function of: can you write a good movie about it? Because you don’t need that skill component, and you don’t need to sort of train people on the systems and things like that [as you do] in games.

“So we tend to have fewer forms in the game space. One of the nice advantages of a form is that it’s a skill-set that people have acquired. And remember that if you hand a controller to somebody who has never played a first-person shooter, it’s not something you were born with. So, you know there are certain advantages it gives you.”

Okay, so people know how to play shooting games, and it’s good to have a skill element to a game. But with a game as thematically and creatively ambitious as BioShock Infinite, is that really a strong answer? Particularly if, as Levine says at the end there, it presupposes that anyone who will enjoy your game must first have the requisite first-person shooter skills?

My inner cynic, of course, says that BioShock Infinite is a shooter because shooters are relatively safe from a marketing perspective. Shooters sell, and there was a lot of money riding on this game selling a lot of copies. But even that feels like a possibly unnecessary abdication of artistic licence. Particularly because one of the best things about The Walking Dead, which Levine also cited, was that I could recommend it to anyone. And hell, that was a game with no shortage of extreme gore (though the gore itself felt more congruous with the game’s setting and source material). I loved how I could recommend The Walking Dead to friends without having to ask if they were familiar with first-person control scheme, with thumbstick navigation, with how iron-sights worked.

There are really two issues here: The fact that Infinite is a shooter, and the extremity of the violence it depicts. The further I get from the game and the more I replay it, the clearer it becomes: BioShock Infinite is a daring, audacious game held back by its reliance on the gun in the middle of the screen. What if it had been a first-person exploration and adventure game? What if there had been less shooting, and more puzzles and traversal? What if Booker had been more of an actual private investigator, rather than a commando for hire?

And even if we accept that Infinite had to be a first-person shooter, did it really need to be this violent? It makes sense to create some awful sort of counterpoint to the opulent brilliance of Columbia, to frame shocking violence against the bright blue skies and breathtaking vistas. But the violence here, in the melee kills in particular, just doesn’t quite work. It feels indulgent and leering, like a concession to a perceived audience that may not even exist. Who really wanted sick badass head-trauma in this game? Not me, anyway.

Put another way, it’s hard not to wish the game had more of this:

and less of this:

It’s too bad that Infinite has to be a case-study in unnecessary video game violence, but perhaps it’s good to have a case-study that feels so definitive. The ridiculous violence stands out in such sharp relief when placed against the game’s thoughtful story and lovely world. Hopefully, Infinite‘s immense popularity will inspire other game-makers (or even Levine, in his next game!) to try something different, and to give a story like this the framing and support it deserves.

And in the meantime, hey, I’m actually OK with ripping digital heads off, as far as it goes. I’ve been playing video games for ages, after all. But I think I’ll hold off just a little while longer before I start calling my sister into the room.


  • You know, I’m usually that chick who’s +1 on the touchy-feely feministy stuff…

    but I totally, absolutely disagree with this. Bioshock has been violent. Columbia is rooted in violence and oppression. Throughout the last half of the game you’re fighting a freaking war, for God’s sake. America’s history has been violent and rooted in war. Just …no. This is a Constant.

    • Totally agree with you! The violence in this game is just as important motif, as say the racism, and religion etc. Booker is a violent man. The reason why he’s in Columbia in the first place, is because he is a very violent man, who can get the job done no matter what.. He’s done some very violent, disturbing things in his life. And this game is showing you just how violent he can be. I don’t know what most of you think would happen if somebody got bludgeoned in the face with a sky-hook in real life, but let me give you a hint: they won’t get away with just a black eye. The gruesome and brutal nature of the combat in this game is a (as already mentioned) an important contrast, and in my opinion not at all controversial. And in the words of the great Tarantino, ‘(violence) is just so damn fun’.

      Think of it in terms of the first time Elizabeth sees you kill somebody in the game. She actively runs away from you and calls you a thug. In my opinion, i think that this is exactly how the designers wanted the Player to feel about Booker as well. Any “normal” person would have the exact same reaction as Elizabeth did, when they witness Booker execute his first police office with a melee kill. You are meant to feel uncomfortable and slightly sickened by his actions. That’s the whole point. You’re not meant to gush over him. He’s not really a knight in shining armor. He’s an ex-soldier turned private investigator with a penchant for violence. What better way to make the player see the true depth of Booker’s ability for violence, than to show him perform gruesome kills with a sky-hook?

      P.S. What i find interesting is you will never see an article like this come up for a game like Half-Life, where despite it’s deep story and sense of adventure (albeit less gory violence), it’s still basically a shooter. And yet you’ll never hear people whinge about it in this way, saying that it would have done better as a purely puzzle/adventure game!

      • I completely agree, the violence is there for a reason. The contrast to the perfect society and the violence you perform and is in turn performed against you and the other NPCs. It is inline with how the other bioshock games are too.

        For the ending of the game to work, you cant like Booker. To be honest you have to believe he should die for his sins

    • I loved how it went from all pleasant and nice to insanely violent. Think it fits well. Even during these violent times you can look into the background and see mostly all pleasant views and fluffy clouds and then BAM, blood everywhere.

      • Yes, your first sentence is how I feel too. The violence is such a contrast to the saccharine sweetness of this supposed utopia and that and the events that immediately precede it (the Raffle) begin to expose its sordid underbelly, which continues to be revealed as the game progresses.

        It was surely intentional and it works in my opinion.

  • I 100% agree. I have a fewer designer friends who I think would love the story and the world. I want to show them how much gaming has matured. Unfortunately, there is just too much gore.

    Its not that I think the violence was unnecessary ( a large part of the story is a civil uprising after all). There was just no need for people to get there heads torn off. it didn’t enhance the things people love about this game at all. I also wish that violence was only occasional, rather than a constant. I would have been happier if there were only three or four combat sequences the whole game.

    • Three or four combat sequences just wouldn’t work with the game. I mean, I think less combat is a brilliant idea – don’t get me wrong here. But so much of Bioshock in it’s current form is character progression and the heavy rpg side of things – gear, vigors, guns and upgrades. I think that they’re taking the easy way, and I did tire of the fighting – but bioshock would be a whole nother’ beast without continuous combat!

  • Absolutely agree. That first melee kill was way over the top. I loved dead space but there it made sense. In columbia, I found it really gross. Take a vigour, watch all the skin peel off your hand. Yeeeshk!

  • I absolutely agree. Now, I love the game. But man, that bloody cutscene execution of the officer was unnecessary, and the executions in general were just so out of place. Everything else was okay, I guess, it seemed that the other violence fit well with the darker aspects of the game itself.

    But those melee executions were just bad, and frankly pointless. It wasn’t possible to sneak up on people like in Dishonored because they trigger at short range regardless of whether they can see you, and when you’re in the middle of meleeing people you don’t easily see the “execution” marker, so I hardly ever did them intentionally. When they did occasionally happen, it just took me out of the moment.

    There was also a disppointing lack of puzzle solving. Maybe I just missed them, but there were hardly any puzzles involving finding the code books and… well, there was no puzzle solving. You just showed Elizabeth the puzzle and she gave you a clue. I almost missed the pipe dreams ‘hacking’ from Bioshock 1.

    But the lack of puzzles and the presence of gory violence are my only two letdowns. I do think that the narrative in the voxophones should have been more central to the actual game instead of an optional extra, but meh, I guess it doesn’t matter.

    • I think there were only three code book puzzles the whole game, plu another couple usually involving hidden keys. I didn’t miss the hacking from Bioshock, but I did miss the environmental puzzles.

      • If there were only three codebooks in the game then I found them all – though I didn’t actually sovle the puzzle for the “tip the hat one”. I figured it was a clue for something that would happen further on. My wife found it on her second playthrough – it was in the same room, much like the clock one later. I also found two keys for the chests, so I assume I found everything there too.

        I did really like the game so I’m tempted to get the DLC season pass. I just hope they have more puzzle elements in the DLC, or add more if there’s feedback in that direction.

        • I loved the game, but I’m holding out on the Season pass until we get a better idea of how they approach the DLC. There are some obvious avenues they could take, but I’m not sure if I’m that interested in them.

      • I’m not sure if I should give a spoiler warning, but considering the nature of the article and comments I think it’s unnecessary.

        There was environmental puzzles (or at least one). In the cemetery next to Mrs. Comstock’s grave was a locked gate that could be opened by lighting the nearby torches on fire.
        That puzzle was actually one from the original Bioshock.

  • Weaksauce, mate! MOAR BLOOD! MOAR BLOOD! MOAR BLOOD!
    I mean, everyone’s entitled to their opinion and i respect Kirk’s but HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, more dancing HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
    If anything, the only thing that doens’t make sense is why i can murder the adults in the game, and not the children playing in the street?? 😉

    • Maybe not more dancing, but more moments like that would be lovely.
      I don’t know about you, but I really didn’t want to have to stop her.

  • I both agree and disagree with this.

    ” ‘Violence’ shouldn’t/doesn’t need to be in it”

    Concidering the story behind columbia, what do you think’s gonna happen when the people try and stop you? Ballroom dance-off?

    “It is too violent”

    This I kinda agree with. The heads exploding I didn’t really notice too much, since
    A) I didn’t use the lightning Vigor
    B) When the lightning proc from people hitting me (from gear) weht off, they were already on fire for having been punched.

    But the over-the-top melee kills with the Skyline really did feel out of place and the brutality of it kinda felt disconnected. Much like Penny Arcade, it did feel wierd to brutally tear into someone’s face then turn around and have a conversation, then the moments where she hates us and we’re trying to convince her we’re nice and just being self-defensive really feel insincere.

    “No I’m a nice guy, really. I just smashed his skull open and then exploded a few guys heads because they shot at me first.”

    I’d damn well agree he’s a nice guy too because I don’t want that nutjob upset at me. Which isn’t really what Booker is like. But…

  • The violence felt better in Bioshock because it wasn’t over the top. In Infinite, it’s way too noticeable. I merely punched a guy and his head was replaced with blood and bones. The executions were way over the top, and didn’t really make sense with your melee weapon. On the flipside, people were distracted by the lack of violence in DC versus MK.

    There’s even one part where you find a board with the scalps of various characters pinned to it. I mean, come on.

  • it’s funny, I’m still only a few hours into the game, but I actually don’t mind the super drastic contrasts at all. It provides a filthy and obtrusive flipside to the absolute grandeur and aesthetic beauty of the game and its intricacies. Just my opinion of course. However, yeah, I see this as a ‘gamers’ game, because I don’t think many of my non gamer friends would get into it.

    Having said that.. most ‘casual’ players get into the ACTION of it all, I think it would draw LESS players if it was more adventure etc, it’s a business decision as much as anything else 🙂

    • This is the truth and kind of a sad one. Games that don’t have a strong action element will always do poorly compared to games that do, hence why this game was an FPS to begin with. That’s what’s selling right now, and it doesn’t even occur to anyone that it could have been something else. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted it to be an interactive drama like Heavy Rain or something but… there was a bit too much emphasis on killing stuff. I’m not squeamish or offended by it, but in retrospect I am seeing where it just wasn’t necessary.

  • what would it be without the shooting? a “non-game?” thats like saying only gameslike dear ethster should stive for thourght provoking storys

  • While it’s a little bit over the top, the violence is required. This game (and the story) wouldn’t have half the emotional weight if the violence wasn’t there.

    All in all, a good opinion piece, but one I ultimately disagree with. Go back and play the first two bioshocks – it’s really not that much more violent, and there was no problem with that.

    All those ‘beautiful’ images are juxtaposed with the violence : it shows that the idyllic nature of columbia is underpinned with a darkness.

    • And further to that, I really enjoyed the shooter mechanics. If you want an Infinite without shooting, you should be inspiring other devs to take the story and narrative elements that Infinite does so well, and not telling Levine and the team to shoehorn their vision into something ‘new’ and ‘indie’. Shooters are good. Shooters are fun. You can have an engaging story and a fun game in the same package, and that’s half the reason I enjoy Infinite so much.

      To each their own, I guess.

      • Spot on with what I think. I don’t get heaps of time to play games and shooters are my genre of choice, so combining that with an awesome art style and great story pretty much creates the perfect game for me. I enjoyed the violence, maybe that makes me a dick, I dunno.

  • You make a good point Kirk, my (non-gamer) girlfriend actually watched the opening sequence with me and was totally into it until the skyhook execution, then I lost her.

  • I don’t understand this fascination with having our games/books/whatever meet the expectations of the other people around us. How about your sister invites you to try out Glee or some British drama and have you complain that it is stupid because boring, no action. (that’s more an example for me, I don’t know everyone’s tastes.)

    I can certainly understand the point of this article and agree that it’s sad that we’re saddled with the absurdity of mega-violence in so many games, and that in this case this Bioshock goes over it’s own top. But I don’t think we have to go about proving ourselves to the non-gamer world; the amount of games I’ve played that are fun and interesting and non-violent are great in number and could be just as easily recommended as Bioshock.

    Bioshock has been and is still that series of games where you *explore dystopian environments, get superpowers and shoot things from a first-person perspective*

    • I feeling is more that I’d like to share the story and the themes with my non-gamer friends, but I think there are too many gamer tropes for them to get past.

      • That’s their problem. I’m not excusing the excessive violence here but I don’t think it’s worth claiming that the devs should have done differently just so we can share it with other people who have other tastes.

        I’ve never seen Pulp Fiction. Everybody keeps telling me to see Pulp Fiction. I don’t want to and it’s probably because of some of the violence, I dunno. I can appreciate some of the themes, storytelling and ground-breaking cinematography that I know it has and appreciate that my friends enjoyed it. However I, and I hope my friends, would never say “I wish Pulp Fiction wasn’t like that so it would be easier newbies to approach.”

        • In the case of pulp fiction, the violence is comedic. In this case, the gratuitousness of the violence adds very little to the overall aims and themes of the game. It seems more like it was included just to market to the CoD crowd. Unfortunately, it can’t capture apre appreciative audience.

          • “Unfortunately, it can’t capture apre appreciative audience.”

            I’m not sure because of the typo but I find it hard to believe that Bioshock Infinite has not found an appreciative audience because of the violence. I mean the reviews are through the roof, people are talking about the themes with some loving the violence and some not, but most people seem to enjoy what Bioshock Infinite represents as a whole. I also contest that this is incommunicable to non-gamers: yes they may not be turned off from the violence but is it really that hard to tell people what it’s about?

            It doesn’t matter if Pulp Fiction’s violence was comedic, I don’t even know if I care that much, but for all I know it might not have been necessary to make the movie good, just like Bioshock’s violence may or may not enhance its themes. Neither of them needs the approval of our friends.

          • Actually, I found the violence, combined with those sharp, tense little orchestral notes in the soundtrack whenever you did something particularly violent added a fair bit to the experience. It was so incredibly opposite to the seemingly happy world around me! The themes of the bioshock games usually revolve around some kind of would-be utopia turned violent; in this respect I don’t think the violence ‘adds very little to the overall aims and themes of the game”. Quite the opposite.

            I’m not trying to completely douse your opinion, I just can’t say I agree that the violence serves absolutely no purpose, and that the game would have been better without it.
            Also, where in call of duty are there executions and hyper-violence? All I saw in the last one I played was mindless shooting, where there’s very little impact to the violence, and death is frequent and nonplussing. It’s obviously quite different here, because if people didn’t feel the impact of their killing actions, nobody would be complaining at present.

            At the end of the day, to each their own I guess. The previous Bioshock games had their fair share of violence too. Does noone remember Steinman? Or the way that Langford died as she wrote on the glass with her fingers? That one in particular may not have been gory, but it was disconcerting, and fit the themes of the game just as well.

            The violence is just as much a part of the experience as the other factors, and whilst one might argue that it’s a bit gratuitous, you can’t say it has absolutely no place in this game.

            It is a bit iffy that Elizabeth is completely unphased by your executions, but that has less to do with the violence being inappropriate/misplaced, and more to do with sloppy game design. As much as I’d like to complain about the way that this can ruin immersion, it’s nothing compared to every single NPC in the starting area once they’ve spent their 1-2 lines of dialogue and henceforth stand idly, staring creepily or repeating animations. Nevermind Elizabeth’s unlikely reactions to your slaughtering, when pretty much everyone in the game world has the capacity to make you feel like a completely abstract part of the world. I was very aware I was playing a game.

  • I wasn’t that fussed by it, to be perfectly honest. The Bioshock games have been plenty violent in the past. Whilst I agree it certainly has a shock factor in that it’s incredibly juxtaposed to how nicely things start off, I don’t think it’s out of place at all. In fact, I think that’s actually the point. The whole idea is that this seeming utopia is not all as it appears, right? Did you miss the first two Bioshocks completely?

    Look, they might have been able to turn it down a notch or two, but are you seriously asking for ballroom dance-offs in place of gunfights? Bioshock is a shooter. It’s an adult-oriented shooter, and it’s violent. You can’t be that surprised.

    Anyway, on an off note, you certainly talked up the intro, but post-lighthouse I found there was very little attention to detail. People have 1-2 lines of dialogue before they become mute puppets with rotating heads and empty eyes. I wanted to stay around and feel immersed, but everything is so surface-level. Underneath there’s an ugly, unattended side, and even a few hundred crates of bad apple textures stretched over crates.

  • Bioshock is derived from System Shock which is still shooter at it’s base which is still gory. An xShock game within the shooting is not an xShock game and because something different all together.

    On the subject of violence what I see before me is utterly trivial in the grand scheme of things. I have seen and played far worse. If we want to see something that removes excessive gore give the player the choice in how they approach things. I enjoy the opportunity within games to take the non-lethal because it’s change and requires a different approach. Kojima’s philosophy is that gamers shouldn’t be rewarded for acts of violence which is why all the best rewards within Metal Gear games come as a result of avoidance of combat or using non-lethal methods.

    • This is a good point. What if Bioshock had an alternate means of progressing through the story by avoiding confrontations? This happened in a couple of areas, and even prompted you not to go in guns blazing by flashing up a message saying “it’s not always the best option”.

      But that was the only place where this held true. Every other instance, you have to basically kill everyone in the area to proceed.

      • I’d prefer no notification at all. Sometimes the joy of gameplay is discovering something because you thought outside the box and did something that wasn’t otherwise obvious despite being secretly factored in by the developers.

  • I disagree. The world is in the middle off a violent revolution so of course it’s going to be like this. The other bioshock games were dark and had similar violence so of course this one will follow.

    Don’t like it? play something else and quit complaining

    • Just because its been done a certain way in the past, doesn’t mean we can’t change it for the better. Although the X-shock games have always been violent, this actual experience in this instance may have been better if it was toned down. It’s not about ‘finding’ another game to play, its a discussion of ‘could this game have been even better?’

    • I disagree. Games like the Bioshock trilogy have always promoted discourse so of course theres going to be posts like this.

      Don’t agree with this article? Go read something else and quit complaining.

  • There was this discussion on IGN that related to this. It was this fan who came up with an interesting solution: what if these sort of games had a no-kill mode. I know that it would completely change the tone of the world, the narrative, gameplay design, etc. but games like Uncharted, Red Dead, Mass Effect and Bioshock have so many moments that just fill you with awe it just seems like it should be an option for people sick of shoot-em-ups. They did mention in the discussion it would be too much effort for such a little payoff, but I still sort of hope

    • You know what, I would totally go that mode for a second play through, especially in games like the ones you mentioned where second playthroughs for me are usually more about the story and maybe collectibles, rather than the combat bits, which get a bit tedious after a while for me.

      Or…bring back god mode. Make the combat really quick and easy instead of just getting rid of it.

    • I think no kill modes should be implemented in every game, that’s an excellent idea. The best thing about a no kill mode (like in Dishonored, for a recent example) is that it provides an excellent challenge and requires more thought to go into development. Plus it allows fans who really like the game the chance to go through it multiple times, seeing what changes when you kill/don’t kill enemies. I guess there are some games where it wouldn’t work, and it’s something which lends itself better to games with stealth mechanics, but I can only see upsides to more developers implementing it.

      • Well, not every game, unfortunately. A great many games simply wouldn’t work if this were the case. I think such a feature best suits stealth games, as you said. I don’t see it working at all in Bioshock.
        But yeah, for stealth games, it’s a perfectly feasible option. Often because the objective is usually to slip past opponents, rather than the objectives of shooters, which are… Well, to shoot things.

        That and to a certain point, Fallout 3. I loved the way the speech skill was implemented. You could talk people out of killing you; talk the fat cats out of nuking a city (and also giving you lots of dosh)… Talk that bandit out of trying to pinch that legendary sleeping gown with amazing stats you just found… Even talk your way out of a potential chinese invasion. 😛

    • I don’t think we should be taking a shooter and complaining that the elements that make it a shooter take away from the experience. At their core, bioshock games are shooters. If you’re sick of shooters, there are plenty of other options out there. There are even games with shooter elements out there that promote non-violent options (Deus Ex, Dishonoured).

      I understand what you’re trying to say, but for the games you listed, it would detract far too much from the experience if they took such things away. I’m actually surprised you mentioned Red Dead – it’s is a western, so the shooter elements are kind of a necessity – yet there are still elements like card-games, theatres, horse-wrangling, and even people-wrangling if you want to capture your bounties alive. The violence has an important place in the experience, but it’s not the main focus, and there were plenty of non-violent options included. You can even pretty much just explore if you want. You could also hogtie the majority of your opponents if you were really opposed to killing.

      Bioshock is a very different sort of game, though. It’s a shooter, through-and-through. Guns, plasmids (dual-wielding), perks… Killing is kind of a major component of the game. There’s no non-violent alternative; in terms of splicers and maniacs like Steinman, this simply couldn’t be an option for the sake of story logic. However, you are given the option to rescue all of the little sisters in the game, which is about as close as you’re going to get to what you’re suggesting. If that doesn’t work, then I really don’t think it’s Bioshock you want to be looking at. It sounds like you would far prefer a game like Dishonoured. Or better yet, the Batman games! Try killing someone there… 😛

  • Yea, the game seemed to invert on that first melee kill. I think the shooting would have been alright, but the melee kills are just too over-the-top. The introduction to the “Murder of Crows” vigour seemed very disjointed, too – it’s like “hey, this is really gruesome and horrible, why would you subject someone to that?” to “hey, you can do that too, now! isn’t that cool?”.

    Maybe it’s all just a ploy to emphasise that Booker is not, in fact, a nice guy. Or, maybe it’s emphasising that just because Columbia looks like an amazing and a great place to live on the surface doesn’t mean it’s rainbows and sunshine all the way down. It just seems a little… unsubtle… in its presentation of these neat ideas.

  • What a cry baby.. It’s an artistic juxtaposition, the perfect world vs the violence of the reality of the situation..

    It’s beautiful and perfectly executed. If you’re offended by it, I also do not recommend partaking in most mature art as you might accidentally see drug use or nudity (I protected your sensitive eyes from this dangerous content for you). God forbid.

  • For the first melee kill I was like woah this shit is intense and that was awesome. After that it didn’t seem any more over the top to me as any other shooter.

  • I’m fine with the brutality of the violence on display, particularly in the scene mentioned above. I thought it was brilliant the way everything went to hell like that, but I can’t help but agree that there’s probably too much violence, too much shooting in a story that would have benefited from having fewer, but more brutal violent scenes punctuating the story.

    There’s definitely a case to argue here that less is more in this game. The shooting feels like a bit like filler where none is needed (not that I mind it as it stands though).

  • Couldnt care less about the violance. I think it was am expression of the characters and the darker side of the world. Which going in with the story and the atmosphere was done quiet well. Ken created a world that likes all the happy light color stuff, but in fact is extremely dark and I think thats what every bioshock world is about. And what better and easier way to do it than through fps. Something that has been done and proven million times before.

    sas for the violent video games making more money than others that sadly is true if you take 15 year olds in with the statistics. Its something that makes people grow realise and move on like as we are discussing it right now. So I can thank ken for the awesome experience and story. And the fact that we are talking about it this much means that him and his team has done an excellent job.

    If you don’t like violence in this game, that’s ok I don’t mind you. good thing to talk about.

  • You know what? First it “I don’t like this game combat it’s too clunky” and now “it’s too violent”. Go away. You clearly don’t like or can play the game. I think compared to its predecessors it’s less clunky and no more violent, 50 times more awesome and not aimed at 12 year olds or people with weak stomachs. It’s the best game I have played it ages. Also no one is asking you to melee or use Murder of Crows. Go watch an episode of the My little pony you big girl. (I can say that I am a girl).

  • I actually laughed at the sheer absurdity of this article. Prior to the games release, Infinite was treated as sort of messiah in regards to how developers can make create games and explore very touchy subjects such as racism, religion etc and here we have everybody now complaining about the level of violence, another equally important motif being explored in the context of war acting as another stark contrast to the illusion of the games shallow, illusion of beauty.

    This entire discussion is just stupid and pretentious. Racism, war and religion are not the only elements which can be explored intelligently and be confronted. If you really can’t see that the violent elements are being explored and treated no differently to every other “touchy” subject matter within the game, then I’m afraid you’re missing the point of the ‘game. At the same time, hypocrisy is rife in just about every comment to this article. Especially the article itself.

    Please Kotaku, start hiring writers with an IQ above 90. Think outside your little mainstream box for just a moment.

  • “The fact that by simply existing, the violence harms the game.”

    So what? Your opinion is FACT now? Well, end of discussion obviously.

    This is what happens when you go so far in one direction without considering possibilities. So you went through the whole game and several disparaging articles without EVER coming up with a reason WHY it may be there? Even an improbable reason? (If pessimists are even able to consider such things) i wish we had a more mature industry where stances can change and all avenues of thought were considered instead of hitching yourself onto the relevance train by criticising a popular new game.

  • Totally agree with the author, many of the comments here perfectly highlight how the industry needs to ignore “gamers” if it wants to grow up

      • If I ran a game company I’d be interested in making games that don’t underestimate the intelligence of players and their capacity to be engaged with a story without having to constantly be fed awkwardly manufactured scenarios where they shoot a gun 🙂

        • And that’s admirable, but everyone knew that this game was a shooter going in and trying to make it anything else would be alienating a core audience going back as far as 1994. If you don’t want to play a shooter, don’t play a shooter, it’s as simple as that.

          Who wants the industry to “grow up” anyway? Rock n roll was a lot more exciting when it was new, hell, most games were more exciting 10+ years ago.

  • By the way, “That Game” you want to show your friends which shows that games aren’t just about violence and can be deep and emotional and beautiful and moving? It already exists.

    It’s called “Journey”.

  • Am I the only one that was annoyed how peaceful Columbia was at the start? It was so damned slow until the game picked up. What I loved about the first Bishock was how messed up Rapture was by the time you arrived and then you had a psycho on each floor to take out. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed Infinite also but the pacing at the start was a tad too slow for my liking?

  • The violance overall didn’t really bother me to much but the first kill with the skyhook cought me a bit off guard.
    But I would have liked an option other that combat not just walk up to a police barrier and shoot the cop in the face

  • Hmm… complain about the violence but unable to complete the article without extreme and unnecessary expletives? “RAM HIS F**KING FACE INTO IT”

    It’s a (civil) war.
    Booker was a Pinkerton, look them up, they weren’t all buttercups and daisies. They were a heavy handed group.

    Read some history and perhaps you might notice that stories told in such times had a lot of extremely violent moments.

    It’s called Bioshock not Bioexpectation.

  • I’ll tell you whats even more insulting on the eyes…. BLOOM! I think I needed some sunnies walking down Columbia’s streets the first time.

  • I think the violence is needed.
    Columbia may look pretty but really, it is a nasty horrible, bloody place full of lies, deceit and segregation. It shows the player that while everything seems nice, it’s actually a horrible place. Isn’t the fact that the violence makes you feel uncomfortable just part of the game? The true columbia is just as bloody as booker is. If anything, booker belongs there more then Elizabeth.
    although I hated the ghost battles. Grrr

  • Bit of a strange article, in my opinion. …Isn’t it perfectly valid that I’m interested in or enjoy games that my girlfriend doesn’t? Same with media, movies, music? Isn’t it perfectly okay that people prefer one thing to something else? Don’t understand the inherent attitude that this game should have strived to accommodate every kind of person, or as broad an audience as possible. That sounds like the kind of attitude publishers have that strip franchises of identity for the sake of attempting to increase sales or tap into an untapped market.

    I really, really liked the beginning. I also really liked how its beauty and majesty was suddenly, and shockingly, contrasted with the confronting racism and obscene violence. I found the contrast thats being refuted here to be exciting and engaging.

    Should Heavy Rain have introduced shooter elements to appease the audience that wasn’t interested in storytelling? No

  • I’ve never played this game, but I can tell you its the BEST game ever made in history! its better than CALL of JUAREZ and BRINK! When I saw how deep the combat in Bioshock was I was like “Wowww thats sooo Deeeeep man”. I consider myself a fellow sheep like all of you guys too! Lets meet up and play Duke Nuken Forever one day and share fairy bread with my sisters! Games and Gamers are so freaking awesome that when a gamer walks into my store I get so excited and wet! I really love how so many Gamers are Elitists like myself and we consider ourselves better than every other person alive because we play games! long live gamers! Lets talk about games forever! Also because I’m a gamer I must know everything about the Japanese people, culture and game industry, SO don’t you dare try to correct me – BECAUSE I’m a gamer!! YEEEEAHHHHHHHHH!!

  • Violence doesnt really bother me but one part i felt was a tad bit unnecessary and that is if you upgrade the possession vigor, it can possess humans and if they survive their shootout they commit suicide, when i used it the poor guy had a shotgun and blew his own head off which i feel was completely unnecessary and uncalled for.

    • How about when they were a melee character? They’d club themselves to death!

      I thought it was really cool after a while, but the first few times I was shocked. So evil. That and murder of crows. Really yucky stuff there.

  • I don’t know how many of you people noticed it, but I actually feel guilty every time Liz squeals/sounds like she’s going to be sick when I finish someone off with the skyhook and she’s close enough to see it.

    I am rather impressed that the developers managed this response in me, and would take this any day over other games where you can hack someone to gory bits and feel… nothing.

  • The story in Bioshock is like a roast chicken. The violence in like ice cream. They’re too different things that are nice to consume and even compliment each other. Sometimes after sinking your teeth into a nice roast it’s good to finish it off with something sweet. But put together they’re a disaster. Infinite is like a roast yumbird smothered in ice cream. They just don’t match, they tastes detract from each other and they distract you from how good each food is in its own right. The violence just doesn’t fit with this highly complex and mature story

  • Surely your wife and sister have many alternatives. You know what they say about trying to please everybody…

  • I’d like to share my thoughts on this article:


    I’m so sick of hipsters trying to ‘go against the grain’ and complain about anything and everything to ‘be different’.

    Like similar classics as ‘maybe SimCity’s sell-out DLC isn’t all that bad’, ‘Why LucasArts shutting down isn’t that bad’, ‘Why E3 is bad’.. the list goes on.

    Sometimes I think I should just click on the articles that Serrels has written, and not bother with the tabloid-hipster trash.

  • Enough of the anti Bioshock Infinite articles already. Yesterday it was negativity about the shield mechanic and today it’s this. I understand that you’re offering a different viewpoint to the critics who have raved over this game but it’s a bit much really. If I look at the two gifs at the end of article, i’m betting that most of want more of the bottom gif. Otherwise we’d all be playing some 1st party Nintendo game on our Wii’s. Sure the game’s not perfect but it is great fun and as it’s only been out for a couple of weeks I think it’s a bit much to be bashing it already. Let us all enjoy it first 🙂

  • Reading this, I couldn’t help but think about Shenmue, and it’s lack of a centralized game mechanic. If Infinite followed that path, just having tons and tons of little things to do to populate the world, that would be excellent.

  • Hold on,
    To execute you have to HOLD down V on PC.. I’m not sure about consoles, but I only executed two people the entire game and it seemed more over the top than offensive to me

  • When you get into a fight in this game it seems like the whole world is against you. You are either in the walking talking no gun exposition mode or you are in a massive level-wide gun battle. At one point you are suddenly punished for “stealing” and all the peasants flee while all the cops are instantly alert and aggressive. The game is either in the explore mode or the shooter mode.

    Furthermore, the enemies are mostly human. Splicers were quite inhuman and terrifyingly psychotic. Here we are eviscerating some poor plod, times a thousand. We are the psycho.

    If you are going to shift from horror shooter to an environment that is a human society, then you need to give the player the option to not be Dexter Schwarzenegger. Thief 2 presents an amazingly fleshed out world and you could complete it without killing anyone. Both the original and new Deus Ex games gave us a variety of paths to our goal and options as to how nasty we wanted to be. Games that use other tactics like stealth, and which don’t treat the entire level as an on/off switch for violence mean you could create your own story. The original Bioshock seemed to give the players more choice in that regard. Even in the much maligned Grand Theft Auto games you could choose to be a total cop killer or flee instead.

    I would love to have seen Columbia as a more open world where the violence could be avoided, and where there were non-lethal options and stealth. More of the Deus Ex, less of the linear shooter with x guys standing between you and the other side of the level. x guys who know exactly where you are once alert and are coming for you. When and if violence occurs, it should be part of the story you are creating, not an arbitrary set of waves to defeat to pass the level. Of course, if you want to murder everyone you see with sharp spinny things, then that is also a valid choice. It doesn’t have to be Fallout 2 levels of choice and repercussion here, but something.

    Colombia is perhaps the most beautiful game world that has been created and I enjoyed it immensely… but it took all the parts of Bioshock that were headed in the right direction and turned them down. I guess what I am saying is I would like to see a more open world along with more choices, where violence is ONE OF the core mechanics you can use in a situation as opposed to THE core mechanic required to get from A to B.

  • I didn’t mind the violence in the game, ie the shooting bits – but I did find the start sequence you’ve mentioned to be excessive. I did go WTF, and thought it was totally unnecessary. The combat was the weakest part of the game, but I still enjoyed it – and the game as a whole. Maybe it would have been better as an adventure game instead of a shooter??

  • Booker’s past is steeped in violence and war. He is capable of being a brutish thug, and the thing is, he is really good at it too. As the story develops, towards the end you learn more about what implications this has in terms of his character. When hell breaks loose, he will use his tools to achieve his goals. He is the marked one, and pacifism is not really an option here. When you are in a situation where your last resort is to ram someones face into a spinning hook until they are physically unable to come after you anymore, its not gonna be pretty.

    The contrast between the start is definitely an intentional design decision, and a good one.

    One of the great things about this game is it doesn’t hand wave away many of the atrocities you commit on your path. Killing someone is violent and unsettling and its gonna show you that. Elizabeth’s dialogue and character development suit this as well.

    Some of the area’s where you can kill civilians strike me as odd, but I’m not sure how many people would have done so for no real reason anyhow. I can see how it’s considered childish or too “video gamey” by some, but its more effort than most games will give, and its pretty damn thrilling while you’re at it. Have fun, immerse yourself in the experience and let it break itself and your expectations while you’re at it.

  • First of all, I’m pretty much in complete agreement with this article. I just finished the game an hour or two ago, and I’m still digesting everything in this amazing world and plot.

    However, I felt like the REQUIRED violence was highly detrimental to the storytelling and I found myself rolling my eyes and grinding my teeth every time I had to go on yet another killing spree for no apparent reason except… “Well, it’s a shooter, isn’t it?”

    It seems the token response is “Bioshock is a shooting series, you need to have lots of violence or it wouldn’t work!” I strongly beg to differ. The level of storytelling and immersion in this game is, to my mind, unparalleled. This could have been the game that absolutely broke the mould and took gaming to an entirely new level. Instead, it got bogged down in the “expected” game mechanics and had to continually find reasons to shoehorn them into the plot. Most of the time the shooting segments have no bearing in the story whatsoever, and apart from Elizabeth’s initial disgust at your violent tendancies, she then shrugs it off every time you mercilessly murder hundreds of Columbian citizens. It’s like they had the ambition to really make a statement, but then just shied away and made it a shooting game because, well, that’s what sells these days, isn’t it?

    I’d like to propose another alternative. What if, leading up to that moment at the ticket office, Booker had managed to avoid all violent confrontations (perhaps at the option of the player) and then in that moment killed the ticket seller. Killed ONE PERSON. Not going on a shooting rampage, just killed the one. Wouldn’t that give the situation (and Elizabeth’s reaction) so much more impact? I’m not talking gameplay here, I’m talking in terms of story.

    There is just SO much creativity in this game, in almost everything except the shooting gameplay, which was like a thorn in my side the whole way through the game.

    My 2c.

  • I genuinely find myself at a loss as to what to make of this article.

    By the time I got to the raffle/baseball bit for all the utopian guises there is obviously something a little twisted about the place. In context, there I am having just witnessed the head on the sky hook scene and yeah it is perhaps a little too graphically visecral in it’s depiction. But then, amongst other things, I have just walked past priests praying to angels of 3 former predisdent’s and had the character about to participate in what is effectively a public stoning.

    In view of the public baseball stoning scene are we not meant to consider the complete picture of the crowd etc. The crowd are, after all, happily cheering along and wanting to participate in a controlled and torturously voilent act. Does the scene not saying anything about the contrast between what type of violence is an acceptable societal norm in Columbia and what isn’t.

    Even if I don’t consider the entire contexts of coming full circle contrasting elements and a game that isn’t any less self ware than the original, whereby, taking a pop at fps design, use of themes and generational gaming conventions and attitudes. Then the aforementioned stoning scene alone portrays a big enough contrast to tell me, that the game has at least some sort of reasoning behind it’s different portrayals of violence. Especially when Elizabeth, her starting point.. transition through the game and her actions at the end could be interpreted as the perspective of a non gamer.

  • I have to say, I really enjoyed how violent that game is. I’m the girl that just happens to really like that kind of stuff. And when I was playing it, I never thought “Wow, this is really violent”. I’ve probably killed more stuff in Skyrim than in Bioshock, and I’ve winced at some of the killing moves in skyrim, but never in Bioshock. I don’t get what the big deal is here. In today’s media culture, I am honestly surprised to see people who can’t handle a little gore.

  • I completely disagree with this article… COME ON! The entire series is rooted in dark and bloody violence.. why would this one be any different? I LOVED the Melee Executions! and i love how everytime you did one, you’d hear Elizabeth in the background going “Ugh!” I think it added so much to the game! And really illustrated the differences between Booker, and Elizabeth as characters…. I also completely disagree with your idea that “less violence would broaden the audience”… Nope! Wrong wrong wrong… Casual gamers i know, are more interested in the GAMEPLAY… in fact, i showed my dad the Melee Executions and he thought that was the coolest thing! CASUAL gamers, are not going to sit down and “get into the story”… From my experience, its the hardcore gamers who really appreciate a games story, and characters… Casual gamers just dont look at games that way.

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