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Thoughts on "Killer Is Dead" (So Far)

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Killer Is Dead, the newest game from Grasshopper Manufacture and writer Suda51, was released in North America on August 27th last year. I happened to see the Collector's Edition on sale at GameStop a couple days ago and, based on how much fun I had with previous game Lollipop Chainsaw, I decided "Why not?" So this might not be the freshest, most relevant topic of conversation.

However, going into it, I knew very little of what to expect of Killer Is Dead other than it being a very odd game. I had no way of knowing how odd. Trying to describe the game using regular logic seems like a fool's errand. In fact, when a roommate asked me to describe what I was playing, I probably would have been lost if it weren't for the details included in the instruction manual and the Art Book that was included with the Collector's Edition. That being said, there are several thoughts that stood out while playing.

Keep in mind, I've only experienced the first couple hours or so of game play, stopping right after taking down the second major boss battle.

Spoilers ahead for first couple hours of game.

1) The main protagonist, the playable character, is named Mondo Zappa. Let's take a moment to let that soak in. Who names their kid Mondo Zappa? But wait! This is a game set in a futuristic science-fiction universe where human beings regularly commute from the Earth to the Moon. Mondo Zappa's a pretty sci-fi name, right? So maybe that type of naming is common in this society. Let's take a look at the name of some of the other characters surrounding Mondo: David, Alice, Bryan, Natalia, Betty , , , Nope. Mondo's a weird name.

2) You unlock achievements for completing the first couple "episodes." Now, these first couple episodes are hardly missions. They're barely tutorials. Basically, they're barely interactive cut scenes. First, you take down a kidnapper by using one stick to walk and the other to rotate the camera, automatically deflecting bullets with your katana and then pressing some onscreen prompts. Then, you take out an assassin you're a replacement for by using basic attacks and counters on some easy mooks before following some more onscreen prompts. Another recent hack-n-slash, the Deadpool game, also started by giving away some easy achievements, but that was part of the Deadpool sense of humor and Deadpool himself breaks the fourth wall to say, "Oh. It's gonna be one of those games." Although, Killer Is Dead does break the fourth wall a little bit, I don't think the wink's implied like in Deadpool. Oh. It's gonna be one of those games.

3) At this point, I've already given up on this game's story making any sense, but I would like to understand the logic behind these "Wires", or basic enemy types. First you're fighting what look like giant, evil cousins of your word processor's paper clip guy on steroids, then later you're fighting weird suits of armor and cacodemons. What are these things, and what's their motivation that they're always standing between you and your assassination target?

4) This incredibly creepy "artist" who becomes Mondo's first client is totally Sander Cohen from BioShock.

5) At least once every mission, Mondo has to namedrop the title. "Killer is dead." I've come up with two theories as to why this is: a) The video game was designed to be played in concordance with a drinking game. One of the rules; every time a character mentions the title, take a shot. b) The game is anticipating the player's question "wtf am I playing?"

6) When the Sander Cohen expy vanishes, presumably back to Rapture where he belongs, the main characters look at each other as if they're becoming just as weirded out by the game as the player is.

7) Besides the assassination missions, there's something called "gigolo missions", in which Mondo must woo women by copping glances at their boobies when they're not locking eye contact with him until he finally feels motivated enough to give them gifts such as a flower or a pack of chewing gum in a huge box with an overly dramatic flourish repeatedly until they let him get in their pants. Here's the thing: After the date, the same mission debrief screen from after the assassination missions pops up, complete with Mondo signing his signature on the line. So, does that mean the same quasi-government agency handling Mondo's executions is paying him to wine-and-dine-and-ogle these women and making him fill out paperwork afterwards to let them know how well the date went?

8) A woman claiming she owns the moon or something comes to Mondo's agency, stating some creep took over her family's estate and claimed the moon, or something. Mondo's employer (who I'm pretty sure is straight up supposed to be Samuel L. Jackson, BTW) says he has no jurisdiction there and the mission is too dangerous to take on for any amount of money and . . . Mondo, being a sucker and always doing whatever it takes to get in a woman's pants, says he'll do it for a kiss. Sucker. So, is this a government agency, a private security force, an office where gigolos just hang out, or what? Shouldn't this girl just be able to go to the police, say some creepy guy in bondage gear broke into her house, and have them escort him off the property? Are the police obsolete because of this Department of Executions? If so, shouldn't they do the job regardless of where it is and whether or not the client is willing to kiss their newest hitman?

9) The second boss fight stops dead not once but twice to make the player mash the "X" button as fast and hard as physically possible for any human being ever. If the player fails, the boss, in his creepy golden fetish gear, takes off half of Mondo's health. Until that button is satisfactorily mashed, the fight will go on, and on, and on. I hate this "Press 'X' not to die" trope in modern video games. "Mash 'X' not to die repeatedly" is even worse. There's a special circle of Hell reserved for whoever invented Quick Time Events in video games. Even lower than the circle in which the inventors of sewer levels and escort missions reside/will reside.

10) I'm not above some fan service. I play the Dead or Alive games. But I think I'd actually prefer a conversation tree to trying to steal furtive glances at a woman's breasts, butt, or legs when she ain't lookin'. Anything to make that redheaded vampiress stop telling me how thirsty she is while refusing to break eye contact. Also, moving the camera away for a second to ogle their naughty bits when they finally flinch almost feels like a chore. Plus, the girls you ogle aren't exactly wearing skimpy bikinis like the DOA girls. They're pretty conservatively dressed (with the exception of sexy nurse Scarlett, pictured above, who you have to impress through violence rather than gifts and ogling), so there's not all that much to get an eyeful of. This dating's kind of a drag.

11) Inflation is terrible in this universe. Sure, I was informed once I purchased an item from the office gift shop that the price would go up. But then I paid $10 for a pack of gum. Which would be $.75 anywhere else and definitely not a gift to give a beautiful woman you're nervous about dating. After I buy the $10 gum and give it to Natalia to try to get in her pants, the price goes up . . . to $10,009.

12) Mondo needs to stop wasting his time with all these hos he's dating and just marry his sidekick Mika. Sure, she's kind of scatter-brained, whiny, and annoying. But she's also cute as a button, has been living with Mondo for some time, cooks a perfect soft-boiled egg (which is Mondo's favorite food and, I know this from experience, not as easy to cook as you woudl think), is constantly waiting on the sidelines with a defibrillator for when Mondo almost croaks, brings him back from the brink constantly in the course of a boss battle, and always insists on coming along on Mondo's missions. If that's not love, I don't know what is. That's Grade A wifey material right there.

Now, I can't stop thinking about this game, and I definitely want to keep playing. I'm not saying it's bad by any means. It's also too early in the game for me to recommend it to anyone. All I'm saying is it's really freaking weird.

In an Alternate Universe, BioShock Infinite has a Better Ending Part 3

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SPOILER ALERT! YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!

Elizabeth then leads Booker through another door, which turns out to be a tear from Wounded Knee to Booker's office. You've been in and out of this room each time you respawn.

Now Robert Lutece is standing at the doorway, as you've seen him before in post-death hallucinations, only now Booker recognizes him as the mysterious client he's been working for. Now there's a sinister revelation that would make anyone but Frank Fontaine wince. Lutece is making Booker the same offer Fontaine made Jasmine Jolene: he wants to buy his child. A few hours before this point, I'd begun to suspect that Elizabeth was Booker's daughter. When I'd seen promos with Ken Levine describing how he wanted the player to develop a relationship with Elizabeth, I expected it to be romantic. But when I began playing, I felt more of a paternal instinct develop towards Elizabeth, similar to the one I'd felt towards the Little Sisters when controlling a Big Daddy in BS2. The more I thought about the conversations Booker had with Elizabeth when walking along Columbia's boardwalk, the more I thought I had a good idea where the ending was going. In fact, I thought Elizabeth might have been plucked from a universe where the love of Booker's life hadn't miscarried. It turns out Booker's wife died during childbirth, but Liz wasn't a stillbirth, and Booker did begin raising her as a single father. Only to sell her for money. As desperate as Booker was to get out of his gambling debts, you'd have to imagine accepting an offer to buy your child would make you vulnerable to an investigation on human trafficking. Also, why is Robert male in this universe and Rosalind female in Comstock's? They don't seem any younger than Booker. If the point where the two universes diverge is Booker's baptism, as later revealed, what caused the difference in genders? Did the same butterfly effect that made Robert into Rosalind determine Booker's acceptance of the baptism and rebirth as Comstock? Have the Luteces already been dimension-jumping and Robert just happens to be doing business in Booker's universe at this point in time? It's open to interpretation, but I sense a plot tear.

Anyway, you get a look at Booker's baby, and you have to imagine, at that tender age where no one other than immediate family recognizes the child's gender, Booker must have spent a lot of time accepting compliments about his son and explaining that she's his daughter. As much as Booker sees now how ridiculous the situation is, he once again is trapped in his alternate body and Elizabeth assures him he must press "X" -- I mean give up the baby -- to continue. So is Robert there to deliver Anna/Elizabeth to Comstock in his own dimension? Actually, Comstock's waiting for Robert to deliver the child in a dark alley. This raises questions like 1)Why does Comstock act through a mediary rather than just show up to pay for the child himself? If he's capable but wants to avoid getting his hands dirty, why enter Booker's universe at all? 2)Why doesn't Comstock simply take control of Booker's body? It hasn't been hard to accept Booker and Comstock being in the same place at the same time when we didn't realize they were the same person. Experiencing the ending the second time, it doesn't make sense that Booker would enter his own body at these moments in his history but not enter Comstock's in Columbia. If all of this was presented as an out-of-body experience or a vision through a tear, I'd accept it. But it seems they adamantly needed an excuse to have the player hit that "X" button to avoid presenting this as a cut scene.

We do get some honest answers to some burning questions. Booker's office is desolate and boarded up. The black-and-white noir office has been a figment of Booker's imagination. A quick cutscene explains Robert's reverse-heel-turn, offering to bring Booker to Columbia to retrieve his daughter, then Booker passing in and out of consciousness as Robert explains the game's opening quote about creating new memories. It's also revealed that the AD brand on Booker's hand stands for Anna DeWitt, but that should seriously come as a surprise to no one. Booker insists all harm is undone now that Comstock is dead, but Elizabeth isn't satisfied, insisting he's still alive in a million other universes. Prior to this, Booker and Elizabeth have been happy with hopping from one reality that doesn't suit their purpose to one that does. Now, suddenly, every possible universe in which Comstock continues to commit genocide is their responsibility. Booker offers to take care of this by going back and smothering him in the crib. As hardened as Booker is, I think I would have had to turn off the console if it came down to pressing "X" to put a pillow over an infant's face.

Elizabeth leads Booker back to the baptism at Wounded Knee. The final twist is that this is the moment where Booker DeWitt was transformed into Comstock.

Unlike Elizabeth's parentage, this took me completely by surprise. The second playthrough, I did recognize several innuendoes and hints at this, but the first time it just didn't seem like there was enough set-up. Playing through or watching again to make sure the twist makes sense is a sign of a good twist, yes, but a good twist should also feel immediately like it's the only thing that could possibly make sense. The first time I encountered this, I was scratching my head, failing to come up with one thing that stuck in my mind that would lead to this conclusion. Also, Comstock's voice is completely different than Booker's. Necessary to hide the twist, but if Troy Baker didn't have to fake another voice, why couldn't Courtnee Draper, who does an absolutely stunning job of voicing the young Elizabeth, have the same luxury? Her old lady voice in the Boys of Silence universe was laughable and took me out of the game for a moment.

At first, part of me was also offended by this twist. If accepting baptism made Booker into Comstock, is the moral of the story that baptism makes you a d-bag? This is one part of the ending that did improve on reflection, though. The BioShock games have always been about how being human flaws the best ideologies. I did find value to take away from this in that Booker chose to live with his sins, making him bitter but also wiser, while Booker/Comstock thought baptism was a way to relieve the guilt, taking it as liberty to embrace the flaws that made him a genocidal maniac. But that's something for another time . . .

Sure, baptism could conceivable radically alter his whole world view, but how does it make him ambitious enough and give him enough resources to make his own fantastic city? Andrew Ryan was a billionaire with powerful connections. Booker DeWitt as we know him is a loner. How, in this alternate universe, does he encounter Rosalind Lutece, not hold the fact that she's totally British against her despite his hatred for anyone who isn't American, and team up with her to make his own society in the clouds? There's just too little in common between the Booker we play and the Comstock we lock horns with. Just a few similarities between the two here and there might have been enough to make the final twist feel more natural without giving it away.

Part of the backhanded slap in religion's face does still sting. Sure, I can see baptism possibly leading to Booker becoming a horrible mass-murderer. But in a game that is emphasizing how infinite choices can result in infinite universes, does this really merit destroying every universe in which Booker accepts the baptism? Surely there's a world or two out there where Comstock goes on to build a small church in the slums of New York and ladle soup to the homeless or becomes a missionary to Africa. Also, where did the people who were witnessing Booker's baptism go? Why is it just the preacher now? Why does he still not notice Elizabeth or the conversation she's having with Booker? Where did all the other Elizabeth's come from, and why aren't they all occupying the same body? Does the preacher see Booker being drowned? Does one of the Elizabeth's have to drown the preacher as well so he keeps his mouth shut about it?

Finally, after the credits (which I stayed glued to if only to hear the fantastic 1900's style cover songs again) there's one more scene, playable by the loosest definition. Booker must press "X" one more time to enter Anna's room. Is she in the crib? We don't even get to see that, in an attempt to leave some ambiguity for people to discuss. The game goes into a loading screen one more time, and one more time I hoped I would be launched back into the action, maybe placed into one more large room of Vox Populi thugs to take out. Instead, I'm back at the main menu, ready to start 1999 Mode.

Ken Levine is a genius. Let me throw that out there.

The twists can be broken down as follows: 1. Elizabeth is Booker's daughter. 2. Booker sold Elizabeth to pay his gambling debts. 3. The Luteces brought Booker into the alternate dimension Elizabeth now occupies to offer themselves, Elizabeth, and Booker some redemption. Columbia exists in this dimension, not the one Booker is from. 4. Zachary Hale Comstock and Booker DeWitt are two different versions of the same person.

These are some good ideas. It's really the presentation I take issue with. Plot holes could be easily fixed by another form of exposition other than fifteen minutes of wiggling the D-stick and pressing "X" to make the ending "playable." My biggest issues are twofold: 1) the presentation of the ending doesn't mesh with the internal logic of the rest of the game and 2)like ME3's much maligned ending, choice is merely an illusion. Levine has said that it was never his intention to have two alternate endings to the original BioShock. He wanted decisions to have more immediate consequences. Infinite offers a few interesting decisions early on. Choosing the bird or the cage determines what jewelry Elizabeth wears for the rest of the game. Choosing to trust the shady man selling tickets results in Booker's gun hand being bandaged for the rest of the game. Other decisions matter even less in the scheme of things. Whether you were cold enough to agree to throw a baseball at an interracial couple or not, that ball will never leave your hand, as satisfying as it would be to throw it at the bigoted announcer and watch him fall.

The system of using either trigger to make your choice would have been welcomed in previous BioShock games, where I once harvested a Little Sister just because I accidentally tapped the wrong button. The original BioShock had two possible endings. BioShock 2 had several more iterations. BioShock Infinite has but one. For a series that has always explored the existence of free will while still emphasizing player choice, it's still disappointing the choices made didn't play a bigger role throughout the narrative. The original BioShock's ending is hard to match. One of the most satisfying endings I've seen in a video game is the "good ending", watching Jack go from a reluctant trigger man to a loving adoptive father. One of the best twists I've experienced in any medium is the realization I'd been doing the bad guy's bidding just because he used a particularly polite expression.

When a different team took over for BioShock 2, they wisely chose not to try and top it. While the DLC expansion Minerva's Den had a major twist, BioShock 2's main story just allowed the player to watch the consequences of his choices play out, and the ending was potentially a very touching one. Perhaps it would have been best if BioShock Infinite followed suit. During that long, expository ending sequence, Booker asks Elizabeth to just open a tear to Paris. Later, when Booker's determined to smother Comstock, Elizabeth asks him if he's sure he wants to go through with it. But there's no prompt to choose the L or R trigger. Just to press "X". The player has no choice in the matter. I think I would have preferred to see Booker and Elizabeth visiting Paris. A touching reunion between father and daughter.

In an Alternate Universe, BioShock Infinite has a Better Ending, Part 2

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MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!

Okay, this next part's awesome.

There had been much speculation on how Infinite would relate to its predecessors, if at all. Would it be a prequel? Or an alternate universe? In turns out, the latter, but in a more literal way than anyone had imagined. Turns out, these two BioShock games don't share the same universe, but rather the same multi-verse.

After losing control of Songbird, when Elizabeth opens a tear to Rapture, I giggled with nostalgia and screamed "This is awesome!" as much as the next BioShock fan. I immediately began to explore all the familiar corners of the room, and while it was a stunning revisit, part of me was disappointed I couldn't scavenge Ryan Bucks from the trash can, or pick up a plasmid from the Gatherer's Garden machine, or even use Shock Jockey to open the Securis gate and proceed through Rapture. Of course, that's not a fair complaint. Rapture had two full games already. Still, as Elizabeth urged Booker through that familiar passage in the Welcome Center and into the bathysphere, I couldn't help echoing Booker's sentiment as I pressed "X" yet again.

"I'm probably going to regret this."

There's another echo of that meta- feel experiencing the iconic bathysphere ride from the original in reverse.

Booker sneers, "A city at the bottom of the ocean? Ridiculous."

I chuckled at the line, but at the same time, this laugh-off of the original had me rolling my eyes. When I saw a wrench on the ground in BioShock 2, I laughed at how ridiculous of a melee weapon it was, but that was because I was now a Big Daddy instead of a puny guy. But as for Booker . . . people who shoot up cities in the clouds shouldn't throw stones at cities under the sea.

For a while I was hoping BioShock Infinite would simply segue into a good point to throw in the original BioShock, or quickly lead to a good payoff at the place the original began..

But when the bathysphere arrived at the familiar lighthouse, I realized one of the strengths of the original BioShock's twist. It was punchy. By which, I mean Ryan's revelation and Fontaine's betrayal hit you like a punch to the gut. And when you had just enough time to finish reeling, it jumped right back into the action. Before devolving into an escort mission and a boss fight, it allowed players to fight through two of Rapture's most interesting environments: the slum used to deliver justice to those who spoke out againt Ryan's policies and a facility where Big Daddies were created and Little Sisters were conditioned.

In BioShock Infinite, this is the point when the playable lecture on String Theory is just getting started. While the player is still in control, there's not much for Booker to do other than run up and down the lighthouse steps as Elizabeth talks about doors to other worlds. I have several issues with this scene, the first being this is the last we see of Elizabeth as the character we've come to know and love. Her remarks about how beautiful all the doors (what Booker sees as stars) are the last she makes as the strong willed but naïve girl from the tower. As soon as a key appears in her hand (which conveniently and mystically "has been there all along, I just couldn't see it") she turns into a lord of space and time.

"Booker, are you afraid of God?"

"No, I'm afraid of you."

That line felt a little forced, I thought, at its point during one of the last battles, but would seem appropriate here, now, with Elizabeth saying she can see through all the doors at once and urging Booker to his fate. This is also the last glimpse we have of an ending that can work on multiple levels.

"There's always a man. There's always a lighthouse."

Some have interpreted this as Booker being Jack or Andrew Ryan, or both, in an alternate timeline. Particularly since the bathyspheres were set to only allow Ryan's genetic code to access them. However, with Fontaine taking over Ryan's genetic key to deactivate these security measures, I think this is a moot point. However, if a gamer has played through both BioShock Infinite and the original, in the world of Rapture, that same player was Jack. If that same player happened to play the entire trilogy, he was also Subject Delta, even though Ken Levine and Irrational Games had nothing to do with that man or that lighthouse. For that same matter, in alternate universes the same player was Master Chief, or Mario the Plumber, or Commander Shephard. What are video game genres if not constants and variables, a catchphrase uttered again and again to mask the illusion of choice? My biggest complaint, though, is the failure of the scene to maintain consistency with the rest of the game. I had begun to suspect early on that the end was going to be a mind-bender which would be hard for me to fathom through the clues on the Voxophones. I suspected the Luteces would be involved and it would be tied deeply into the tears. But I had every confidence Ken Levine and the good people at Irrational Games would break it down in a way I could understand. Throughout the game, Elizabeth had jumped from world to world through small tears. Now, instead, other worlds are accessed through lighthouse doors. Why not just a large room, filled completely with tears for Elizabeth to pull open as far as the eye can see? It could have been a great opportunity to allow players small glimpses into several other worlds before inevitably opening the next world Elizabeth wants you to see. I wanted to swim out, see the wreckage of the plane Jack crashed at the beginning of the first game. Instead, again, I had no choice but to press "X" to open the lighthouse door.

The next point is cool graphically, and is visually one of the best moments of the ending.

As you follow Elizabeth along the lighthouse, you can peer across the water and watch another Elizabeth lecturing another Booker. It's a great look at your playable character. Still, the out-of-body experience raises some questions. It's hard to follow Elizabeth's explanation of people occupying multiple dimensions at once, something I struggled to explain when my roommate walked in and asked me if enemies previously defeated in combat, now flickering on screen, were holograms. Still, from what I gather, shouldn't everyone's nose be bleeding profusely at this point?

At this point, there's only a small space of peer to run back and forth on. The player must move at Elizabeth's pace while she continues to explain multiple universes, creating platforms where she steps. At certain points, these platforms branch off into different directions, but constants and variables; no matter which way the player progresses, choice is an illusion. You're still moving to the same destination.

You arrive at Wounded Knee, where Rev. Whiting, the preacher Booker encountered when he arrived in Columbia offers him a baptism.

You're surrounded by people. This doesn't stop Elizabeth from conversing with you. You're also no longer outside of your own body. Yet everyone around you manages to ignore Elizabeth. In none of the other situations where you passed through a tear has Elizabeth been invisible. That would be too convenient for escaping the hordes of enemies trying to recapture her. When Booker arrived in a world where he was a martyr for the revelation, he was walking down the street, looking at clues to his alternate personality's demise, not waking up in the grave no doubt the Vox would have hastily dug for their hero. So why now is Booker placed back in his body in this other place in time, and why is the player still in control? Elizabeth assures Booker he has no choice but to do what he did before, and the player is prompted to press "X" to accept baptism, which is a misnomer as Booker doesn't even do that. Allowing the player to move around and forcing the player to press "X" to proceed now seems like a device to keep players awake during what is, for all intents and purposes, just one long cutscene.

In an Alternate Universe, BioShock Infinite has a Better Ending

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SPOILER ALERT: IT SHOULD GO WITHOUT SAYING THERE ARE MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD AS I WILL BE DESCRIBING THE FINAL MOMENTS OF BIOSHOCK INFINITE IN DEPTH. THAT BEING SAID, BE AWARE THIS BLOG WILL BE AS ABSOLUTELY SPOILERIFIC AS POSSIBLE AND YOU SHOULD NOT SCROLL DOWN IF YOU HAVE NOT FINISHED PLAYING YET. I WILL ALSO BE DISCUSSING THE ENDINGS OF THE PREVIOUS BIOSHOCK GAMES , SO IF YOU STILL HAVENT PLAYED THOSE, YOU HAVE SOME CATCHING UP TO DO.

BioShock Infinite has been getting rave reviews. As it well should. I absolutely loved it. I loved the way it stayed true to the classic BioShock formula while being unique enough to be its own game. I loved the unique environment of the floating city of Columbia circa 1912. I loved the characters, particularly the wonderful companion character Elizabeth and the quirky Luteces. I even loved the gameplay, which many critics, much to my confusion, have pulled out as the game's weakness. While it's not cool to say this right now, I loved the violence. I loved hitting someone with Possession and then not looking away as they finished themselves in over-the-top ways. I loved the visceral violence as I laid into an enemy with my Sky-Hook, snapping their neck or chopping their head clean off. I found it satisfying in the same way as stealthily dispatching one of Lara Croft's oppressors with a climbing axe in Square Enix's Tomb Raider earlier this year. Mind you, I would find these actions absolutely appalling in real life. The debate over whether or not video game violence causes violence in real life society will continue to rage as it always has, and I believe that train of thought is as misguided as ever. But I digress. There was only one thing I didn't love about BioShock Infinite, and that was the ending.

The game's mind-screw of an ending seems to be garnering as much praise from critics as the violent combat is drawing derision, being called a tour-de-force of story-telling, with some saying enduring the grueling combat again would be worth it just to experience the ending. Mind you, I didn't love the ending, but I wouldn't say I hated it. I found it hard to even work up enough vitriol for the much reviled Mass Effect 3 ending, managing little more than a disappointed shrug at the end of each playthrough. At least Irrational Games managed to avoid the biggest pitfall of ME3's ending. In that case, fans expected to experience the culmination of hundreds of decisions they had made over the course of about a hundred hours of gameplay throughout the trilogy, only to find there was very little variation among the bitter end they each arrived at. Not only is BioShock Infinite a separate entity from the previous two BioShock games, but it downplays decision-making, with most of the choices being made early on in the game, easily forgotten by the final act. If there had been a similar mechanic to Harvesting or Rescuing Little Sisters throughout the game, I think more people would have been disappointed by Infinite's single outcome. There aren't a lot of video game endings I love, either, but, perhaps because of the high expectations I had for BioShock Infinite through all the release delays, I found the conclusion particularly disappointing. I've played through twice before attempting to adequately explain why, and since it's difficult to decide just where to start discussing all the twists-and-turns, I'll just follow the events chronologically as they're revealed throughout the game's final act.

Let's start just outside of Comstock's cabin on the Hand of the Prophet.

One thing I'd like to point out in this area; while Elizabeth puzzles over the nature of the Siphon, you can observe some artwork on the wall behind it. These show just how much of the future the Prophet has seen, illustrating your progress through the game from the destruction of Elizabeth's tower on Monument Island, to Elizabeth's slaying of Daisy Fitzroy with a pair of scissors, to an ominous picture of Comstock beside a baptismal fount. I thought I'd poked my head in every corner of Columbia, but I completely missed this on my first playthrough. Yet another reason I never get tired of replaying the BioShock games.

Meeting Comstock is similar to meeting Andrew Ryan in the first game. While he's been issuing threats to you until the moment you arrive at his door, he suddenly doesn't seem so bad when you arrive. While Ryan was amusing himself by practicing his putting, Comstock seems even more congenial. "Come here, child. I don't bite." For a crazed zealot, he's surprisingly gentle taking Elizabeth's hands and washing them. It's only when he begins leveling accusations against Booker that Elizabeth becomes frightened. No matter how far you are from the two, you're only choice to proceed is to approach and press "X" to intervene. This is a problem that has been prevalent throughout the game, though it bothered me most during the ending. Ken Levine, in the years leading up to the game's release, talked about how he wanted to avoid cut scenes and scripted sequences, and I eagerly awaited seeing this, as he'd managed pretty well in the first BioShock game. For the most part this is true, but at various stages playing was reduced to just this one button. Like Heavy Rain's infamous "Press 'X' to Jason" sequence, it doesn't matter how long you wait to hit that button or how hard or how often you press it, the only possible conclusion is pre-determined. At least Heavy Rain had an interesting array of controls to perform mundane activities with. How aggressively the character brushed his teeth on screen was controlled by how quickly you shook your PS3 controller. Here, everything from accepting a baptism (which has generated a bit of controversy recently) to lacing up Elizabeth's corset all come down to the same button press. More on that later. This button press leads to a larger issue. It's not long before Booker goes beyond just intervening. The first game had a legitimate reason for wrestling control away from the player to kill Andrew Ryan, explained by the storyline. The great element of the original BioShock's big twist was the meta- quality to it. You weren't just observing a twist like the twists at the end of M. Night Shyamalan's movies. You were experiencing it. Early in that game, Atlas' phrase "Would you kindly" stuck out for me. I liked the sound of it. Even though I noticed Atlas used it frequently, I never suspected its sinister meaning. When Andrew Ryan draws your attention to it, you realize you haven't been experiencing the main character's brainwashing through cutscenes; you've been living it yourself. When Atlas says "Would you kindly find a crowbar or somethin'?" you gladly grab the convenient wrench to destroy the rubble blocking your progress. When he tells you to move to a new location, you proceed to the next level. Even when you think you're moving at your own pace, it's only a matter of time before you do exactly what was preceded by "Would you kindly." This becomes even more apparent on subsequent playthroughs. When Ryan orders you to kill him, your character does so through a cut scene. But it makes sense that control is taken from you, because you're reflecting on how you've never really been in control the whole time. You've been doing exactly what Frank Fontaine, and Ken Levine, want you to.

But Booker DeWitt isn't a cypher under mind control. You've been able to control him from the earliest moments of the game, even if it was only choosing which direction you turned your head on the Lutece's rowboat. The second time through, I did realize the clever writing in that Booker was talking to himself in more ways than one as he murders Comstock. "You abandoned your own daughter! You cut off her finger!" But the first time, I couldn't get over how frustrated I was that Booker was killing Comstock without my consent. Comstock was about to deliver a massive revelation about Booker, and I wanted to hear what he had to say. Of course, this needed to happen for the story's sake, and to hide the big reveal for a few more minutes, but I still feel betrayed that Booker took Comstock's fate into his own hands, in cold blood, without a plot device as simple as "Would you kindly" to explain why the player character is suddenly not in the player's control.

Most people found the final moments of the original BioShock the most disappointing in the game.

They were. The escort mission with the Little Sisters was far from the most infuriating escort missions I've played, but it seemed out of place. The end boss felt like he was there because video games are supposed to end with an epic boss fight. Both sequences introduced mechanics that didn't mesh well with the rest of the gameplay, and the final fight with Fontaine was disappointingly easy compared with any battle with a Big Daddy. On my last playthrough, I defeated him simply by booby-trapping the entire room and then running around it like the proverbial chicken-with-his-head-cut-off. While disappointing, I still found this ending diverting and reasonably satisfying. My first playthrough of Infinite, I found the final sequence on the Prophet's Hand comparable. On 1999 Mode, it was far more frustrating. An iffy 360 controller combined with the mode's more destructive enemies and less forgiving aim had me getting shot in the back while wildly trying to aim and press "X" long enough to have Songbird attack the zeppelins. It was far more frustrating than the ending to the original. Still, there was a good idea there, and if the controls had been better, even though it felt just as out-of-place as the original's ending, it was a novel idea commanding Songbird. After all, you were never able to give out specific instructions to a Big Daddy.

Another sign that the final battle is only a lateral move from the original's end boss: the ships core has its own health meter. When it's depleted, you must return to your last auto save rather than respawn, much like the Vita-Chambers suddenly being disabled during your rumble with Fontaine. But I don't have as much issue with the final battle as I do with what happens after you join Elizabeth on the bow.

Death in Finkton

by on

The body looked like something Colton had seen when hed caught a glimpse of the Blue Ribbon's kitchen, a mess of shredded flesh, exposed bone, and crimson blood.

"It's not the first time one of our workers has been caught in the machinery," John Downpike, the floor foreman, said. "But due to the nature of this particular casualty, Mr. Fink thought we'd better get the bulls involved."

"I can see why," Sgt. Wilkins said, eying the cords of rope around the late Roy Blake's wrists and ankles. "Unless you can think of a good reason this poor sod tied himself up before going to work, it looks to me like someone tied him to the belt and flipped the switch."

Lt. Colton chewed his lower lip thoughtfully, then tried to hold his breath so he didn't choke in too much of the dead man's smell. He carefully brushed aside some hair on the back of Blake's broken skull and studied a bruise there.

"Doesn't look like this was caused by the same mechanism as the rest of his injuries," Colton said. "If I had to guess, I'd say a wrench. Easy to find on a factory floor, and makes a pretty handy weapon when you can't get your hands on anything else. Make him easier to tie to the belt if he was knocked unconscious first."

"When did you find him?" Sgt. Wilkins asked.

"Not long after we started the line this morning," Downpike said. "Next man on the line raised bloody murder when he saw the body coming down the conveyor belt."

"And when was the last time anyone saw him alive?"

"I can only speak for myself, but I'd asked him to stay after we closed to have a little chat about his work ethic. He'd been getting sloppy lately and it was costing us time and money. We parted ways at about quarter past eleven. From there, he went home, I'd imagine, and I headed straight to the Good Time Club for a few drinks. I was there until they closed, at which time I headed home to catch a small amount of sleep myself before starting the line again about three hours later."

Colton went back to chewing on his lower lip.

"Mr. Fink will see you now," Flambeau, Fink's assistant, said. He led the lieutenant and the sergeant to the elevator and then hit the button. Colton watched floor after floor of factory lines, creating Columbia's latest technologies, disappear from sight.

"Try to be as brief as possible, gentleman," Flambeau said. "Mr. Fink is very busy, and he hates to see people when he's working."

"We'd hate to burden Mr. Fink with something as trivial as the security of all of Columbia," Colton said, not bothering to hide his sarcasm.

Flambeau raised an eyebrow and then opened the gate separating the elevator from Fink's office.

"Fink by name, fink by reputation," Colton thought, though he tried to push it from his mind. Daring to think anything disparaging about Columbia's most praised head of industry was almost enough to see him branded a Vox Populi sympathizer and charged with sedition. Colton had heard talk of a secret prison beneath Downpike's precious Good Time Club, a place where traitors to the Columbia Police Department were said to wind up. Jeremiah Fink didn't seem overly preoccupied with his work. His eyes had a glazed look to them as one hand swept an ink quill over a stack of papers and the other twisted a curl of his handlebar mustache. He pushed aside the tall stovepipe hat on his desk to get a better look at the policemen.

"Lt. Colton and Sgt. Wilkins," Flambeau said.

"Thank you," Jeremiah Fink responded, waving his assistant away. "You gentlemen are here about the unfortunate incident of Downpike's floor?"

"If by unfortunate incident you mean the tragic death of one of your men, then yes."

For someone who'd wanted to see the "bulls" brought it, Fink didn't seem very enthusiastic about the show of police force. Perhaps he'd expected middle-management to deal with the law in his place.

"We try to keep our factory relatively safe," Fink said. "But accidents do happen. Unfortunately often in this industry. The man's name was Blake, yes? I never had the pleasure of meeting him personally."

"And now you never will."

"Take that tone of voice all you want, Lieutenant . . . do you have a first name?"

"No, sir."

"Lieutenant Colton, your days on the force are numbered."

Fink's eyes lit up and he smiled from one curl of his mustache to the other.

"Would you like to meet your replacement?"

Fink walked back into the elevator with Colton and Watkins and pressed the button. When the ride came to an end, he led them across the factory floor, past Roy Blake's corpse, and into a large dark room. A jolt of Shock Jock from Finks fingers lit the lamps around the room, and Colton found himself staring at a grotesque display of gears and porcelain modeling.

"Meet the Motorized Patriot," Fink said. "Soon to be the sole protector of Columbia, once we've manufactured a large enough batch. This is, unfortunately, just the failed prototype."

Colton tried to recognize the long, narrow face and beak-like nose on the automaton.

"It's William Henry Harrison," Fink said. "Our ninth president. Father Comstock wants the final product to look like Father Washington, but since this is just the experimental phase . . ."

Downpike burst into the room, gasping for breath.

"Sorry to interrupt, sir, but I think we've found something the constables should see."

Colton looked from the foreman to the factory owner.

"That's all I need from you right now, Mr. Fink."

"Thank our Lord for that. I'll be back in my office if you need me for anything else."

Downpike led Colton and Wilkins briskly down the line, and he was turning a corner when Wilkins almost lost his balance.

"Are you okay, sergeant?" the lieutenant asked.

"I'm fine. Just seem to have found a slippery patch."

Colton knelt down to study the spot of floor next to Wilkin's foot, about a yard from the end of the nearest conveyor belt.

"Melted wax. Interesting."

"I have something far more interesting to show you, if you allow me," Downpike said.

Colton nodded and Downpike led him to a row of lockers. He pointed at the grate, where Colton could see a shock of blood-red.

"The man with the next locker spotted this grabbing a sandwich from his own locker," Downpike explained, searching for a key on a large ring as he spoke. "We've had some trouble on the line. Sabotage. Missing blueprints. Everyone's been told to keep an eye out for Vox involvement."

Downpike finally found the key and opened the locker, and the blood-red papers cascaded to the floor, each of them baring the image of the Vox leader, Daisy Fitzroy.

"Whose locker is this?" Wilkins demanded.

"Ralph O'Reilly," Downpike said.

"Of course," Wilkins said, shaking his head. "One of 'them'."

He blew a whistle and uniformed constables rushed in. In a matter of minutes, OReilly was being dragged from the floor, shouting, "I'm no Vox, I swear! I love our Prophet!"

Taking the elevator back to the wharf, Wilkin's clapped his hands as if to shake off dust.

"All's well that end's well."

"Is it?"

"Of course it is. This man O'Reilly is obviously a member of the Vox, or at least a Vox sympathizer. He's a threat to our fair city either way. I'm sure we'll have a confession out of him soon enough. Why? Don't you like him for Blake's murder?"

"No," Colton admitted. "I like John Downpike."

"The foreman?" Wilkins laughed. "But he has an airtight alibi."

"We'll see about that," Colton said.

He and the sergeant shook hands at the wharf, and then Colton made straight for the Good Time Club. He hated the place. He hated the gaudy red velvet carpeting and the expensive drinks and the smell of the patrons cheap cigars. But he took the time to ask several of the members if they remembered seeing John Downpike the previous night. Almost everyone did. It seemed Downpike had been especially generous, buying round after round for the entire club, from at least midnight until last call. Off duty, Colton headed to the housing district, and the Graveyard Shift, a bar that was much more his own pace. He kept replaying every detail of his visit to Fink Industries as he nursed a strong beer while, on the phonograph in the corner, a singer whaled about how it was another day in paradise. The phone rang, and after a quick answer, the bartender handed it to Colton.

"You always know where to find me, don't you?" Colton said before the other man could speak.

"I dont judge you for it, sir," Wilkins said. "Just thought you'd like to know. Doc says Blake went to be with our Lord between half-past-one and half-past-two this morning. Does Downpike's alibi check out?"

"It does," Colton begrudgingly admitted.

"Case closed, then."

"I suppose so. Good night, Sergeant."

As he handed the phone back to the bartender, another patron caught his eyes. It was a man with flames jutting from his fingers, showing off the Devils Kiss he had no doubt just consumed. He seemed to be lighting napkins on fire and timing how long they took to burn. Colton immediately swallowed the rest of his beer, paid his tab, and headed home. The next morning, he was waiting outside the factory early enough to catch Downpike coming in.

"Something I can do for you, constable?"

"Yes. You can tell me how much earlier than usual you had to come in to plant those flyers in O'Reilly's locker and clean up the ashes burnt rope left on the factory floor."

"What?" Downpike asked, cocking his head as if he hadn't heard.

"I performed an experiment last night. I found out it takes half-an-hour to burn a six-inch length of rope like the kind used at the factory here from end to end. So, by my math, it would take three hours to burn three feet of the stuff. So you could knock Blake on the back of the head with a wrench as he's leaving, tie his hands to the belt, and tie his ankles together, then tie another rope to his ankles, tie one knot to the rail at the end of the belt and another to an anchor about three feet away, and light a candle under it. That gives you plenty of time to show some largesse at the club, make sure everyone sees you, as the rope burns away, releasing Blake about three hours later, feeding him by the belt you'd turned back on into the machine. Poor fool was probably even awake again by the time he was crushed."

Something changed in Downpike's face. He looked almost feral.

"Then," Colton continued, "you'd have the keys to come in early, sweep away whats left of the burnt rope, and plant Vox propaganda in your scapegoat's locker. But not enough time, it would seem, to clean up the melted wax."

"Do you want to know why I did it?" Downpike asked.

Colton just nodded.

"Blake was blackmailing me. Asking me to leave nine-hundred Silver Eagles in a box under his favorite stool at the Graveyard Shift. I spent less than that buying drinks for everyone at the club that night."

"And what was Blake blackmailing you with?"

"He found out . . ."

Suddenly, Downpike charged towards Colton, the Sky-Hook on his wrist spinning. Colton desperately countered the blow with his own Sky-Hook.

". . . that I was Daisy Fitzroy's agent inside the factory."

Colton forced back Downpike's hand, and the cheap Sky-Hook slid from the foreman's wrist. Colton barely had time to notice the flash of red and black on Downpike's hand and the sudden growth and recline of the length of the foreman's fingernails before the Murder of Crows launched from Downpike's fingertips into the constable's face. By the time Lt. Colton managed to wave the crows away, Downpike had vanished. Colton ran forward, only for Downpike to reappear from around the corner, firing a China Broom. Colton grasped his bleeding stomach and collapsed. Downpike pointed the shotgun at his head.

"I hated to make O'Reilly the sacrificial lamb," he said, "but I was doing it for men like him. You see, those Motorized Patriots are exactly what the Vox Populi need to turn the tide of our struggle. Forget George Washington. Daisy Fitzroy has plans to build them all in the image of Abraham Lincoln. She sees a revolution coming. A revolution even your precious prophet Comstock can't foresee, let alone your blue-clad friends and your fool Chief Thug Thatcher."

He was so captivated by his own speech, he failed to notice Colton drawing his sidearm and aiming it at his chest. The pistol barked and, while the bullets missed the heart, they were enough to send Downpike staggering back, off the end of the dock. He frantically reached for the Sky-Line above him, but without his Sky-Hook, it was a losing proposition. The last sound Colton heard was Downpike's scream as he plunged towards the city miles below.

*This is for the BioShock Infinite writing contest.