By now, you’ve probably finished BioShock Infinite at least once. If you read my review (here) then you’d know how much I enjoyed it. After scouring every nook and cranny in the game, and listening to every Voxophone, I’m here to answer any nagging or lingering questions you might have about its mind-bending story. Just so we’re clear, there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD…
Before I start, it’s worth pointing out that I found BioShock Infinite’s narrative to be excellent. However, I do realise that to fully understand it you would need to have the vast majority, if not all, of the Voxophones scattered around the game – these being Columbia’s version of audio-logs, explaining many characters histories or motivations. While some might argue this enriches a games world-building, others simply won’t find them all and miss out on crucial plot-points. Hopefully, this feature (in the format of a Q+A) will go some way in helping you fully understand. Also key is this statement, which appears at the very beginning of the game:
“The mind of the subject will desperately struggle to create memories where none exist…“―Rosalind Lutece, Barriers to Trans-Dimensional Travel, 1889
Rosalind Lutece, of course, being an integral character in the proceedings. We’ll start and the beginning and work our way through but remember it’s vital that you realise that protagonist Booker De Witt and antagonist Zachary Hale Comstock ARE THE SAME PERSON! The intricacies will be explained as we go on…
Who ARE the Luteces and WHAT do they want?
This is probably the most important question in understanding BS:I – Rosalind and Robert Lutece are the first characters you come across, rowing you over to the now iconic lighthouse, and appear at regular intervals throughout the game; either in-person or on a Voxophone recording. Although portrayed as twins, they are THE SAME person. Bear with me! Amongst many things, BS:I deals with quantum physics and the theory of alternative realities and universes – when presented with a choice, your universe will go one way but another would be created from the choice you didn’t make. Not just choices either – a Y chromosome could easily become an X chromosome and this is what happened with the Luteces.
In the “universe” that we start in, Rosalind Lutece, using her studies and skills, created the technique to make a floating city after meeting “The Prophet”, Comstock. Better still, her experiments led her into creating a machine to look into other dimensions (known as ‘Tears’), which resulted in her finding her “brother”, Robert. The male counterpart was also a quantum physicist and, interestingly, was in the same reality as Booker De Witt.
OK, so they’re the same person from different realities. Got it. But why are they helping Booker?
Good question. After Robert traveled to the “Rosalind/Comstock/Columbia” dimension, they began helping Comstock achieve his vision of turning Columbia in a new Eden – by looking at different technologies in other universes and the possible futures. This is how Comstock became known as ‘The Prophet’. Seeing a future where his ‘Seed’, Elizabeth, lays waste to the ‘Sodom below’ (New York), Comstock becomes obsessed with making this happen, taking a wife (Lady Comstock) in the process. However, by using the Luteces machine to such an extent, Comstock is rapidly aged before his time; becoming infertile and cancer-ridden in the process.
To ensure Comstock’s success, the Luteces travel back to the universe where Robert came from, the universe where Comstock is still Booker De Witt; Booker De Witt with a child. You see, the Luteces and Comstock KNOW that Comstock was formerly Booker De Witt – in a weird way, Elizabeth IS Comstock’s seed. We’ll talk about this more later on, but in the “Robert/Booker” dimension, De Witt refused to ‘become’ Comstock and in the intervening years had a daughter, Anna (renamed as Elizabeth), with his wife who died in child-birth. Haunted by his past, Booker became saddled with debt due to alcohol and gambling. Comstock, through the Luteces, approached Booker with an offer “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt” – sell them his child and be debt free. De Witt reluctantly agreed.
Right, but you still haven’t told me WHY they’re helping Booker!
I was getting to that! As mentioned during the game on a few occasions, in the INFINITE realities there are always constants and variants – the Luteces included. You see, while both Luteces are similar in many ways Robert seems to have more of a conscience than his “sister”. He regrets what they did and seeks to find a way to undo it. He even gives Rosalind and ultimatum; he would part company with her if she was not willing help him to undo what they had done, and return Elizabeth to her original universe.
Fine. Tell me though, how can they seemingly appear and disappear at will?
As bad-guys usually do, Comstock uncovers the Luteces plans to restore Elizabeth with Booker in her original reality and he isn’t too pleased about it. Deciding to kill them, he sends his top industry man, Jeremiah Fink to do the dirty work. Fink carries out his task by destroying the ‘Tear’ machine while the Luteces are using it. Comstock believes them dead but, instead, they now exist across all realities – able to affect things as they wish. Big mistake. The Luteces realise to undo what they did, and to stop the destruction to come, Comstock must be eliminated and Elizabeth taken away from Columbia. They travel back to the “Robert/Booker” dimension, kidnap Booker and set him to the task.
I’m following so far. Booker De Witt though, why doesn’t HE know all this?
Remember that quote at the top of the page about memories? It’s important. Towards the end of the game, Robert Lutece explains this, saying he should know as he lived through it too. When being brought into another universe, the mind struggles to remember and instead attempts to create memories – Booker’s biggest regret is selling his daughter so his mind latches on to this and tells him he must ‘find the girl’.
Brilliant, I’m getting there now! So, who’s the dead guy in the lighthouse?
This isn’t massively important in the scheme of things and it isn’t explicitly cleared up anywhere. However, there’s more than enough evidence to have a decent understanding of it. Before you reach the body, you find a note saying “Be prepared. He’s on his way. You must stop him – C”. Now, seeing as the lighthouse is the way into Columbia, the “C” in the letter clearly stands for Comstock – and having access to the Tears, Comstock knows that Booker is coming. So we can guess the man is in the lighthouse to stop Booker from getting to Columbia. So who killed him? It’s safe to say it was the Luteces.
First and foremost, the Luteces are scientists and scientists like to experiment. A little further on in the game, we see one of these experiments being carried out – the “twins” approach Booker asking him to flip a coin, which turns out to be heads. Robert has a tally chart with 121 marks on it (all heads- Robert is surprised, they’re obviously recording what the “constant and variables” are), which means the Luteces have brought Booker through 121 times. Booker has failed to rescue Elizabeth 121 times already! You can guarantee the Luteces see this process as trial and error – there is lots of evidence to suggest this – and it’s probable that the man in the lighthouse stopped Booker on at least one occasion. The Luteces are not good people (did the baby snatching not give it away?) and killing a man to achieve their goals is probably not a problem to them – they may have killed the same man over 100 times. The sign on the dead man “Don’t disappoint us” would have been left by the Luteces too; they know how Booker’s mind is working and this would give him extra focus and up the stakes.
So, we arrive in Columbia. Wait – why am I hearing songs by The Beach Boys?!
The Tears! Columbia has a bevy of technologies and knowledge that wouldn’t have been available in 1912 and this is all down to the Tears allowing users to look into the future and into other realities. It’s even given away early on! When you come across the (excellent) barbershop quarter singing ‘God Only Knows’ (a good choice of song given the theme of the game!) by The Beach Boys, there is a sign saying ‘Hear The Music of Tomorrow…Today!’. Furthermore, the songs credit goes to Albert Fink, (brother of industrialist Jeremiah who uses Tears for his own gains too – more later) the Mozart of Columbia. Throughout your time in Columbia you’ll hear other “future” music from the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Soft Cell.
Speaking of Columbia, where did Comstock get the money to build it?
Simple answer – he didn’t. Comstock had the vision for Columbia, the US Government actually built it. Comstock founded a group called the, erm, Founders (which included Rosalind Lutece) who approached the government for funding. They agreed as they wanted to show Columbia off to the world as a show of American excellence and strength. However, the relationship between Comstock’s Founders and the US sour after Columbia attacked China (after the Boxer Rebellion) and Comstock secedes Columbia from the U.S.
We come across Vigors pretty soon after. They seem eerily similar to BioShock‘s plasmids… Laziness from Irrational?
No, not only are they a core game mechanic of the ‘Shock series, they’re also a plot point! As I said earlier, the Fink brothers were both using Tears to look into other realities. Industrialist Jeremiah Fink states on a Voxophone: “These holes in the thin air continue to pay dividends, I know not which musician you borrow your notes from, but if he has half the genius of the biologist I now observe, well…” The biologist is clearly Tenenbaum, creator of the plasmids in Rapture. It’s not a great mental leap to say that all Fink’s work was plagiarised from other dimensions; Songbird included.
Fink is credited as the creator of Songbird, Elizabeth “protector” and, fans of the series would have seen, the two have a Big Daddy/Little Sister relationship. In another recording, found with the blueprints of Songbird, Fink says: “These holes have shown me yet another wonder, they illuminate a merger of machine and man that is somehow the lesser, yet the greater, of both parties. The process seems to be irreversible. Perhaps, though, Comstock will have some need of this kind of thing to keep watch in that tower of his.”
Who’s the man inside Songbird? Unknown. However, given we know a little about the creation of Big Daddies from BioShock 2 and we know what lengths Booker will go to for Elizabeth, it isn’t a stretch of the imagination to say that maybe a De Witt from another reality is that man…
Mind. Blown. I think I’m almost there now. I’m confused with how Elizabeth has her powers though? The Siphon?
No, the Siphon was created to limit Elizabeth’s powers; to stop her escaping. It’s a power source too. The route of her power is more innocuous. Very late in the game, when it is revealed that Elizabeth is Booker’s daughter, De Witt relives the memory of selling her. Chasing down the street, he see’s the Luteces and a younger-looking Comstock disappearing into a closing Tear. The baby stretches her hand out to Booker, only for the Tear to close – slicing off her little finger, which crucially remains in Booker’s reality. That’s the reason for her abilities; a part of her is in two dimensions at once. This is actually proven when he meet Elizabeth for the first time. In the room there is a recording from Rosaline Lutece where she ponders: “What makes the girl different? I suspect is has less to do with what she is, and rather more what she is not. A small part of her remains from where she came. It would seem the universe does not like its peas mixed with its porridge.” The Voxophone is even called ‘The Source of Her Power’.
The big question then. Booker De Witt is Comstock. How?
So, we’ve established that different realities will be created when presented with a choice – a reality where the choice was made and a reality where a different path was taken. After serving in the US Army and being involved in the Wounded Knee massacre (look it up, it’s an infamous incident), Booker is haunted by his actions. To seek salvation, Booker seeks baptism – to be born again and to wash away his sins. We relive this memory at the end of the game; however, in the reality where Booker De Witt later had a daughter and became a Pinkerton he didn’t go through with the baptism. In the Columbia reality, he did and renamed himself Zachary Hale Comstock. While Booker continued to wallow and sink into debt, alcohol and gambling addiction, Comstock found new belief in the racial purity of the American white man and American Exceptionialism. He also became deeply religious and, after meeting Rosalind Lutece and seeing the Tears believed them to visions from the ‘Archangel Columbia’ and he a great prophet.
The preacher who does the baptism sure looks familiar… And why does Slate not recognise Booker as Comstock? He knows them both!
Well, the preacher who baptises Comstock is the same man who baptises Booker on his arrival at Columbia. He also happens to be blind – his eyes are cloudy and grey in both scenes. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t know Booker is Comstock though; Booker passes out when being cleansed by the preacher on his way into Columbia and wakes up saying: “That preacher needs to learn the difference between baptising a man and drowning him”. Comstock knew Booker would come to Columbia after all…
In regards to Slate, he knew Booker when he was around 19 years old. At the time of BS:I, Booker/Comstock are around 38; but Comstock has the appearance of a man twice that age due the side-effects of using the Tears. It’s easy to see why Slate didn’t make the connection.
The nosebleeds have something to do with this, right?
Right. At variance points in the game, and especially when Booker comes into contact with Comstock, De Witt’s nose will start to bleed. This goes back to the statement at the very top – the mind is trying to piece together memories and can’t; the nose bleeds are a side effect.
Before we tackle the ending… Why does future Elizabeth attack New York?
This is the “prophecy” Comstock saw and the reality the Luteces are trying to prevent. When Songbird takes Elizabeth away from Booker before Comstock house, in all of the previous attempts from the Luteces that have gotten this far Booker has failed to reach Elizabeth again (alternatively, THIS time could have been the furthest they ever got!). With Elizabeth completely in Comstock’s control, the tyrant attempts to brain-wash and indoctrinate her to his vision. It’s not entirely a success. What turns Elizabeth is the lack of hope. When you explore Comstock House, in what turns out to be the 1980’s) you pick up various Voxophones from Elizabeth as she sinks into darkness and despair – it’s her loss of hope and Booker’s failure to save her that makes her take Comstock’s place.
Future Elizabeth regrets this and brings Booker forward in time without him knowing it, giving him the key to Elizabeth’s freedom in the process. Why attack New York? It’s possible that to Comstock, the metropolis is the very image of the ‘Sodom below’ and destroying it would make waves across the world.
Here we go – the ending. What’s the deal with all the lighthouses?
This is very much down to your own interpretation and there isn’t really a right or wrong answer. When the Siphon is destroyed and Elizabeth has access to her full powers and knowledge, she attempts to explain them to us and Booker. After a startling trip to Rapture, Elizabeth looks up at the stars exclaiming that there are so many worlds. We then enter the front door of a lighthouse with a special key that materialises in Elizabeth’s hand, a key that Elizabeth says has always been there. We are greeted with the sight of an infinite amount of lighthouses, some with another Booker and Elizabeth walking around them. Did they all exist? It’s probable that Elizabeth created them all so that Booker would understand that each choice made and unmade has a different path.
There is this though: “They’re doors,” Elizabeth explains to Booker. “Doors to everywhere. They’re a million, million worlds. All different, all similar. Constants and variables. There’s always a lighthouse, there’s always a man, there’s always a city. I can see them through the doors. Sometimes something’s different, yet the same.” You could take this to mean that in every universe/dimension/reality, there will always be a wondrous city that falls into ruination; a city built on strong ideals with a singular leader – a city marked by a lighthouse.
Constants and variables… So did Rapture exist? Did Columbia?
Yes they did. The constants in all of this are the lighthouse, the city and the man. The man might be different, the city might be different – but there will always be one. Rapture won’t exist in Columbia’s universe (and vice-versa) because Rapture IS its own universes’ Columbia. You could also take this to mean that even though Booker’s and Elizabeth’s actions erase Comstock (more on that soon!), Columbia will exist eventually – just in a different guise. Afterall, Comstock not existing doesn’t mean Rosalind Lutece, Columbia’s Founders and the US Government didn’t!
Riddle me this then – why drown Booker before he made his decision on being baptised?
Booker is drowned at this point so that he didn’t HAVE to make a decision – Comstock only came into being when De Witt chose to be baptised; take that choice away and he will never have to make it. With the possibility of Comstock erased the entire events of the game are erased. Booker’s past is still real, and many of the characters we met still exist; but Elizabeth as we know her doesn’t. With Comstock never there to abduct her, each possible variation of Elizabeth blinks out of existence. Sad, really.
Hang on, what about the scene after the credits?!
Again, this one is very much down to interpretation. What if in one reality, Booker never even goes near the lake for baptism – the thought never crosses his mind? He would go on to have his child, Anna, who would in turn be spared becoming Elizabeth. It’s a more upbeat ending than what’s presented before the credits (and that’s all it might be) – this one is down to you. Do you want a happy ending? It’s important to note that, in an Inception-style sting, before the credit’s roll one Elizabeth is still there – does she disappear with the fade-to-back? She could have; with the Siphon destroyed, Elizabeth could have power to exist infinitely. Then again, she might not. Again, Irrational leaves it to you – what kind of ending do YOU want?
Crystal clear. Right, I’m off to play it again!
Hopefully this will have gone some way to filling any gaps in YOUR minds. Is it everything? Probably not, nor should it be. Great sci-fi needs a little ambiguity to spark a discussion and BioShock Infinite has it. There are also more than enough pieces of evidence, nods and winks for you to draw your own conclusions. Next time you play it, look out for them – the second time might be even better.
– Dave Green. Follow him on Twitter, he’ll talk about narrative ALL DAY @davidpgreen83
We’ve done our best at explaining the key points in BioShock Infinite’s story and ending. Did you miss anything? Let us know in the comments below, on Twitter @lowfatgaming or on our Facebook page. It’s certainly an ending to keep people talking for years to come.