Developer: Irrational Games, 2K Marin / Publisher: 2K Games / Played on: PC [Also on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3] / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Mild Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco]
It’s a dark night in the middle of an ocean, you approach a strange lighthouse and you find machines that appear almost other worldly. Minutes later you’re transported to a fantastic yet realistic city in the…please, stop me if any of this is sounding familiar. I’m going to go out on a limb here but I’m guessing that if you’re into great single player games and first person shooters, you played the original BioShock. And while the new sequel, Infinite, might appear similar on the surface, trust me when I say there is much more going on below.
Through most of BioShock Infinite you traverse the floating city of Columbia: a once proud symbol of early 20th century American ideologies like jingoism, extreme nationalism and racism. It’s clear right away that Infinite doesn’t mince words or paint a pretty picture of post Civil War America. As an outsider, you experience first hand the contrast between the factory-owning suit and the shanty-living Irish and Black working class. It’s faithful to its period and I applaud the developer for taking such a bold stance on what’s usually a taboo subject.
In addition I have to give props to the art team for their dedication to the insane level of detail put into every section of the game. The often beautiful and unique locations keep your interest and never makes you feel like you’re in the same place twice… even when you are. While the game is by no means open world, those familiar with the structure of the original BioShock should expect plenty similar type of pacing. More than once you’ll retread the same location but it never feels forced. More often than not you’ll catch things like additional armor bonuses or special items that you missed during your first visit. In addition to the inanimate structures and rooms, Columbia truly is a living city. Local citizens go about their day, either shopping, gawking or doing a million other tasks that don’t involve you. Sure, you can choose to ignore the optional life Columbia has to offer but those who love to explore and dilly-dally will get much more out of the game.
The head of this white-laced utopia in the sky is Zachary Comstock, a mysterious prophet who deifies the founding fathers and doesn’t mind a few dozen titan sized statues standing in his honor. Comstock’s ideologies are a stark contrast to Rapture’s Andrew Ryan, who rather than celebrating the individual puts his conviction in the preservation of the nation. Likewise, the main protagonist Booker DeWitt also breaks from the BioShock mold by actually speaking throughout the game. Right from the start your objective as Booker is clear, “Give us the girl, wipe away the debt.” Translated into rescue Elizabeth, a young doe-eyed and naive girl from Columbia. Of course, this wouldn’t be a BioShock game without a few twist and turns. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say there are plenty.
While BioShock Infinite’s story is full of painful thoughts that prod your brain to think outside the box, the constant is always Booker and Elizabeth. She may initially appear to be a simple damsel in distress, but the more I interacted and watched her story unfold, the more I connected with her on an emotional level. The relationship between the two can be compared to Half-Life 2 protagonists Gordon and Alyx. Thankfully you never actually have to protect Elizabeth during one of the games many shootouts. Instead of an over-glorified escort mission Elizabeth becomes a literal lifesaver.
As the game gradually ramped up in difficulty adding new enemies with bigger and scarier weapons, I relied on Elizabeth more and more. Whenever I was low on health there she was to throw me some extra life or ammo in a tight spot. This makes Elizabeth less of a nuisance and more of a guardian — making her all the more likable.
BioShock’s success in storytelling is only matched by its gameplay. Yes, the story is driving force the game but thankfully getting through it is a whole lot of fun with exciting, memorable moments.You’ll go from clearing room after room along rebel fighters to dropping war blimps out of the sky in single fights, yanked from one to the other with the roller-coaster-like transportation rails called Sky-Lines. Combat on this scale sounds like fancy tech demos that you’d see at E3, but in Infinite, it’s real and a hell of a lot of fun.
Keeping in the tradition of Irrational “Shock” games, you’ll harness Columbia’s iteration of plasmids (called “vigors” this time around). The principle is still the same and having a magic element in what could have been just another shooter makes Infinite stand out. Crowd controlling one enemy group with a murder of crows while simultaneously blasting a heavy hitter class with a shotgun made me realize that BioShock Infinite is simply fun to play.
Where the moment-to-moment action in Rapture was slow and methodical, the combat in Infinite is fast-paced and sometimes overwhelming. Having the ability to sprint, aim down sights and rely on Elizabeth for support keep the game accessible while retaining the BioShock experience. There was a specific moment that I played two completely different ways just by choosing to call on Elizabeth to rip open reality itself (the citizens of Columbia refer to these as “tears”), which gave me access to an inaccessible ledge. From there I was able to snipe a group of enemies which on my previous playthrough I died twice just trying to mow through with a shotgun. I love that Infinite adapts to different players. Clearly, a lot of thought went into making the gameplay a memorable experience.
So the final question has to be asked, does BioShock Infinite live up to the original journey through the lighthouse? In more ways than I can count, yes. Where the original BioShock excelled in near perfection, Infinite succeeds with perfect pacing and an engaging gameplay experience. Sure, I hit the occasional dead body falling through the world glitch but nothing so gamebreaking that I wanted to stop playing, and nothing that I can realistically knock the game for.
With the release of BioShock Infinite, developer Irrational has delivered a bigger story, more polished experience, and created two similar-yet-separate games that can co-exist and remain equal in quality. When the history of videogames is written, not one, but two BioShocks will be remembered for pushing gameplay, story, and subject matter to new levels. Bioshock Infinite is a game people will talk about for a very long time.