After a few years of anxious anticipation, 2K and Irrational Games have released Bioshock Infinite. Irrational Games has taken their beloved Bioshock franchise out of the waters of Rapture and to the skies of Columbia. No longer are we confronted with an underwater city of darkness and horrors, but brought to a thriving city – bright and promising. We no longer play as a silent hero, but a man with a voice, a name, a face, and a deep story. Irrational seemingly made a complete 360 when they introduced us to the world of Columbia in Bioshock Infinite. Such drastic changes might have been a cause for concern to some, but after playing the game, I’m here to explain to you how much of a welcome change it was.
Very few times do we get a game that makes one think; Think, not only about the game’s story, but the underlying messages found within as well. Bioshock Infinite is one of those games that dares to go there. It dares to go to the taboos of politics, race, and religion. It dares to break barriers and limits that are set by the medium of video games, and it does it – It does it well. Not only is Bioshock Infinite a superb game, but it’s one of the few first person shooters that can achieve what it has achieved.
As was said at the outset of the review, Bioshock Infinite takes place primarily in the floating city of Columbia. You take on the role of Booker DeWitt, the franchise’s first character with a voice and a whole entire story centered around him. Booker finds himself on a mission to save a mysterious girl in Columbia named Elizabeth. Throughout their adventure, Booker learns about the mystery behind the city, this girl, and even himself.
The story in this game is great. It is done so well that you may not even noticed that you have heard the very same story before. Without spoiling it, on the surface, it’s a game about time. Let’s be clear, Bioshock Infinite’s story is great. It’s amazing. But in all honesty, it’s not completely original. With that said, it’s also not a problem. The story is so cleverly crafted, that it keeps you involved from the very beginning of the game where a brief dialogue and a quote is presented to you, to the very end where you are on the edge of your seat trying to comprehend everything that just took place. It takes this subject that has been done before and makes it all its own. The story is brought alive through dialogues between characters, missions that you go on, and even collectible items that are pivotal to piecing some of the mysteries together. There are some quirks with the story though.
I found that Elizabeth was too accepting of the events going on in the game. There is a strange man coming to take her away from the only home she has ever truly known and while she does show apprehension at first, in less than a minute she’s up and ready to run away with this man. Then there’s the awkwardly placed question that she poses at that time – “Who am I?” In addition, there are a few unanswered questions that are also possibly plot holes. The pacing in the story can be a little off as well here and there, but it is balanced out by the incredibly immersive action and gameplay. While most people will get the story from a normal playthrough of the game, paying attention to its dialogue, and cutscenes, I found that it can really come alive and together when you spend time collecting and listening to the audio recordings (voxophones) that are scattered all around the city of Columbia. When it’s all said and done, the story really shines at the end of the game when all questions are answered and big twists are revealed. Some people might figure it out before the end of the game, others may not. Whatever your case is, a confirmation of your assumptions, or a complete surprise – the ending can be shocking, exciting, rewarding, and touching. The writing coupled with the great voice acting brings this fantastical story to you in a very convincing manner. Once again, very few games can achieve this level of engaging storytelling, even less first person shooters, yet Bioshock Infinite accomplishes it on a superlative level.
Underneath that story though, Irrational laid some fundamental questions that are very real in society down to this day. How do we view and deal with different races? What kind of influence does religion and politics have on people? With all of these things – are they for the better or worse? Some people might be offended by the subject matter. However, while it is fictional in this specific case, it can find real world implications and cause a thinking person to ponder over the deeper meanings that we find in the game. It’s rare for a game to do this, but Bioshock Infinite does this in a tactful manner where one can find extra pleasure in discussing and debating these themes. It’s a game where one can not only ask, “Did you just see that headshot I got?!” but also, “How do you feel about the use of religion to justify racism and oppression?”
The gameplay in Bioshock Infinite is very solid with some elements I can’t remember seeing in any other game. One can describe Infinite’s gameplay as a mixture of Dishonored, inFAMOUS, and Singularity. It’s a first person shooter, so of course you have your guns and guns. There’s also the element of powers though. Throughout the game, Booker obtains powers from “vigors.” These are potions of sorts that give you different upgradeable abilities. This can range from throwing fire balls, sending a swarm of flesh-eating crows at your enemies, to levitating your enemies off the ground and possessing them to be your allies. Both hands are put to use on-screen while you melee enemies with your sky hook, shoot your guns, use your powers, and zip around the city on sky-lines that can be useful for combat and transportation. Elizabeth also has the unique ability to help you throughout the game. You can direct her to user her ability to open “tears” which can bring through weapons, cover, and other useful items that you might need in combat.
The gameplay action is fast paced and exciting, the AI is pretty sharp, and the controls are overall responsive. I did find some issues from time to time when it came to the controls response. These were occasions where I was trying to collect items scattered on the ground or on fixtures throughout the city and was unable to pick the item up. A couple of times, the game just wouldn’t register that my crosshairs was pointed to the item and I was trying to pick it up. More than once, I had to leave an item behind, which is a little irksome for an obssessive collector like myself. Other than that, controls worked great. One thing I appreciated about Infinite is that it also gave you options for your controller layout. It’s not uncommon for FPS’ to follow the cookie cutter layout that Call of Duty made “standard.” However, Irrational made the default control scheme quite different. If you wish to change it, this can easily be done through the settings menu.
There were a few moments where I had Elizabeth problems in the game. For example, at the start of my escape with Elizabeth, you enter a room where you must wait on an elevator to approach. I somehow got stuck between Elizabeth and a the wall and no matter how hard I tried, I was not able to get out of that area. There are times that she simply will not move and there’s no “get out of the way” function and you can’t walk through her. So unfortunately, I had to restart the game from my last checkpoint (which wasn’t too far back). Other times, the game spawned Elizabeth in awkward positions like right under me. Another issue that happened maybe two times in the game was when I asked Elizabeth to crack a safe and she was nowhere to be found. These little glitches happened from time to time in the game, but they were not persistent, nor were they game breaking or a cause for major complaints. These were minor issues that, looking at the whole picture, were very insignificant. The game remained very enjoyable to play.
There’s a good number of things to do in Bioshock Infinite. Not only can you play the main story, but you can also do small side missions which can reward you with upgrades, money, and weapons. As mentioned before, collectibles are everywhere in this game. You can collect audio recordings, money, upgrades, weapons, clothing (which give you special abilities or protection), and more. You can spend hours searching through Columbia for all of its hidden treasures. I put in at least 21 hours in my first playthrough of the game and didn’t find every item that you can find in the game. So there’s a good amount of gameplay you can derive from the title. If you’re up for the challenge, Bioshock Infinite also offers a few different gameplay modes ranging from easy to hard and including a special “1999” mode. 1999 takes gamers back to the days where games had a little more substance to their gameplay. In this mode, you must ration your ammo, items, all while fighting off challenging enemies.
With the story and gameplay covered, one can not simply forget to mention that this game is a work of art. It is beautiful. The bright colors, sharp graphics, and beautiful scenery found within Bioshock Infinite is a feast for the eyes. Not only is it beautiful, but it is one of the most polished games I have seen in a while with high quality graphics and a stable framerate. I didn’t notice any screen tearing and there were only about three times throughout the whole game that it paused for loading in the middle of gameplay. The audio in the game is also great from the voice acting, sound effects, and musical accompaniments. The high fidelity sound only helps get the player involved even more in the game. The game is attractive from start to finish and a visual masterpiece which I am glad I was able to wait on.
After a few delays, Bioshock Infinite finally came out and it was definitely worth the wait. It is one of those true “AAA” titles that comes along and fulfills each obligation it has to the gamers. It provides an engaging story. It has immersive, fun, challenging, and exciting gameplay. It’s graphics are breathtaking, and sounds are amazing. It’s a game that is able to take all of what we want from a game and serve it in one complete serving. There’s not much else I can say other than that my hat is off to the hard working folks at Irrational Games and I highly recommend that this title is one to play and to own.
[Note: A free copy of Bioshock Infinite was provided for this review by 2K partners]