BioShock Infinite: Review [Photo]
The original BioShock is usually the first example to come up in an argument about whether video games can be considered an artform. That game’s amazingly detailed underwater city, Rapture, and engrossing storytelling left such a mark on players that 6 years later there’s pretty much nothing else that stands above it as gaming’s shining beacon of legitimacy amongst the mainstream artistic community. The First-Person Shooter genre has also been saturated with numerous modern or scifi military clones so its unique gameplay combining fast shooting and the use of strange elemental powers was welcomed. Though a sequel, BioShock 2, was created by a different developer, 2K Marin, it simply retread the first game’s feel without a lot of its soul. “BioShock Infinite,” is the true successor to the original, now being helmed by the original director and developer, Ken Levine and Irrational games. It’s not rare for huge expectations to be placed on follow up game titles, the weight of such pressure can stop creators from wanting to try something new for fear of angering their fans, but then you run the risk of changing too little and disappointing everyone. Bioshock Infinite makes good on its expectations and delivers another game just as if not more powerful than the first.
You are Booker DeWitt, an ex soldier trying to erase his past as well as a huge gambling debt. You’ve been contracted by your debtors to head to Columbia, a once American floating city that seceded from the rest of the US, to retrieve a young girl in order to wipe the slate clean. Who this girl is, and why this transaction is worth the amount of money you owe is a mystery, but these are only the first of numerous questions you’ll have once you are rocketed to the soaring metropolis. One of the first things to strike me about the game was the overwhelming beauty of its art design. Nearing the end of a console cycle developers are capable of squeezing every ounce of power out of the machines and here it shows. The first time you lay your eyes on Columbia after breaking through the storming clouds of the surface is truly breathtaking. A beautiful 1912 city surrounded by blue skies, white clouds, and orange sunlight. Buildings bob up and down independently of one another on what look like hot air balloon bases and you’re too busy being awe struck to question how this is even possible.
Once inside the city its not long before you find out that the girl you’re looking for is locked away in a huge tower, and your mission to break her out is at odds with the city’s leader, a man dubbed a prophet Zachery Hale Comstock. Comstock’s city slowly begins to peel back its allure and wonder to reveal far more sinister designs. The citizens of Columbia worship the founding fathers like gods. They refer to them as “Father Washington”, “Father Jefferson”, and “Father Franklin.” They erect giant statues of the men wearing divine robes and even larger monuments for their beloved prophet Comstock. You’ve happened to show up in the middle of a holiday in the city celebrating the anniversary of their secession and you’re asked to do something at a fair, that “most” people will find morally reprehensible. I won’t spoil it, but it is a great way to alert the player to the underlying evils of the place you’ve just entered, following this event all hell breaks loose. You manage to reach the girl in the tower fairly quickly where you then realize that the issue isn’t necessarily getting to her but getting out with her. Elizabeth is a young woman probably in her 20s who has been hailed as a child of prophecy and was locked away since birth in a tower to “watch over” Columbia under the guard of a giant armored clad falcon called “Songbird”. You soon learn that Elizabeth has a very strange ability where she can see “Tears”, which look like black and white rips in space-time, and pull things through them. In order to make it out of this place you’re going to need her abilities.
Elizabeth is unlike many other Non Playable Characters or “NPCs” who tag along with the protagonist, you do not have to protect her ever, the game tells you in tutorial text that she can take care of herself, but in reality she’s taking care of you. Elizabeth hides and takes cover when bullets start flying, enemies don’t attack her which does make sense in the context of the story since you’re the troublemaker and kidnapper. However she is a huge asset to firefights in many ways. In combat certain Tears allow you to choose what Elizabeth brings into the world in order to help you. She can pull in health. ammo, turrets, even whole pieces of architecture to act as cover or an elevated position. The Tears are area specific though so it’s not like she’s conjuring up any and everything any and everywhere. You pick from what’s available, what’s most beneficial to you at that moment and ask her to pull it through. It’s an interesting concept, and it is necessary to switch between multiple Tears to deal with some of the enemy encounters as they can get quite tough. She will also throw you items to replenish health and ammo just as you need them which goes a long way toward keeping you alive. I would compare the shooting itself in a lot of ways to the Halo franchise. Aiming down the sites isn’t essential to hitting enemies, firing from the hip will suffice for a majority of the weapons but Elizabeth isn’t the only one using special powers. Similar to “Plasmids” from the first game, BioShock Infinite calls them “Vigors” but it is essentially the same thing. Drink a bottle of this scientifically designed liquid and it rewrites your genetic makeup to allow you to do things like shoot fire from your hands, or command a murder of crows to swarm groups of enemies. Powers are fired off with the Left Trigger and can be switched with the Left Button, while guns are fired with the Right Trigger and switched with the Right Button. You can only switch between two guns or Vigors at a time, but unlike the guns where you can only ever carry two you’ll eventually have eight Vigors that you can slot into the two power spots for quick switching.
When you’re not fighting you’re getting to know the people who are either trying to help you or stand in your way. Of course those who offer their assistance want something in return which is one of the oldest of game tropes. I need X. In order to get X I need to do Y, before Y can be done, I need Z. This concept is as old as dirt in video games but I have to say that it only bothered me for the split second where I realized that it was happening. Most titles that follow this style feel like the game is being unnecessarily extended, basically just filler content. Everything I was asked or tasked with doing, was integral to the story, even if I was being sent to retrieve something in order to open a door, what transpires while on that mission is either some story beat or information that is necessary for you to have experienced in the context of the story. If you’re going to make me do anything in this world make it matter, and BioShock Infinite does. The characters in this story are great. Everyone you meet in Columbia is multidimensional. No one is totally good or totally evil you get to learn a lot of the motivations behind their actions so you empathize with their plight even if it’s in direct conflict with your own. What I didn’t think was particularly forward thinking was the game’s auto-save feature. There are not multiple save files and you cannot save when you want to. You’ll have to move forward until you see the little spinning auto-save icon in the corner. I picked up on this fairly early and made sure to watch for it when I wanted to take a break and never felt that the saves were too far apart, but I had a friend complain to me of having to redo sections of the game because he’d forgotten to check if the game auto-saved. There was a combat section late in the game that I feel was somewhat poorly designed. You’re fighting an endless spawning wave of very tough enemies and it isn’t clear exactly what you’re supposed to do to progress. Once I did figure it out, it was extremely difficult to do and I died multiple times. The last time I died I had done much better than previous attempts but when I revived the mission was completed and I wasn’t sure if I’d actually beaten it or died so many times that the game moved me past it. Also the Vigors are poorly explained in the narrative of this game. If you haven’t played the previous BioShock, (which you should definitely do) it could be something that you focus on too much and lose interest in the bigger story of Infinite, and I assure you the Vigors will make sense by the end if you’ve played the first game if not then you may want to just take those abilities at face value.
BioShock Infinite is a must-play title. More so than the fun game-play, the game’s narrative is truly mind-bending and will warrant at least a second play through to properly wrap your head around what’s happened. I would call Ken Levine the video game equivalent to Christopher Nolan, just as his movies garner anticipation and critical acclaim so does the work of Ken Levine. BioShock Infinite is a worthy successor to the now legendary BioShock, and for some, playing either will open your eyes to what video games truly have the potential to be, full of infinite possibilities.