Review: Bioshock Infinite
What is left of the wet and depressing corridors of Rapture is nothing but a mere drowned utopia, a memory of a blighted universe that was the home of the two previous Bioshock episodes, created by the minds of Ken Levine and the Irrational Games team. This is hard for us gamers, to let go of a universe we’ve grown fond of, even with all its atrocity and gruesome violence, and to accept Columbia, Bioshock Infinite’s fantastic city floating in the clouds, in which you will taste mouthfuls of hatred, hope, insanity but mostly, blood.
In 1912, a few miles off the coast of Maine, a small boat makes it to a lone lighthouse, in heavy rain, bathed with the moonlight. On board is a couple dressed in yellow oilskins trench coats and our main protagonist, Booker DeWitt to the distant beacon. This lone “hero” is not your typical videogame main character, or a greedy young virgin adventurer, but on the contrary, a crooked detective, a henchman who once made his bacon of beating demonstrators for wealthy patrons, among other nasty stories.
If I could even dare say, you’re a soulless, conviction-less, tortured soul, but you are also downing to the neck in debt. It’s by force that you accept this mission: to find and bring to New York a young woman named Elizabeth. The problem in this rather easy task is that the lady is held in Columbia, a mysterious floating city which disappeared in the sky, once a part of the United States, years ago. If you played the original titles, make no mistake, the parallel between the original BioShock are quite clear. But then again, if this article was to boast about the magical influence of the original title, I would never stop here and my words will encourage you to explore, admire and ransack this world by yourself. Because yes, if the gameplay is more or less the same as in the previous opus, the narrative and the world put in front of you make this something title unique and brilliant.
Now for all of you to think that the main protagonist is this shabby Booker Dewitt, let me tell you that you’re wrong. My hero in this work of art is undoubtedly Columbia itself. Trust me when I say this, there is a good chance that your first steps in the streets of Columbia will glue you to the screen, because beyond a reputable technical dimension (thanks to a heavily modified version of Unreal Engine 3.0), slick texture, the overall design based on post-colonial American architecture is breathtaking.
The city also ditches the confined, dark and dilapidated theme of Rapture for a glorious semi-open world, with bright skies and endless clouds. Composed of floating islands linked by a network of rails and trams, Columbia resembles an antechamber of heaven. The carefree children play in the sun-drenched streets, couples embrace and discuss life matters in sumptuous garden benches, with swarms of hummingbirds in flight, with a Disney like cloudy sky background in the back.
You cannot help but waste time roaming around, intrigued and curious, trying to decipher how these mechanical horses and other technological marvels work, until you finally understand – like a good book – that everything is too clean, too perky and too enchanting to be honest.
Very quickly, the enlightenment admiration to the city fades out, as DeWitt is struck by the pervasiveness of religion, and more specifically a blind worship of Comstock, referred by its legion as the Prophet, as well as racial segregation, patriotism and propaganda messages promoting hatred of the world below as the Sodom Below.
Like the previous segments, BioShock Infinite is to be savored slowly. The structure of the game may well be linear, and exploration of the environments is possible, but it offers less flexibility than some parts of good ol’ Rapture. Anyway, I still recommended roaming around to find pick-locks, voxophones or gear, especially if you wish to survive on Hard or 1999 mode. Since we mentioned voxophones, mind you that the concept of collectible audio and video logs is back, and if you choose to find them all, BioShock Infinite will deliver more clues to its complex history and roots.
But for now, DeWitt does not care about all these distractions. He has a job to do, a debt to be erased. But like every good – or bad – movie, nothing turns out the way they thought it would, and the entire city as well as local authorities see a brand on his hand and call him the “false prophet”. All this will then lead to the first battle of the game, which will remind you of the original Bioshock, with rather similar weapons, even if the rest has been improved. Pistol, shotgun, colts, sniper rifle, machine gun, rocket launcher, grenade launcher, there is nothing very original, even if all gear can be pretty improved several times via vending machines for a fee. The only differences in your armaments is that you have a small shield that will recharge automatically and you can only carry two weapons at once, which will force you to regularly loot your foes during fight and on the move.
These choices make BioShock Infinite a much more dynamic game than its older brother, and we bow to Irrational Games on that one.
This thirst for fast-paced movement is also illustrated by the addition of a magnetic hook that will not only serve you to melee your enemies but even gruesomely execute them, or latch on rail-tracks that meander throughout Columbia. At the beginning, this hook looks like a gimmick, even if it’s classy enough to be able to jump from one line to the other at 200 km per hour, but we quickly figure out the advantages of drop on its target for an instant murder, the rush behind shooting enemies while being hatch, the near death escape… So much use, that we even realize how the level design, in all its visual glory, are always made for this gadget. Thus, these choices make BioShock Infinite a much more dynamic game than its older brother, and we bow to Irrational Games on that one.
After all this talk about weapons, melee, death, where are the Plasmids? Well, they are hear, but they only changed names. You see, instead of completely reinventing these supernatural powers that you learned to use in Bioshock 2, Irrational simply re-themed them to fit the new environment and storyline, thus Shock Jockey is actually Rapture’s Electro Bolt, Insect Swarm is Murder of Crows, and so on. But the genius addition to the Plasmid/Vigor concept is the abilities to use your surroundings to your advantage or even fuse two powers together for maximum damage: want to turn a large area into a sea of fire? Why don’t you toss Devil’s Kiss on an oil puddle? Or levitate your enemies in the air with Bucking Bronco and toss him away by combining the combo with Charge.
Now i have a small confession… I feel ashamed. Why you ask me? Well, I am ashamed that I haven’t introduced you to our second hero – or heroin actually – Elizabeth. This beautiful young lady, who will accompany you during most of your adventure, is such a crucial element of BioShock Infinite, as crucial as the universe itself. She’s the main character of this game, on both scenario and gameplay level, as she evolves, experience and suffers at your side, connecting you deeply with her, in ways only great books could. Although she’s an AI controlled sidekick, Irational Games have made everything in their power to give it the most humane factors, pushing you to bond with her slowly, until you start relying on her in your many battles, but in understanding the deep and rich universe of Bioshock Infinite.
As mentioned above, Elizabeth has great skills that will come in handy when needed and on the field. A skilled lockpicker, she can’t open doors and chests (full of valuables), highlight certain objects you might have missed, hand you ammunition, health when she can. It’s not automatic, or excessive, but smartly paced so you don’t take advantage of her. On the other hand, as she can open portals to other dimensions, allowing her to bring a helping hand from alternate worlds, such as a wall to cover behind, automatic turrets, crates filled with weapons, ammunition, etc.. All that brings to the fighting, an additional dimension, but is ultimately not crucial, unless you’re playing the game at higher levels.
• It's pure Bioshock
• Elizabeth… The best kind of NPC
• The history and the resonances of its conclusion
• Columbia is a character of its own
• Crazy artistic direction
• Dynamic gunfights
• Music is great
• Attention to details
• Not that difficult unless on 1999 Mode
• Less tactics in the fights
As I've been reading around, some will blame BioShock Infinite pace to be a little uneven, or the overall weak enemies, but that's not the point. Bioshock Infinite like its predecessors is more than a game, more than an adventure and a shooting title. It's a story, a movie, something that you attach to, and read again, as it will play with your emotions, stir you imagination confuse you and best yet, touch your inner soul, and leave you with one of the greatest memories of the gaming industry.