When it comes down to it, BioShock as a franchise is not about extraordinary gameplay mechanics or jaw-dropping visuals. The true essence of a BioShock experience is about a being taken on a thought-provoking, philosophical journey through a mysterious world in which the underlying themes are riddled with deeper meaning. The idea that each BioShock game explores is universal; it reverberates with anyone who plays it, no matter the social, political, or cultural background that they come from. BioShock Infinite is just that, a truly moving experience from beginning to end. Does Infinite hold its own among the company of the legendary first game? I say yes, it most certainly does.
Even coming in with my extremely high expectations, BioShock Infinite still manages to exceed them. We’ll start with what’s most important to the game’s success and undoubtedly the focus during most of Irrational’s long development cycle: the story. Ken Levine, lead writer and creative director, jumped into Infinite as soon as he and his team finished the original Bioshock. He has mastered a way of storytelling that communicates emotion to the player in ways that previous games simply cannot match. BioShock Infinite’s story is extremely complex but if you take the time to analyze it correctly it is one of the most creative and well-implemented narratives of all time, not just within the realm of video games. I won’t spoil anything about the game’s plot in this review so don’t worry about reading on. It is common knowledge that the game involves “tears” in both reality and time, but the extent to which this premise is explored is beyond fascinating. If you’re capable enough to grasp the intellectually demanding concepts that the game addresses, the entire journey is massively rewarding.
The setting of BioShock Infinite is one of my favorite parts about the game. The floating city in the sky, Columbia, soars above the clouds by means that are unclear at the beginning of the story. It matches if not trumps the magnitude and grandeur of its predecessor, Rapture, from the original BioShock. The founding fathers are worshiped in an almost godlike manner, and extreme patriotism seems to be the universal religion. The protagonist, Booker DeWitt, is tasked with finding a girl named Elizabeth and freeing her from captivity within the city. By retrieving her and bringing her back to his employer he hopes to erase some sort of enormous debt that he has built up over the years. The city itself, along with the main plot, is constantly shrouded in mystery. You, along with Booker, are trying to figure out exactly what is going on and why everything in the city seems just a little bit off for some reason. It’s always fun when the player can discover something along with the character that they’re controlling and it just adds to the immersion of the whole experience.
Many of the gameplay mechanics in Infinite will feel very familiar to anyone who has played the original BioShock. Booker has the ability to use powers called vigors (previously plasmids) that let him creatively dispatch his enemies. He also has access to an array of familiar weapon types that are upgradeable throughout the game. The biggest addition to gameplay is the new sky-hook, a device that allows Booker to soar around Columbia on the city’s sky-lines. The sky-line system is used for delivering goods to different locations throughout the city. These days, however, it provides a means of transportation for both Columbia’s police officers and its less desirables. BioShock infinite ditches the splicers and Big Daddies of the original in favor of some more patriotic, steampunk-style enemy types. While none of the villains are as iconic as the Big Daddy, they fit perfectly into Infinite’s universe and provide the stress induced moments that made the first game so great.
Now don’t get me wrong, the game is not without some flaws, as no game is perfect. Its flaws though are minuscule in comparison to all of the great things that the game succeeds at. One thing that I was rather displeased with was that there was no hacking ability like in the first and second BioShocks. Elizabeth apparently is a master locksmith thanks to all of the time that she’s had to read while locked away in her tower. Rather ironic, right? Any lock that needs picking simply requires a quick call to Elizabeth and the appropriate number of lock picks. Hacking was one of my favorite gameplay mechanics in both of the previous games and it added a great deal of strategy when working your way through a dangerous room. The tonic system is also replaced with different collectible items of clothing, letting you augment your abilities for your specific combat style.
Irrational Games has been working on BioShock Infinite for quite some time now. The game was originally slated to be released back in October of 2012, being pushed to February of 2013 and then finally to its March release date. Ken Levine has supported the decision over and over again, “At the end of the day, if it’s going to make a better game we’re going to do it.” At the end of the day the delays paid off and gave the team the development time that helped push the game over the edge and make it a blockbuster that will be talked about for quite some time. While Irrational didn’t take very many big risks to implement new gameplay mechanics (besides the sky hook), the game is finely tuned and polished so that it fits exactly what is needed in order to convey the story to the player. Each scripted event and cinematic is extraordinarily well directed and rewarding. During my entire first playthrough I only ran into one noticeable bug and even then it was barely anything to complain about.
Probably the most notable success from the game’s long development cycle is the incredible AI that they gifted Elizabeth with. I’ve never felt so strongly for a game character or so much responsibility for my actions that affect her throughout the story. Her animations are extremely lively and emotionally driven, aided by the amazing voice work of Courtnee Draper. Troy Baker, the voice of protagonist Booker DeWitt also gives an amazing voice performance. The chemistry between the two actors is phenomenal for not having a set or much else to work with.
So, what are the chances that Infinite is a fantastic game? Odds are looking good. BioShock Infinite takes nearly all of the good things from the original and improves them in just the right places. Ken Levine and his team at Irrational Games have crafted a masterful story that fully engages the player in creative, new ways. The first person shooter experience is as tight as ever and the story excels beyond all of its competitors. I am in love with the original BioShock and its city under the sea, but after playing Infinite it’s extremely hard to decide. The game’s plot is of epic proportions and will be talked about for a long time coming. BioShock Infinite isn’t a perfect game, but it is a perfect gaming experience no matter how you slice it. Would you kindly pick up this game and bring us the girl?
Rating: 9.5/10 stars