Published on April 4th, 2013 | by Daniel Lee1
BioShock Infinite Review
A Sumptuous Shock
When it comes to story telling, the original BioShock set a new standard for video games to follow. Released back in 2007, BioShock introduced us to the brilliant underwater city of Rapture; a dystopia torn apart by its own creation. The man who envisioned and created Rapture, Andrew Ryan, will forever be remembered as one of the most complex and greatest characters in history.
Glorious visuals, engaging story and incredible gameplay aside, the main reason why BioShock left such a lasting impression was because it felt so fresh and innovative. Rapture was such an amazing and convincing place to be.
Surprisingly, when the inevitable sequel arrived, Irrational Games handed over the mantle to 2K Marin, who seemed to be too scared to make any meaningful changes in fear of spoiling the original. Don’t get me wrong, BioShock 2 was a good game, but it never reached the heights – or underground depths – of Irrational’s rapturous debut.
Now, though, Irrational Games are firmly back in the hot seat with the story of Booker DeWitt and the city of Columbia in BioShock Infinite. So please, would you kindly read on?
Come Fly With Me
The opening scene is both similar and a stark contrast to the original game. Instead of plummeting down to the depths of the ocean, you are raised above the clouds before setting sight on the floating city of Columbia. The moment is reminiscent of the time when you caught your first glimpse of Rapture; however, the two cities could not be further apart and not just in terms of distance. It was clear Rapture was in ruins; it was clear it had torn itself apart. Columbia’s problems, however, are hidden away as the sun bounces of its pristine surface.
Columbia was created to travel the world, spreading the word of America to other countries around the globe. Set primarily in 1912, the period brilliantly personifies the idea of American exceptionalism, which was prominent at the time. Various different themes creep into Infinite’s narrative, intertwining to create a compelling story line – one major influence being religion.
The game’s main antagonist Zachary Comstock is revered as Columbia’s “Prophet” and you will find various things all over the city referring to its deep religious seating. The game’s fantastic writing also alludes to various other ideas and theologies, setting it apart from the usual FPS plot of run here, go there, and blow this up. No, BioShock Infinite requires thinking; its plot is brilliantly unique.
You play as Booker DeWitt. Booker’s been tasked with finding a young woman named Elizabeth, who has been held captive by Comstock, the leader of the city’s ruling class, The Founders. When Booker arrives in Columbia, the city becomes engaged in Civil War between the Founders and another group, the Vox Populi.
The Founders want to keep Columbia purely for American citizens while the Vox Populi, a violent resistance group led by Daisy Fitzroy, are opposed to this. Booker must battle through Columbia, which is tearing itself apart through war in order to reach Elizabeth and take her away from Comstock’s reach. There are surprises along the way, with some fantastic and truly memorable moments.
She’s Got Character
The BioShock series has a great track record of producing some brilliant characters and Infinite raises that bar just a little higher, the star of the show being Elizabeth. As the game progresses, the chemistry between Booker and Elizabeth is simply infectious; you simply cannot help but fall for them. We’re talking Master Chief and Cortana here in terms of partnerships, it really is that good. Elizabeth’s story is tragic and as she and Booker share this experience, the synergy between the two is palpable.
Comstock serves as the game’s main antagonist and it’s pretty clear why. He’s the man who locked the princess in the tower, kept Elizabeth imprisoned; it’s only fitting that he’s the man who’s a thorn in your side from the off. Comstock’s views serve him well as the “bad guy” too. He shows he has a xenophobic streak when he decides that Columbia should be solely for America citizens, he also has no qualms about allowing the working class to be exploited by those higher up, such as weapons manufacturer, Jeremiah Fink. Add to that he’s a religious psychopath and its pretty clear he’s a dangerous man. Although brilliantly complex as Comstock is, he doesn’t quite have the same intrigue and just sheer brilliance to match Andrew Ryan, in fact, no character in Infinite quite reaches that level.
The Power Is In Your Hands
While BioShock’s setting may have drastically changed, the gameplay feels reassuringly similar. In your right hand, you hold your weapon, and there’s a satisfyingly good deal to choose from. The game’s weaponry ranges from a simple pistol to a ferocious chain gun, though one major change to the series introduced in Infinite is that you can now only carry two weapons. Previously, when things got a bit hairy in earlier games, you could simply pull out your RPG and blow away all your enemies; now, however, you have to micromanage your equipment. Although I was slightly pessimistic at first, I personally found the new system to work really well, forcing you to adapt to certain situations depending on the weapons you currently hold, adding a new dimension to the gameplay.
In your left hand are your Vigors, the game’s equivalent to plasmids and tonics from the first two games. Powered by Salts, The Vigors are picked up throughout the game and can also be upgraded from one of the vending machines dotted around the city. They vary in their ability and while one may be completely useless in one situation, another may prove to be a lifesaver. Environmental factors also come into play when using Vigors; spot a group of enemies standing in a puddle of water and a blast of the “Shock Jockey” will soon dispatch them. The “Undertow” Vigor is also satisfyingly useful at knocking enemies clean off the floating Columbia entirely.
In terms of enemies, Booker has to deal with a variety of foes. There are Comstock’s men, the Vox Populi and the four heavy hitters. The first being the Handyman, and if you’re playing on Hard, you best have one of those stress-relieving squeeze balls at the ready. The Handyman is the big brute of the heavy hitters, if he connects with one of his charges, he’ll deliver some serious damage. Then there’s the Motorised Patriots, a huge adversary who carry a vicious chain gun, whilst also wearing a mask of the first President of the United States, George Washington. These are vulnerable from behind so you have to find a way to sneak around to take them out effectively. Thirdly are the Boys of Silence, who will call in back up if they catch the slightest glimpse of you. And last, but by no means least, of the heavy hitters is the Siren, a mysterious, enshrouded female figure who can raise the dead to aid her.
Although equally formidable, none of the Heavy Hitters quite match that level of awe and intrigue that came with a fight with a Big Daddy in Rapture. Seemingly just killing machines, the Heavy Hitters lack that emotion (except maybe the Siren) that made the Big Daddy so appealing.
Booker can also ride the skyline system in Columbia, which is similar to that seen in the Ratchet & Clank games. Resembling something like a rollercoaster, Booker can hook onto the skyline in order to make a quick escape out of a sticky situation or simply reach a different part of the battlefield to bring the fight from a different angle.
Booker’s companion Elizabeth is also invaluable when it comes to combat. She doesn’t need protecting, so there’s no tedious need to do so when a fight arises, but she will scour for ammo, health and salts and will pass them along when found. She will also open “tears”, which will help you defeat enemies. These tears will consist of different weapons: freight hooks or automated gun machines. When all these different factors come together, the result is a delightfully varied game. Each situation can be tackled in numerous ways and you’ll find yourself relishing the various options available to you; honestly, no fight ever feels the same.
To describe Infinite as an “on-the-rails shooter” would be insulting, the game is paced beautifully allowing you to explore Columbia at your pace while also getting the blood pumping when required. The AI in Infinite complements this feeling, as they’re impressively clever and will try to flank you at every opportunity. You may come across the odd weird glitch, but mostly the AI works very well.
Visually, the game is brilliant. Columbia looks fantastic as it gleams in the sunlight and is stunning contrast to the watery Rapture. While Columbia may not have the same on-edge atmosphere of the unforgettable underwater city, it’s use of vivid imagery and the way the city has been crafted means that Columbia has managed to carve out it’s very own identity. The environments are wonderfully varied and detailed and as you journey through Columbia’s mean streets, you’ll catch yourself simply gazing out and enjoying the view the city has to offer. It really is a stunning achievement.
Summary: Simply put, BioShock Infinite is a masterpiece. The story is one of the greatest to be told through our favourite medium, both touching and thought provoking throughout. Columbia is a wonderful and interesting creation that is easily on a par with Rapture, a feat that I personally thought would never be matched. The gameplay is wonderfully varied and thrilling, the different options available to the player and the different ways of tackling certain situations is outstanding. And then there’s the characters, Booker DeWitt is an intriguing main character, and between him and lovable Elizabeth they form one of the greatest video game duos in history. Would you kindly pick this one up?