Bioshock: Infinite is a culmination of great game design and gameplay. The Bioshock franchise now also has a repertoire for a great narrative and a well written script after the game’s first outing, and with good reason. Thankfully, the third in the series does not disappoint. Irrational Games pulls this off with an amazing cast of characters that actually care for, a companion that you worry for when she disappears from your site, a setting that takes you to the skies and visuals for this generation of games that literally have you in awe as you look around in wonderment. A story so well thought out and put together with such amazing twists and turns that it’d make current cinema envious. Infinite does it right the moment you boot up the game.
“Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt.” A line that will haunt you through the entirety of this game as you hear it over and over. You understand the first part, and you kind of get the idea of the second. In Bioshock: Infinite, you are Booker Dewitt, a man who’s gone through hell in his past. So much so, that he’s taken a job to find a girl and bring her back to – apparently – wipe away the debt you so desperately need paid off.
As you’re ferried by two mysterious figures to an oddly familiar setting that is a lighthouse. At the door, a note with that same line. “Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt.” To do so, you must take a trip; You take to the skies to find your target. To the city of Columbia.
You never come back down, though, since Irrational Games decided to raise their bar so damn high with this game, that when you wind up in the city of Columbia, you realize the city is in the sky. Floating above the clouds are little towns, single homes, factories – you name it – all held aloft a piece of machinery that keeps it high and safe. A technical marvel, all in the year 1912, where a bit of steampunk and sci-fi marry to create one amazing set piece in a game I’ve ever laid eyes on.
Citizens in this city, unlike the previous entries in the franchise, are actually vibrant and well meaning, if not misguided. What seems like a church welcomes you with open arms into the community, where they follow the Prophet Comstock. A man whose words are as sacred as the ones flowing through the Bible. A man who has combined his love for the gospel, and an admiration of the United States’ founding fathers: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. His citizens approve of this, though you sense the good will is misdirected almost entirely the minute you settle into your new community.
This is one of the elements that thrives in this game. It pulls you in with so much force that you not only believe the jingoism in this twisted “Utopian” America that has been created, but you believe that these characters seriously follow this belief that’s placed before you. So much so that when you find yourself confused with a baseball in hand, your immediate reaction is to not have one at all as you’re caught baffled at your situation. If I sound cryptic at all, it’s more for the sense that I would be doing gamers a disservice if any major points in the story – big or small – were to be given away. Long story short, at this point is where you get into the action.
You start with your melee option, eventually earning yourself more weapons and of course the Vigors. For the Bioshock alumni, it’s another fancy word for your plasmids. Powers that allow you to control robots and other mechanical AI, heave flaming grenades at your foes, shock, lift, push, and ransack your enemies with angry crows. All of this plays second fiddle to the girl you must retrieve. Enter Elizabeth, your companion after your first hour with the game, until the very end.
Along your rescue, you learn of each other. Elizabeth’s growing knowledge of Booker brings him closer to us as his mysterious cloak is lifted. A war vet who has done unspeakable things, a man who is shamed with guilt and knows he has done wrong. He learns of Elizabeth, a girl trapped practically from birth in a tower, tested on and researched on without her knowing as she grew. A girl with a mystical yet terrifying power. A girl who is damn good at getting you what you need at just the right time!
Contrary to the bemoaning when someone utters the words “companion” or “AI team mate”, in this game Elizabeth takes care of herself. You don’t babysit, you don’t worry about her health. She’s there to go along with you to the bitter end. One would say you’re the lousy AI as she’s constantly whipping coins your way, as well as extra ammo for your weapon, or bottles of Vigors she finds to refill your powers. Say the word and she’ll also rip open a tear into a parallel universe with her powers to bring up a barricade to give you cover from bullets and other deadly things being hurled at you. It doesn’t stop at cover, either. A turret, a mechanical army, a box of health kits? Elizabeth’s got you covered in the middle of the fight.
Interaction with her is just the start. While there are many characters that bring life to this game, Elizabeth is the core piece. The moment you find her, she is by your side till the end. Uh, almost. As you fight alongside each other, the story unfolds with her. Fear, anger, sympathy, all sorts of emotions are poured out from her, and voice actress Courtnee Draper does an phenomenal job conveying those emotions. Likewise, Troy Baker who plays Booker Dewiit, does a splendid job of starting off as uncaring and just wanting to do his job, to connecting and worrying for Elizabeth as everything unfolds. The point that you lose Elizabeth in the game for a brief time, you worry for her as he worries for her. It’s an intense connection not very many games pull off. Even while the game slows down somewhat in the middle of the game and kind of chugs along to the point of making you want to put the controller down, the back and forth with each of them keeps you in long enough to make you forget that the game just had a hiccup.
Then there’s your connection to the rest of the world. Father Comstock, or the Prophet as he’s called in the floating city of Columbia, immediately calls you out and casts you as “the false shepherd”, leading his most prized possession, Elizabeth, astray with your “lies”. This makes everyone hate you, the police and other militia of the city go after you, and the resistance warm up to you. Sort of. The resistance are those in Columbia who see through the BS propaganda that Columbia has to offer and wants true peace with everyone, and not just the master race, if you will. Both factions utilize automatic turrets, walking mechanical George Washingtons and Abe Lincolns strapped with chain guns, as well as special baddies skilled with specific vigors against you. Finally, the mysterious Song Bird that protects Elizabeth, a towering mechanical flying bird that tears down anything in its way for the soul purpose of keeping Elizabeth safe, and keeping her back in her cage. To the bird, you are dead meat. To you, you better run away and shoot your way to safety if that thing’s coming for you.
Which brings us to the fun and exciting way to running away using Columbia’s finest transportation system! The skyline is a system of metal rails that connect from one floating island to another, whether it be a single building, or a section of the city. Simply jumping to one of these and swinging your magnetic Skyhook onto it allows you to glide through the air seamlessly; shooting your way to safety while you ride and then stomping on an enemy from above as you disembark is one of the many satisfying things you’ll do in this game.
One of these other satisfying moments also involves the Skyhook, though the use for this one is definitely not for travel. For you see, the Sky hook is a gauntlet with a spinning metal hook at the end made to easily grasp a Skyrail. It’s also a great tool for beheading, impaling, or right off twisting the neck of a poor misguided baddy. Melee in this game is gruesome, and it makes you smile every time as the game plays you a cue of Hitchcock like twisted strings while you watch your enemy’s body mangled before, then limp motionless once you’re done. Twisted, yet satisfying enough to make you grin from ear to ear.
The guns will play second fiddle to the melee and the Vigors. While the weapons are satisfying and their designs are different enough to make you stop and admire them, they really bring nothing new to the table. The pistol, the shotgun, and the sniper rifle will be your best friends, and you’ll only occasionally look for a machine gun or one of the special weapons that deals explosive damage. Reasons behind this are simple; your Vigors can make the bad guys go away with much more flare, and while they’re costly, using them right will yield the most damage.
Vigors are to Infinite as Plasmids are to the original Bioshock, giving you a great power just by consuming the concoctions. The smart player will combo these and their weapons together to become the ultimate bad ass. Control an enemy turret to take care of baddies as you slink away with low ammo. Lift up a batch of enemies with the upgraded Bucking Bronco and then finish them off with a rocket launcher or hurling a flaming grenade with your Devil’s Kiss! Near the edge and overwhelmed? Bronco lift’s them up and Undertow pushes them away with a full force of rushing water! The possibilities and combinations are available with every situation, and every time you figure one out makes you want to pump your fist in the air, regardless if anyone is looking. Add to the fact that you have stat boosting garments to collect to give you faster reloads, a buff on attacks and vigors, and chaining effects, then you’ll want to experiment to no end.
With all of this at your disposal, getting through the great narrative makes for some damn fine gaming. Be advised, this game is not for the easily offended. Given the timeline and America’s shameful past, it dives in headfirst to issues involving racism, sexism, religion, and a jingoism that would make today’s biggest political figures and pundits blush. Weather or not you want to see it, it’s there. Thankfully, it doesn’t preach as it does more to enlighten you with – technically – a history of the country’s past and how many felt and stereotyped many a race of people and ideas of what roles men and women should play in life. For me, the touch on religion was comical as I felt it mimicked today’s overtly passionate religious nut and showed you just why that’s dangerous and stupid – of any belief! The game does have a bit of commentary in that, as well as a bit of a nod to the existence of class warfare.As I said the game never preaches, and more or less shows the positive of both sides of the coin, along with the skeletons in both’s closets. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and all that, I suppose.
The commentary isn’t really the face of the game, though it adds to that immersion of reality. The sense that you are there, and they sell it well. The story weaves through all these points seamlessly, leading to the end in the story that will quite literally blow your mind. Once done, I sat there for a minute trying to swallow everything that had just transpired before my eyes. My jaw agape, I shook my head and could not believe what I had just gone through. Does it hold a candle to the amazing story of “Andrew Ryan”? Would you kindly believe my answer would be “yes”, and then some? The game doesn’t end with an abrupt boss battle, but instead flows through the narrative with you, to the bittersweet end. The word “twist” would be an understatement. “Mindfuck” would be more apropos. If you’re ready to jump in, then hold on tight; It’s a wild one.
At the end, once you’re done with the game and have had your thrills, there’s not much to go back to. The game unfortunately only sports a single save, and does not allow you to hold multiple saves to go back and explore, or to keep your accomplishment visible. Achievements, sure, but sometimes you just want to go back and experience something. Sure, you can still choose a chapter, but even afterwards it’ll overwrite your game. On the flip-side, you do have all the voxophones to find to completely put the narrative together should you wish, and if completing the game 100% is your thing, you can find all the upgrades, all the locks to pick, and all of the garments to buff up your stats.
“Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt.” A line that will haunt you through the entirety of this game as you hear it over and over. You understand the first part, and you kind of get the idea of the second. Or do you? The game’s story will infinitely have you on end until you’re done, and maybe even through the credits as it all sinks in. Coming into the game, my expectations were low and my emotions were mixed. After a severely disappointing entry in Bioshock 2 – knowing full well Irrational Games had no fault in that one – I figured the game would stumble once more. Whenever anyone asks me about the series, I always tell them to not even bother with Bioshock 2. Stick with the first. Now I can tell them to skip Bioshock 2 and jump straight to Infinite with confidence. The game is an instant Game of the Year contender, and automatically dethrones the first Bioshock in terms of well being well rounded on all fronts, and a damn near perfect game.
Play this game. True to its name, this game will shock you at the end, and it will have been worth every second.