Bioshock Infinite: Review
“The Seed of the Prophet shall sit the throne and drown in flame, the mountains of man.”
I waited a long time for this game. After seeing the teaser trailer way back in 2010, I knew I had to have this game. After each appearance, after each preview, my hype for Bioshock Infinite continued to build. Every trailer showcased amazing gameplay, incredible scenery, and an unrivaled setting. To say it was one of my most anticipated games is an understatement. With so much hype built up, Bioshock Infinite could have easily disappointed me. Did it?
Nope. It met every expectation I had.
Bioshock Infinite opens up in a very similar manner as Bioshock. A storm is raging all around you as you are rowed by a man and a woman to a mysterious lighthouse in the middle of the ocean. The woman turns around, and hands you a box. It’s for you, Booker Dewitt, a former member of the US 7th Calvary, and a veteran of the Native American massacre at Wounded Knee. A picture of a girl is in the box. “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt.”
Right from the get go, Bioshock Infinite sets such a haunting tone. When you open the doors to the lighthouse, a sign reads, “Of thy sins, shall I wash thee.” As you climb the stairs, more signs are hung. “From Sodom, I shall lead thee. To thine own land, I shall take thee.”
Then, you come across a body, tied to chair, head covered in a cloth hood, blood pooled around it. A sign is pinned to it’s chest, “Don’t disappoint us.” Then, another sign, “In new Eden soil, will I plant thee.” When you finally reach the top, a giant red light begins flashing and the sound of horn is heard. You sit in a chair, and are suddenly rocketed up into the clouds, past the storm. What appears is breathtaking. An entire city, built over the clouds, suspended by giant blimp- like structures. Columbia, the pinnacle of American ingenuity lies before you.
It is one of the greatest opening acts of any game I have ever played. In the span of a few short minutes, the religious undertones of Bioshock Infinite are brought forward, and the contrast between utopia, and turmoil is subtly introduced to the player. It’s a flawlessly executed opening that hooked me. That hook never let go either.
As I stated above, you play as Booker Dewitt, a man charged with “rescuing” a girl named Elizabeth from Columbia, where she is locked in a tower. The time leading up to the meeting with Elizabeth is more of an introductory time to the city of Columbia. You’ll come across a fair, see propaganda posters plastered all over the walls, and take part in a disturbing raffle. Since the game takes place in 1912, the city of Columbia feels very much like a turn of the century, industrial revolution city. People look on in amazement at the new technologies at the fair. The women wear their big dresses, and the men, hats with suits. The buildings look like they are turn of the century as well, featuring a mix of “modern” and antiquated looks. As you walk through the streets of Columbia, you’ll notice the ultra-nationalistic fervor of the city. In fact, Columbia itself, acts almost as a religion. The citizens believe it to be the ideal American city, where white citizens are supreme and minorities are second class citizens, or worse.
Now, Bioshock Infinite’s advertising showcased very fast paced, hectic gun battles through the streets of Columbia. With how amazing, and interesting Columbia is, it would be a shame to not be able to stop and enjoy the scenery. Luckily for us, the gun fights don’t over power the game, so there is plenty of time that you can just explore Columbia. You’ll find plenty of goodies such as audio recordings, early video footage, viewing areas, and more. All of this adds to the rich, interesting back story of Columbia. You’ll learn more about the government, the history, the people, and the social rifts within the city. Unlike Rapture in the original Bioshock, normal people do live in Columbia, and you’ll see them going about their daily lives. You’ll see a market place, young men trying to woo some women, kids playing with a leaking fire hydrant, worshipers at a shrine, and plenty more. The city feels alive and vibrant, and works as a wonderful backdrop to the story and main characters.
The story really begins to pick up once you find Elizabeth and encounter Songbird for the first time. It’s a very well done meeting between Booker and Elizabeth, one actually inspired by Disney’s many princess movies according to Ken Levine (the director and creator of the series). Elizabeth is a wonderfully written character. She displays amazement at new things, but wants so bad to see the world below, the Sodom in which citizens must never see. We slowly learn more about her through her interactions with Booker, which are also written extremely well. She comes across like a young child, yet acts and behaves in a mature manner. It’s a very interesting contrast to see and slowly, her child like nature fades away as more of Columbia’s secrets are brought to light.
Irrational Games did away with the silent protagonist from the first Bioshock, instead opting for a fully fleshed out character for Bioshock Infinite. Booker Dewitt isn’t just an emotionless killer like many FPS protagonists are. He has a rich back story and a strong personality. Despite the fact he just needs Elizabeth to wipe away his debt, he shows genuine concern and curiosity about Elizabeth leading to some very nice character development for both characters.
The voice acting is top notch for every character in the game, especially for Booker and Elizabeth. The actors poured emotion into every line and really felt like they were the characters. The voice actors actually had input on their characters too, but were never told the back story on the characters they were portraying. Ken Levine stated that it was his hope their relationship would grow and that that growth would show in the game as the two became closer. Another interesting choice made for the voice acting was the casting. Troy Baker, who gave the voice for Booker, is an industry veteran, but Courtnee Draper, the voice for Elizabeth is a somewhat of a newcomer to the industry. This was to tighten the bond between the two according to Levine. Whatever Levine did, it worked. The two deliver some of the best voice acting that this generation of gaming has seen to date.
The story of Bioshock Infinite is far, far more ambitious than the story of Bioshock. It features more twists and turns, and is told in a much cleaner manner than the original Bioshock. Instead of all dialogue happening through a radio, it plays out more like a first person movie, complete with cut scenes that blend in perfectly with the gameplay. This results in a tight, well told story, and thank goodness its well told. It is by far the best story I have ever seen out of a first- person shooter. It features the character development of JRPGs, the soundtrack of a JRPG, and the plot twist of a JRPG, yet this is a story that can only be told in a first person shooter format. It absolutely amazing what the team at Irrational has managed to pull off with Bioshock Infinite’s story.
Bioshock Infinite’s story is certainly more than enough to put it into the great game category. The gameplay is what puts it into the incredible category. If you have played the original Bioshock, and are familiar with the dual weaponry style of it, you won’t have much new to learn with Infinite. It’s standard FPS gameplay with some major twists. Early on into the game, you are introduced to something called Vigors. These Vigors allow you to use special powers. Some let you take over turrets, others electrocute your enemies, and others summon a flock of crows to distract your enemies and make them more vulnerable to damage, among many more. The Vigors all are extremely useful for different situations. If you need to do some crowd control for instance, launching the Murder of Crows Vigor at your enemies, then blowing them away with a shotgun will prove effective. If you need to slow down a powerful enemy, shooting the electrobolt can give a the edge you need. Mastering which Vigors to use and when will make the game more varied, and easier to clear the way of enemies.
Vigors can be upgraded as well. Across Columbia, there are machines that sell upgrades to your Vigors that will add new perks to them, increase their range or duration, or make them cause more damage. These upgrades are very expensive though, so you’ll be forced to pick and choose upgrades rather than trying to get them all.
You can’t just use your Vigors nonstop, of course. You’ll need Salts to fuel the Vigors. Salts, like ammo and health, can be found all over the city of Columbia. But what if, you run out in the middle of a pitched battle with enemies? This is where Elizabeth comes in handy. She will actively scavenge the areas, finding all sorts of goodies for you. Run out of ammo on your carbine? If she finds one, she will toss you a new one so you don’t even have to reload. Run out of Salts for your Vigors? She’ll do her best to find more. Elizabeth accompanies you through many parts of the game, yet it never felt like an escort mission. Her AI kept her out of the way, and the fact that she couldn’t be harmed by enemies anyway was a major relief. She will take care of herself, leaving you do just worry about the enemies.
Elizabeth has another skill that proves very helpful. She can open things called Tears. In these Tears are objects in another dimension. By opening a Tear, she can bring the object to your dimension to aid you in combat. Sometimes, a turret will be in a Tear. Open the Tear and let it fire away at your enemies. This ability adds some more strategy to the battles, but not as much as the Skylines.
The Skylines are suspended rails that act as a cargo transportation system to carry cargo between the different areas of Columbia. Using a modified grappling hook, you can attach to these Skylines and fly around the city. They allow you to ambush enemies, outflank them, find better cover, or just get from point A to point B faster. Your enemies can use the Skylines as well, so if you use them to find cover, you better be ready for some enemies to come following. If you are on the Skylines and an enemy is below you, you can unleash a powerful attack from above that will send your enemy flying. So if enemies are spread out, use a Skyline to knock them out while you remain moving and less of a target.
Control on the Skylines can take a bit of getting used to though as movement is very fast and abrupt. Still, it adds yet another wrinkle to the standard FPS formula and builds upon the semi- strategic gameplay of the original Bioshock. However, the meat of any FPS is still the guns.
In Bioshock Infinite, you can only carry two weapons at a time. While adding to the strategy of fire fights, it also saves you money on ammo as you will only be aiming to fill up two weapons instead of six, or eight. You will never be unable to complete a part of the game because you have the wrong weapons though. Weapons can also be upgrade to decrease their spread, increase clip size, or increase the amount of damage they do. Infinite showcases a variety of weapons, all of which are useful for most situations. So if you run out of ammo for your carbine, and Elizabeth can’t find anymore ammo for it, don’t worry about dropping it to pick up a pistol laying on the ground. It’ll prove just as effective, only causing less damage and possibly making you rely on Vigors a little more heavily.
The gun play is fast paced and intense. With the Skylines above you dropping enemies, and varied enemy types coming at you, you will be forced to keep on the move and adapt to the situations. You won’t be able to get out of every situation by just spraying bullets everywhere. You will have to think on the fly (literally if you hop on the Skylines), and adapt as the situation calls for it. This keeps every firefight exciting and fresh as you figure out different ways to eliminate the enemies.
Because the action is so intense, its nice to have breaks now and then. The game provides this in what are usually character development stretches. During the time between gun battles, Booker and Elizabeth will just talk and explore the city on their way to their goal. Some of the buildings in Columbia are accessible and hide some valuables inside that will aid you. You will also come across locked doors. If you have enough lock picks on you, Elizabeth can pick the locks and open the doors for you. Again, you’ll find plenty of goodies in Columbia, and you are encouraged to explore. Elizabeth will sometimes even point out areas to explore.
The game moves along at a fairly brisk pace, never dragging out anyone sequence. While you will have to backtrack, a certain plot element keeps it feeling different and fresh when you do end up having to backtrack over areas. The only portion of the game, that I found to be a little bit slower was towards the middle of the game when you begin to learn more about a group called the Vox Populi. It still is interesting story material, but it became something of a side spectacle in my quest to learn more about the leaders of Columbia.
When I was asked what I thought of Bioshock, I told a coworker it was a good, fun game. When he asked about Bioshock Infinite, I told him it was a masterpiece, and easily one of the five best games I have ever played. The story is unmatched in terms of scope and writing by nearly every western gaming studio out there. The setting of Columbia is the most interesting, rich setting I have ever seen in any video game, and the Skylines that the setting provides, add a very fun wrinkle to the game. The team at Irrational gaming has delivered a game in which FPS fans can finally get the story RPG fans love so much; a rich, in depth story filled with fully fleshed out characters and plot twists that will get your mind thinking. If you come into this game looking for a generic shooter, or a formulaic game, then you are in for a shock.
Bioshock Infinite might just be the peak of this generation of gaming. No video game is perfect, but what Ken Levine and his team at Irrational Games have done with Bioshock Infinite might be the closest thing I’ve ever seen. Infinite’s triumphs far, far outweigh it’s very few, and minor flaws. And because of that, I am about to do something I’ve never done for a video game before.