The first BioShock is regarded as one of the defining games of this console generation, and rightly so. It turned a genre on it’s head and well and truly raised the bar for storytelling, setting and character development within the medium.
Naturally, a sequel followed, and whilst BioShock 2 was a solid title in it’s own right, the fact that it was set in the same location as the original title meant that it all felt a bit too familiar. It didn’t have the same impact as seeing Rapture for the very first time, and this was a large part of the original title’s success. You never quite knew what was around the corner, but the games direction constantly made you want to play on and find out.
For the third title in the series though, we’re leaving the underwater city of Rapture and heading for a city in the clouds; Columbia. You might think that such a radical change in location would stop the game from feeling like a BioShock title. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
BioShock Infinite, at it’s heart, is a shooter much like it’s predecessor. Gunplay forms a large part, and the range of weapons is similar to those offered in the previous titles. What set’s the franchise apart from it’s contemporaries however, is the use of special powers (here, they’re referred to as Vigours). Some serve the same purpose as they did in the original titles, but some new ones have been added to keep things fresh. The powers all players to shock enemies, hit them with fire balls and even summon ravenous birds to literally rip the flesh from their bones.
The combat is also worthy of note as at times, you’ll take to the skies to face your enemies. Columbia is connected by way of “Skylines” which you’ll use to make your way between areas, but basically they’re rails which can be attached to and ridden and whilst doing this you can also dispatch enemies. They’re intelligent though, and can attach themselves as well, leading to some truly breathtaking, fast paced shoot outs thousands of feet above the ground. Not for those with a fear of heights!
You’ll be needing this varied arsenal as well, simply due to the sheer number of enemies that you’ll encounter. From the run of the mill Vox Populi (fighting the civil war in the streets) through the more imaginative foes. There’s no Big Daddies in the world of Columbia, but you will come face to face with the Motorized Patriot (a robot modelled on George Washington armed with a crank gun) and the Handyman, a man in a hulking suit that really packs a punch.
Where BioShock really excelled however, was in it’s power to tell a story. Those that have played the original will attest that some of the plot twists are incredible, and story itself has been rightly praised throughout the games media. The story on offer in BioShock Infinite reaches the same heights, and in some cases, even manages to surpass the original. I’d hate to ruin the game for you and therefore I won’t go into too much detail around the story, but the plot here sees ex Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt whisked off to the mysterious floating city to rescue Elizabeth (the focal point of much of the games’ marketing material) in order to wipe away his considerable gambling debt.
In truth, saving Elizabeth from the tower that she’s been imprisoned in is fairly simple, it’s keeping her out and escaping from the city where the majority of the game is experienced. Elizabeth herself is actually one of the game’s highlights. The artificial intelligence that makes her tick is simply astounding, as she interacts with objects in the game world and helps Booker in combat by finding ammunition and suchlike for him. Her main ability though, is that she is able to create “tears” in the game world, bringing through items which have long since been lost, or are only available in other dimensions. This is particularly useful in combat, where she can pull through cover or more powerful weapons for you to utilise. It also forms a major part of the story, and without wanting to say too much, the moments where you’re transported between dimensions is both mind-blowing and well crafted. Elizabeth (and protagonist Booker and antagonist Comstock) are all brilliantly voiced too.
On top of the simply brilliant story, the world of Columbia is perfectly realised. It’s a far cry from Rapture with it’s inhabitants going about their business. It’s bright and open (at least, in the beginning). As the name suggests, Columbia is based on the American ideals of the time period and it handles some of these edgier themes brilliantly. Slavery, racism, religion, patriotism and civil war are all explored in considerable detail. It would be easy for a videogame to underrepresent these topics, but BioShock Infinite doesn’t shy away from anything, rather, they form an integral part of the games lore. It’s the first time we’ve seen these themes covered in the medium, and this sets yet another benchmark in terms of it’s maturity and handling of the subject matter. And what’s more, some of these can lead to some poignant moments throughout, especially those that require you to make a judgement call. The major downside is that the decisions you make through the story never really have an impact on the ending.
Columbia itself is wonderfully presented throughout. In fact, BioShock Infinite is without a doubt one of the best looking games on the current generation of consoles. The characters themselves are beautifully animated, the world itself is well designed, accessible and visually appealing. The soundtrack throughout is also fantastic, really capturing the mood. The use of classic songs like The Beach Boy’s “God Only Knows” (albeit performed by a Barbershop Quartet) are wholly relevant. Additionally, exploring Columbia and finding out more about it’s past through the use of hidden “Voxophones” is both interesting and absorbing. You’ll likely miss out on a number of these throughout your first playthrough, encouraging repeat plays.
In fact, as soon as I’d completed Infinite I jumped right back in to play through it again. Incidentally, you’ll be glad you did. There’s so much to see and do, you’ll have missed plenty. What’s more, once the story is complete you’ll start to pick up on a few little references that you’d have otherwise missed. Honestly though, the only downside of BioShock Infinite is that you’ll never be able to experience it for the first time again. The first game left many with a memory thanks to it’s rich world and fantastic story, and this one is no different. It’s worth playing for the closing act alone, which I’d go so far as to say is one of the greatest endings in videogame history. Like the original BioShock there’s a number of twists and turns as you explore Columbia and eventually confront Comstock and yet, you won’t see them coming.
It’s worthy of note also that BioShock Infinite is exclusively a single player title. That’s not necessarily a bad thing anyway, as the multiplayer aspect of BioShock 2 was unquestionably it’s weakest link. Infinite never feels like it could benefit from a multiplayer component (had one been included it would have felt out of place) and this in itself is a testament to the quality of the story and the overall experience.
In some publications, BioShock Infinite has been described as gaming’s Citizen Kane moment. Whether this is true or not will surely tell in time, but if it isn’t, then I for one can’t wait to see the title that could live up to such a lofty claim.
BioShock Infinite does everything right, and for that, I’m giving it a solid 10/ 10. And that’s no less than it deserves.