The lights are on
BioShock Infinite has been on a lot of gamers' minds since its reveal in August of 2010, almost three years ago. The build up to the newest entry in the BioShock series has been high, with the showcased demos being praised by gaming journalists, and always coming away from shows like E3 with "Best of Show" awards. Now, after years of waiting, and a couple delays, the third BioShock title has been released, and it lives up to everything we were told, and more.
The latest game from Irrational is set in the floating city of Columbia, which was made to showcase American exceptionalism to the world at the Chicago World Fair in 1893. After quarrels between the United States Federal Government and the leader of Columbia, Zachary Hale Comstock, broke out over the Boxer Rebellion, Columbia "seceded" from the United States and fled into the clouds. While the exact opposite of the original BioShock's Rapture, they are also one in the same: a radical founder, who disagrees with how things are run in the real world, and flees to create a utopia. Like Rapture before it, Columbia is wonderfully realized, and is a great work of historical fiction, creating one of the most amazing settings I have ever explored.
However, where BioShock and Infinite differ the most off the gate is with the protagonist, Booker DeWitt. In the original game, you played as the faceless Jack, who had no really development as a character, except at the end, with the "would you kindly" twist. In Infinite, you'll be viewing the world through Booker's eyes, and this is very different from the original. Because Booker has a voice and personality, he able to interact with people in small ways that would never have been possible in Rapture. The main reason for this though, is that Columbia is still "alive", in a sense, when Booker arrives; Rapture had little to no civilians left, and had the player discovering what the city was like based on what was left of it. Columbia being alive allows the player to play a real character, as having a faceless avatar wouldn't fit with interacting with the people of Columbia. Regardless, I loved Booker as a character, and still was able to connect with him, even though he has his own story.
Elizabeth is one of the best companions I've gone on an adventure on.
Booker's objective in Columbia is to rescue a girl named Elizabeth, who is being held there for unknown reasons. The reasoning for this is that Booker owes a debt that can only be paid by bringing Elizabeth to the ones he gambled to. The phrase "bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt" is very prevalent throughout the game, and I found Booker and Elizabeth's story to be executed near-flawlessly. Songbird, Elizabeth's keeper in Columbia, was prominently featured in all of the early features of the game; but, in the end, his part in the game wasn't as well done, I felt, compared to Booker and Elizabeth's.
As I mentioned before, Irrational really hit the nail with designing Columbia. I would stop for a second multiple times to just gaze out at the other parts of the city, watching the clouds roll by, and the sun gently shining overhead. The different areas of the city felt distinct, but all part of this floating utopia, and like they belonged to Columbia. The buildings are all gorgeous, and the stylized propaganda all fits in with the time period, and creates a wonderful, convincing take on America. Textures may look a little ugly up close, but the stunning vistas more than make up for them. The way the city is designed tells just as much story as dialogue does, and sets a benchmark for how story can be told in a game.
Gameplay wise, Infinite trumps its predecessor again. While the original BioShock allowed for you to choose which Plasmids you had equipped, Infinite gives you almost every Vigor, except for one you must purchase. While some may not like this, as they may see it as restricting player choice in combat, I found the system much more enjoyable than BioShock's. I didn't have to buy all these different Vigors and try them out to see if I liked them, only to realize I'd made the wrong purchase, but I could upgrade the ones I did like. So, in this way, I found this game encouraged me to use different ones more, because I was given all the tools, instead of trying to find the one I wanted. The gunplay is good as well, and only having two guns at a time created some strategy for me, and encouraged me to also try different ones out.
My personal favorite Vigor is Bucking Bronco, which launches enemies into the air, providing you a window of opportunity to fill them with lead, or use another Vigor.
While Infinite varies from BioShock in terms of protagonist and gameplay, it also mixes things up by having a companion with you throughout about 85% of the game. Elizabeth is almost always at Booker's side after you find her, and she is a valuable asset. From using her ability to bring in objects from other dimensions(such as a turret, cover, or medical kits) to tossing Booker ammo and supplies, she saved my life more than once. Yet, she didn't make the game super easy, as I sometimes couldn't rely on her to help me when I got overwhelmed, so there is a great balance at play. I never found the game too difficult, and didn't have any real cheap deaths, except for a couple just failed jumps(which were probably my fault).
The place where Infinite really only drops the ball is being marred by few technical issues. The enemy AI could be weird at some points, by just standing there, or running at me and not attacking(there was, in total, of my 13 hours playing, about 3 times this occurred). Also, Elizabeth seemed to teleport randomly once, and in one scripted sequence(on my second playthrough), appeared out of thin air. The worse thing I encountered was an enemy being halfway in the ground, which happened only once. Keep in mind that these were minor issues, and didn't really detract away from my overall experience with the game, but are noteworthy all the game, as no game is perfect.
In the end, BioShock Infinite will rock your world. With its stunning presentation, beautifully designed combat, and wonderfully executed story, this is the best first person shooter I have ever played, and is the first to have made me cry because of its story. Once you see the ending, you will want to go back and start this amazing game up again. BioShock Infinite shows how wonderful games can be, and paves a road full of infinite opportunity. While we may have anticipated how great Infinite was going to be after seeing the original BioShock, we couldn't know how much it was going to expand upon what BioShock did until we rode on a skyline and watched a zeppelin fall, burning, out of the clouds.
Apparently, Elizabeth was hoping Fink would hire her.