The lights are on
The first Bioshock is a marvel, a true tour de force of a game and I personally credit it for not only renewing my love of video games as a whole, but also teaching me that games can be more than just virtual toys and playgrounds and become interactive artistic landscapes that tell stories in ways no other medium can hope to create. Its usage of player agency as a narrative device is absolutely brilliant because it could only work within the context of a video game and its influence is still seen in many other games to this day. However, after playing through all 17 or so hours of Bioshock Infinite, it truly shows that Irrational Games was merely dipping its toes in the water with the franchise in its first entry. This time around, the developers are clearly diving in head first into the pool and proving its ability to navigate territory that is so rarely exploited in video games. Without a doubt, it is one of the most remarkable things I have ever had the pleasure of playing.
It begins with a girl and a debt. Where it goes from there is best discovered on your own.
There are so many different elements that are combined together to create a truly inspiring and masterful experience that will capture your imagination and delight you from the moment you pick up the controller to the minute you set it down (which will be very hard to do). One of the elements that stands out in Infinite is Columbia as the setting for the game. Similar to the first Bioshock, Columbia is an almost-impossible-to-believe type of city much like Rapture in the first game. Both cites were built by idealistic men for people that believed in the similar ideals of those two men. In contrast, both are very different as Rapture was built around the idea of the individual, while Columbia thrives from social unity. This beautifully detailed city in the sky is as much a character as Rapture was thanks in part to the many audio recordings, propaganda posters, monuments, and citizens littered everywhere that color the day to day life for the average citizen living in this floating utopia.
It also helps that Columbia is painstakingly gorgeous, there wasn't a minute I didn't want to stop and look at the scenery while exploring the world. It also entices you with many secrets that beg to be unearthed that peel back the facade of paradise that is conveyed. With distant floating skyscrapers to disheveled shantytowns for the poor and the ethnic minorities, the art team truly made every detail count and it shows everywhere you look. On the 360, the textures get fairly muddy and the technology can show its age with frame rate drops, the occasional screen tear and awkward animations from time to time, however it does not detract from the game's aesthetic appeal and never takes you out of the experience for more than a second. It really captures the essence of something from the turn of the twentieth century and turns it into something beautifully surreal.
One of Infinite's many colorful and varied vistas. No matter where you look, there is always something new and exciting to see in Columbia.
Underneath the exterior of this supposedly perfect city in the sky, there is the constant feeling that everything isn't always sunshine and roses in Columbia. It suggests that there is a certain darkness that lurks within the foundation of this society and keeps you on edge even in the moments of quiet between combat scenarios where even a peaceful walk along the boardwalk might seem too perfect for its own good. It is this underlying uneasiness that drives the story forward and keeps you invested throughout in addition to the heavy themes that are explored in the game such as religion, racism, jingoism, social darwinism and even existentialism among many others to name a few. Even with all these themes and plot elements being thrown at you constantly, it is remarkable how they are all juggled evenly and never convolute each other or get tossed aside for the sake of the narrative and each distinct element helps make the experience that much more engaging overall.
One of the many propaganda posters that encourage racial supremacy and white power. It will make your skin crawl to see how racist the people of Columbia are.
Gameplay is also top notch. Not unlike the first game, there are powers and guns, upgrades and equippable items that grant buffs. What sets it apart from the first is in the amount of variety in enemy types and how encounters play out based on the unpredictable environments. You also get a new addition to your arsenal in the form of a device called the skyhook. With this almost anachronistic device, you can traverse the rails that line almost all of Columbia which are mostly relegated to areas where combat scenarios takes place. Doing so opens up new ways to attack your foes, move about the environment, or just to keep the combat from going stale. It adds a roller coaster thrill with a sense of speed and verticality that is rare in most other games and adds a layer of depth to combat that can feel too familiar at times. It also allows for gut-wrenching melee kills that can be performed when an enemy is weakened enough and they are brutally satisfying to pull off. Another layer of strategy comes in the form of your AI companion Elizabeth's ability to open tears in the environment that provide tactical support on the battlefield with various options that can provide things such as friendly allies, a hook that lets you get a height advantage, weapon and health stashes, or a piece of cover in a position where it can be easy to be overwhelmed by multiple enemies. These new additions along with a more intelligent and aggressive enemy AI set the combat apart from Bioshock 1, while never straying to far from the ideas that made it engaging in the first place.
The skyhook in action. One of these people will not be remaining on this flight. Can you guess which one?
The main draw of this games lies with the two protagonists Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth and the relationship they form through their journey. Unlike the previous Bioshock, Booker is not a faceless mute who acts as a conduit for the player, but rather he is a character with motives, thoughts and feelings. He has regrets, losses, doubts and goals that define him as a character. Even if we only catch brief glimpses of his face, he still feels tangible and prevalent and creates a distinct identity that is easy to relate with and helps to make the game that much more immersive. However, despite the wonderful characterization of Booker, it is Elizabeth that steals the show and stands out as truly astonishing technical feat of genius. Never before have I seen anything as remarkable and innovative of a creation in any medium as Elizabeth. Stellar animations, remarkable voice acting and even a distinct sense of usefulness as a gameplay device, she is truly something worth beholding. Many times though out the course of the game, I had to remind myself that she is not a real person. This was because of how she interacts with the world and the bond she forms with Booker in the game. She looks at things in the environment, interacts with NPCs and comments on the circumstances of the world around you all while never slowing you down or getting in your way. Plus the bond that she forms with Booker is sincere and goes from initially rough to warm and heartfelt.
Elizabeth also has the incredible ability to form a tight bond with the player by becoming a character that is fully realized and relatable from the moment you first lay eyes on her. She also will find useful things in the environment for you to use such as money or lock picks and even does things that you couldn't do without her, something the game isn't afraid to remind you of. She will unlock doors, open tears and even provide health and ammo in a firefight. Best of all you never have to protect her during the game, in fact she will save and revive you should you lose all your health in a fight. Quite frankly, you need her because of the immense help she provides in a pinch, and she also needs you to escape Columbia. It is in this symbiotic relationship through the support the player and Elizabeth provide each other and watching her grow from a naive princess locked in a tower to a powerful young woman capable of holding her own in a world filled with insane zealots and psychotic revolutionaries, that takes this emotional journey you go on with her and skyrockets this already incredible experience to unprecedented heights.
Elizabeth is one of the best characters I've ever met in a game.
It is through all these accomplishments that Bioshock Infinite is able to surpass its predecessor and become an experience that is unforgettable in every way from beginning to end. Never before has a game kept me up late at night thinking about the implications of its narrative long after the credits rolled. Never has a game convinced me to let an AI tag along with out being a hindrance. Never has a game gotten me to care about said AI partner in the way Infinite has expertly done. Go out and play this game if you haven't already. After all you owe it to yourself to experience a game that will once again redefine what it means to be a video game and ends up being one of the best games that has ever been made.
Disclaimer: I did not play the game for review on pc, I don't know why the listing is for that platform. I played the game for review only on the xbox 360. If there is any confusion I apologize and I'll see if there is a way to fix it.
Also thank you for reading, hope you enjoy the review. :)