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BioShock: Infinite - Setting the Bar Sky-High

 

BioShock: Infinite title

It seems almost impossible to achieve the greatness of the original BioShock - a game that boasts one of the most artistic, well-developed settings and narratives in video games, and also reminded us that that games have the ability to be just as thought provoking, invigorating, and chilling as movies and novels with the now-immortal three word phrase - "Would you kindly?"

Games that match the quality of the original BioShock are extremely rare. They are much more developed and innovative than a game that simply snags some exceptionally good reviews and excited praise - no, they are games of unquestionable quality that go on to define a generation. BioShock: Infinite is one of those games.

And much like the original BioShock, it all begins in the same way - with a lighthouse.

It was a dark and stormy night...

Infinite starts out with a simple premise, "Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt." It's the year 1912, and you are Booker DeWitt, a war veteran turned Pinkerton agent who has landed himself in a nasty debt to the wrong sort of folks. In order to erase this debt, Booker has to travel to the sky-high city of Columbia, retrieve a teenage girl named Elizabeth, and bring her back to New York. The job seems simple enough, but as we soon find out, the city of Columbia has other plans for Booker. This leads into the everlasting struggle between Booker and the game's main antagonist - a self-proclaimed prophet named Comstock.

Early on in BioShock: Infinite, Booker is sent above the clouds to Columbia - a beautiful, neo-colonial style city that is both richly developed and immersive. Unlike the original BioShock's Rapture, we get to witness Columbia while it is still (mostly) thriving.

Columbia

The first portion of Infinite is dedicated solely to building this unique city floating amongst the clouds - there's very little combat in the first hour or so. As you walk around Columbia, you are treated to a mesmerizing experience simply by walking the cobbled streets, browsing the gift stores, and eavesdropping on local gossip. Columbia is stunning - a perfect rendition of American society in 1912. However, Columbia's impossible sunlight and beautiful oddity is something much darker. The city and its inhabitants are deeply influenced by the extremist ideals of its leader, Comstock.

The Prophet Comstock claims to be given the gift of foresight, and he has fashioned American exceptionalism into a cult that governs everything in the city. His ferocious propaganda campaign has infused ideals of ultra-nationalism, imperialism, racism, and exceptionalism into the minds of the locals. This idealistic view spurs a number of discontent citizens to break from Comstock's rule and attempt to uproot Columbia to form something new - through violence if necessary.

Columba's landscape

BioShock: Infinite's story is brilliant, but that alone is not what really makes this game stand out - its how the story and setting are presented to the player that makes this game truly exceptional. Each moment is filled with incredible details, and to not stop and linger at these along with the game's hidden audio logs is to miss one of the greatest pleasures in gaming. The art direction is sublime and inventive - more so than any other game I can think of - and that's what helps to propel this glorious meditation on regret, revolution, faith, friendship, redemption, national identity, guilt, suffering, and most importantly, choices, to ecstatic heights. Infinite isn't a game with choices looming around every corner, but is the best game on the choices we make as a person and as a people, and their impact on society.

Where all this takes you is something that you really should experience for yourself, so I won't say much more here. However, what I will say is that is the most intricately crafted and mind-blowing stories I have ever seen in a game. BioShock: Infinite will give you a something to think about and discuss for a very long time.

However, you still haven't seen what really sets Infinite apart from BioShock (and most other games). That's because you haven't met the girl Booker is sent to find - Elizabeth.

Pleased to meet you, Elizabeth! 

Booker enters Columbia alone - but he soon rescues Elizabeth from her ominous tower in which she has been held all her life, and the two set off to escape Columbia together. It's the relationship that slowly evolves between Elizabeth and Booker which is the driving force of the story. As the duo explores the mysterious city, the two become ever more reliant on each other. Through a brilliant use of animations, outstanding voice acting, and brilliant writing, Elizabeth turns into one of the most striking characters ever to be seen in a game. She is much more than a companion along for the ride - she is a friend to help you through the tough times in Columbia.

In fact, Elizabeth feels like a real person, more so than any other video game character I can think of. Her body language speaks volumes about how she is currently feeling - she'll give you a cheery smile when Booker makes her promises, and cross her arms and give you a stern look when Booker breaks them. In fact, you'll come to realize that any brief period of time where Elizabeth is away from you, something huge is missing - an emotional core. If she's happy, you're going to be happy. If she's sad, you're going to be sad. And when she's hurt, you're going to want to personally dismember whoever harmed her.

Elizabeth's integration into combat is one of the most ingenious parts of BioShock: Infinite. There's no need to constantly watch over her like other NPCs - Elizabeth is fully capable of looking after herself. In fact, it's more like Elizabeth is protecting you instead of vice versa. Elizabeth's first ability is her "tear" powers, which allow her to bring items into this world from other dimensions. This can include weapons, cover, or even a handy turret. However, she also has other, less mysterious abilities. During combat, she will toss you valuable items such as health and ammo just in the nick of time to help you defeat Comstock's goons.

Think about it: say you are gunning down waves of oncoming enemies, and "click!" - You're out of ammo. You frantically scan the nearby area for another gun (there's nothing there...) as enemies close in. Just as you're about to be turned to a smoldering pile of ash, Elizabeth yells, "Booker! Here!" You turn and snatch the shotgun out of the air, and a few quick shots later there's nothing but a pile of corpses and your smoking gun.

 Booker and Elizabeth

It's moments like these that show off the brilliance of BioShock: Infinite. The unique position of the player and the inevitable help you will get from Elizabeth is part of its commentary and character development. The reliance between Booker and Elizabeth helps to define the relationship better than any scripted event could.

All of this culminates into BioShock: Infinite's most impressive feat: - Elizabeth captures your emotions in a way no other game can, and she gives a new sense of urgency to the violent events that occur throughout the game. Through the duration of the game, you will come to genuinely care for her and want to help her - and it's not because that's what the plot wants you to do. It's because Elizabeth is one of the first video game characters to truly feel like a real person, and she becomes a character that's actually worth caring for.

 Elizabeth

Even without Elizabeth at his side, Booker is still an effective fighting force. In addition to traditional gunplay, Booker can also use a set of awesome, gene-altering powers called vigors. These vigors can be used in rapid succession from one another while still firing with your gun. This allows you to experiment with a number of different combos - perhaps you could draw enemies closer with the Undertow vigor and then set them on fire with Devil's Kiss? Or, you could use the Bucking Bronco vigor to suspend you enemies helplessly in the air, and then use the Charge vigor to hurl yourself towards them for a deadly melee strike? In addition to all of this, the vigors can also be used to create traps, and in some cases react with the environment for devastating effects. BioShock: Infinite's combat system encourages experimentation, which makes the combat sequences memorable and exciting throughout the game.

 Combat

The last feature Infinite manages to pull out of its masterful bag of tricks is the SkyHook. You acquire this tool early on in the game. At first it serves the purpose of a helpful melee tool. However, later you can use the SkyHook to connect to SkyLines, which are kind of like roller-coasters in the sky that help you quickly traverse the battlefield. You can shoot enemies from these SkyLines or lunge at then for an aerial attack. This feature is extremely cool, and adds a unique layer of movement in combat (It's also fun to be reminded that these shootouts are occurring at a couple thousand feet above sea-level). Though they are not incorporated into combat for a majority of the game, it's an exhilarating adrenaline rush when they are.

 SkyLines

BioShock: Infinite reaffirmed my love for gaming. Never has one game opened up the possibilities of gaming so much without destroying its fundamental pleasures. Infinite is a glimpse into the future of storytelling and character building in video games. Infinite tells so much about societies, their flaws, and how our choices affect the world around us. Infinite delivers one of the strongest narratives ever seen in gaming, along with complex themes, an incredible cast of characters, and a flawlessly crafted plot. It is a game that has redefined the genre and will be revered in the gaming industry for a long time to come.

Regardless of your attitudes towards the first-person shooter genre, Infinite definitely deserves your attention - It's the kind of experience that only happens a few times each generation. Even after the credits roll, the tale of Booker, Elizabeth, and Columbia is going to stick with you for a very long time.

BioShock: Infinite - 10/10 

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