When Bioshock came onto the scene in 2007, Ken Levine had created what is easily one of this generation’s masterpieces. Winning many game of the year awards in a year full of stiff competition, it’s hard to imagine developer Irrational creating a game that could live up to the pedigree of its predecessor, but whether you bought into the hype or not, Bioshock: Infinite will definitely blow you away.


            Players are put into the shoes of Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent with a dark past. Tasked with retrieving a girl named Elizabeth to wipe away his gambling debts, Booker is far from the silent protagonist we’ve seen in previous Bioshock games. His interactions with the world and characters within it are interesting, but they are all done in first person and never undermine the sense of immersion throughout the game. Everything within the world exists as either a parallel of the ruined world of Rapture, or as a counterpoint. The City of Columbia is floating high above the air instead of being kept on the sea floor, Booker is a talkative man with history behind him instead of a silent mute without personality, and even the antagonist Comstock is a far cry from Rapture’s Andrew Ryan, in both goal and presentation. The game presents some powerful and mature themes here, exploring race relations, religious obsession and the concept of alternate universes. Sometimes it feels like the game is trying to push too many thematic elements at once, but every subplot is explored to fruition, and it’s far from a convoluted mess. To talk more about the story would be to potentially spoil the incredibly tale Irrational has crafted, so despite all there is to talk about, I’ll avoid going into any more detail.



            The gameplay is tightly polished and action packed, different from the more strategic and slower pacing of System Shock and Bioshock. As a result, more focus is put onto the combat mechanics, the AI and the weaponry you use. The new skyhook is an ingenious way of getting around that makes for a real swashbuckling feel, but the game moves at such a fast pace that the inventory and health mechanics have been all but completely streamlined from the previous inventory systems Irrational has used in their other games, with a two weapon limit, shield, and reliance on the environment and Elizabeth for health and salts (which cannot be held onto, but must be consumed immediately). While I miss the open ended level design of Bioshock and small RPG elements that let me dictate how an encounter would go, the new direction serves the setting well, and there’s hardly a dull moment within the gameplay as a result. Soaring through the air and quickly going from one vantage point to the next while fighting off enemies is an invigorating feeling and unique to the world of shooters, even under the wrapping of standard (but well crafted) shooting mechanics.


            Though the city itself is full of atmosphere and life, there is slightly less of a reliance on previous story elements. Voxophones take the place of audio diaries, but feel less present in place of interactions between Booker and the characters he comes across. The world also has less to show starting off, as it isn’t yet a warzone or dystopia when Booker arrives on the scene quite like Rapture was, so don’t expect blood graffiti and poignantly placed corpses as you enter the city. As a whole, exploration has been cut back in place of pacing that switches between strolling about the world, interacting with the environment and NPC’s, to fighting and shooting enemies that try to halt your progress. It manages to break up the pacing and keep things interesting, without focusing too much on one part of the game. As you explore the different aspects of the world and see it change with your influence, the game shakes things up with a natural progression of enemy types, weapons, vigors and new environments that keep things interesting from a gameplay perspective, while being full of little story details that make the world feel more believable, even for a floating city in the sky.



One major complaint I had though was that while there was some exploration, it felt like shooting was all the player could really do, so the story had a dissonance to it. The constant fighting felt out of place when just moments ago, a touching emotional scene took place, and the constant combat encounters while fun and varied, end up feeling a bit repetitive. Bioshock’s open ended nature meant a more natural mix of stealth, exploration, combat and story elements. Here, the story elements feel separate from the combat, and it feels disingenuous for Booker to point out how quick his enemies are to turn to violence when his response is to single handedly raze his way through Columbia with a couple of guns and a few vigors on hand, and unlike Bioshock (and games like Spec Ops: The Line and Far Cry 3), the game never draws any attention to the violence the player is responsible for, which can feel a bit surreal given the sheer amount of death you cause and the lack of awareness the game and it’s world seem to have of that. The game also felt like it was poorly served by the hype leading up to it, as various videos of the game years before release showed concepts, mechanics and abilities that never showed up in the final game (such as supernatural combat abilities from Elizabeth, or more open ended level design). Following Bioshock is already hard enough without hyping players up on the sequel and having to cut some truly fun looking content out before the game is out.


Overall, Bioshock: Infinite doesn’t grab the world by storm like Bioshock did, but in the end it doesn’t really try to. The storyline is proof along with Bioshock that games are an art form, and the gameplay here ends up being fun and different, but no matter what you go into expecting, Bioshock: Infinite just might surprise you. It isn’t perfect, but it’s quite possible one of the best games you’ll play all year.