“Bring us the girl…and wipe away the debt.”
Bioshock: Infinite is the latest foray into a steampunk style first person shooter by Irrational Games. Inspired largely by a combination of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and their first and second Bioshock games, Irrational created the floating utopia of Columbia…and millions upon millions of others…but you’ll find out about that later in the game.
The games introduction begins in 1912, with a small boat being rowed through turbulent seas, inside of which is Booker Dewitt (voiced by the fantastic Troy Baker), the man whom the player will spend plenty of time using to relentlessly kill, float, burn and commit many other generally awesome acts of violence towards enemies with.
After a bit of dialogue, off in the distance is a lighthouse dressed with goodies, plenty of blood, and a transport to the clouds. (Remind you of anything?)
After ascending to the clouds to find this ‘Elizabeth’ girl, you are brought to a room that looks shockingly like Rapture…but of course isn’t. A candle laden course of rooms flooded with running water guides you to an event that at this early stage, the player doesn’t understand the significance of – a baptism. After you nearly drown, you are granted access into the floating masterpiece that is Columbia.
“Every year on this day of days, we re-commit ourselves to this city.”
Immediately, I was stricken by the immensity of the place – going on in the distance as if never ending. From cloudy vistas to the closest trashcan, Columbia was obviously designed and rendered with the utmost care, making sure to represent the vision of its developers to the fullest. It stood alone as a work of art throughout the game, propelling the story more than the audio and gameplay in some respects.
The best news was, from the perspective of a shooter, it had just about everything going for it. Not quite an open world, but open enough to take advantage of the environment and allow for plenty of time spent gathering supplies, planning wise attack and escape routes, and scavenging for clues to the wildly interesting story, even if I was inside a closed building. The open-ness it presented me was an advantage in combat, but one that was shared by my enemies so well that at times I found myself pursuing them behind cover instead of them gunning for me.
Hidden trinkets, upgrades, money, weapons and so much more were masterfully hidden in the maps, forcing me to explore the world and take my time unlocking every door available to get to those valuable little items.
“What is Columbia if not another arc, for another time.”
Wonderfully complimentary to the intricate visuals was the incredible soundtrack and foley. Three dimensionality and proximity play a large part to many of the brilliant ‘hidden’ pieces of dialogue, so many of which only discoverable through happy accident or thorough investigation of the surroundings.
Every sound had a place, and they were placed well. Some sounds were even carried over from the original Bioshock.
“I mean, we’ve changed it to all new tools and all new environments and all new all that stuff, but those themes will remain very much the same. And then there are certain things that just worked. For instance, the quest sound and when your health is low there’s a heartbeat sound. We used exactly the same sound from BioShock 1, just because those live in the meta space as well, so the player’s already conditioned, and BioShock players especially, to understand what those things mean. And we worked really hard to get those right in the first game, so we were like ‘why reinvent the wheel here?’” IGN’s Andrew Goldfarb interviewing creative director Ken Levine
The best part about the sounds in Infinite weren’t just the sounds, they were the songs. Not only did the soundtrack do a beautiful job of helping set the mood and progress the story with superb melodic movements, it contained covers done so well, I took immediately to the all-knowing internet universe for the full versions, and once I found them, I was not disappointed.
The best part about the covers of famous Beach Boys, Cindi Lauper, and Tears for Fears (just to name a few) tunes was that they weren’t just thrown in. They were picked and performed with such an accurate representation of the story line at the time that I won’t ever be able to hear them without being taken back to the battle, moment, or turning point they tied into.
“Are you afraid of god?” -Elizabeth
“No .. But i’m afraid of you” -Booker
Infinite awarded me not only with amazing visuals, perfect sound, but amazing gameplay as well.
Tying into the original Bioshock’s plasmid system, throughout the game you are slowly introduced to super-awesome vigors. These vigors are drank instead of injected, but serve basically the same purpose in Infinite as plasmids did in the past games, with the difference being you have the abilities, but need salts to fuel the abilities. With salts being somewhat plentiful, especially late in the game, it became a nice compliment to the generally simplistic gunplay of the game. It was always nice to be able to set enemies ablaze after launching them into suspension in mid-air, only to have them tumble back to earth and take a moment to re-gain themselves, allowing you to kindly fill them with lead.
Filling enemies with lead was an interesting task in and of itself. Weapons were an easy thing to come by (although ammo not so much), and although there were many varieties of bad-guy-killing power, only a few weapons really separated themselves from the others. This was nicely counteracted, though, by the ability to head to vending machines and upgrade the gun of your choice with money collected along the way. (By the way, upgrade as much as possible, it’s nice to have later.)
Gunplay was very fun and used the unreal engine to the fullest. Aiming down the sights was encouraged, but in my case rarely used, especially due to the complexity and insanity of many of the battles.
Among the steampunk-y weapons and super-power like vigors, you had one additional tool – Elizabeth.
“Why do you ask what?..” -Robert Lutece
“..When the delicious question is when?” -Rosalind Lutece
Elizabeth was the girl you are sent to capture, who instead of becoming hostile, very rapidly became my biggest ally in Columbia. It isn’t often that I praise a game for its incredible A.I., but in this case, it’s warranted.
Elizabeth was the single most important thing in the game, she drove the story, tooled with my emotions, became almost like a daughter of sorts. She was the only reason I was able to plow through the game like I did, and she was also the motivation to do so.
She followed me like a dedicated puppy for most of the game, often pointing out important information or items. In battle though, is where she shined brightest. She constantly gave me updates on the enemies, what they were, where they were, how many of them there were. She threw me health and ammunition at the most opportune of moments, opened tears in the space time continuum (as to not reveal any plot lines – I’ll leave it at that) that gave me friendly turrets, robots, guns and perhaps most enjoyable to me, and to other gamers I’ve spoken to, she never got in the way.
The only qualm I had with Elizabeth in the game is that Irrational made it too easy for her. Enemies ignored her, she found items in a map that I had spent an hour scrounging in, and she never depended on me in any way that wasn’t already in the story line. It was like having a god on my side that was invincible and could just conjure up helpful stuff. I guess that’s not really a terrible thing though…
“The seed of the prophet shall sit the throne and drown in flame the mountains of man.”
The story line was the biggest asset of the game, as it always seems to be with Irrational’s games. The writing and dialogue were done with eloquence and effectiveness, bringing forth emotions that made me play in ways that I normally wouldn’t. In one level, fueled by anger and distress at what had developed in the plot, I threw caution to the wind and killed as quickly and as brutally as possible, pushing through enemies like a freight train on steroids. This game took hold of me, strapped me into its roller coaster, and never let go for the entire 16 or so hours it took to conquer.
Despite being filled with enough substance to make me physically pause and reflect on parts of it, it still flowed seamlessly and left no possibility un-investigated. The nuances in the story lend themselves to a heavy re-play value, as things will happen and people will say things that wont make sense the first time through. Easter eggs and references litter the story and maps, but unfortunately the story is so well done that you wont notice them because you’ll have tunnel vision on finding out what the hell is going on in Columbia and why everyone seems to want Elizabeth.
“There’s always a lighthouse, there’s always a man, there’s always a city.”
The game lives true to its title, a classic Bioshock experience at heart, yet with enough of a differentiation from the originals to make you forget all about them. It is a unique game that you’ll somehow feel like you’ve played before, and yet it’s not tiresome or boring in the least. Immensely creative and detailed visuals paired with sounds decorate what is a truly incredible first person shooter, and the fusion of vigors and tears with the gunplay make it as fun a game as fun as it is deep, and boy, does it get deep. Bioshock: Infinite is an culmination of quality development, art, and storytelling that results in an experience that only comes along every so often in a game. The rumors of DLC coming in 2013 give it even more appeal to play again if you have it, or to get it if you don’t. Solid, polished, awesome, Bioshock: Infinite gets 9.5/10.
“A city at the bottom of the ocean? Now that’s ridiculous.”