BioShock Infinite is the third installment in the Irrational Games series which started underwater in the city of Rapture and is now high in the clouds in Columbia. After several delays and a plethora of gameplay videos, the game was finally released on March 26. The mysterious story and characters had been paraded before the public, and fans and newcomers alike were ready to take on the city in the sky. There was a lot of pressure on Ken Levine and his team – would they be able to make a game that could live up to the BioShock name?
Platforms: PC, PS3 (Version Played), Xbox 360
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Irrational Games
Genre: First-Person Narrative Masterpiece
Release Date: March 26, 2013
ESRB Rating: Mature
In BioShock Infinite, you control Booker Dewitt, a detective who is given a unique way to pay off his debts: by finding a girl named Elizabeth and turning her over to the mysterious Lutece twins. The mystery begins in the early 1900s, with Dewitt in a paddle boat with the two peculiar characters. He ends up in a contraption that launches him into the sky – much like a Bathysphere, but at the top of a lighthouse – and finds himself in the strange and beautiful world of Columbia.
The gameplay should be familiar if you’re a fan of the series – though now, instead of Plasmids, you have Vigors. These work in much the same way, except instead of injecting yourself repeatedly with needles, all you need to do is replenish your salts with all manner of powerups, including soda pop. The first-person perspective is the same, and you still get to use various weapons that you find throughout the game as well – and, of course, your permanent melee weapon is the Skyhook itself, an item used to fly you around Columbia that also doubles as a great face-smasher.
Vigors and weapons can be upgraded at kiosks throughout Columbia. Each Vigor has a primary and secondary use to it, and some can be combined together for devastating attacks. Vigors, like Plasmids before them, can also be used with the environment to kill enemies – you can set tar on fire or electrocute puddles of water while your foes are standing on them. You can carry two weapons at a time, and each one has separate upgrades that improve typical aspects, such as reload speeds, accuracy, and damage. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a BioShock game without audio logs. Here, you collect Voxophones that give you detailed background information about the many primary and secondary characters that populate Columbia.
But much has changed, and for the better. You have a shield now that protects you from a certain amount of damage, and that replenishes when you manage to find some cover. Infusers can be found to up your shield, health, and/or salt level – I found the best strategy to be upping my shield as much as possible, since that would regenerate and not end up costing me any consumables in the process.
There’s also a new Gear system, in which you can equip various items you find around Columbia. There are hats, shirts, pants, and shoes, all of which give you some kind of extra benefit. My favorite was basically anything that gave my melee attack some teeth – add bonus fire damage? Allow me to attack from far away? Yes, please, on both counts! I’d love to set you on fire with my Skyhook from three feet away, thank you very much.
The best new feature about the game is Elizabeth herself, who is a charming companion. Not only is she capable of handling herself in battle, she also tosses you items when you need them. Low on ammo? Need salts? Don’t worry, she’s on the case. She gathers up coins for you, and says “Catch!” and then you can press Square to catch the coin she enchantingly tosses to you. Everything about her screams “Disney Princess,” as Penny Arcade pointed out.
As Dewitt struggles to find Elizabeth and bring her to the men who hired him in order to wipe his debt free, the player learns that there are some strange things about this lovely girl. She is able to open tears in the fabric of reality and show you other places and times, ranging from another part of Columbia at that moment, to Paris in the late 20th century. These tears can be utilized at different points throughout the game, giving you access to helpful items during battle, like cover, medical kits, and various weapons.
The loot system is robust as always. I played the game on the regular difficulty, and found that there was almost too much loot. Items and money can be found almost everywhere – on corpses, in trashcans, in cash registers… though people can get pretty upset if you start taking money out of their cash registers while they’re still working. Be careful of this if you want to avoid firefights. Food gives you health, and can be found in the strangest places. I don’t know where you bank, but I would hope that safety deposit boxes at the establishment I trust with my money aren’t packed with oranges and hot dogs. Though if we’ve learned anything from video games, it’s that eating a whole roast chicken found in a trash can is perfectly reasonable.
So what makes BioShock Infinite so different? Why shouldn’t you just go revisit the original BioShock and call it a day? The best reason I can give you is the true star of the game: the narrative. With complicated characters and a compelling storyline, BioShock Infinite has done something not many other games have been able to do: drawn me in and kept me playing for hours just on the story alone. I needed to know what happened next – I had to find out what was going on, what the truth was, and how it was going to end. It was like lying in bed on a weeknight at 2 AM reading a good book, being unable to stop turning the pages. Just one more chapter, I kept telling myself. The argument of video games as art has reached its apex here, and BioShock Infinite is at the heart.
Yet they still captured that same claustrophobic feeling of BioShock, making Columbia similar to Rapture in that you were a captive within it. Both cities are beautiful, and both stand as characters themselves in these tales. In Columbia, a fall from the Skyline made me gasp; it was the same tension I felt when I had to travel between sections of Rapture in a giant suit under the water. The city is a prison and you are trapped inside – peril within and peril without – and you cling to it desperately, looking for a way out that isn’t going to kill you.
How does BioShock Infinite fail? If you’re a seasoned gamer, you definitely don’t want to play it on normal mode, because it’s criminally easy. If all you want is to enjoy the beauty of the game and experience the story, then it’s fine, but if you want any kind of challenge, you’re not going to find one here. The lack of a viewable map hurts a bit, but only when you have to go back over the same locations several times and find yourself turned around. The most annoying part for me was the entire Skyline system, which was often difficult and confusing to maneuver. Following the indicator to the objective would often put me up on a Skyline, yet once I was there, it would tell me to turn around, because I missed the indicator of where I was supposed to hop off. Again, this is tied in with a lack of maps, and was a result of me getting spun around several times.
BioShock Infinite is a celebration of video games, bringing them to the forefront as successful vessels for stories and proving that gameplay doesn’t need to be sacrificed to do so. With expert narrative flow, well-developed characters, and a story that defies your expectations, Irrational Games has created a masterpiece. Even when I wasn’t anywhere near my PS3, I was still in Columbia, still trying to work out what it was I had to do to get Elizabeth to safety. I felt like Booker DeWitt, and in my heart, I wasn’t going to hand her over to pay my debts. But what was Booker going to do? Would I have the choice? It’s a rollercoaster ride, and one I’ll gladly take again with Booker and Elizabeth.
Review Disclosure: A retail copy of BioShock Infinite was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.