Bioshock Infinite Review
SOMEWHERE…BEYOND THE SEA
I can’t tell you how much fear and wonder I felt, as I descended in the bathysphere, down to the city of Rapture in the first Bioshock. Looking at the city deep in the depths, silent, and fraught with undiscovered mysteries and wonder, I could not help but become giddy at the anticipation of discovering all of its secrets. The immersed city’s structure was airtight and confined; a necessity of its location and consequently, a motivation for its anatomy. The impermeable nature of Rapture fittingly applied in the abstract sense, as well as the architectural.
Columbia, on the other hand, is raised above the rest of the world, open to the elements, and seemingly exposed to open observation. It carries its racist and prejudiced fundamentals from the year 1912, like a medal upon its chest, without fear of scrutiny or condemnation. The people residing in this floating city consider themselves above judgment, beyond reproach, paramount over the rest of the world, and relaying to it the warped American ideals Columbia considers to be moral and fair.
Columbia has its share of secrets, and as you will find out, even more so than Rapture. Does this much anticipated sequel in the Bioshock world live up to the lofty hype that it has created? Or will our unreal expectations plummet to more reachable altitudes. Read on to find out.
In Infinite, you – as the Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt - start off on a rowboat in the sea, making your way to a lighthouse where a vehicle of sorts takes you up into the sky to your final destination of Columbia. The story starts off in almost the same way the original Bioshock did. In the original Bioshock, your airplane falls from the sky and crashes into the ocean, and you must swim to a similar lighthouse, to be taken deeper to the enigmatic city of Rapture (Irrational Games injected some interesting dichotomy into the game, and you will constantly be on the lookout for it).
Infinite’s mantra is “Find the girl, erase the debt”. It permeates the whole story, and is the driving force behind Booker’s need to find, liberate, and deliver Elizabeth, a mysterious girl trapped in the soaring city of Columbia. Apparently Booker is indebted to a particularly bad party, and the only way out is to smuggle Elizabeth out. But, as always in any engaging story, there is a barrier to Booker’s agenda: Zachary Hale Comstock. Comstock is the self-appointed “prophet” of Columbia and the leader of the Founders; a radical party of ultra-patriots. Comstock decided to secede from the United States (for reasons that you will find out), took to being the self-appointed leader of the (mostly) white populace of Columbia, and rolled the city out over the skies of the world.
The circumstances of Elizabeth’s detainment are both obvious and shrouded. She is considered the “Lamb” that the “False Shepherd” Booker plans to take away from its citizens. Comstock created quite the elaborate fable for the people of Columbia, as he foretold Booker’s arrival and his plans of snatching Elizabeth (actually tying neatly into Ezekiel, Chapter 34 in the Bible). As much as already has been revealed by Infinite’s trailers, Elizabeth holds a great power – she can open up rifts (called “tears” in the game) – that can create passages to other times, or even other realities.
Comstock, being as astute and manipulative as he is, decided to create a tower made just for Elizabeth, so that he keeps a good divide between the common folk and Elizabeth, while keeping them distracted from his actual motives. The tower has been both Elizabeth’s home, and her prison. She passes the time by absorbing herself in books; learning about quantum mechanics, other latest advances in physics, and the sort. She opens ups tears to other times and places at her leisure, but never fully enacts upon them. Her one great pastime is learning how to pick locks (although it seems to come to no avail, considering her innumerable attempts to escape her confinement). Lucky for her, Booker comes along to take her away from her humdrum existence.
But…here comes another hurdle for Booker: The Songbird. Much like the Big Daddy in Bioshock, the Songbird is Elizabeth’s protector, bringing her books, food, and providing company. But unlike the Big Daddy, the Songbird is also Elizabeth’s captor – its sole edict being to ensure that Elizabeth never escapes from her tower, much less Columbia. The Songbird is greatly feared by Columbia’s citizens, and has become a living myth, insofar as even being the boogeyman in the stories told to the naughty children of the sky city.
Booker’s adventures with Elizabeth don’t just involve Comstock and the Songbird. Various other well-written and crazy characters also join the fray, like Fink, a work-you-to-death industrialist, Daisy Fitzroy, a revolutionary and leader of the Comstock-opposed Vox Populi, Lady Comstock, whose unexplained death is one of the parallel plotlines of the game, and various others, each with their own hidden, and often insidious, agendas.
And just like a traditional Irrational game, you’ll be dissecting each and every occurrence and cinematic, trying to find a “would you kindly” moment, anything that will betray a twist so you can sit in smug satisfaction knowing that you figured it out before the game revealed it to you. Well, there is a twist. A certain revelation. But I can assure you, you won’t see it coming. It’ll knock you down and reveal everything you wanted to know. Actually, you might even be confused the first time around, like coming out of a daze after being cold-cocked in the back of the head. It’ll take at least a second playthrough to see the finer details, the idiosyncrasies and peripheral revelations that the game has been throwing at you all this while. The story is a doozy, and you’ll be hooked on it the whole way through.
The gameplay in Bioshock Infinite is all about vigors, guns, the skyhook, your wits, and all the innumerable combinations thereof. Plasmids are…er…I mean…Vigors are back! You have quite the decent selection of preternatural abilities available to you, thanks to the various sorts of Vigors available in the game. You’ve already seen the effects of Bucking Bronco (levitation), Devil’s Kiss (incineration), and the ol’faithful, Murder of Crows (preeeeety much explains itself), but there are other useful and interesting Vigors like Shock Jockey, Undertow, and Return to Sender. I’ll let you figure out what each of these do, as you find play through the game. You only have to pick up each of the Vigors once, and you’ll have them in your carousel menu throughout the game. You’ll have to pick up “salts”, which are Infinite’s version of Adam, to replenish your Vigor gauges. The controls for the using these abilities are assigned to your left trigger. Pressing it once will make use of the primary ability, and holding the trigger down will give you the mine trap version of most of them. Executing strategic combinations of Vigors and guns make for quite the good time in Infinite.
The guns are standard fare. You have your garden variety pistol, revolver, minigun, shotgun, machine gun, and a couple of variations of a rifle and rocket launcher. They sound good and pack a punch, but you’ll be left wanting; expecting more exotic weaponry at your disposal.
One thing that concerned me before playing the game was the skyhook. I immediately envisioned it as a gimmick device, all flash and no substance, placed there merely to differentiate the game from other shooters. I was pleasantly surprised when I took to the skyrails effortlessly, and was able to rail from place to place, switch direction, and speed up/slowdown my rides among the clouds. Making use of the skyrails was fun, and I instantly took to it. The skyhook itself has a mean melee animation, and since the game is not left wanting for gore, it’s an amazing sight to see when you come across a random face to use it on.
Most of the enemies you will encounter in the game are its staple citizens and police folk, carrying either melee or ballistic weapons of some sort. Their modus operandi seems to be the standard “see’em/shoot’em”. Stealth is hard to accomplish in this game because once the enemy sees you, you are locked in on and every damn citizen in the level is alerted to your presence. They all seem to have an uncanny knack of knowing exactly where you are. At least the enemies can be dispatched with ease, unless they decide they want to have a party in your immediate area. The more engaging enemies are the heavy-hitters like the crow-encased and warping Zealot of the Lady, rocket Beasts, the scorching Firemen, and more importantly: the Motorized Patriots and the Handyman(men). Each of these more specialized enemies require a more tactful and careful approach, and…oh who am I kidding…just rip into them, tactics be damned. Fill anything in this game with enough lead/Vigors effects/rockets, and they’ll all go down. All the enemy encounters are engaging, but feel very by-the-first-person-shooter-book. It’s a good thing the game’s story captures you more than the confrontations. The enemies can get tedious after a while. On the other hand, while the boss fights are few and far in between, they are certainly memorable and break the banality of other encounters.
The graphics in Bioshock Infinite are very aesthetically pleasing, and do much to convince you that yes, you are really high above any ground-based safe abode, and yes, your ass is back in the year 1912. The structures all have that early 1900s ambiance (replete with various and enjoyable details like the stalls selling 10 cent sodas, posters with vigor ads, etc.). Granted the actual technical aspects of the graphics are not that impressive (don’t get too close to the cobblestones).
The major NPCs of the game are well-animated (especially Elizabeth; at times, you will feel like you are playing through a Disney/Pixar movie) and are also rendered with sufficient detail. One fault I do have with the other residents of Columbia is that there is not much variation in the character models. Almost every 3rd or 4th resident you see will be a copy of one you saw a moment ago. In such a high-profile game as Infinite, it’s not as if I wanted every character in the game to be different, but at least give me the illusion of diversity by intelligently mixing the models.
The different locations in the game are a wonder to traverse through. Each district absolutely radiates ambiance and exhibits its own identity. From the initial water-saturated (and beautiful) house of worship, to the blue-collar confines of Finkton; every location was a joy to play through and experience. Although the graphics are technically sound in this game, the gorgeous aesthetics are what will blow you away.
You are walking on a city that’s floating in the sky at least ten thousand feet above the ground. You can see it all around you, the bluer than blue sky, the clouds beneath you, yet there is no sense of danger from falling off of any side of Columbia. You are tenser during any given enemy encounter than you are concerned about falling down into the sky below you. This especially applies to the times that you are riding the skyrails; you should be in a state of sweat-inducing vertigo, but yet you feel nothing. As soon as you fall off from anywhere, you seem to fall 10 feet down and then *POOF*, you are warped right back to the location where you decided to act out on your (failed) suicide. I was absolutely disappointed about this aspect of Infinite.
It actually would’ve been nice to have some sort of rooftop hopping (not like parkour, but at least close enough to it) to give you a sense of movement and openness to the world of Columbia, but no deal. Booker is tied only to the allowed “surfaces” or the skyrails. That’s it.
The soundtrack is to this game is exceptional. All the period pieces will envelope you into the experience, and the original pieces themselves are amazing to hear. Listen to the chanting melody playing once you reach the initial house of worship within the first hour, and get back to me. If that doesn’t make your eardrums drool, nothing will.
You can unlock 1999 mode after you complete the story. 1999 mode brings back all of that old school hardcore goodness that is missing from most games in recent memory (Dark/Demon Souls: not talking about you two. You’re both cool). You’ll have to choose a specialization and stick with it. From Irrational’s mouth, “ and all your actions will be dictated by that choice”. Ammo will be low, and your health bar will bleed out like nothing else. Recommended only for the most dedicated and willing amongst us.
There is also a season pass available for 1600 Microsoft points on Live, or $19.99 on PSN. It gives you a discount on three upcoming DLCs for Infinite, as well as day one goodies for your game like pistol and machine gun damage upgrades, 5 Infusion bottles to upgrade your abilities, and golden skins for both above mentioned weapons ( really?…who’s going to notice your shiny new weapon skins besides yourself???).
Bioshock Infinite is quite the experience. You will be bewitched by Booker and Elizabeth’s story, and it will take you on an emotional rollercoaster (skyrailcoaster?) through its moments of exhilaration and hopelessness. You will be cemented to the game, because the story is just that good. The gameplay in Infinite does suffer from occasional bouts of tedium from the relentless number of enemies you have to deal with, but it vindicates itself with thoughtful and enjoyable boss/mini-boss battles. The presentation, atmosphere, soundtrack, and story all combine to make this game one of the most pleasing and visually unique games that have come out in the past year. Although it didn’t quite enrapture me the way the original Bioshock did, Infinite definitely fell out of the sky and took me by storm. Highly recommended.