In many ways BioShock was an impressive game when it was first released, with its story, style, and the shock of causing the player to question their place within the game. Its creator, Kevin Levine, and his development team at Irrational Games have returned with their newest game BioShock: Infinite. Does it live up to the high standards that were set in the original? I hope you aren't afraid of heights.
Set in 1912, BioShock: Infinite puts the player in the shoes of Booker DeWitt, a veteran of the 7th Cavalry and former Pinkerton detective. Now working as a private detective, Booker's life has been in a downward spiral culminating in a large debt; not only monetary, but spiritually too. He agrees to take on a case from a mysterious person whose simples words force action, "Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt."
Shortly after that Booker finds himself in a row boat on the way to a lighthouse accompanied by a mysterious man and woman on a dark and stormy night. When they reach the lighthouse, Booker finds a murdered man tied to a chair with a note that repeats his mission, "bring us the girl and wipe away the debt." Banishing second thoughts, Booker continues his exploration all the way to the top of the lighthouse. There he finds the fog light hides a chair. As Booker sits in the chair it automatically straps him in. The facade of the lighthouse falls away and reveals that he is actually inside a primitive rocket ship that blasts off.
The rocket takes Booker to the floating city of Columbia. There he learns that he must find a woman named Elizabeth who he is told is being held captive within a giant statue, the "Spirit of Columbia." As he makes his way towards the statue he sees signs espousing the greatness of the prophet Father Comstock and those warning against the word of the "False Sheppard." The False Sheppard is described as a person having the brand of "AD" on the back of their right hand. It doesn't take long for a townsperson to notice that Booker has the "AD" mark and he is exposed as the False Sheppard. Suddenly his simple mission has become potentially deadly.
The story from there gathers together many twists and turns. Things that I do not wish to spoil for anyone, including a very surprising ending.
Controls and Gameplay
BioShock: Infinite is a first person shooter game that employs role-playing game elements such as improving health, power-ups, and weapons. I played the PC version that can be controlled with a mouse and keyboard or with a gamepad, the player’s choice. It can be switched back and forth on the fly as the player goes through the game if they wish.
I found no problems here; the controls were tight and responsive using either option.
Graphics and Audio
Because the setting for BioShock: Infinite is a city in the sky this allowed Irrational Games to use a much brighter color pallet. The result is a bright, vibrant, open, and beautiful city as opposed to the dark and claustrophobic city of the original BioShock. I did find the occasional graphical glitch like chairs merged into the floor, but nothing that seriously caused any game problems.
The soundtrack not only presents wonderful music of the time frame, but because there is tears in space/time around Columbia one of the city founders has taken advantage of this by recording music he has heard in these tears. As a result we are treated to songs like Tears for Fears "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" redone as a peppy blues song. The voice actors put on wonderful performances.
As I stated earlier, the original BioShock was huge because it was not only a solid game, but it showed that the storytelling of a game could be expanded to include subjects ranging from examining the politics of a purely capitalistic society to the question of who is in charge of the game; the player or the story teller?
BioShock: Infinite continues to shake what is considered the established norms in story formats for video games. The city of Columbia shows what a society could become if patriotism was taken to the level of religious fanaticism. The founding fathers of America (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin) are worshiped as figures almost, if not equal to, Jesus. The promise of Columbia's purity of America comes at the cost of racial elitism. Blacks, Asians, and the Irish are the second class and lower citizenry of Columbia. They are the menial work force that is only tolerated to do those jobs that pure Columbia Americans will not. It is established at one point that this view point is also part of the basis for Columbia's leader, Father Comstock, to have Columbia succeed from America to be a country unto itself.
The story not only looks at patriotism, religion, and racism of the time period, but manages to fit in the science of quantum mechanics and it's relation to story and again to the video game players place within the game. It's hard to explain without giving away major plot points. Suffice to say Kevin Levine is a big thinker and has put forth another well told tale wrapped in a very solid entertainment package. BioShock: Infinite has and will continue to spark many a pointed conversations.
Story aside, one of my big concerns was the gameplay. When Booker finally gets to Elizabeth I feared that the rest of the game would devolve into a giant "escort mission" where I would have to protect her at every turn. Thankfully it is established early on that Elizabeth is very intelligent, although she won't fight, she can take care of herself. She even helps Booker by finding supplies he needs like heath potions, money, and ammo.
I also found the enemy AI of BioShock: Infinite to actually be smart. They took advantage of cover; they would flank you and not always stupidly run out into the open to charge in after you. And if a player really wanted a challenge, after playing through the game once it unlocks "1999 Mode." This mode is significantly harder, not only with less health and ammo availability and harder to defeat enemies, but your choice in powers that have lasting effects. Things like instead of just respawning after a death, you may have to reload from an earlier checkpoint to undo a bad decision you made.
Irrational Games certainly brought their "A" game to the creation of BioShock: Infinite. Filled with "wow" moments, excellent storytelling, and gameplay from top to bottom I give BioShock: Infinite a big 5 out of 5.
BioShock: Infinite is rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Mild Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB)
For more information on BioShock: Infinite see the official web site.