BioShock Infinite Review
I still have the notebook I used the first time I saw Bioshock Infinite being played live. It was at E3 a few years ago, behind closed doors. As a huge fan of the original Bioshock and System Shock before it, I was excited to check out the next game in the series but cautious due to the fact that I didn't think anything could pass up my experiences to with the previous titles. Looking back at the notebook, I wrote down words like "mind blowing" and "game changing."
Now, three years and a multitude of delays and staff changes later; the finished copy is in my hands, and I can't help but remember that E3 meeting room. Not only has Bioshock Infinite met all of my high expectations -it blows them away. Infinite does things that no other game has done. It's a remarkable tale that will actually find you caring about the world you're in and its inhabitants. A world masterfully created, that offers a viscerally beautiful challenge. When we look back at this generation of games, Bioshock Infinite deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as games like Half Life 2, Journey and the top tier of modern titles.
"...a floating city seemingly stuck in a time long gone by."
Infinite leaves behind the underwater dystopia of Rapture from the original Bioshock, and its less than stellar sequel in favor of Columbia, a floating city seemingly stuck in a time long gone by. To the naked eye, Columbia is nothing short of paradise - it's the America that everyone envisioned but never really existed encapsulated. There are clean boardwalks, town squares with barbershop quartets and little pieces of Americana spread throughout the world. Through your travels though you'll find out quite quickly that Columbia is hiding some very dark secrets.
Players take on the role of Booker Dewitt; an early 1900s flunky in deep with the wrong people. He's given one last chance - go to Columbia, find a girl, bring her back to New York and the debts would be whipped clean. It isn't long after Booker arrives in Columbia that he's signaled out as "the false Sheppard" and becomes caught in the middle of a civil war between the men of Comstock -the city's founder and the Vox Populi; a renegade group of terrorists. What follows is a remarkably exciting and alluring tale of escape - but it's also so much more.
Infinite works on the strength of the detail and believability of its world. On the surface, Columbia is paradise, but your journey will take you through the gritty and dark side of the floating utopia that you were never meant to see. Places like the segregated bathrooms and the backs of warehouses in the boardwalk district. Infinite tells a moving tale that deals with race, culture, class and freedom but the beauty is in how you're not forced to hear all of it, you'll have to search the world for all of the details, much like you did in the original Bioshock for Andrew Ryan.
It should also be mentioned that the world of Bioshock Infinite is so believable thanks to remarkable voice work throughout the entire experience. The fantastic work of Troy Baker in the role of Booker Dewitt gives the game's leading man a certain rough edge, and the game's entire supporting cast, from the causal conversation of passersby to the prophetic words of Zachary Comstock, delivers a believable and astounding performance. I often stopped in the middle of the game just to eavesdrop on someone's conversation.
"...a fantastic job giving Elizabeth a unique personality..."
Undoubtedly though, the game is made by the performance of Courtney Draper, who gives absolute life to Elizabeth - the girl you've been sent to bring back to New York. Right from your first meeting Elizabeth steals the show and becomes an unforgettable character. Courtney and Irrational Games has done a fantastic job giving Elizabeth a unique personality and as a result - more life than I've ever seen in a character in a video game. It wasn't long before our first meeting that I actually cared what happened to Elizabeth and being protective over her, especially in the game's boss fights - but the beauty is that I didn't have to be.
You see, even though Elizabeth is your constant companion and at your side for the good majority of the game, you never really have to protect her - in fact, it's the exact opposite. Not only can Elizabeth handle herself in a fight (she never picks up a gun or throws a punch, but she's smart enough to get out of the way when needed), but she'll actually help you out during battle by scrounging for health, ammo and other resources. Just how helpful is Elizabeth? I'm not ashamed to admit that I wouldn't have made it through a number of the game's heavier battles if it weren't for her help.
Much of Infinite's gameplay is built heavily on the DNA of Bioshock and System Shock before it. Guns are fired with the right trigger while your Vigors (think plasmids from the original Bioshock) are fired with the left. Many of the vigors are recycled from previous games, but they're still a blast to use, and when timed correctly they can mean the difference in a heavy fight. Here you'll use salts to gain more vigors and the power to use them, unlike the eve of previous games - and salts seem much more widely available. This sometimes means that fights aren't as desperate as in the past, but they're still as much fun.
"...guns feel appropriately weighted and different..."
Something must also be said for how technically sound Bioshock Infinite really is. The game controls smoothly and guns feel appropriately weighted and different depending on the situation and the ammo type you're using. Many times battles take place in larger, open areas - giving you the freedom to plot your moves and use a mixture of vigors and firepower to take down your enemies.
It's the new ideas of Bioshock Infinite that will draw the majority of attention to Bioshock Infinite. Columbia is a large city, complete with floating islands and huge structures, so the game introduces Skyhooks, which are rails that can take you throughout the entire city. Just riding on them is fun enough, but adding them to your combat makes a huge difference, as you'll have the freedom to launch off of them and strike your enemies. Combine this with Elizabeth's ability to create tears, which serve as windows to other places in time and space, which allows you to import objects and weapons and you have something unlike anything you've ever played before.
For all of the hype and all of the delays in production - Bioshock Infinite delivers in almost every way possible. It's a chilling tale of love, desire, race, class, religion and even hope. Throughout the journey you're bound to care more about these characters than you have cared about a character before. It's visceral, it's creative and it's remarkable. I may catch some flack for this - but Bioshock Infinite is one of the most important games of our generation.