Okay, time to fess up: I never completed the original Bioshock. Not because I didn’t like it, but because while I loved the world and design of Andrew Ryan’s Rapture and its inhabitants, I didn’t really feel as invested as I should have been – which is a shame, because I found the combination of plasmid and gunplay to be really top notch. I did try Bioshock 2, but the Little Sister missions irritated me to no end, and the whole “PLAY AS THE BIG DADDY” idea never really paid off – mostly because the drill everyone wanted to use required ammo. So, no, I didn’t like the sequel.
However, after 2K Marin worked on 2, Irrational Games returns to the franchise with Bioshock Infinite; a game that, despite having some similar mechanics, features a different world and different characters. Because of this, I thought I’d give the franchise another try – and I’m so glad I did.
Bioshock Infinite (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Developed by Irrational Games – Published by 2K Games
Instead of taking us to the underwater world of Rapture, Bioshock Infinite chooses to take us to a floating city named Columbia, which is under the control of a racist, hyper-religious society ruled by a “prophet” named Father Comstock. Columbia believes in the idea that the American people should be “pure” and white, and looks down upon other races and creeds. You enter this world as Booker DeWitt, on a mission to retrieve a girl named Elizabeth. However, this seems to turn out to be much harder than you think, the residents of Columbia notice DeWitt has the mark of the “False Shepherd”, – making you Columbia’s number one target, along with the Vox Populi, the local resistance group fighting to bring down Comstock’s corrupt order.
Columbia, as a world, is a lot more open than Rapture – and it is absolutely beautiful. The skyhooks you travel along show you a lot of the amazing floating city, which glistens in the sunlight. It’s a lot different to Bioshock’s dark, ruined underwater world, but it’s just as beautiful. The world feels much bigger, and the battlegrounds, even the indoor ones, feel huge in comparison to the small tunnels and buildings which littered Ryan’s utopia.
It’s clear as soon as you meet Elizabeth that she’s the main character of the game, not DeWitt – as her magic power of opening up “Tears” in time and space to other worlds becomes one of the main focuses of not only the story, but also the gameplay – pressing F at certain targets will make DeWitt command Elizabeth to open tears in the area. These tears can include things such as supplies, weapons and cover. This feature makes combat situations a lot more interesting, and the fact you can activate tears while sprinting and moving around makes gameplay a lot more fast-flowing.
There’s not much I want to say about Elizabeth, as I don’t want to spoil too much – all I’ll say is that she’s one of the best partners in recent videogame history. As her story goes on, and you learn more about her, you’d have to have a heart of stone to not be invested in her plight. On top of that, she’s caring, is capable of handling herself in combat, and is extremely intelligent – when she’s not around, you honestly feel more alone and helpless than at any other time in the game, not because she’s a useful ally, but because you miss her company and friendship.
As she follows you around even in combat, one may be afraid that it turns the game into one gigantic escort mission – something that, even if you like the character you’re protecting, they’re normally the worst part of a game. This is where Bioshock Infinite innovates – Elizabeth does not need to be protected, and there is no way for her to “die” – no health, no way for you to fail an area because she was downed. You will not believe how much of a weight lifted of my mind when the game told me that she can handle herself in combat, not needing to protect her. It just adds to how good of a character she is, and it adds to how frantic and fast the combat can really be.
While Elizabeth doesn’t fight during combat, she also doesn’t really “hide” during combat either – most of the time she’ll be following you around. Elizabeth will provide you with not only tears, but also ammo, cash and other supplies – a simple press of the F key as she says “catch!” and she’ll throw you some much needed items, many of them either filling up your required items or status bars. This is a valuable life-saving feature, and another reason as to why Elizabeth is such a valuable ally. She can also pick locks to new areas, something the player can’t do, opening the way to either the next objective or some hidden goodies.
The other new feature to the Bioshock franchise is the Skyhook – a wrist-worn device which not only works as a melee weapon but also as a tool for getting around Columbia. You can jump and magnetically attach to hooks and skylines, which let you speed around and jump not only on buildings, but also on enemies, delivering a “skyhook strike”. The skyhook, when available, is my favourite tool in combat – it’s so much fun to speed around a battleground, shooting enemies with all weapons – yes, all weapons, including two handed weapons, are available to use. It’s pretty satisfying zoom up to a group of enemies, and then blast them with an RPG.
Another new feature in the game is the addition of equippable items, such as hats and shoes, which provide different stat bonuses. To be honest, while I did have some equipped, I didn’t pick many up because most of them were hidden behind locked doors and secret areas.
A majority of the other aspects of Infinite still follow the formula of the past two games – you can still pick up items off enemies, and you still go from point A to point B in a pretty linear fashion. You still have Plasmids, renamed “Vigors”, and they still run on EVE, which runs on “salts”. The Vigors in this game are a lot of fun to use, mostly due to how much bigger the world is. Irrational had taken advantage Columbia to not only create beautiful, massive areas, but also to create Vigors around those areas, giving you powers which affect not only the ground but also the air, including the ability to launch enemies into the air and the ability to pull enemies off faraway ledges and gunships to bring them closer to you. The Vigors just feel a lot more fun to use in general; even ones that seem familiar to Plasmids in a way, such as the electro shock attack, are great fun to use, and combat without them is severely lacking, so it’s important to keep your salts stocked.
The gunplay combined with the Vigors makes for some excellent combat. As said before, it’s very fast flowing and frantic, and it’s very easy to not use cover at all and to just start speeding around blasting your enemies, stunning them with Vigors, and grabbing items from Elizabeth as you go along – just keep an eye on your health and shield. However, there’s still not much of a penalty for dying – similar to the other games, you respawn back into the same area, with your health and ammo refilled. The only penalty is that you lose some cash and your enemies get some of their health back too. However, you don’t lose much cash and most enemies get downed pretty quickly, so dying isn’t much of a hassle – and even then, if you’re low on health and there’s no way to get ammo such as from Elizabeth (she can run out of items) or Dollar Bill stores, it’s handy to get a quick refill.
However, it’s when I started getting into the combat when I noticed that it’s been very simplified, and it seems that Irrational followed the formula of Bioshock 2 more, which is strange considering they were not involved; the melee weapon, the Skyhook, is no longer its own separate weapon, now taking up a separate button command; you can pull off a “finisher move” with it too, which I didn’t really find all that useful. The biggest, and most disappointing change, is that you can only hold two guns at any time – which is disappointing , as at multiple times during the game I’d run out of ammo and not been able to swap or get more ammo without a risk of getting myself killed in the process.
Another thing dropped from the game is the use of hypos; now, health and salts come in the form of pickups, which can be sparse unless Elizabeth throws you some. However, to make up for this, purchasing health and salts are very cheap to purchase at Dollar Bill stores, which scatter the world, and also provide cheap ammo – around these machines, you’ll never feel like you’re gonna run out of ammo.
The stores are a pretty big part of Infinite’s gameplay – there are stores for buying Health, salts and ammo, stores for buying weapon upgrades, and stores for buying Vigor upgrades. The only store I ever really found truly reliable was the stores for buying items and ammo – the items are cheap, and money is very easy to come across. The only time I found myself in distress with cash was when I spent it on upgrades for guns and Vigors, which I barely purchased – while it is nice to have a fully upgraded gun, as said before, if there’s no way to keep that gun stocked on ammo, you’ll have to resort to guns which maybe aren’t as well upgraded as your favourite. I found it a much safer bet to keep a hold of my cash and spend most of it only on ammo, health/salts, and upgrades for the one gun and Vigor I used the most – I only upgraded one Vigor once during my playthrough.
Overall, while the gameplay seemed way more simplistic when compared to the previous games, it was a hell of a lot more fun than the last games – that may have been due to the fact that this game doesn’t have the same atmosphere as Bioshock or Bioshock 2. Bioshock 1 and 2 had this dark, depressing feeling of horror and dread throughout – as a destroyed utopia filled with monsters and freaks should. You had to tiptoe around every corner, prepared for any attack that may head your way. Infinite, on the other hand, felt less like a horror game and more like an thrill-ride adventure, speeding down skylines, bringing great fire down upon your enemies – it’s a symbol that Infinite really is a lot different in many respects, and that with a new world comes new ways of thinking, along with new ways of “sorting out problems”.
While story starts out more like an adventure, it soon gets deeper and darker once you meet Elizabeth, as you find out more about not only her and her relationship with Father Comstock, but also Booker DeWitt and the world of Columbia and the ideologies that its people follow. Irrational has managed to create a world that, while beautiful and vibrant, is truly disturbing –your mission is to get Elizabeth and to get out, and the latter objective is one that will truly stick in your mind as the game goes on. I won’t say much more about the story, as I don’t want to spoil much of it, but I will say that it all comes to a climax that is brilliantly bizarre, and for me at least, a real tearjerker.
Bioshock Infinite really is a beautiful game. I’ve already discussed how amazing Columbia looks, but its art design is truly a sight to behold. Its early 1900s aesthetic combined with elements of technology long after the period is fascinating to look at, and the way the characters move and act is stunning. Everything just looks impressive; the mocap is convincing, making each character’s movement fluid and believable. This is especially effective on Elizabeth – a character realized so well, with movements and facial expressions so detailed that you forget that this game’s art design isn’t meant to look realistic.
Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper both do excellent jobs as Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth, providing some well done voice work, and it shows that they developed the script with the voice actors – they don’t just feel as if they are just reading off a script, in fact, it feels that they molded it themselves, especially with Draper and Elizabeth, who’s voice just feels right. The rest of the voice acting is also a joy to listen to, especially the voice acting of the mysterious couple who finish their own sentences and sound delightedly dapper.
The music in this game is very nice, and it’s extra nice to hear a particularly amazing piece of music, for example some intense battle music, as you swing around on a skyhook – it fits very well. The real stars of the OST, however, are the more “contemporary” music tracks made into jaunty, tunes – listen out for these, I missed out on the fact that they have a 1900’s carnival version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. It’s honestly brilliant.
Bioshock Infinite is the first FPS in a while I’ve truly had fun playing. It’s a game I felt truly immersed in, with a story which kept me constantly involved, with gameplay that never gets tired. It’s non-stop, constant thrill-ride of a shooter, with a world that kept me guessing and an ending which blew me away, and Elizabeth may be one of the greatest protagonists in video game history.
Play this game. Bioshock Infinite deserves all the praise it gets, as Irrational has crafted a absolutely fantastic gaming experience. I know I said that I didn’t finish the other two games, but that may change soon, as Infinite has revitalized my interest in the Bioshock franchise.
Insert a terrible “Would you kindly” reference here.
Final Score: 10/10