In the opening sequence of BioShock Infinite, you find yourself in a row boat at sea. You end up being taken to a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean, which you ascend. Your only clue as to why you are here is a note on the door: “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.” At the top, you sit in a chair, and the room around you turns into a rocket that counts down and fires you into the sky. You soar and soar, higher and higher into the sky, until finally you break through the cloud cover and a breathtaking landscape is revealed: the flying city of Columbia, a steampunk marvel set high among the clouds.
If you’re thinking that some aspects of that sequence sound a bit familiar, you’d be right. Infinite invokes memories of the first BioShock game from the very beginning, and the similarities don’t stop there. As you wander around Columbia, you’ll end up discovering the backstory through Voxaphones–hidden audio recordings made by the residents of Columbia. Rather than Plasmids, your character, Booker DeWitt, gains special powers through drinking potions called Vigors. Their effects are mostly the same as in the original BioShock–lightning, fire, and so on–although there are some new ones, such as Murder of Crows, which sends a group of crows to attack and stun your enemies. Using Vigors uses up Salts rather than EVE, but the overall concept is the same. You’ll upgrade Vigors, upgrade weapons, and buy items at vending machines that spout phrases such as “Return when you’ve got some currency, fella!” And while you may not fight any Big Daddies, there are plenty of “Heavy Hitter” enemies to take their place, such as the Patriot–a murderous animatronic George Washington with a crank gun.
There’s no doubt that Infinite deserves the “BioShock” part of its title. But what’s even more impressive is how many things Infinite manages to do that are new. They’ve taken the best parts of the first BioShock game and formed something entirely new out of it–something that I would argue has even managed to surpass its predecessor in quality.
As you wander around Columbia, at first things seem downright heavenly. The city is vibrant, alive, and full of people–a stark contrast to the ruin that was Rapture in earlier BioShock games. Everyone seems to follow the same religious cult, but the city is so breathtaking and the people so happy that it’s hard to resist being sucked in a little. At least, that is, until you end up winning the city’s free raffle. What’s your prize? It’s the chance to be the first to throw a baseball at an interracial couple, escorted onto the stage surrounded by racist caricatures of monkeys.
Things only get more complicated as the story goes on, and Booker ends up caught between warring factions. The Vox Populi are a group that claims to stand for the common people, against the rich, racist leaders of Columbia. Eventually, of course, you end up finding out they have their own dark side as well. BioShock games have always been about the dangers of extremism, and Infinite is no exception. There are two characters whose presence greatly changes the storyline from earlier BioShock games, though: Booker and Elizabeth.
While the protagonists of earlier BioShock games had names and backstories, they were your typical mute protagonist, with no personality beyond that which the player projected onto them. Booker DeWitt is not. He has a name, a backstory, a personality, and fully voiced dialogue (done by the wonderful Troy Baker). He also has a companion during the game: a young girl named Elizabeth, who serves as your sidekick in battle.
Don’t worry, though. Elizabeth is not your typical video game sidekick, and BioShock Infinite is not an escort mission. While it’s hard to avoid getting a bit of a Disney princess vibe from Elizabeth, she repeatedly proves herself to be a smart, independent, and capable young woman. You don’t have to worry about protecting her in battle, either–as the game itself says, “she can take care of herself.” That alone removes near-infinite annoyance potential. Possibly the most impressive thing about Elizabeth is how real she feels. She doesn’t just mindlessly follow you around the world, waiting to be interacted with. She’ll wander around areas of Columbia herself, examining things and making comments, sometimes starting a conversation with you. Sometimes you’ll see her sit down on a bench and wait for you, or you’ll see her leaning against a wall. It’s such a minor touch, but the way Elizabeth interacts with things makes her feel like a real person who inhabits the same world you do, rather than a pre-programmed AI.
She also has several useful skills to help you throughout the game. For one, she can pick locks to open optional doors and hidden safes. She’ll also throw you health, Salts, and ammo as you need it during battle, and will hand you money as you walk around. If you miss picking up an object, she’ll point it out to you. You might think her presence would make the gameplay too easy, but it doesn’t. Irrational Games did a very good job of balancing Elizabeth as a character. There’s no guarantee that she’ll be able to help you out–she has to “have the right materials on hand.” It’s nice when it happens, but it’s not something you can depend on; the game does a good job of making sure you don’t use it as a crutch.
Last but certainly not least, Elizabeth also has the ability to open tears into alternate dimensions. She can then pull things through these tears into your universe–things like sniper rifles, medical kits, turrets, or cover for you to hide behind. In a difficult battle, a bit of help from Elizabeth can often give you the edge you need to survive.
Infinite does also change a few things from earlier BioShock games in terms of gameplay. Rather than carrying an entire armory with you, you’re now limited to only carrying two guns at a time. If you have two guns already and want to pick up a third, you have to drop one of the guns you’re carrying. Enemies often drop weapons when they die, and there are typically guns left in strategic places in certain areas, so it’s not as though weapons are hard to come by. I still found that I didn’t like the change, though. It made me more likely to hold on to guns that I knew I liked, rather than experimenting as much as I wanted to; if I dropped a gun that I liked, I might not be able to get it back for some time. That’s probably the only thing about Infinite that I didn’t like, however, and it is a very minor complaint.
BioShock Infinite also gives you a shield, much like those found in many other FPS games. Enemies won’t be able to hurt you as long as your shield is up, but each enemy attack will drain your shield’s power. If you can avoid getting attacked, your shield will recharge over time. The last significant change to the core BioShock gameplay is that death in Infinite actually has some consequences. If Booker dies, his health will be partially restored, any living enemies’ health will be partially restored, and he loses a set amount of funds from his wallet. Rather than being able to simply pop out of a Vita-Chamber and keep going, Infinite’s system provides you with some real incentive to avoid death.
Not only is the gameplay well-done and enjoyable, the storyline of Infinite is also absolutely amazing. The BioShock series is known for its mind-blowing plot twists, and Infinite does not disappoint in that regard. Upon a second playthrough, almost every line is packed with foreshadowing that only makes sense in hindsight. It’s an emotional and well-crafted tale, and I really can’t recommend it highly enough, particularly for anyone who enjoys stories involving alternate dimensions or time travel.
BioShock Infinite, as it turns out, was definitely worth the wait. Irrational Games has provided us with a game that not only serves as a worthy sequel to the original BioShock, but even manages to surpass the original’s brilliance. It’s rare that we get a game this amazing; nothing I can say can possibly praise it enough.
Overall Rating: 6/5 (Yes, it’s THAT good.)
What I Played: Beat the game on Normal mode with a good amount of exploration. In the process of replaying it on Hard.