BioShock is the game that really changed all games back in 2007. It had morality, multiple endings, audio logs, and super powers in the first-person view; several things it pioneered into gaming, that you really can’t play a game without seeing today. I think BioShock Infinite has done just that again: pioneering concepts we will see in games for quite a while to come.
Infinite is an entirely new beast, but at it’s heart, it is still a BioShock game. It still has vigors, which are the new plasmids, it still has a lighthouse, it still has mysteries solved through audio logs, and above all else: it still has one of the most infectiously fascinating worlds of any game I have ventured into. Columbia is the city in the sky, built for the 1893 Worlds Fair to spread the views of the United States, it seceded from the union in 1903, never to be seen again. A world separated, much like Rapture, but unlike Rapture, it is still beautiful, full of people and life, and very much at peace when you arrive.
In fact, it is the very genesis of Columbia’s peace that proves to be the most fascinating aspect of Infinite’s story: Zachary Comstock, leader and so-called ‘Prophet’ of Columbia. The game introduces him in a very unique way, showing him right as you enter Columbia. An entire church is dedicated in his honor, and the people of the sky truly treat him as the second coming of Christ. There is some serious religious imagery like I have never even seen in a game before, and it really drives that imagery home through the entire game. Comstock is believed by his people to be a God because of his sight into the future and his charisma to lead Columbia to prosperity. It is even horrific at times how frighteningly loyal to Comstock his people are. Andrew Ryan left very large shoes to fill for a new entry to the BioShock saga, and Comstock fits them perfectly.
Comstock is kind of an opposite to the protagonist, Booker DeWitt, expertly voiced by Troy Baker. Booker is not religious, not holy, and anything but righteous. He is also the first to admit any of this, and really fills in half of the story nicely. The other half? That is taken by Elizabeth, who may be one of the best characters and mechanics in a game in quite some time. Not only is she just so instantly likeable and fun to converse with throughout the many beats in the story, she really represents the maturity of character development in video games. She is incredibly integral to everything you do, and is with you for over 70% of the game.
There are so many little things I could go on about with Elizabeth, but one thing I would rather lean on is how she assists you. She can pick locks and indicate useful items, but one thing I loved above all else was how occasionally she’ll find some money and call out to you. From there you can go into an animation where she simply tosses you a coin. I saw this maybe 100 times throughout the whole game, and it never got old. It just felt so much more personal than any other simple interaction in a game before. I was happy every time I saw it. She’ll do this in combat to, where she’ll throw you Salts to use your vigors, a fully loaded gun, or even a health kit.
The enigma of Elizabeth is her ability to open tears in reality, which becomes the central mechanic of the game. The mystery of Elizabeth and where she comes from truly is the mystery of Infinite.
The story of Elizabeth and Booker is beautifully crafted as well. Subtlety has never been strong in video games, especially in FPSs, but Infinite once again sets itself aside from the crowd. Every little interaction, everything that you go through with these two characters, slowly bonds them together, and by the end, it creates a kind of relationship that really can’t be described in words, especially when it hits its apex. Suffice to say, the one real relationship of the entire game is between Booker and Elizabeth, and it’s fantastic.
But other than ambiance, BioShock Infinite delivers on all other fronts as well. The shooting is excellent, and is ten steps above where the ‘acceptable’ shooting in the original BioShock was. Those worried about stiff controls should set those concerns aside. I had a lot of fun in Inifinte, and every major combat scenario was in a large enough space that I had plenty of opportunity to play around with the vigors and guns in the game. Also, since you don’t have a stockpile of EVE hypos and medkits in this game, you have to scavenge mid-combat, which adds an entirely new layer of tension to the fights.
BioShock doesn’t lean on it’s fights as much as I find games like Uncharted do, though. Yes, combat is the glue that holds scenarios across Infinite together, but the spaces of time where just dialogue and development are happening felt longer, and very focused. It felt like a fair split, and even though there may have been more combat than not, making the player feel like there is less is really a trick I have to give credit to Irrational Games for.
Of course one major component of the game that can’t go unsaid is the sound and music. The sound design for this game is truly incredible, with a soundtrack that tops the original BioShockwith early 1900s sounds of quartets, orchestrated bands, and effects that fit perfectly in Infinite’s steampunk world. The music is great, but well-rounded sound design isn’t just music, it’s sound effects, dialogue, and ambiance, all of which are covered. The creaking sounds of machines, the blast from the vigors and weapons, and of course the voice acting, are all at the top of their game.
Infinite isn’t without its fair share of problems, but it still runs incredibly well on PS3. There is quite a bit of screen tearing, and a nasty glitch where if you reload from checkpoints it shows you all of the tutorial screens again. Nothing that really derailed the game at all though, and I saw barely any framerate drops, which is surprising for where we are in the console life-cycle. Also, the Skyline traversal, which has absolutely no right to work at all, works perfectly. Not a hitch or frame rate drop anytime I jumped up to latch onto one of the many Skylines that connect Columbia, and it’s quick, easy to navigate, and very fun. Honestly, it shouldn’t work as well as it does, but it does.
Who would have thought all it would take to capture the magic of BioShock was another six years. Infinite is incredible, and does everything it wants to do better than any game of its kind or in its league. A meaningful, moving story, surrounded by the fears of religious fanatics and racism, all rolled up in a city in the sky. Infinite is one in a million, and I think it is a game that will leave you thinking for maybe even years to come.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version.