When the original “Bioshock” came out in 2007, I was blown away with the fantastic story, colorful characters, art direction and setting full of mystery and wonder that still stands as some of the best in gaming. Since the 2010 announcement of “Bioshock Infinite,” I’ve been mildly skeptical about another sequel (after the outsourced, but decent “Bioshock 2”).
How could developer Irrational Games follow in their own footsteps and outdo themselves? After about 20 hours with the game, I can safely say that not only were they successful, but they’ve created one of the most beautifully crafted and best games ever made.
“Bioshock Infinite” trades out the tragic, underwater art-deco inspired halls of Rapture, and shoots straight for the sky (literally) with the floating city of Columbia, circa 1912. Players take on the role of Booker DeWitt, an alcoholic ex-Pinkerton agent with serious gambling debts.
At the outset of the game, DeWitt’s goal is simply, “bring us the girl and wipe away the debt” — a cryptic message that is repeated throughout, adding to the vagueness of Booker’s actual mission. The girl is Elizabeth, a young woman with mysterious powers that enable her to open “tears” in space and time.
When you first meet her, she is imprisoned in a tower by main antagonist Zachary Hale Comstock, who keeps her caged to prevent her from leaving with her powers. Comstock — Columbia’s ruler and self-proclaimed “Prophet” — claims he receives visions of future events from an archangel and imposes a religion that idolizes founding fathers, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
“Infinite” deals heavily with pervasive themes of racism, sexism and classism that are ubiquitous throughout and perpetuated by gruesome, strong violence. There are many instances of characters denouncing or embracing religion, which plays a major role in the story. There are bathrooms designated for “coloreds and Irish” and “white” — the racist and xenophobic propaganda is everywhere. The brewing class war between Comstock’s idealistic Founders and Vox Populi, the rag-tag resistance group, is highly reminiscent of the “Occupy” movements.
Yes, it’s controversial and may even make you uncomfortable while playing, but that’s the beauty of it. Very few games deal with these themes, and “Infinite” handles them in a mature manner — adding to the hostile environment you are in — and shows how evil these men you’re murdering are.
The gameplay boils down to vigors and guns, and both are emphasized by intense violence. Vigors are supernatural abilities Booker obtains by drinking said vigor. There are eight to find, including throwing fiery grenades, sending a shocking jolt of electricity, possessing people and machines, and my favorite, unleashing a swarm of murderous crows to defeat enemies. Vigor is replenished by salts — basically this game’s equivalent of EVE from previous “Bioshock” games.
Elizabeth is your AI companion for most of the game, aiding Booker by throwing him health, salts, money and ammo. When in combat, enemies ignore her, which is kind of a disconnect, but a smart decision since it negates any sort of annoying possibility of worrying about her being in trouble, unless it’s mandated by the story.
With its amazing lighting effects and city vistas bouncing buoyantly in the background, the graphics on the Xbox 360-version are for the most part great. Being in Columbia is unique and breathtaking, minus some occasional low-res textures rearing their ugly heads once in a while.
Out of fear of spoilers, I won’t reveal how they’re in this world, nor will I talk about story specifics. Trust me — it’s worth finding out on your own. Just to give a taste, upon the game’s completion, I sat in my chair for several minutes, unable to move because my mind had been blown into microscopic pieces. It seriously is that good.
“Bioshock Infinite” is a large game — not only in its physical scope, but it has lofty, far-reaching story beats, themes and ambitions. Even more impressive is that Irrational managed to nail almost every aspect of the game and, after about five years, put out a product that is meaningful, emotional, relevant to its time, fun to play and an all-around astoundingly excellent piece of interactive entertainment.