This ain’t no Rapture.
Let’s get something straight right from the start. Irrational Games’ long time coming BioShock Infinite is an amazing experience and if you have picked the game up, or are planning on picking it up, then you are in for a treat. It doesn’t matter if you are a gamer who feels that graphics are the most important aspect, if you think that gameplay is king, or if the story is all important to you. BioShock Infinite will tick your boxes and leave you in a state of gaming bliss. It is a game that is all things to all people (except perhaps the multiplayer gamers, but even they can enjoy this single player ride).
I am not saying that there are no problems with the game. There have been many changes made to the BioShock formula that may disagree with some gamers. Some of these changes are massive and give the game an entirely different feel to the previous titles, such as the setting being a living and breathing world. Other changes are much smaller, yet have a significant effect on how the game is played, such as the inability to stockpile health. There are also some issues that I will raise later in my review. But once you actually start playing the game and get pulled into the amazing floating world of Columbia, nothing else really matters.
But let’s begin at the beginning. The player steps into the mysterious shoes of former military man Booker DeWitt and the year is 1912. BioShock Infinite has, as you would perhaps expect from Irrational Games, an incredibly twisty storyline that will engage the player and keep them guessing throughout. We don’t know much about our hero as the game begins, except that he is charged with rescuing a girl, Elizabeth, from the floating city of Columbia. It seems that this “quest” is in payment for “past sins”, actions that Booker knows of but chooses not to share with the player in the early game. It all adds an air of mystery to the game, encouraging the player even in the very early moments to find out exactly what the hero Booker DeWitt is all about.
Things get even more mysterious as the game moves on. The strange powers of Elizabeth, the religious zeal of self-proclaimed prophet and ruler of Columbia Comstock, that odd couple that seem to be following you around. It all really pulls you in and leaves you wanting to know more. BioShock Infinite is storytelling at its best.
But it is not just the story that will entice the players. There are some pretty impressive gameplay elements as well. Very early in the game, the players gains a “skyhook”, which is a spinning hook that can be used in close combat to quite a devastating effect. However, its main purpose is for traversing the skylines that link the different floating islands that make up Columbia together. Zipping from one island to another, or making use of the hooks attached to certain buildings to gain higher ground or access somewhere new, is a lot of fun and adds new levels to the game. Despite this novel transport system, there is not a huge amount of exploration in the game. Players can explore whichever area they are in, often finding handy coins or other goodies, but it is an essentially linear experience.
Having said that, BioShock Infinite feels incredibly open for a linear game. The small areas that you are allowed to explore are incredibly detailed and varied. Columbia is alive when you arrive, a living, breathing world filled with inhabitants going about their business and, unlike Rapture, the player will actually be present for the fall into destruction. Seeking out every nook and cranny of Columbia will reward the player with much needed supplies and some intriguing collectibles that go a long way to filling in the story behind Columbia, such as the audio files know as Voxphones. Columbia feels like it is making history rather than just being part of history.
It doesn’t take long before Booker becomes public enemy number one and has to deal with various foes, from the standard police force through to some much more interesting “heavy hitters”, as Irrational Games has called them. These bosses and sub bosses are much more interesting and take some tactical thinking, or brute force, to deal with. Fortunately, there are plenty of combat options available to the player.
The skyhook and melee combat is very effective, but is only the tip of the combat iceberg. The player is also able to carry two weapons with them at any time. The weapons, which are varied and satisfying, can be swapped out with dropped weapons throughout the game, and usually the right weapon presents itself for the job at hand.
Then there are the Vigors, mysterious powers that are unlocked by drinking potions as they are found. Once again, the player only has two of these powers equipped, but can switch between those that have been unlocked through a simple wheel. Vigors are powered by “Salts” and, much like health, these cannot be stockpiled and must be refilled on the fly by finding food or drink.
The different Vigors available are fun to use, but many of them are only useful in certain circumstances. They range from the throwing of simple fireballs or controlling of turrets, to things like the much more entertaining summoning of a swarm of deadly crows, or blasting enemies off the edge of Columbia with a burst of water. They also add more options when it comes to dealing with foes.
But the most interesting option comes with the rescue of Elizabeth. She has the ability to open “tears” which give access to things that may not be there in the current reality of place. These tears can give further tactical options, such as access to places from which to gain the advantage, to stockpiles of health or salts, or even turrets. Admittedly, it can get a bit confusing as these “tears” can show up as glowing areas on the screen that are not actually there. But anything that can give the player the edge or more choices is welcome.
But that is not all that Elizabeth brings to the game. She becomes a hassle free AI partner. Once combat kicks off, she simply stays out of the way and the player doesn’t have to worry about her. She also helps out by offering advice, finding spare ammo, health of money, and can even pick locks as long as the player has enough lock picks.
Elizabeth also brings with her yet another reason to keep playing, as if any more were needed. The relationship between Elizabeth and the player controlled Booker is enchanting. She is, in fact, more of a rounded character than the hero himself, and she is easily the star of the show. The depth of Elizabeth is an astounding achievement and one that Irrational Games should be applauded for.
But, as I already mentioned, BioShock Infinite is now without its problems. There are some little things that, whilst not tarnishing what is an amazing experience, are noticeable. Players can bring up a marker that points them in the right direction to their current objective, for example. But at times this seemed about as much use as a modern GPS system, at one point even suggesting I jump off the side of a floating ship even though my objective was in a completely different direction. Another issue I had was assigning the Vigors to the left trigger on the Xbox360. It was a long time into the game before I stopped using Vigors every time I wanted to use my guns sights, which happen to be assigned to clicking the right stick.
And then there are the checkpoints. For some reason these are set very far apart. It is not an issue if the player dies, as they will just start again nearby. But when it comes to quitting time, having to continue playing for up to an hour to find a checkpoint can be frustrating.
But these little issues with the game pale into insignificance once the player actually gets invested in BioShock Infinite. The game is very quick to pull you in and, once it has you, it is very difficult to leave.
BioShock Infinite has been a long time coming, but it was certainly worth the wait. There may have been some concern over the gaming choices as details were released, but they can all be cast aside now. BioShock Infinite is an essential purchase, a master piece in storytelling, and an experience that players will be sad to leave. It is, quite possibly, the game of the year.