I almost wish I could have played Bioshock Infinite without having experienced its predecessors. Bioshock Infinite is a stellar game with a spectacular story to tell, but as I explored the sky-soaring city of Columbia, I kept flashing back to the depths of Rapture. Columbia was amazing, but Rapture was captivating. Where Columbia had you caught in the crossfire of enforcers and rebels, Rapture had you stuck in the slummed wake staving off denizens of splicers, gone mad with their thirst for power. Infinite does not give you a choice in how the story pans out, but BioShock as all about choice. Or was it?
See, I think I had the original Bioshock pegged all wrong. While the original BioShock had a system of moral choices that made an impact on the ending, ultimately the story of Jack is set in stone. Everything that happens in Rapture to him has and will happen. It doesn’t matter how many little sisters Jack harvests or how many he saves, in the end he is just a lonely man, lost in his own identity, under the ocean.
But how about Booker DeWitt? Unlike Jack or even Subject Delta, Booker’s laid out for the world to see, despite his attempts to hide it. The private detective is a former soldier and a former Pinkerton, used as muscle during labor strikes. Booker has obviously lived a trouble adult life as he finds himself backed against a wall to “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.”
This debt is what brings Booker to Columbia, the mysterious city in the sky. For as much as I adore Rapture and the eerie calm of the sunlight filtered through the ocean, Columbia is breathtaking. The entire city is held aloft by giant balloons, with each section containing houses, businesses, streets, parks and people. This is a chunk of turn of the century America, located as close to heaven as humanly possible.
But like Rapture before it, Columbia is one man’s twisted vision of a perfect world. The entire city is a world raised up by the self-proclaimed prophet Zachary Comstock. He has raised this city on faith. Faith in his vision of a pure civilization, a vision that has elevated America’s founding fathers to deities, an elevation that would place Columbia above the world below, so to be best positioned to deliver judgement. It is this prophet, who has foreseen the coming of Booker and declared him the false prophet who would lead Columbia’s lamb astray. That lamb would be the girl. Elizabeth.
Locked away in a tower made to look like an angel, Booker discovers Elizabeth. A bright girl who has a passion for books and learning, song and dance. In fact, she’s Disney’s Belle. But while Belle’s naivety led her to turn away from the insults and judgmental whispers, Elizabeth is so alone, so solitary that her only solace is in the tears in space where she can stand in a Parisian street.
It is these tears that become integral to Infinite’s story and gameplay. As Booker whisks Elizabeth from her towered prison with the mechanical giant Songbird in pursuit, he learns of her ability to alter space by bringing items through tears. These items can be boxes of weapons or medkits, cover to hide behind or even mechanically motorized turrets to assist in battle. As the story progresses, the tears become more strategically placed, and more complex things can be brought through them.
Combat strategy is a bit more furious in Infinite than in previous Bioshock titles. Where predecessors emphasized using a combination of plasmids, weapons and environmental hazards, Bioshock Infinite has altered the formula a bit. Plasmids are replaced by Vapors (don’t worry, they’re still mostly the same) and the more military and less steampunk, but many of the oil slicks and water pools common in Rapture are gone, as are the hackable sentries. Vapors are predominantly used for combat, ditching the variety of prior support Plasmids. Patience is not really an option in most of Infinite’s battles as the enemies come in droves. The sheer amount of enemies is also compounded because Columbia is much more open than Rapture ever was. There are few hallways to funnel enemies into, it seems that no matter where you are standing, there is a place for enemies to get behind, below or even above you.
To deal with the chaos that ensues with so many gun carrying enemies (only a few select units use Vapors), Infinite has an incredible skyrail system that Booker can attach to using a skyhook. The skyrail is like a one-man rollercoaster that Booker can aim machine guns off of. Combat on skyrails is exhilarating and fast, just as this game is at its highest moments.
While the basic enemies are simple and find ways to beat you with sheer numbers, there are a few units that attempt to reach the iconic league of the Big Daddy. First are mechanical Patriots, minigun toting robots that spout messages of patriotism, all with the faces of Washington and Lincoln. Second is the Handyman, a giant of a creation, this predominantly robotic entity has the head and heart of a man, trapped on a colossal 10 foot tall frame. His attacks resemble that of a gorilla, jumping around to smash the ground and crush Booker in his giant hands. He can climb aboard skyrails and electrify them. But he is tortured, a soul trapped in this machine, crying out for the life that he has lost.
It is snapshots of things like the handyman that describe Infinite in a nutshell. The lost remnants of a man, trapped in a destructive brute. A city built upon washing away sins that embraces the bitter bigotry and hatred of racism and oppression. A mercenary unknowingly searching for redemption, who tips the scales of revolution. Infinite is a never-ending story, a story that couldn’t be told without the stellar voice performances of the cast. Troy Baker’s performance as Booker is charged and deliberate, but also has just enough shame to reveal the torture of his past. But it is Courtney Draper that steals the show as Elizabeth. She is expressive, curious, brave and naive all rolled up into a fearful girl who just wants to be set free.
In fact, Elizabeth is unlike any computer controlled partner before her. Not only can she rip open tears to support Booker, but she will toss him extra ammunition and health should he run low mid-battle. When she finds something in exploration she will make a quiet hm to herself and point out key items to Booker as he explores. She casually clomps her heels about the room when she is investigating, peers through windows and will lean on desks while she waits. Elizabeth is what sets Infinite apart from its brethren. The game may not have a Big Daddy, but it certainly has the girl.
Bioshock Infinite is a gorgeous game that is ambitious as it is thoughtful. The story is brilliant with a multitude of radical issues that are tackled head on: racism, oppression, religion, relativity of time and space. And while the combat may not be as tight as its predecessors, it certainly is challenging and involved. And don’t worry, there is a worthy twist at the end.
9/10 A carefully constructed story on the most breathtaking backdrop to ever grace a game, Bioshock Infinite is a worthy followup and fantastic experience that delivers a gripping challenge.