Does the new BioShock game soar to great heights, or sink to the depths of Rapture?
*NOTE* – I’m focusing more on the narrative of the game than I normally would. To read a more comprehensive review of all facets of the game, click here to view Rock5teady’s initial review.
While BioShock has always been a linear experience, the issue of choice has always been a central theme in its narrative. Gamers who have played the first game in the series know this very well, and without spoiling anything, there was more at play in that game than just choosing to save or kill creepy little girls in BioShock.
After one stellar and one good game set in the underwater city of Rapture, Ken Levine and the folks at Irrational Games decided to set loftier goals with their third adventure. Set in the cloud city of Columbia in the early 1900’s, BioShock: Infinite has a decidedly fresh, open feel to it. The game actually begins not unlike the first adventure in the series – in the midst of a stormy, rain-swept sea. While there is no connection between the first two BioShock games and Infinite, it’s a nice, narrative touch that links the two games. Soon after, you’re ushered along into a new BioShock adventure, and your first foray into the clouds is spectacular and eye-opening.
Gone are the dark, claustrophobic passageways and tunnels populated by hideously disfigured and mutated denizens who make their home in the secret underwater city of Rapture.
In contrast, the city of Columbia is an industrial age marvel – part haven for good-natured, God-fearing Americans, and part amusement park attraction to capture and captivate the imagination. As you delve deeper and peel back the layers of this marvelous flying cloud city however, you begin to see another side of this turn-of-the-century utopia. Something’s not right in this brave new world, led by the charismatic “prophet” Zachary Comstock – and you soon witness the widespread bigotry, racism and religious fanaticism that underlie the rotten core of this shiny floating beacon of modern ingenuity. As the cracks and tears in its facade begin to show, you can’t help but become engrossed in the game’s narrative. This all takes place within the first hour of the game, and the rest of your ten-to-twelve-hour adventure is about discovering how to get off this floating rock, while finding out just how things got so bad along the way.
In the first BioShock, you played as Jack – a relative blank slate of a character. Infinite on the other hand thrusts you into the role of Booker DeWitt, ex-soldier and ex-Pinkerton Detective on a mission to abduct a mysterious girl in order to wipe your debts clean. “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt” forms the impetus for the first third of the game. However, through your time in Columbia and in your interactions with the various denizens, you begin to unravel Booker’s past and realize that there’s more to Mr. DeWitt than you originally think.
Booker is only half of the BioShock equation however, and it would be a disservice not to mention Elizabeth – the girl you’re sent to abduct.
What begins as a pretty traditional fetch and escort mission is soon transformed once you’ve freed Elizabeth from confinement. You see, Elizabeth is not your typical damsel in distress. Years of being locked in a tower with little in the way of companionship and a small window to the outside world has made her inquisitive, and it shows in the little interactions and observations she makes with the world at large.
Don’t confuse her innocence and naivety with stupidity though. She comes across as very intelligent, strong-willed and self sufficient – not whiny, cloying and annoying like the many damsels that came before her.
Throughout your play-through, you won’t even have to save Elizabeth from enemies unless it’s called for in the story. The game makes that clear early on, and it helps the player become more immersed in the story. In fact, you quickly stop thinking of her as an object or objective you need to protect, and more as a companion on your journey. She’ll deliver insights and offer explanations or express wonderment in discoveries, be right there with you to experience some of the wonders and atrocities that Columbia has to offer, and even help you from time to time, tossing you health, salt (the fuel for your many powers) and ammunition.
Elizabeth also has the unique ability to open “tears” in the fabric of space, and literally pull in objects from other dimensions into yours. While this factors in greatly in the game’s story, it also has an impact on the battles, as she can pull in cover, ammunition, health, and even friendly gun emplacements and drones to help aid you during firefights.
When I heard about this game, I made the incorrect assumption that it would have a different feel from the first two BioShock games. For those who have played BioShock (and to a lesser extent, the similar first-person shooter Singularity), you’ll find that Infinite’s controls, art style, sound effects and pace of action are pretty much in line with what you’ve seen before. You’ve got your traditional weapons mapped to your right trigger, and “vigors” (aka plasmids aka powers) mapped to your left trigger.
They’ve streamlined the melee from the first game so that you don’t have to equip your melee weapon before using it anymore. Instead, you use a device called a Sky Hook to bludgeon and brutally execute enemies. This Sky Hook is also used to traverse along sky lines and hooks that are available around the city, often giving you unique vantage points to take out your enemies from.
The controls are tight and forgiving, as is the game in general – never once did I think that I couldn’t pass a certain section or area because the difficulty had spiked. In fact, I played on normal mode and I thought that it was a tad bit too easy at times, especially once you had some of the more powerful weapons and had upgraded your vigors.
I won’t lie – I was a tad bit disappointed at first because I came in with unrealistic expectations. At its core, this IS a BioShock game, and not a new beast entirely. Those who weren’t big fans of the action in previous BioShock games, or those who would rather play a “realistic” shooter will also be disappointed.
In fact, before I had even stepped foot in Columbia, I was almost willing to relegate this to my backlog. It took me a while to get through the original BioShock game as it made its way into and out of my current library of games for the better part of two years.
Two things kept me playing this game though: the fully realized world of Columbia, and later on, the growing dynamic between Booker and Elizabeth. If you’re one of those people who have an inclination to shelve this because it seems like a BioShock mod, I suggest you stick around a bit, explore the world, and get lost in its lore before making that decision.
If there is one change that players will notice, it’s in the overall tone of the game. This is no longer a first person shooter-horror like the original. The denizens of Columbia aren’t horribly disfigured and mutated, and they’re not all out to kill you. It’s a good change, and the choice to elevate the series beyond its action-horror roots was both refreshing and necessary.
- Beautiful art direction
- Great story
- Likeable characters and good voice acting
- Solid shooting mechanics and controls
- No manual saves, but autosave spots can be a bit far from each other
- Last 1/3 of the game has too many unnecessary fights. Yup, too much shooting in a shooter, I know…
- Over-reliance on telling the story through collectible voxphone recordings means that you can easily miss a lot of the backstory. I missed 4 voxphones during my playthrough
The Old Guy in me Says
I can wax on and on about BioShock: Infinite because it really has been one of the few experiences I’ve had in recent years where you become so immersed in the adventure. In fact, I haven’t felt this way since Red Dead Redemption, which already puts it in good company.
Going back to the theme of choice in the BioShock universe, if you even remotely enjoyed the first couple games, or like single player shooters in general – the choice is clear…
Now would you kindly go out and play this game already?