A departure from Rapture, the city under the sea in the original Bioshock to a flying city nestled in the skies, the city of Columbia. An Ultra-Nationalist American dream world set in 1912. A red, white and blue sprinkled peace of heaven. Or is it?
Ken Levine’s Bioshock games have become a very special set of games. Known for their inspiring stories and sense of wonderment. The newest instalment certainly doesn’t disappoint. It’s the same formula re-imagined and repackaged.
As Booker Dewitt, you are told “Bring back the girl and wipe away the debt”. There is a girl trapped in a tower found in the floating city of Columbia and you are given the task to rescue her. You are dropped off seemingly on a lighthouse in the middle of nowhere. The lighthouse in fact acts as the gateway to the city.
It’s the intro especially that Bioshock: Infinite nails so perfectly. It introduces the player to the city by guided them through a period-style fair complete with shooting ranges which can be used as a tutorial to learn how to shoot or use Vigors. Plasmids are back or Vigors as they’re called in Infinite. Special condiments that supply to taker with super powers. And new age wonders on show which are purposely out of place. A handyman, a half man half robot, for example is seen standing on stage as a showman tries to wow the audience with his new invention. Handymen act as the Big Daddies of this Bioshock game except little sister don’t make a return. You then move on to attend a raffle which can be heard on the wind as the announcer begins to sing and warm up the crowd and gets louder and louder the closer you approach. “Goodnight Irene” is heard echoing through the pristine streets as you take in the spectacular sights to be found. There are a number of songs to be heard throughout Columbia from various time periods, often given a old sounding cover and it’s exciting to discover them in such a strange universe. It’s the blink and you’ll miss it details that make Bioshock an extraordinary experience. This certainly isn’t a game to race through and complete.
Buildings float around in cohesion and bright blue skies masked with white clouds compliment the rich colour scheme of Columbia. Skyrails envelop the city. A sort of upside down roller-coaster which you can use combined with your skyhook, to get from point A to B or use it for combat purposes. Leaping from it and assassinating unsuspecting targets on the ground bellow. You will soon learn the city almost bows down to their leader Father Comstock who appears in many posters and propaganda posted around the city. Comstock is reflected to be a God-like figure who tells of prophecies which the people of Columbia take doubtlessly. The city is realised in quite an imperialist style with white and gold foundations emblazoned with national flags and emblems. Some propaganda and depicted as being quite racist towards minorities which is supposed to show the general mood of the period and indeed the many inhabitants of Columbia. We only see the surface of it which often feels pushed in our face .The game isn’t quite a full free-roam experience. It gives you an area you can check out and then enter another area after you’ve sat through a loading screen, similar to the original Bioshock.
There is many times in the game though where you will be discovering these facts and emotional back stories or just came away from watching an emotional cutscene where you are immediately thrown into a brawl and forced to despatch everyone clearing the area of enemies as if they’re only an irritating obstacle in your way. It completely breaks any immersion and emotion the story was trying to generate. Many of the enemies just feel like they’re there to soak up your bullets. The Handymen for one. And combat often feels like rinse and repeat. The music starts to let you know enemies are after you. Clear the area of enemies. Music stops. If Infinite perhaps focused a little more on exploration and less on shooting, it could have been a more enjoyable, thought-provoking experience. Some of the best offerings from Infinite are where you are free to look around the city as people go about their everyday business but it often takes a quite turn in the opposite direction to violent outbursts destroying pacing.
The game centrally revolves around the character of Elizabeth and you will eventually meet her. Elizabeth isn’t your average girl and you will soon find out she has special abilities in the form of “tears”. Windows to parallel worlds which she can use to her advantage if she’s careful. Another one of Infinite’s shortcomings is the fact that Elizabeth’s tear abilities don’t seem fully fleshed out. Nowhere near the levels we seen in the early gameplay reveals. The best she can do is bring in a turret, or grappling hook or something else minor which quite frankly doesn’t make perfect sense. She has been Trapped in a tower by her father, Comstock and guarded by a protector called Songbird. A giant flying metal bird creature who cares and watches over. You must bust her out and escape from the clutches of Songbird. Bronze statues will indicate when Songbird is nearby by playing a chilling steam pipe tune and Songbird can easily be recognised by it’s incessant high-pitched screeching. It’s hard not notice the story of Elizabeth sharing similarities to fairy tales such as Rapunzel which fits rather well with Infinite’s dreamy atmosphere.
The graphics, especially on highest settings on a PC, are a visual delight and combined with the unique animation style, give an almost cartoon or Disney inspired look. People can often look slightly unusual in my opinion from overly long limbs or the same face can be seen on numerous residents if you look hard enough.
Voice acting is very good. Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper do a good job of developing the Booker and Elizabeth relationship. Elizabeth’s AI also does a surprisingly good job of helping you against enemies tossing you ammo or health when you’re running low and not just a burden on the player to protect. Mentioning this though, enemies will not attack Elizabeth and Elizabeth will not take damage and Elizabeth doesn’t fight back. Only finding and supplying you with sundries so it can feel like you’re doing all the hard work yourself.
Believe me, Bioshock: Infinite is a very easy game to forgive for it’s imperfections due to such an enthralling story. But taking the time to replay it after some time allows to break the barrier down and review it in a more judgemental and fair way for exactly what it is without looking through blinded eyes.
I would personally recommend Bioshock: Infinite to anyone as it has mass market shooter appeal mixed with a more mature story which may turn a few heads. I’d also advise people to play the original Bioshock game first so people know exactly what they’re letting themselves in for and the original is just as good so do not hesitate to pick up and play it if you haven’t already.
To ultimately sum up Infinite, it kind of feels as if Ken Levine is such a visionary and envisions such scope he can’t always create exactly what he sets out to create. Which is a shame but Infinite is still one of the best games of recent years and deserves it’s place in history and I certainly recommend to all gamers fans of encapsulating stories.
Bioshock: Infinite is available now for Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC