The rumor of a Bioshock movie has been floating around the Internet for some time now, and said rumor was rather distressing to me.  Not that I don’t adore Bioshock and its underwater utopia-turned-dystopia Rapture — Bioshock is easily one of my favorite games ever — but because Bioshock is one of those rare titles that uses the video game medium to deliver an experience so authentic, so well-crafted, and so unique that experiencing it in any other medium would simply not do it justice. The highest compliment that I can give Bioshock Infinite is that it, too, belongs in that same echelon of game.

[text_left]Release Date: 3/26/13
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3 (reviewed), PC
Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Rating: M
Price: $59.99 [/text_left]

Bioshock Infinite starts off, like Bioshock before it, with the protagonist arriving at a lighthouse.  Booker DeWitt is tasked with traveling to Columbia, a city floating in the sky, and bringing young Elizabeth back to New York in order to clear a debt of Booker’s. Booker sits in a chair at the top of the lighthouse and is shot into the flying city of Columbia.

Columbia is immediately gorgeous. Buildings mix rich, creamy hues with rustic brick-styled houses, while the local fauna is blooming with both life and color. People hustle and bustle through the streets, gossiping and pushing their wares.  Even a barbershop quartet — on a floating airship even — sings to a small crowd as Booker is strolling through the streets.  One thing that becomes immediately clear though is that the citizens of Columbia are certainly a God fearing community.  They only revere one below God:  Comstock.

Columbia is immediately gorgeous. Buildings mix rich, creamy hues with rustic brick-styled houses, while the local fauna is blooming with both life and color.

Comstock is known as the Prophet, the one who delivered them from the sins of those on the ground and brought them closer to Heaven.  If the premise sounds familiar, it is.  Irrational is not afraid of drawing indirect parallels between their two Bioshock titles, and it’s a trend that continues the further you delve into Bioshock Infinite.  Further proof:  you find out all things are not well soon after your arrival in Columbia.  After winning a “lottery”, you’re asked to pitch the first ball at a couple:  a black woman and a white man.

Normally, the color of their skin wouldn’t come up in a review like this, but racial oppression is a big theme in Bioshock Infinite.  It’s set in 1912, after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the Civil Rights movement, and part of the reason Columbia exists is because of Comstock’s disagreement with the Emancipation Proclamation. In fact, most of the racist behaviors of the Columbian people could just be chalked up to good ol’ racism, until you stumble upon a golden statue of John Wilkes Booth, idolized in Columbia for his deeds. Columbia is decidedly like Rapture in that the more you delve into its lore and history, the more unsettling it gets. As the story progresses, more and more injustices become apparent as  Columbia swiftly devolves from a working piece of Americana to an oppressive fortress clad in red, white, and blue.

As the story progresses, more and more injustices become apparent as  Columbia swiftly devolves from a working piece of Americana to an oppressive fortress clad in red, white, and blue.

Combat will feel familiar to anyone who played either Bioshock titles.  The bulk of the gunplay remains largely the same, save for a number of tweaks and alterations.  Melee attacks are now mapped to its own button, but the player can only carry two weapons this time around.  Vigors replace plasmids, each of which have two different attacks.  Many vigors will offer a “trap”, where the player can lay a trap and wait for an enemy to trigger it, but some will offer more “standard” variations on their attacks.

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Health and “salt” (the substance that power vigors) packs can no longer be carried, meaning any healing will have to be done with supplies found on the field.  Thankfully, plenty of food and drink are scattered around Columbia, so there’s rarely a time where Booker will be running on E.  In addition to the changes to health and pickups, the biggest change to the formula is a shield, which will regenerate after not taking damage for a few seconds.  It prevents the need to backtrack through the level scouring for a health pack just to prevent dying at the next encounter.  Even if Booker was to fall in combat, he’ll be resurrected at the nearest checkpoint, taking a mild hit in his wallet in the process.  Enemies who were still standing will also be healed, which can provide some frustration while fighting some of Columbia’s tougher foes.

These tougher foes, however, can be felled with the help of Columbia’s main mode of transportation:  the sky-lines.  With one giant leap, Booker will use his sky-hook to slide along the line, free to skirt around the area, firing on enemies.  Even better, he can jump off the sky-line at any time, lunging at a chosen enemy and sending him packing.  Enemies will utilize the sky-lines too, leading up to some intense, high speed battles.  Some enemies can dodge your attacks, and some can actually electrify the sky-line, so fighting that pesky Handyman isn’t as easy as thumping him from the sky-line repeatedly.

Whilst traveling Columbia, scavenging for supplies is still a key ingredient in the Bioshock formula, although admittedly it doesn’t have the same contextual heft in Bioshock Infinite that it did in Bioshock.  Digging through filing cabinets and drawers will still yield ammo, health, and the like, but there’s also a plethora of upgrades to be found.  Infusion potions, when drank, confer permanent bonuses to Booker’s health, shield, or salt capacities.  Gear, which is divided into four categories (hat, shirt, pants, boots), give various boosts to different abilities.  For example, a shirt may offer a chance to ignite enemies while a pair of pants will give your melee lunges three times the range.  Together, the combination becomes lethal.  Upgrades to both weapons and vigors are now purchased with cash, which sounds troublesome on paper, given that repeated deaths can drain your savings quickly, but careful scavenging will show that there’s plenty of money to be found within Columbia’s cushions.

Elizabeth is many things — well read, rather curious, sheltered — but one thing is quickly established:  she’s capable.

Eventually, Booker meets the woman responsible for his trip to the floating city:  Elizabeth.  Elizabeth is many things — well read, rather curious, sheltered — but one thing is quickly established:  she’s capable.  In fact, her first response to Booker is to club him with a book.  Even when she’s exposed to the horrors of Columbia, she does not falter.  The game even gives you a big tool-tip, saying not to worry about Elizabeth in the midst of combat.  More than that, she’s less damsel-in-distress and more partner-in-crime.

While scavenging, Elizabeth will point out useful items and direct the player to look where she’s looking.  She’ll also make small talk, based on what’s happening and where the two are.  These conversations are never repeated, partially due to the game’s fairly linear structure, and offer windows into both the two characters’ personalities and Columbia itself.  In combat, Elizabeth makes herself useful by throwing Booker supplies whenever he runs low, whether that means health, salt, or ammo.  It’s made better by the fact that she doesn’t need to be babysat:  she’ll just tuck her head and toss something useful when needed.

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However, Elizabeth’s greatest ability is being able to manipulate something called a “tear”, which are used to call objects into the world.  These tears can turn the tide during some of Bioshock Infinite‘s bigger battles.  She can summon a turret to mow down hordes of enemies, a gun for Booker better suited to the situation, or even a bin full of health packs.  These “tears” are a major component in the game’s narrative, but stating to which extent would spoil the magic contained in the plot.

It’s admittedly difficult to discuss the finer details of the story without delving into material that would hinder the experience.  Indeed, Bioshock Infinite‘s strongest point is how well every part of the campaign comes together.  There’s plenty of attention paid to nearly every scene.  Every set-piece is so well orchestrated in every category that each one is as remember-able as the last.  One scene struck me in particular:  in the midst of a conflict, one young girl was singing a hymn.  Cast alongside the distant sounds of guns firing and men dying, it was haunting.

The plot rarely ever takes a turn for the predictable, and it manages to tackle some pretty hefty societal issues while attributing some dialogue of its own.  As it tussles with these ideals and struggles, it proves to be thought provoking and intelligently designed.  Still, Bioshock Infinite is very much the story of Booker and Elizabeth.  The back-and-forth between the two is filled with chemistry, in terms of both voice acting and character-wise.  Elizabeth’s nuanced expressions and emotions are particularly impressive as she bursts into life on screen, and despite it being a first person game, Booker gets characterized very well thanks to some subtle animations and his personality coming through in his dialogue.

The Wrap Up

The components that make up Bioshock Infinite are all singularly impressive, but its not until all these pieces are put together that Bioshock Infinite truly becomes something special.  What would have been an excellent campaign suddenly becomes all the more impressive once you realize just how much care has been put into crafting this experience, how all these moving pieces — the excellent combat, the amazing design, the gripping plot — form this awe-inspiring adventure.  It’s masterfully crafted in every stretch of the imagination, as equally iconic and memorable as its predecessor.

10bolt

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