“When is the big twist coming?” is a question I kept asking myself while playing BioShock Infinite. After playing 2007′s BioShock, you undoubtedly have to go into BioShock Infinite with the expectation that there will be a revelatory twist at any moment. Whether that actually comes or not, isn’t what makes Infinite special. It is a surprisingly bloody, yet bold, and incredibly lavish and fully realized world that is aching to have you explore everything to its fullest extent. Even if you question eating that hotdog from the garbage.
The year is 1912. You play the role of Booker DeWitt, are a war hero and private detective. He has one simple mission, “deliver the girl to wipe away the debt”. A simple task that further complicates as you are whisked up high into the clouds to Columbia, a floating series of islands making up the city. In order to gain passage to Columbia proper, you must be baptized. With no other option, you go ahead and are seeing a very different America than what exists on the ground.
Columbia is ran by tyrannical fascist known as Comstock. He is referred to “Father Comstock” and “The Prophet” most of the time. Upon your arrival, you’ll be seeing lots of monuments to himself, and taking the founding fathers and making them God-like. For a long while, this allows you to take in the sights and sounds of the world that has been created. You can see how these people live and talk. Explore shops, play games at the fair which act as a tutorial. It’s all uncomfortably serene.
While attending a raffle, you’re thrust into the combat after a very racist sequence. It is discovered you bare the mark of the “False Prophet” and are public enemy number one. Quickly you acquire weapons as you make your way to the girl. The girl is Elizabeth, who has been locked inside a statue of herself for seemingly her entire life. She has special powers that she reveals to you that open tears different times and spaces. Once you break her out, things happen at a brisk pace and you’re introduced to Songbird, her protector. The Big Daddy of Infinite if you will. She will join you on your adventure most of the way through. It’s not quite an escort mission as Elizabeth can handle herself, a refreshing change.
Combat is a bit restrictive from a weapons perspective, only able to hold two weapons at a time. You’ll be the enemy of everyone and in order to proceed, must kill everyone. While you can comment on the violence, the use of weapons in this game that probably doesn’t need it. It actually is a ton of fun mixing up weapons with vigors and using tears to pull in turrets to fight on your side. You’ll encounter groups of police and other enemies delivered to you by zeppelins and gondolas. There are larger than normal enemies known as Handymen, whose major weakness is the heart. They are well-armored and induce a lot of damage upon you. You’ll always have to be thinking and moving while in combat. Additional baddies like the Firemen and Crow run the vigors of Devil’s Kiss and Murder of Crows, respectively. They’re easier to deal with, but absorb a lot of abuse.
The Skylines make the combat dynamic and a wholly exhilarating experience. When the skyrails are around, you can hop on to these to change your position as well as perform aerial attacks. You can control your speed and direction and dismount and mount at will. Certain sections of the game will make this your primary way of getting around, but it all feels like a rollercoaster zipping through the clouds and landing on unsuspecting foes.
There are some late game missteps with the combat in the form of a traditional boss figure, it fails on a gameplay perspective and the flow of the story. It could have been handled a lot differently, but it is such a short section, that you’ll likely forget it with the other impressive things going on. Even the final battle is throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you to impose importance. A very unnecessary decision, is again forgotten by the final cinematic.
Vigors compliments the combat in allowing you to cast magical abilities that control a murder of crows, fire, lightning, water, and the impressive bucking bronco. It sends a shockwave in the direction you are looking that knocks enemies up into the air, slowed down for managing groups and doing great damage. You can hotswap between two vigors at a time, but you can use the vigor wheel to swap out from any of the eight items to work with each other that fits your playstyle.
Upgrades come in forms of gear that you find around the world that give you passive abilities that boost a particular ability. Such as melee damage which sends enemies on fire for thirty seconds or a hat that draws health from enemies when you melee them. Infusions are hidden around the environment, while rare, allow you to increase your health, shield, or salt capacity. I spread them evenly in my selection as to not have any one thing more powerful than the other to not put me at a disadvantage.
Troy Baker (Booker) and Courtnee Draper (Elizabeth) provide excelling voice acting, making these characters believable and interesting. While you are playing as Booker, I found myself spending time studying them, trying to understand their motives. Incidental characters such as the Luteces nearly steal the show, providing witty commentary on the goings on, and appearing in the unlikeliest of scenarios. Their theme is jovial and such a stark contrast to the things happening around you.
Music is top-notch, whether it is swelling violins or moody ambience, it delivers the backbone to the story being told. Even the anachronistic music you find around the world like the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” is intriguing. Sound effects play a big role here, with nods to BioShock with the objective sound, and vendors sounding like they did. The weapon sounds are impactful and unique, providing distinct stingers that let you know what you have equipped without having to look.
Columbia is a beautiful place, powered by Unreal Engine 3 here again. The same engine that gave us BioShock and BioShock 2. It was stunning running the game on Ultra, running between 50-60fps with the occasional dips during sections that had a lot going on. Levels load pretty quick with minimal interruption.
My PC Specs:
– Intel Core i7 3770k @ 3.5GHz
– 8GB DDR3 RAM
– NVIDIA GTX 560 Ti
BioShock Infinite is exemplary in the telling of its narrative, character development, the beautiful yet unbelievable city that has been built out of Comstock’s dreams. It does exactly what BioShock did for games, is what Infinite does again. That’s igniting conversations regarding the ending, the hidden meanings, and is a great book-end for this current generation of games. It is certainly not perfect, but is not something you will easily forget or want to stop talking about for years to come.