By: Sam Miller, Contributing Writer
Released on March 25 for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC, “Bioshock Infinite” is the third installment in Irrational Games’ acclaimed “Bioshock” series. Unlike the previous two games, “Infinite” does not take place in the sub-aquatic dystopia of Rapture, but rather in the flying city of Columbia approximately fifty years before the events of the first two games. Playing as a U.S. Cavalry vet-turned-gun-for-hire Booker DeWitt, the player is given the task by DeWitt’s debtors to infiltrate Columbia and rescue a girl named Elizabeth. Along the way, DeWitt will learn Columbia’s true nature and some frightening revelations of his own past. This game has been critically acclaimed across the board, praised as Game of the Year only three months into the year. The question remains, does it live up to its hype?
Going in, little is known about Columbia, but exploration will slowly unravel the Eden that it claims to be. The city is lorded over by Zachary Hale Comstock, a prophet who claims to have been visited by an Archangel and given the city. Every citizen of the city is a member of Comstock’s flock and is promised eternal happiness in the fields of the Lord.
However, it is far from perfect. Anyone without white skin, blond hair, and blue eyes, or who doesn’t worship the Founding Fathers, is subjugated and abused. The social injustices of Columbia are handled beautifully, revealed in personal diary entries (audio recordings called Voxophones) of the disenfranchised people. This gives a real subtlety to the problem instead of outright revealing it. The realization that the city isn’t quite right is a growing feeling of unease in the player’s gut that greatly enhances the immersion factor of the game.
The characters are incredibly well-fleshed out and gripping. Learning about DeWitt’s tortured past, which is tastefully hinted at and revealed through flashbacks and snippets of conversation, is a big part of the narrative. Even dying gives more hints about who DeWitt is, though it is not recommended to suicide into a Handyman for story scraps.
Elizabeth is one of the characters with the most growth in the story. At the beginning she is just a target, but when she teams up with DeWitt, the player learns more about her and watches her grow from a naive girl to a wise, powerful woman. Even Comstock is shown to be more than just a mad Prophet as the tangled web of his past is unraveled. “Infinite” is a story-telling masterpiece in and of itself, but it is also a game, and needs to be judged as much by gameplay as it is by story.
The gameplay of “Infinite” is a huge departure from “Bioshock,” and sometimes not in a good way. The original “Bioshock” was a survival horror game, emphasizing stealth and ending fights before they started. “Infinite” is much more of a first person shooter, with DeWitt fighting in a full on war. The never-ending combat is actually somewhat tedious and subtracts from enjoying the story in some ways. It’s hard to appreciate a tender moment between DeWitt and Elizabeth when there is a bloody shoot-out for the next five minutes.
The Vigors may be one of the biggest sins of the gameplay. They simply aren’t interesting like the Plasmids were, since most of them do the same thing with different particle effects. Also unlike previous “Bioshock” games, the player can only carry two weapons at once, though taking weapons from slain enemies is encouraged. However, much like the Vigors, the weapons are woefully under diversified. Most players will find two weapons they are good with and never change them.
That being said, there are some elements of the gameplay that are really enjoyable. For one, Elizabeth is, to use the words of Dan Bull from his Bioshock Infinite Rap, “the damn best wingman to ever don a dress.” There is no need to protect her in combat. In fact, she will even assist DeWitt by supplying ammo, health, Salts, and shifting the battlefield.
There are a number of rails to ride on called Sky-Lines scattered throughout the city. The Sky-Hook found early on can be used to melee fight enemies and attach to the lines. Riding the lines in combat is immensely fun, especially leaping and striking down an unsuspecting foe at high velocity.
The best part of the gameplay by far is the exploration. Columbia is simply beautiful and seeing every inch of it is rewarding in and of itself. Finding the Voxophones and other story elements is icing on the cake.
“Bioshock Infinite” is an experience. Exploring Columbia and learning about the world is intensely gripping. The characters are entertaining, sympathetic, and marvelously written. The voice acting, with a few minor exceptions, is top notch and the environments are fun to run around in. The gameplay feels lackluster when compared to the experience of the story, like a sketch next to a painting, but it is still fun. Overall, “Bioshock Infinite” is a stellar story and an enjoyable gameplay experience. And a word to the wise, avoid spoilers of the ending like the plague, you need to experience it for yourself.
Overall, the game deserves a solid 9/10.