In 2007, 2K and 2K Boston shocked the world with an excellent and well received game known as Bioshock. The game being something of a spiritual successor to System Shock 2, adopting its survival horror-esque style of pacing that Ken Levine is now known for ensured that Bioshock would be a huge title in fan’s memories for years to come. A game that is so well made and so well written, where every character becomes something of an embedded memory no matter how small their role was sure to be a huge hit; and it was. The elder lords at 2K then felt that the game’s popularity warranted a sequel or two, or four (yes, we are eventually going to end up with five Bioshock games, maybe more). Bioshock 2 and Bioshock 3 were then shortly announced. 2K Boston decided to skip development of the second so that they may have ample time to come up with something truly creative and unique for Bioshock 3 much like they did with the beautiful world of Rapture in Bioshock. 2K Marin were given mantle for Bioshock 2 and it fell flat. It was still set in Rapture but it failed to capture the glitz and glamour of the original. It also had that tacked on multiplayer mode that was outsourced to other developers that you see in games these days. With Bioshock 2 being something of a disappointment, could Bioshock 3 really live up to legend that was created with the original?
Enter 2K Boston who are now known as Irrational Games with one hell of an announcement. Bioshock 3 would now be known as Bioshock: Infinite, and that’s not all that’s different. Underwater cities are a thing of the past, Rapture is no more. Welcome to Columbia, a city that floats in the sky hundreds of miles above America. In the year 1912 where American exceptionalism has become the norm and racial constraints still have their hooks deeply set in society. This was something of a huge gamble for Irrational Games. As far as almost anyone is concerned, Rapture is Bioshock, and changing the setting could’ve been met with much chagrin. From the depths of the ocean to the cloudy sky, they pulled it off exceptionally well. From the cotton candy stands, to the carnival outposts showing off the world’s latest technology, to the newsies standing on a bale of hay selling the newspaper, there really is an ‘old-timey’ American type feel. Bioshock 1 and Infinite set two very different tones. Where Bioshock goes for doom and gloom, Infinite goes for sunshine and rainbows. Those sounds lame, but hear me out. Imagine Rapture before the events of the first game, imagine what It would like if it was a thriving city that was floating in the sky.
The positive bright tone of Columbia may not last forever, as you might find out. The city has a seedy underbelly. It is ruled by a tyrant with an iron fist known as Zachary Hale Comstock. But get this, everybody loves him. Even going as far as to hail him the one true prophet. The entire city is brainwashed into thinking that he is the prophet, and his seed is the lamb that will one day sit on the throne. But a false prophet would lead the lamb astray. You are that false prophet, Booker DeWitt. A former agent of the Pinkerton National Defence Agency. It was never gone into detail just what Pinkerton was about, but it was some kind of shady security detail, definitely not a noble career path. After the events of The Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890, DeWitt had become something of a drunken gambling addicted scab. He drove himself into so much debt that he had to go on a mission to absolve it. “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt”. Those are the words that echo as you make your way to Columbia.
The girl who will erase the debt, also known as the lamb, is Elizabeth. This is where we can delve into the gameplay a little bit. Elizabeth is a 17 year old girl that has been kept captive all of her life inside of a statue. She is a well-read genius and is extremely artistic. She is the companion throughout this game. Unlike other games, she is not an annoying companion. In fact, I’ve never had a companion or AI controlled partner be this helpful before. Elizabeth saved my bacon more times than I care to count by chucking me lifesaving health packs, tonics, and ammo. Elizabeth is really where the game has committed its most successful triumph. You find yourself actually caring about Elizabeth, wanting to get her out of Columbia so that she can live a normal life. It helps that she is not just a female that was thrown in for the sake of a pair of breasts on screen. She is actually the most interesting part of the narrative and enriches the story tenfold. Ah yes, she also has the ability to open tears in the space-time continuum. But we’ll get into that a bit more later on.
1912 is not exactly a positive time in American history. As you will see plastered all over the game. Racist propaganda is littered all over the streets of Columbia. You’re introduced to this facet of the city almost immediately as you win a raffle. Your prize, you get to be the first to throw a baseball at a black and Irish interracial couple. This kind of subject matter may be a little touchy for some, but it does wonders in showing just the kind of evil mindset that Comstock is using to indoctrinate the citizens of Columbia. One of the most harrowing moments of the game sees you fly over a slave camp watching black and Chinese workers sing their troubles away. It could be seen as social commentary as segregation is a part of this highly religious world. Religion plays a huge role in the game. Every solitary citizen of Columbia is driven by a prophecy that has been seen by Zachary Comstock. But there are those that don’t believe in the prophecy.
Revolution and rebellion have become synonymous with Bioshock, and Infinite turned out to be no different. The faction that opposes Comstock and his flock are known as the Vox Populi. A ragtag group of blacks, Chinese, and Irish that believe racial equality is the key to harmonizing the world. They will stop at nothing to rid Columbia of Comstock and they become a huge part of DeWitt and Elizabeth’s adventure.
Bioshock Infinite’s gameplay is a tough cookie to crack, in terms of talking about it. There isn’t anything in the way of exciting new mechanics; it’s quite basic at its core. But there is nothing negative to be said about it. The right trigger shoots bullets, the left uses Vigor (This iteration’s plasmids). It all works as smooth as anything and can’t be spoken ill of. Being able to select two vigors at once is a nice addition. There’s nothing I love more than flinging a murder of crows at an enemy, then electrocuting them to death. Some things have carried over, such as electrocuting a puddle eviscerating anyone who dare get their feet wet. Throwing a ball of fire at an oil spill will set it alight. There is also a water type vigor which could be used in combination with the electric vigor to give the same affect. But the water vigor gives has more of a ‘Fus Ro Dah’ type impact, so I just used it to fling enemies off the edge of Columbia and watch them fall. Essentially, combat in the game is familiar, yet different. Using all that’s great in the original, and adding a bit of extra spice to it.
Here I am talking about what is the same when there is one huge difference. Infinite has its own kind of monorail system known as a ‘Skyline’. You have a sort of hook device strapped to your left arm that enables you to ride them. It’s like a rollercoaster ride that you control. They can be used as quick getaways, a new way to shoot a foe, or even a creative way to get to some hidden areas. Enemies can also ride them, and the Handymen will even jump on and electrocute them, so beware.
Handymen are the new Big Daddy, plain and simple. What with Infinite being a ‘sort-of’ prequel, one could even argue that a Handyman is some sort of prototype that precedes the Big Daddy. But they are definitely tougher to take down than a Big Daddy. Their only weak point being the heart, and the massive amount of damage it takes for them to go down means that you will give off an exasperated sigh every time you encounter one. Other new enemy types are the mechanised Patriots, robots that have the head of former US president George Washington. They are a lot easier to take down. Simple fire off a shock vigor and run around to their back which is their weak point. That covers pretty much all the special enemy types without giving away spoilers.
Bioshock Infinite is an enchanting tale of prophecies, corrupt kingdoms, unlikely heroes, rebellious revolutions, and a yearning for freedom. But for all that the game has to offer in terms of story; it is Elizabeth that rises above all. Her tale of captivity and then new found freedom is truly heart-warming. The first moments after freeing her from captivity will put a smile on your face, as you watch her really enjoying life for the first time. You almost don’t want to pull her away from it to advance to the next part of the story. I’ve never seen a character made this way before, with no battle prowess whatsoever, yet not so timid that she’s completely useless. Her ability to scavenge for money, health and tonics is one of her most useful aspects. Lest we forget about her ability to cause tears in the space-time continuum so that she can bring helpful items into your world such as turrets and the like. You feel that DeWitt and Elizabeth truly have a unique relationship; they completely depend on one another. I don’t think I’ve seen character development this good in any game before.
I had a really tough time deciding whether I preferred Bioshock, or Bioshock Infinite. I feel that no matter how beautifully made Columbia is, Rapture is the better setting. The dark and dreary backdrop makes for a much more tentative experience. I much preferred the enemies in the original; Splicers are definitely more troubling than fighting plain old God fearing humans. The supporting cast in the original is also far better in my opinion. Atlas, Andrew Ryan, and Sander Cohen are a testament to that fact. But that just puts the games on equal footing to me. With Bioshock being the psychological thriller, and Bioshock Infinite being the more story driven epic. Because that’s what you’ll be playing this game for, the amazing story. But that’s enough comparing the two, both games are amazing and almost up to par with each other.
Bioshock Infinite is the best game so far this year without a doubt. That isn’t said lightly, with Tomb Raider absolutely blowing our minds earlier on in the year. The gameplay is solid and cannot be complained about. Controls are smooth and easy to handle. Story driven character development makes this a gem for the ages. A 12-15 hour campaign also makes this one of the longer AAA games over the past year, and with more DLC to come, it can only get better. We at ThisisXbox are a spoiler free community, but as for the ending, the only word that we will speak is… ‘wow’