BADGP Reviews: Bioshock Infinite
Bioshock Infinite (2K, Irrational Games)
Review: A Challenging Journey of Early American Idealism, Class Warfare, and Quantum Physics
I say challenging above, not due to the difficulty of the game; Normal was quite a breeze actually, but due to the philosophy being espoused by the city of Columbia and its philosopher-king Zachary Comstock. The early hours of the game paint a sad picture of the ideology of “The Founders.” It first comes across as religious zealotry and secondly as racism. If Irrational Games does nothing else right, they prove they are truly masters of atmosphere. The setting of Bioshock Infinite’s Columbia is greatly detailed and wonderfully realized. The music of the times adds much to the feel of the floating city much as it did in Bioshock’s Rapture. On Xbox 360, it is clear that game favors fantastic art direction over technical prowess and realism, though I never experienced any technical problems with the game and it is gorgeous as it encourages the player to stop and smell the roses. Aesthetically, the game’s use of color is amazing. There is color everywhere! Smiles are everywhere! The game allows the player to experience Columbia at its cultural height unlike the original Bioshock where the player was thrown into an already dystopic Rapture. This lets the player experience the inevitable downfall of the utopian-like Columbia from a point of contrast of actually having witnessed its intentions and ideals. There are also a lot of people present at the start of the game; with Bioshock being such a solitary experience it was noticeably different and Infinite carves out its own identity.
The player takes on the role of Booker DeWitt, a mercenary and ex-soldier tasked with bringing a girl from Columbia to New York City in order to settle what appears to be gambling debts. The woman’s name is Elizabeth, and she accompanies Booker through most of the rest of the game. The relationship between these two characters is a main focus of the story. She is not exactly okay with the idea of being traded for Booker’s debt, and their untraditional and unexpected partnership bleeds into combat as well as the narrative. The excellent facial animations add much to endearing the player to her, and she looks like Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Elizabeth is quick to aid Booker in combat scenarios by tossing him loaded guns and salts (the game’s version of MP or mana). The combat in the game is, not surprisingly, very much like that of 2007’s Bioshock. There are some added twists however, there is now the inclusion of a Halo-like shield and the Skyline system adds some much needed diversity to the firefights. Meleeing enemies from the hook roller-coaster is quite exhilarating with brutal animations and an exceptional sense of speed. Only being able to carry two guns is a pain, as ammo is rather scarce and ammo is depleted at alarming rates. Booker has no problem eating out of the trash much as Jack did in Bioshock, which is one problem I have with both games. It just seems silly. With the new shield, the player no longer carries multiple healing or magic regenerating items forcing the player to continually rely on Elizabeth as a sort of crutch; a crutch that I greatly appreciated, mind you, and her aiding in combat enhances the developing relationship between the two and adds another layer to the narrative. Elizabeth further helps in combat by opening “tears” in reality to provide support in the form of turrets or additional weapons and health items. Tears, of course, are a major part of the narrative that I will not touch in a review about the game; Elizabeth’s abilities are largely mysterious. At one point, Elizabeth asks Booker if he fears God, and he replies with, “No, I fear you.”
The game is full of great writing and much like Bioshock 1 & 2, the backstory is filled in with recordings from people of the world. My favorite quote was probably, “Pavlov made a dog salivate; we’ll make this one weep.” I would still consider Bioshock the scariest game I have ever played and Infinite has at least one part that got me really good. In addition to the expectedly great writing is the expectedly great voice work. There is a wonderful barbershop quartet performance near the start of the game that made my heart smile. Although lead character Booker is voiced by Troy Baker, he will always be Vincent from Catherine or Snow from Final Fantasy XIII to me. Garrus’ voice actor from Mass Effect even shows up in Infinite! The Luteces were certainly my favorite characters in the game with their playful banter and how the mess with the player and their conception of reality.
What really makes Bioshock Infinite so great and a must-play is the depth of the philosophy present in the game and how it challenges the player, not the gameplay or even character interactions. It quickly examines how there is no grace without sin and compares Columbia to Noah’s ark. The floating city rising above the sinful masses provides powerful ideological imagery. I feel that I must state that much of the imagery and art present in the game could be considered offensive by some, as no doubt it was intended to do. The fact that Infinite does not hold back from racism and religion is something to be commended and emulated, not looked downward upon. Other thematic elements span greatly covering parenthood, social justice, questioning what makes a hero, and what makes history. I should stop before I give too much away. Bioshock Infinite is a game that commands the player to be thinking through its entirety and that is a noble and well-achieved goal.
As far as complaints against the game, there is too much going back and forth from the same place. It is certainly in service of the story, but I found certain sections tiring. As I previously mentioned, only being able to hold two guns is pain. My ultimate con for Infinite is that it is not as good as the original Bioshock. I have been putting a lot of thought into why I think that is. I played Bioshock in late 2007 and it was the second game I purchased for my Xbox 360. I have played a multitude of games in the last six years; maybe my expectations are simply much higher. I also found the story to be more compelling and shocking in the original versus Infinite. I unfortunately cannot speak to specifics as to why, but Infinite is a little, probably intentionally, opaque in its storytelling and I was seriously confused upon completion of the game, so I took to the forums and everything made sense, but I am not sure I would have arrived at the same conclusions as others in any reasonable amount of time.
If I have not made it clear by this point, Bioshock Infinite is a magnificent game that will likely be one of the best games of the 2013. The atmosphere and setting of Columbia is what I found to be most impressive parts of Bioshock Infinite. It is accompanied by deep philosophical themes and challenging ideology. The game involves a little too much running back and forth and it would nice if the player could carry more than two guns. The game felt a little on the short side (I finished in 9.5 hours) and ends absurdly abruptly. The art direction, sound design, voice work, and combat scenarios are all top notch that combine in a wonderful symphony that is Bioshock Infinite.
Score: 9.0 out of 10