Bioshock Infinite has a lot to live up to. After all, it’s fair to expect a lot from the spiritual successor to one of the most successfully poignant and incredible gaming experiences of this generation (or, as some like myself would say, ever), and furthermore a game that many consider a rock-solid case for the argument that games are art. Bioshock was a masterpiece – a glimpse into a fictional world so rich that it was impossible not to get deeply immersed in its eerie wonder. While not without its flaws, it earned its place among my favorite games of all time with ease, and that being said, it was hard to see how Infinite could live up to that. How could it possibly top the incredible twist that turned Bioshock from a mere game into a commentary about player choice in the game world? How could it match the kind of complex back-story of Rapture and its believable downfall?
Somehow, Bioshock Infinite has not merely met these expectations – It’s eclipsed them with such grace, style, and ingenuity that I had to think for quite a while of how to write this review without sounding like I’m just gushing about it rather than giving it a legitimate evaluation. But such is the problem when a game so groundbreaking comes forth and shatters your perception of what a game’s storytelling can do to you.
Don’t get me wrong – Bioshock Infinite is not perfect. No game is. But it’s so incredibly close that you’d be hard-pressed to find many reasons to not consider it the generation-defining masterpiece that it inevitably will become.
The main reason, as fans would expect, is the plot. While the original Bioshock had a phenomenal plot that turned the player’s expectations on their head and toyed with us mercilessly, most fans of the game know that even the plot had its flaws. Once it dealt its trump card, it began to run out of steam, and ended with a rather anti-climactic battle and an infamously unsatisfying ending cut-scene. Thankfully the fantastic gameplay kept it interesting all the way through, but it was still a tad upsetting to see that the plot was so concentrated on one particular twist that it began to lose its way once everything was out in the open.
But Infinite is not like that. It deals its cards slowly and carefully, handing you mystery after mystery at an elegant pace, giving you just enough answers to keep you going at times but constantly leaving more questions dangling in front of you. You play as Booker DeWitt, a man riddled with gambling debt who is tasked with retrieving a girl, Elizabeth, from a floating city in the sky named Columbia, which is led by fearsome religious zealot Zachary Comstock, a man who in many ways draws parallels to Andrew Ryan from the first game, despite having a completely different ideology. As one would expect, things don’t exactly go as planned, and the series of events that unfold are so convoluted and intense that every step of the way, as I threw out tons of predictions (all of which turned out to be wrong), I could only help but wonder how on earth they could end it.
And yet the entire story wraps up so perfectly and beautifully that by the time the credits rolled, my jaw was on the floor. It’s really storytelling at its finest, and saying any more than that would be a disservice to anybody reading, so I’ll let you play it for yourself.
The gameplay itself is very similar to the original Bioshock. You have a large variety of weapons and a large variety of vigors (same as plasmids) that allow you to effectively and creatively dispatch of Columbia’s bizarre and creepy array of enemies. While the combat is very similar to the original Bioshock, it’s gone from the tight, dark corridors of Rapture to the bright, wide-open spaces of Columbia, and while the gameplay remains very similar, there are both good and bad qualities that come with this shift. The good is that there are so many layers of complexity added that combat is wonderfully diverse – you now have a sky hook that’s used for both transporting yourself along Columbia’s many sky-rails (which are also incredibly fun to use during combat), and you have tons of diverse and interesting vigors, from the typical fire and shock powers to more unique ones that, for example, absorb all enemy damage and throw it back at them, or sweep enemies off of their feet and then slam them into the ground. The entire system has been modified to assume a faster pace, though. You’ll be fighting way more enemies at once than you did in Rapture, and some extra limitations are added to make sure the game isn’t too easy. For one, you can only carry two weapons at a time now, and for another, you can no longer stock up on medkits and salt (same as EVE). Rather, you just find these things in the environment and use them when you need them, and often Elizabeth will be there to help too, tossing you useful items during combat with fantastic frequency. And just like Bioshock, all of this is incredibly fun and virtually never gets tiresome throughout the length of the game. Though it loses a bit of complexity by scrapping the different ammo types of the original Bioshock and making the game decidedly more linear, in the end this more focused design works very well in the game’s favor. Despite this, the controls don’t feel quite as tight when translated from Bioshock to Bioshock Infinite, and the difficulty tends to spike in random spots that can become a tad frustrating. However, these complaints are incredibly minor, and are just nitpicks in the grand scheme of things.
The graphics in Bioshock Infinite, too, are phenomenal. I played the game on Xbox 360, and had no idea the console was still capable of such raw power. While textures tended to look a bit muddy up close, the entire city of Columbia looked absolutely brilliant, with exceptional art design and an overall smoothness to everything that really helped my immersion. The sound design, too, is absolutely incredible, and that refers to not just the background music and voice acting, but the songs that you hear civilians sing as you pass them by, which can often make for some very heartfelt moments. The city of Columbia feels completely real and organic, and every second that I walked around it felt as though I was seeing something that had been crafted with such incredible care, like the work of art that it is.
I could keep going about how good of a game Bioshock Infinite is, but it’s best to just play it for yourself and discover what’s so brilliant about it. This is an example of a game that had monumental ambition and followed through on every step of it. And though the whole experience took me about 15 hours to play through, the second I was done I was immediately ready to start again, because the story is so deep and nuanced that it felt necessary to go back and experience it all from a different perspective. Buy Bioshock Infinite – you will not be disappointed.