I had a number of problems with the original Bioshock. Barring the fact that it completely fell apart near the end, I didn’t really feel like Irrational delivered a truly unique experience once you were past the cool looking setting. Beyond the initial reveal of the underwater city of Rapture, I wasn’t really enamored by its cold, rusty Altanis-like veneer. A lot of areas felt too similar, and combat was a bit too basic.
Bioshock Infinite, on the other hand, casts its own shadow on other games in the genre — aesthetically, and otherwise. It’s the real deal.
Bioshock Infinite puts you in the shoes of the stalwart, yet troubled, Booker Dewitt, as he is given one simple task “bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt.” With this simple, compelling premise, Booker blasts off into the great beyond of the sky to look for the girl in the picture he is provided (Elizabeth, who I’ll get to in a minute), and ends up in the fantastic, mysterious world of Columbia: a city in the clouds.
From the moment I stepped foot in Columbia, I was in a trance. Even on the 360 (which has a lower output visually compared to the PC version), the bright colors, cloud-like visuals, and old timey American theme was love at first sight. Very rarely do I stop and smell the roses, or engage in ancillary exploration in a game, but Infinite made me do it all, and then some.
In a rather unique take, Infinite doesn’t go the route of the original Bioshock, and frame the world as hostile the moment you enter it. At first, it’s extremely welcoming, happy, and full of life — you know, before things eventually go south.
Simply put, those moments of bliss are…unsettling — which is exactly what developer Irrational Games was going for. It’s a unique feeling for sure, and one not many games share with Bioshock Infinite.
I don’t want to spoil the experience, but once things really get going, there are two major facets of Infinite that really resonated with me. For one, the religious overtones of the game’s main adversary (and his cult) are far superior to the “economic entitlement” theme of Andrew Ryan’s Bioshock consisted of a fairly simple premise: obedience, and entitlement. Infinite is a lot more nuanced than that, to the point where it may even get confusing at times — but at its core, it explores the ideology of ethnocentrism, and the dangers of said ideology.
Booker’s devil-may-care attitude allows for a fairly simple narrative juxtaposition against the villain and cultist Comstock’s society, but it’s his interaction with Elizabeth that really adds a lot of flavor. Which leads me to my second favorite aspect of Infinite: Elizabeth herself. She is, quite simply, the best escort character in all of videogames. Period.
While she doesn’t directly partake in combat, she can shift in helpful items, call out certain enemies that are approaching, and throw you pickups at opportune times — if she’s in your line of sight of course. There was one part, where she was on one airship and I was on another — she threw a pickup over the gap, into my hand, and I let out an audible “wow!” It sounds hyperbolic, I know, but the exchange was so organic, it felt real.
But the best part about Elizabeth from a gameplay perspective? She actually runs at your speed, spouts relevant banter, and gets in your way, despite the fact that she’s with you most of the game. Irrational has eliminated the “annoying escort” trope altogether, and lets you with Elizabeth that much more.
From a pure narrative standpoint, she’s also a perfect example of a strong female in the medium who is both likable, and unique. No joke, Elizabeth is easily one of the best characters to come out of gaming this generation, and Irrational Games, and her actress(es) did an excellent job bringing her to the small screen.
Another cool aspect of Infinite is the Skyhook — a unique, magnetic based claw tool that you’ll use to get around Columbia. The Skyhook is not only your melee attack, but it also is used to quite literally hook yourself onto metal rails, to fly to and fro between different areas. You can reverse direction, increase speed, shoot from the rails, or fly off them for a Skyhook attack.
It’s a fun little addition that not only makes for a few exciting action scenes, but also adds a lot of personality to Columbia, while making sense within its world. Elizabeth will often follow you on the Skyhook too — again, all organic and not forced.
From a raw shooting perspective, you’ll mostly be placated here, as Infinite contains a solid mix of firepower and magic based abilities (called Vigors in this game), but with a bit more personality than Bioshock. While there’s nothing really wrong with the shooting portions of the Infinite, but there’s nothing truly special about them either. Your armory consists of the usual suspects: a pistol, shotgun, grenade launcher, sniper rifle, RPG, and so on. You can only carry two weapons at a time, but since ammo isn’t really an issue in this game, it’s not a huge deal — it just feels limiting at times.
Having voiced that minor annoyance, my major complaint with the shooting portion of Ininfite is that in the middle of the game, there’s a decent amount of padding that feels like it’s simply there to elongate the experience. There are some arena-based battles that just don’t need to be there, recycling a few waves of foes you’ve already fought before, using the same Vigor-based abilities and two weapons over and over.
While the game isn’t that difficult, even on Medium (the infinite respawn/lose money mechanic is back from Bioshock, but a little cooler), it feels like some enemies just rip through your health, which leads to a few boring, stereotypical cover based encounters that could stand to use some design overhauls.
Then, something amazing happens, you gasp, and we’re back in Columbia again. Such is Bioshock Ininfite.
Although the 360 version can stutter at times, I only really experienced this while swinging around with the skyhook, and when there were tons of enemies on the screen, which only happened a few times during the game. Still, I can’t help but feel like Infinite could have been optimized a bit on consoles, and these few and far between stutters are extremely jarring.
While Infinite doesn’t quite look like a “next-gen game” (on consoles) like a few recent titles have in the twilight of this era; artistically, it’s second to none, and the art direction is absolutely stellar. In other words, you won’t care how that gun model looks as you’re staring into the beautiful skies of Columbia, looking off into the distance at its architectural wonders.
Given my issues with it, Bioshock Infinite is not the be all end all of videogames, strictly speaking. It has a wonderful narrative and cast of characters, and a fantastic world to explore, but at some points, it feels like there’s arena based padding that can translate to an awkward experience — and a few of its many, ambitious themes kind of just fall by the wayside by the very end.
Regardless of what flaws it has though, they don’t detract from the experience, and I could consider it superior to the original Bioshock in just about every imaginable way. If you’re a fan of exploring vast, beautiful worlds with characters you’ll remember the day after tomorrow, Infinite serves up one of the best experiences in all of gaming.
This review is based on a physical copy of Bioshock Infinite for the Xbox 360