Not that many games get people talking about their stories, and few receive as much hype and controversy as Bioshock Infinite. In all the noise of that discussion and analysis, not enough time is spent discussing the actual gameplay. Which is a shame, because I had enough fun playing Infinite to recommend it on its combat’s merits alone. This is a hell of a game, one that cannot live up to the impact of the first game in the series, but I still believe will be remembered as an amazing title that will keep those conversations fueled for years.
It’s 1912. You’re Booker DeWitt, a Pinkerton sent on a quest to retrieve a girl to wipe out his massive gambling debt. That girl is Elizabeth, who is trapped in Columbia, a flying city. Columbia was designed to embody the American dream, but as time went on it became more extreme and finally seceded from the Union. Now it floats over the Atlantic Ocean as a perversion of the American dream, where the founding fathers are worshiped as gods and prejudice is prevalent. Infinite‘s exploration of religion, nationalism, racism, and freedom is much more ambitious than the first Bioshock‘s singular focus on objectivism, and all the greater for it.
Everything isn’t as it seems in Columbia, or at least as you might think a floating city in 1912 might seem. Beyond the social, political, and theological issues you’ll encounter, there are also tears – pockets through space and time that appear throughout your adventure. It furthers the sense of how strange and out-of-place Columbia is, and understanding their nature is not necessarily a twist, but a slow, beautiful revelation that left my jaw on the floor. Settings in games are rarely this expansive and dense, and Columbia, especially with its anachronistic music, will surely stick in my mind for years to come.
Once Booker meets Elizabeth, she will be at his side for the majority of the game. Escort quests are just about everybody’s least favorite, and even good examples of this kind of thing, like Alyx from Half Life 2, pretty much just have the escorted get out of the way of the escortee. Elizabeth is better than that. She helps in combat, scrounging healing items and changing the environment using her metaphysical powers to rip things into reality through tears. While you’re exploring, she’ll look around too, interacting with things that amuse her, picking locks, and even pointing out things you should grab. It all goes a long way to create a sense of attachment to Elizabeth, to the point that it feels weird and crippling to not have her around.
Booker can handle himself, however. In traditional Bioshock fashion, he’s all about using a combination of weapons to win a fight. In his right hand, he has a variety of guns, from the practical to the realistic. In his left, he has the power of vigors, this game’s version of plasmids. Vigors let Booker summon swarms of flesh-eating crows or throw around bolts of lightning. It is using both of these together that makes combat in this game special, especially when you introduce the third piece of Booker’s combat trinity: the sky-hook. The sky-hook lets Booker melee enemies in a particularly brutal fashion, but it also lets him hook onto Columbia’s sky-lines and basically roller coaster around the environment. When Infinite puts you in an arena with a variety of enemies, rails to ride, and tears to open, its combat is as fun and engaging as anything else in the genre.
That’s what I love about Bioshock games. Not only are their stories fascinating and, more importantly, only work in the video game world, where the player as agency, but they are first person shooters. They are in the same genre as Call of Duty. And while the whole genre downplays the importance of single player, these games come out without even a multiplayer mode. Is the game perfect? No, I would say there are definitely some aspects, like the fact that the game expects you to constantly be scrounging for supplies, that keep me from saying that. But it is a remarkable game and one I’m still thinking about two days after I beat it. Infinite is definitely an experience anyone who cares about video games should have.