Perhaps this is a bit late—Bioshock Infinite was released back in 2013—but I only just finished it, and let me just say, all the hype surrounding it was totally warranted. For my final blog post I would like to discuss this amazing game and hopefully make you interested enough to try it out for yourself, if you haven’t already.
If you’ve ever played a Bioshock game before, you pretty much know what you’re going to get: a story-driven, linear, first-person shooter with political undertones and a mind-blowing ending. This is what game designer and Vassar (my school!) alumnus Ken Levine is known for, and he and his studio Irrational Games have never failed to impress.
However, while Bioshock and its sequel Bioshock 2 both took place in the underwater dystopia Rapture, Bioshock Infinite shakes up the setting considerably by taking place above the clouds, in the floating city of Columbia. Columbia was founded by self-proclaimed prophet Zachary Comstock, who convinced many Americans to join his cause for American exceptionalism. Stars and stripes abound, and likenesses of the Founding Fathers depict them almost as gods. You play Booker DeWitt, a man hired to complete a task for the Pinkertons, a wealthy and influential family. Your only directive: “Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt.” Initially you have no idea about Booker’s background or this debt he owes, only that you need to find this girl. Burned onto the back of your hand are the letters AD, and to your dismay, signs you pass by proclaim whoever has this mark is the “false prophet” and must be stopped.
Connecting the many floating airships that Columbia is built upon are Skylines, rails that you can attach to using a Skyhook to quickly get to where you need to go. It is a fun mechanic that allows for more open exploration and combat, in stark contrast to the cramped, enclosed spaces that made up Rapture. It is extremely satisfying to jump to a Skyline, shoot at oncoming enemies, and then leap down to strike someone on the ground.
Right off the bat you realize that something is very wrong in this seemingly utopic society. Some things seem out of place—even though it is 1912, somehow a barbershop quartet is singing a rendition of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” Later on you come across a man saying his new song “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” will make him rich.
One of the first scenes in the game, and a very controversial one at that, is a raffle where whoever wins gets to throw the first stone at an interracial couple sentenced to death for not preserving racial purity. A major theme of the game is racial tension and white superiority, with white civilians in the wealthy upper class and black civilians and foreigners relegated to the serving class.
The raffle scene takes an abrupt and violent turn when you win, but when you are found out to be the “false prophet,” you bury your Skyhook in the organizer’s head. It is a harsh wake-up call for the player, a warning that you are not safe, and sets the tone for how brutal the rest of the game is going to be.
You then find Elizabeth, the girl you are supposed to take back with you, at the top of a tower where she is being held captive and studied. It soon becomes apparent that Elizabeth is exceptionally talented and is capable of things you previously thought impossible. She is able to open “Tears” in the world, or gateways to other times and dimensions. She is kept in her tower by a giant, partly robotic bird called the Songbird, which is very reminiscent of the Big Daddies in Bioshock.
Elizabeth is a huge step forward for AI in games. If you’ve ever played a game where you had a partner controlled by AI who usually got in the way more than helped (Ashley in Resident Evil 4 comes to mind), you will be in awe of how amazing Elizabeth’s character is. The game tells you early on that she is no damsel in distress—she doesn’t need your protection and can take care of herself, and in fact comes to your aid quite a lot. In combat, she will toss you helpful ammo and health packs to keep you alive, and open Tears to activate friendly turrets or skyhooks. When you’re just walking around with her, she seems to do things of her own accord, like listen in on people’s conversations or look at interesting scenery. Pay close attention to the beach scene, and you will be amazed at how intricate her character is.
Gameplay is similar to past Bioshock games: you fight enemies with a combination of guns and psychokinetic powers that you get by drinking Vigors. While the Vigors did seem a bit out of place compared to how well they fit with Rapture, they still made combat much more enjoyable than just simply shooting. The original Bioshock made great strides in telling story through gameplay, and Infinite continues that tradition with Voxophones, or characters’ recorded diaries. Through them, and your interactions with Elizabeth, you find out more about Columbia’s background, and the backstories of its inhabitants.
At the risk of spoiling any of the story, I will stop my review here. This is a game that you need to experience for yourself. Though you may be tempted to simply run-and-gun your way through it and ignore the story, take it from me—stop and look around at the beautiful world Irrational Games has created, and you will uncover many rewarding bits of story that will make the ending even more mind-blowing. This was one of those rare games that left me scratching my head for days, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly.