Bioshock: Infinite is the latest installation in the Bioshock franchise and marks the return of the original developers to the game after Bioshock 2 was developed by a different studio. Though delayed several times, Infinite was finally released on March 26 and is quite worth the wait. The game is a spiritual sequel to Bioshock and Bioshock 2, featuring similar gameplay but a different setting and plot. I would highly recommend this game to anyone who enjoys story-driven gameplay, as Bioshock: Infinite keeps up the incredibly high standard of production present in the original.
The story takes place in an alternate version of 1912 in the floating city of Columbia and concerns Booker DeWitt (the player character) attempting to free a young woman named Elizabeth from the city and deliver her to New York in order to settle debts incurred through gambling. Elizabeth, however, is protected by the majority of the city, as well as by a large mechanical guardian referred to as Songbird. After being freed, Elizabeth accompanies Booker as they attempt to escape the city while the primary antagonist, Father Comstock (referred to by some characters as “the prophet”) works to recapture her.
Upon entering the city of Columbia at the beginning of the game, I was immediately struck by the attention to detail. The city is, on the surface, an idealistic view of turn-of-the-century America, and rewards the player for understanding American history and culture from that era. Present with the main-street USA feel, however, is the jingoism prevalent at that time. The developers took this aspect almost to an extreme, with the founding fathers achieving nearly the status of gods in the eyes of some citizens of Columbia. Throughout, there is propaganda instructing the citizens of the city to protect it from the menace of foreigners. Later in the game, the player traverses areas of the city where the immigrants live and work, revealing that the city is crumbling due to internal pressure, reminiscent of the decay of Rapture in the original Bioshock from the encroaching ocean.
As touched on previously, the player is accompanied by Elizabeth through the majority of the game. As such, the player has a great deal of time to become acquainted with her. Elizabeth is one of the most fully realized characters I have ever encountered in a video game, even if she is a bit of a caricature. In fact, the three primary characters in the game—DeWitt, Elizabeth, and Comstock—are all impressively well developed, due in large part to the incredible voice acting provided by Courtnee Draper and Troy Baker. Both provide fantastic performances that bring DeWitt from a faceless protagonist to a real character and Elizabeth from just another non-player character to the main focus of the story.
The details in the city and the characters are underscored by a surprising number of references to popular culture which contribute to the story of the game. These range from the anachronistic presence of the Beach Boys’ song “God Only Knows” as sung by a barber-shop quartet to several references to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead to nods to the nationalism of John Wayne westerns.
Lastly, the gameplay takes off from Bioshock 2, allowing the player to use both guns and abilities (now called vigors instead of the plasmids from the first two games in the series) at the same time. Elizabeth fills a niche in combat of not being necessary for any of it, but providing the player with additional ammunition and health in times of need. Additionally, Elizabeth stays in cover, for the most part, and the player never has to worry about escorting her during combat. The game is very well paced, with intense fights spaced apart by moderately long sections of calm that allow the player to explore the city. In fact, the first enemies don’t show up until about half an hour into the game, a move I have not seen since the original Half-Life.
The pacing does falter slightly in the middle, with occasional stretches of non-stop combat, but the story more than makes up for this minor flaw.