Have you ever felt as though a videogame was made just for you? As though the developers had looked through a window into your mind, taken note of all of your ideal game elements and made sure those important ingredients were included in their next title?
With Bioshock Infinite, it really does feel as though developer Irrational Games has taken an extended peek into my own scary mess of brain coils and after five years in development and multiple release delays, the team has crafted an experience with an astoundingly firm sense of style under the strong direction of an incredibly evocative theme, while introducing a highly memorable cast of characters all tumbling through a series of jaw-dropping events together, with thrilling combat encounters to accentuate the exhilarating story.
Bioshock Infinite adheres to my personal sensibilities while expanding on them and is, to me, an unforgettable videogame masterpiece.
The events of Bioshock Infinite are set upon the grand stage of Columbia, a magnificent flying city and a shining example of 19th century United States ingenuity following a booming Industrial Age. In the midst of Columbia’s glorious testaments to iron will with its towering statues and against the backdrop of perfect blue skies dotted with bright white clouds, the constantly shifting buildings and seemingly endless depths and heights of Columbia play host to a vicious civil war.
Now seceded from the US and having disappeared into the clouds far from the reaches of earthly interference, the ultra-religious and conservative Founders under Father Zachary Comstock are faced with more opposition and attempt to quell the rise of the underground resistance group, the Vox Populi under Daisy Fitzroy, which means the two factions regularly spill the other’s blood on the streets of Columbia as well as deep in the belly of the city, which houses the city’s enormous, unseen and deprived workforce.
As Booker DeWitt, an ex-soldier and owner of an impossible gambling debt, you’re sent into the heart of Columbia with a simple mission: Find a girl called Elizabeth, bring her back to US soil, and consider your debts repaid. As with all simple things, the mission is easier said than done and the more Booker learns about Columbia and its dark secrets and politically-charged intrigue, the faster he wants out. Having been imprisoned in a lonely tower all of her life, Elizabeth wants out of Columbia, too, and from the moment of Booker and Elizabeth’s meeting, the pair are faced with relentless opposition as the prophesised ‘False Shepard’ is seen as stealing away the precious ‘Lamb of Columbia.’
And that’s just the beginning of the Bioshock Infinite adventure. While I’ve left out many details regarding motivations, the rest of the colourful cast of characters and some of the breathtaking situations you’ll find yourself in, to say anything more would absolutely ruin what I believe to be one of the most affecting, thought-provoking and entertaining stories I’ve ever witnessed in a videogame. As I picked up voice recordings, listened in on conversations and watched pre-recorded video snippets detailing the rise of Columbia, I gained immense insight into the game’s twisting narrative and it would be unfair to even hint at what I saw.
It’s a tale that never seems content to linger on a single plot point for too long, but always manages to sufficiently flesh out everything you’ve already seen, so by the time the twelve hour, expertly-paced journey is complete and you’ve witnessed the gripping conclusion, you’ll be left with a mind-bogglingly grand and far-reaching addition to the Bioshock universe with questions answered satisfactorily, but with more nagging queries buzzing in your mind. A very good place to be.
Bioshock Infinite never forgets that it’s a videogame, though, and while the story and characters may have been one focus for Irrational, the extensive gameplay options and their interplay with one another during combat was most definitely where the team spent a lot of their time while applying the same levels of deep consideration to pacing as they did to the story.
After getting comfortable with basic gunplay and the game’s variety of pistols, rocket launchers, rifles and shotguns, Bioshock Infinite switched things up with Vigors, seemingly magical skills that imbue their users with the ability to throw fire, electricity and flocks of murderous crows at enemies. Other talents afforded by the swig of a Vigor tonic include sending foes into the air with supernatural force, persuading mechanical (and human) enemies to fight for you, as well as grabbing enemies from their perch and hauling them towards you, all of which are extremely handy tools when you’re outnumbered by rifleman and snipers, outmuscled by immense cyborg experiments and outgunned by ruthless (and very patriotic) mechanical soldiers.
Once secure in my aptitude for gun and Vigor gameplay, I was given the freedom of Sky-Hook combat, a rollercoaster-like experience that lets you (very rapidly) travel along winding aerial tracks, giving you a welcome height advantage and the opportunity to drop down onto foes from above while rattling off rounds of weapon fire and zipping around and through buildings. Once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s also an effortless task to leap from one track to another to change course and keep enemies guessing.
It wasn’t until the introduction of special rifts in time and space, or ‘Tears,’ that Bioshock Infinite’s abundance of gameplay options was truly revealed to me. One thing I will say about the game’s story is that Elizabeth is special in that she is able to harness a very particular energy, allowing her to open these Tears and pull items and constructs from another dimension into her own reality. This means that if you’re in a bit of trouble during a firefight, Elizabeth will be able to summon cover, friendly turrets, hooks to grapple onto, medical supplies and more to completely change the face of an encounter.
Each of these disparate combat abilities on their own would be solid enough hooks (excuse the play on words) to carry the remarkable narrative of Bioshock Infinite and connect each story string to the next, but together, the second-to-second gameplay and decisions of the game make for a mighty combination and ensured I always looked forward to the next battle. Mixing Vigors with one another and following up with the punch of a rocket or a hail of machine gun fire, before hurtling around the combat arena on a Skyline and slamming into an enemy below is a thrilling experience.
Knowing you’ve got Elizabeth backing you up with additional options thanks to her Tears (as well as her vigilant scavenging efforts that supply you with health, ammo and currency when you need them most), with further opportunities to augment abilities and toughen yourself up with a host of interesting upgrades to customise your own playstyle, all add an extra level of extremely well-rounded gameplay enrichment that I’ve only felt in a handful of games previously.
There are so many grand, detailed and beautiful facets to Bioshock Infinite that I feel as though I’ve only just begun to tell you about how potent an overall package the game is. I’d like to tell you about how Elizabeth acts as a perfect reflection for the events of the game. I’d like to discuss how powerful the music is, as well as the stings and strings that accompany the deaths of your enemies, the incredible sense of place that the experience instils and the thematic attention to every corner and crevice of the world. I’d like to talk about the side missions, the wonderful personalities you’ll meet and how Irrational has breathed life into Elizabeth, one of videogaming’s most memorable virtual characters ever.
Most of all, I want to talk about that ending. But I can’t. I won’t. Not yet.
For now, it will suffice to say that Bioshock Infinite is a game that’s destined to envelope the videogame world in discussion for weeks after release, and fans will debate its story for months and even years to come. This is a blockbuster movie and art house film rolled into one unforgettable experience and you owe it to yourself, either as a hardcore gamer or casual enthusiast, to go on this epic journey. You won’t regret it.