The presidential administration of William McKinley; the Spanish- American war; the blistering pace of technological change in the early 20th century, with the introduction of electricity, telephones, cars, airplanes, phonographs, and movies; the 1893 Columbian Exposition at the Chicago World’s Fair; Eugene V. Debs; Emma Goldman; a black-and-white photo of young boys sitting next to a dead horse on a cobblestone street in turn-of-the-century New York; The Music Man; It’s a Wonderful Life; the sequence in Back to the Future when Marty McFly first arrives in the 1955 town square; that scene inThe Shining where the two little dead girls appear; Blue Velvet; the chest-bursting scene in Alien; Roman Holiday; the cover of X-Men #141; the sun reflecting off a metal mailbox during a jog on a sunny day; roller coasters; an off-Broadway play called Sleep No More; and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” performed on Glee
For those of you who don’t know what that random collection of pop culture references above have to do with Bioshock Infinite, let me fill you in. It is an incomplete list of things that inspired Ken Levine to make Bioshock Infinite. What you ask does this collection lead to? A controller on the floor, an blank look, and synapses unable to form complete thoughts.
On March 26th Irrational Games loosed BIoshock Infinite into a gaming market that had become saturated with games that played it safe, action, guns, and things that go boom. To be fair, Bioshock Infintie has it’s share of action, guns and things that go boom, after all, it is technically a first person shooter, but it has something that sets it apart from it’s peers; a story, an extremely compelling story that makes the game extremely hard to put down.
Set in 1912 Bioshock Infinite puts players in the shoes of Booker Dewitt,(voiced exceptionally by Troy Baker) a former private investigator who is asked to essentially rescue/kidnap (depending on your perspective) a young woman named Elizabeth from a floating city named Columbia to wipe away a gambling debt.
One of the first things I noticed while playing through the story was that Levine and his team had essentially created a polar opposite to the underwater city of Rapture in Columbia where Rapture sat at the bottom of the ocean, Columbia soars majestically through the air, life in Rapture was care-free and encouraged scientific progress and invention, spearheaded by the brilliant charismatic Andrew Ryan, Columbia’s pious citizens lived a simpler life, guided by the evangelical beliefs of their prophet, Zachary Comstock.
Life in Columbia is idyllic, at first glance, but as is the norm in worlds created by Ken Levine, this idyllic world hides a sinister streak in it’s suits, and bonnets lifestyle. One thing that has impressed me about the Bioshock series is it tries to remain true to the time period their games are based in, and Bioshock Inifnite is no different. While Columbia may seem perfect at first, a quick look around reveals an extremely racist society where those of Irish and African descent are used for cheap labor, and the Chinese and Native Americans are portrayed as viscous savages, couple this with the extreme religious views portrayed by the citizens of Columbia and you get an extremely unsettling atmosphere leaving the player on edge and adding an even greater urgency to Booker’s belief that he needs to get the hell out of the city and fast. Unfortunately while these themes add weight to the story, not everyone is going to appreciate the inclusion of societal ills in a video game, so Bioshock fans should prepare themselves for some ridiculous claims regarding the title, at least until a new controversial movie/song/game is released.
While the graphics and story are amazing, they are blown away by the character of Elizabeth, the young woman Booker is tasked with rescuing/kidnapping, depending on your point of view. To say she steals the show would be an understatement. Elizabeth at times feels more like player 2, than an AI powered NPC. Through excellent voice acting by Courtnee Draper, and amazing animation Elizabeth displays emotion, and an independence that makes any other NPC’s look like stiff wooden add ins, while talking to friends regarding the game I often found myself comparing Elizabeth to an angry Disney princess due to her facial expressions, and mannerisms. Elizabeth serves as more than just Booker’s ward, she has the ability to open tears in space and time, this ability allows her to pull things in from parallel worlds to aid Booker during combat, this talent is one of many as Elizabeth also explores the area her and Booker are walking though, randomly finding lockpicks, or money for Booker, as well as salts, ammo or health during combat situations. Elizabeth also serves as a combat nurse for Booker, an ability which may annoy some purists, as Booker can’t really die with her around, if Booker’s life drops, Elizabeth revives him, bringing him back to life in the same general area of where he died, of course at the cost of a few dollars. I personally was grateful for this talent as some fights were a bit more than I could handle.
Speaking of combat, once Bioshock Infinite erupts, it does not let up, fights are chaotic and enemies all around. A big difference from Bioshock is the fact that Columbia is patrolled by a healthy police force, mostly armed with guns, and if they don’t have guns, they have RPGs, if they don’t have RPGs, they have shotguns, and if they don’t have shotguns, then they are robotic representations of our founding fathers armed with crank guns, the 1912 equivalent of a Gatling gun. While combat can be hectic at times, it doesn’t take away from the game at all, in-fact I felt it added to the whole experience of Infinite by nailing home the fact that you are essentially fighting your way through an entire city’s population that is looking to stop you at all costs. To survive the entire city’s population looking to kill you, Booker has a few tricks up his sleeves, vigors have taken the place of plasmids, with similar results, along with the vigors Booker possesses a recharging magnetic shield that while a bonus, isn’t enough to make the player feel invulnerable.
While guns and vigors are Booker’s go to tools for dispatching his enemies, he also uses a tool called a Skyhook for devastating melee attacks, and gory finishers when an enemy is close to death. Along with serving as a nasty way to introduce his fist to people, Booker can use the Skyhook to traverse the sky rails used as a primary mode of transportation around Columbia. Along with transportation, the rails add an interesting strategic option during fights, as Booker can latch on, accelerate, and launch off to land on an enemy, and if not killing them, at least doing a massive amount of damage. While the rails do offer an additional means to handle the waves of enemies, enemies can utilize them as well as a means of getting behind Booker, and to drop in on him from above, add in the occasional handyman, who has the ability to electrify the rails, and you get exciting fast paced combat.
Plasmids, guns, and Elizabeth are not the only tools available to Booker to assist with the various enemies throughout Columbia. Throughout the stores, and offices of Columbia, citizens of the city have hidden gear that adds various bonuses to Booker’s stats, such as gaining health from melee kills, or causing enemies to be engulfed in flames. Other benefits include electrifying enemies via melee attacks, or launching enemies back launching from Skyline, for those of you curious as to what other bonus abilities they can find, all I can say is leave no door locked, and no safe un-opened. Along with gear, hidden throughout Columbia are infusion elixirs that can be used to boost Booker’s maximum health, shield, or salt capacity (salts are the fuel for the vigors found throughout Columbia). While these infusions don’t provide a massive boost to one of the three meters used in the game, they do give players the ability to last that extra crucial second, allowing for a satisfying headshot, or the final bullet needed to drop the handyman.
With all the surprises to be found in the world of Columbia, I feel it’s best to get to Toaster’s rating of the game. Bioshock Infinite delivers on all sides, fast paced, challening combat, a beatifully written story and amazing characters all combine to provide a compelling story that makes it damn near impossible to put down the control pad. Ken and his team at Irrational hit all the marks for one emotionally charged and addictive game. While it still faces some competition from titles to be released later this year, you can be sure to see this title nominated for Game of the Year.
On the Toaster scale of buttered goodness, Bioshock Infinite as defintely earned it’s 10.