I’ll be straight with you – Bioshock Infinite was very low on my radar. I enjoyed Bioshock, but I can’t really call myself a fan. Even with all the trailers and promo videos for Bioshock Infinite I didn’t see anything that really made me WANT the game. I knew I was going to play it, but figured I’d wait for a Steam sale. Thank God I didn’t, because I would have been missing out on what is easily the best game that has come out this year.
Bioshock Infinite is not merely another sequel in the Bioshock franchise. It takes place in another time period with a totally different surrounding and mood. In this game you play as Booker Dewitt, a man tasked with going to Columbia (a city floating in the sky) and retrieving a young girl named Elizabeth. Obviously this won’t be an easy task, but when you ascend and finally see Columbia, you might think it would be if you didn’t know any better.
When I first saw Columbia I can only describe it as what I think heaven would look like… if it had stores and shops. It is gorgeous, and quite possibly one of the best looking locales I’ve ever seen in a video game. It has grand statues, waterfalls in the sky, wind blowing through tapestries and banners, stunning view after stunning view, and golden light shining all over. I spent more than an hour in what is supposed to be the first 20 minutes of the game just looking around.
It’s beautiful, and you would never suspect that its citizens are racist religious zealots that follow a man they call “The Prophet”. Yep, this is where the dream stops. Andrew Comstock (said “Prophet”) is going to do everything he can to stop you from getting the girl, throwing all of Columbia’s defenses at you. This includes the hulking (and quite intimidating) Songbird, the guardian and jailer of Elizabeth.
While the Songbird may be your biggest problem, it’s not your only one. Most of the enemies you run into will either have a gun or run in for melee attack. Later in the game you come into contact with larger waves of these enemies, but mostly they will be better armored. You’ll encounter quite a few mechanized enemies like gun or rocket turrets (some of which fly). Besides your run of the mill henchmen and turrets, you’ll run into more specialized enemies like the Fireman or the Motorized Patriot on a semi-regular basis. I never felt like the Fireman (which in case you need clarification, he’s an armored man who shoots fire) was much of a threat, but man, the Motorized Patriot gave me the creeps.
It’s a tall robot that is equipped with a winding Gatling gun. The creepy part is that they typically have a distorted and cracked porcelain head of George Washington that spouts religious rhetoric as it moves about. The first time it ran at me I think I peed a little. The Handyman, while not very creepy, always got the jump on me. The Handyman is a massive hulk that was once a man, one who has beenturned into a machine (Complete with the man’s beating heart inside of his mechanical chest). This guy likes to pop up at the worst times and is both strong and agile. There is a lot of running away involved when he is on the field, but he’s not going to make it easy. There are also some enemies that only exist in certain areas, such as the Boy of Silence (which alerts enemies to your presence) or the Siren (which can raise the dead).
The enemy variety definitely kept game play fun and interesting, especially since you are given so many ways to cut through them. When it comes to first person shooters there are a few things you come to expect in terms of guns: a handgun, machine gun, shotgun, and sniper rifle are all present. There is also a single shot rifle in the form of the Carbine available as well. The gun selection was really a reflection of your play-style, and no matter what you chose it felt like the enemies would adapt to you to keep things fun.
A staple of the Bioshock series is the powers you receive throughout the game. In Bioshock you received these as plasmids, but in Bioshock Infinite your powers are calledvigors. There are eight in total, and they present quite a variety. There are some standard powers like the ability to throw lighting or fireballs, but then you also have some unique abilities like being able to summon deadly, flesh-eating crows, absorb bullets and then send them back to the enemy, or even possess other enemies or machines. It feels like the developers wanted to give players a lot of options so they can play how they wanted to play, because there really is no “right” vigor to use in most situations.
I do say most situations because when fighting some of the strong enemies there are some vigors that don’t work, which takes a bit of strategy on your part. For example, the Motorized Patriot is immune Murder of Crows and Bucking Bronco (which causes enemies to levitate), but can be stopped in its tracks by Shock Jockey or weakened Undertow (an ability that lets players push enemies with water or grab them and bring them to you). On the opposite side of that the Handyman is pretty much completely immune to Shock Jockey, while he can at least be kept busy by Murder of Crows.
The vigors kept the game fun, and I was excited to find a new one every time. That being said, I have to admit the most awesome tool (and possibly weapon) is the Skyhook. This is actually the first item you receive in-game and you can use it to melee. Once an enemy’s health is low enough you can execute them with it, usually resulting in them being left headless or with some gapping cavity in their body. The Skyhook can be used to pull you to various hooks and high points in the sky, but the most fun comes in with the rail system that you will find all around Columbia. This is where we start getting into some very interesting game play.
The rail system allows you to travel fast or slow around a fairly large area with multiple elevation points with ease. Typically in an FPS you need to work the game area for area. If you see an enemy in the distance you can usually snipe them or perhaps they won’t show up until you get within a certain proximity. Not in Bioshock Infinite. With the rail system you have access to all parts of a given area without much effort, so not only will you have the enemies closest to you, you might also have some enemies shooting down at you from an elevated point, more enemies shooting at you from a distance, and even some sentry turrets flying around in a pretty large area. With the rail system you can go from fighting on the ground to a bell tower, then switch to a rooftop, then drop back down on the ground.
Adding to the game play is Elizabeth herself. She does a few things for you, most frequently picking up ammo and money that is lying around and tossing it to you. Her most useful ability is opening tears, which are portals into other universes. You see tears throughout the entire game, and you will come to find out it’s a major theme. They’re strange, too, in that you’ll hear music from other time periods and see things that definitely don’t belong in Columbia within the tears. The functional aspect of tears is different, as on the game play level Elizabeth can bring items over from other universes through the tears to help you. She can bring in a hook in the sky to help you out, maybe a wall for cover, or even perhaps a Motorized Patriot or sentry turret. There is usually more than one tear for you to use in a given area, so once again you can play as you see fit.
That seems to be a major part of the game. Many people I’ve talked to about the game played differently than I did, and while the adventure was the same, the experience was different. Irrational Games put in a lot of effort to develop this game in a way that the player can experience however they liked, and not just play through it.
The visuals definitely help set the tone, but the audio was also marvelous. It felt right for this heavenly utopia, but at the same time helped you realize that there is something not quite right about this place and added to the creep factor. The music in some areas was more than appropriate, especially as you were first coming into Columbia. However, some area’s music is the direct opposite of what you would expect, adding tension to the scene. Also, the sounds and dialogue of enemies like the Motorized Patriot, Boys of Silence, and Siren can leave you a bit uneasy.
For those that were put off by Bioshock’s dark and creepy setting, I don’t think you have much to worry about here. Columbia does have some areas where you can tell the developer wanted to add some additional tension, but nowhere near the levels of Bioshock. Developers used lighting to their advantage to give you a few surprises here, but nothing even close to the dark, dank atmosphere of Rapture.
If no other games came out this year I would have to say Bioshock Infinite is easily the game of the year. Even that not being the case, it’s going to be tough to beat. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Bioshock Infinite should go down as one of the greatest first person shooters of all time. It’s hard for FPS games to bring completely new ideas that change the way you play them, but Bioshock Infinite does exactly that. I’m very happy I chose to pick it up, and highly recommend everyone check it out.