We’ve transversed the depths of the ocean in the BioShock
series to date, but BioShock Infinite
marks a much more ambitious prospect for Irrational Games. The game is set in Columbia, a floating city full of living people, unlike the previous two games. Infinite faced development sagas, delays, and with this extra layer of ambition, many wondered if it could live up to the reputation that precedes it. Thankfully, for BioShock fans, it succeeds on a number of levels.
The land of Eden, or Columbia as it is more commonly known, is a majestic place full of cheerfulness, pleasantness, stunning vistas and celebration. This is a far cry from the ruined city of Rapture that we have visited before. And yet, it is difficult to feel completely at ease. The city seems to harbour secrets, which become more evident as players explore as listen in to conversations in passing. As with previous BioShock titles, you get more out of the setting and story if you put more effort into exploring the lay of the land and soaking in available information. This is the Prophet’s (Father Comstock’s) utopian society. References to segregation are subtle at first with townspeople commenting that “they think the waiter had an accent,” but the truth soon rears its ugly head: This is utopia, but only if you happen to be an affluent, white, religious American.
Players assume the role of Booker DeWitt, a soldier for hire with a troubled past who used to “settle” industrial disputes. He ventures to the land of Columbia in search of Elizabeth, the Prophet’s “Lamb.” She has been locked away with nothing but books and time for company. As a result, she has acquired a few skills such as the ability to open tears in the fabric of reality, lockpicking and seems to be fairly handy at scavenging too. Once freed, her innocence and naivety come to the fore. She has not witnessed segregation and can’t understand the need for it, while violence repulses her. At the same time, she willingly assists DeWitt while he dispatches enemies, throwing health kits, ammo or salt (for Vigors) to him.
However, Elizabeth is not just an extended escort mission; she is more than capable of looking after herself and often comes to the player’s aid. She often finds ammo, salts or health packs to keep you in the land of the living. However, she also provides a fresh perspective and social commentary. She has been locked away for all of her life and is naïve to how society functions. The idea of segregation or violence is completely alien to her. And yet, she experiences violence first hand from the moment that DeWitt frees her.
Combat comes thick and heavy in Infinite; as it turns out, this utopian society can be pretty violent when it needs to be. But then again, it is always fighting against the threat of the Vox Populi who seek to overthrow the founders. Players can arm themselves with two weapons, and strategically upgrade them, along with eight vigors of varying styles. These vigors replace the Plasmids of previous titles, but are just as important when the bullets start flying. Unlike Plasmids, each Vigor comes with two firing modes, allowing them to be cast or set as a trap. The traps are less planned than those set for Big Daddies in the past as Infinite’s Heavy Hitters and smaller enemies rarely give you a chance to plan ahead.
Combat is fast and frantic, despite the battlefield being significantly less claustrophobic than BioShock’s. However, the prospect of flinging vigors, sometimes even comboing them, and sending bullets flying never gets old. Although with my playstyle, I often found myself hoping that Elizabeth would offer something to keep me in the fight. She can also utilise tears to bring turrets, cover and weaponry into reality. However, if you do die, respawning is quick and painless, but will cost you some money while the enemies heal up.
This sounds similar to Borderlands’ respawn system, but this isn’t the only cue that Irrational Games has taken from the gaming industry at large over the past few years. DeWitt is equipped with a shield that recharges when not taking bullets to the face (Halo), can see the path that he needs to take (Dead Space), and enjoys trying on new gear for extra damage or side effects (Borderlands). We’re not knocking Irrational Games for this; in fact, it is great to see a developer see a system that works in another game and implement it so that players can shape their loadout to suit their playstyle.
Of course, it is the story that many remember BioShock for and Infinite is no different. It is compelling and offers all kinds of questions, though it strays a little into mind boggling territory at times. It is difficult to say too much about the story, or the relationship between DeWitt and Elizabeth, and indeed other characters in the piece, without verging into spoiler territory, but this is a game we recommend playing so you can experience it for yourself.
Flaws were minor and even at that, don’t affect the actual experience of the game too much. The initial wonderment at the universe is somewhat broken if you stick around too long after a conversation to see characters simply staring awkwardly at each other, while the engine shows its age at times. However, after a little while in the game world it becomes difficult to simply stop and smell the roses as the world and story propels you along and these issues become moot.
Thanks to BioShock’s history many players will enter the game expecting certain key elements, particularly with regards to the storyline. Irrational Games has successfully created a tale that will keep players guessing and melded in a fluid and enjoyable combat experience, but that’s really all that we can say on that matter as it must be played to be believed.