“Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt.”
Every generation, games have continued to grow as a storytelling medium. The PSOne/N64 era brought us Final Fantasy VII. The PS2/GameCube/Xbox era brought us Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3. And this generation brought us BioShock. BioShock was a game that, while an FPS at heart, told a story that could not be told in film or literature. By exploring the underwater dystopia of Rapture and listening to the audio diaries of fallen citizens, and then having your mind blown by three magical words two-thirds of your way through the game, BioShock changed everything.
Well, six years later, BioShock Infinite is here to change it all again.
Irrational Games has returned after the original BioShock (the still-excellent BioShock 2 was developed by another team), and has left the city beneath the sea for a city in the sky. The legendary Ken Levine is back at the helm, penning a story and creating a game that once again changes how we see stories in games and breaks our heart in the way only the best stories can.
Set behind the eyes of Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent, BioShock Infinite wastes no time in getting you up into the skies of the floating city of Columbia. The second you arrive, the atmosphere and emotion immediately hits you. Every minute in this game is a full-body experience that you will remember for a lifetime. The game’s use of music, art design, and world-building are unmatched.
It’s not until you meet Elizabeth, however, the girl you’re meant to save, that the game picks up. Hanging out and exploring as Booker is the lower tier of joy; the moment Elizabeth is by your side you’ll never want the game to end.
Unlike many characters who accompany you in a game, Elizabeth matters. Besides the fact that she’s cute and fun and has both a strong personality and naive innocence about her, she is not some burden to babysit. She doesn’t have a health bar, you never have a limited amount of time to rescue her, and she is actually useful from a gameplay perspective. If you’re running low on supplies, Elizabeth will conveniently toss you some at the last possible second. And even if she has nothing for you, it’s impossible to get angry because she reassures you that she’s on the lookout for some more goods.
Elizabeth is even more useful in her tears. These windows into alternate dimensions and other time periods that only Elizabeth has access to are a huge part of the game’s mythology, and a fascinating mystery to unravel. But in the heat of battle, they also provide fantastic aid. Elizabeth can open up tears to give you racks of weapons, cover from fire, and even additional combat support. Things that are simply not supposed to be there very much are thanks to Elizabeth’s otherworldly powers.
The combat scenarios are enhanced by Elizabeth’s presence, but Irrational did a fine job crafting a memorable FPS experience outside of her assistance. Like plasmids in BioShock, Infinite gives you vigors – special genetic powers that give you the edge in combat. Old favorites return, like the ability to electrocute opponents or telekinetically return fire, but the new abilities are even more exciting. Enemies can be lifted into the air, charged at like a bull, or swept away in a rush of water.
Battles don’t have to stay on the ground, either. The skyrail system, typically used to transport cargo and trolleys, can be ridden by Booker himself with his skyhook, an arm apparatus that doubles as a melee weapon. Electrocute an enemy on a platform above to stall him, hop on a skyrail, and leap down from above to send your enemy whirling thousands of feet below. The possibilities in combat are endless.
With such a deep combat system, and a wide variety of enemies, the game can be pretty brutal. Playing through on medium will likely end your life many times, but the game’s special 1999 mode will truly drive you mad. Taking away navigation, ramping up the difficulty of enemies, and giving you a proper game over if you die without money, 1999 mode is only for the truly hardcore and will test your skills to the bitter end.
The combat can be discussed forever, but the story is what will stick with you long after the credits roll. Dealing with heavy handed themes of racism, oppression, religious zealotry, and class warfare, Infinite gives you plenty to think of both in its world and our own. But it’s the characters you interact with that will leave a mark. Besides the endlessly charming and layered Elizabeth, the villainous Comstock tries to stop you at every turn, his arch nemesis Daisy Fitzroy leads an unstoppable revolt, and Jeremiah Fink is an insane industrialist that no one would ever want as a boss. And let’s not forget the mysterious Lutece twins who show up at the most convenient of times – that’s one backstory you’ll want to pay close attention to.
As the game goes on, it progresses from a simple “save the girl and get out” story into something much, much deeper. I wouldn’t dream of saying a word out of fear of spoilers, but just know the game will take you on a journey you will never forget. The final moments of the game will leave you picking it apart and making elaborate graphs on your wall as you struggle to figure out what you just witnessed. And the very end of the game will leave you with your jaw on the floor and a tear in your eye.
BioShock may have turned the mirror onto the player with its story, but Infinite goes beyond that. Infinite sets a new standard in storytelling in games. Everything else will look weak and generic in comparison. You will want to replay this game multiple times to catch all the subtle hints dropped throughout the story, and to relive the wonder you felt on your first playthrough.
It’s hard to come across a game so close to perfection, but at the end of this generation, Irrational Games has weaved an unforgettable tale inside a beautiful, thrilling universe. BioShock Infinite is a game that will be remembered generations from now, and will be looked back upon as a turning point in game narrative.
Go to Columbia. Explore every corner. Experience the magic only a video game can deliver.
(Screenshots courtesy of JL Biggs)