Creepy little girls with dirty needles, crazy drug addicts and humongous deep sea divers. If any of these ring a bell, then you’re most certainly a fan of the Bioshock series, a well established title set in a dystopian city under the sea. Many gamers will have fond memories of the twists and turns of this underwater city, and all the crazy characters that came with it. Fast forward to the third instalment however, and we have been taken far away from the city of Rapture that we have grown to love and cherish, and instead have been thrust in the opposite direction towards the floating city of Columbia. A bold move for any developer, but Columbia has its own magic, and Bioshock Infinite has earned the right to sit next to its predecessors in the hearts of its loyal fan base.
Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt
The story of Bioshock Infinite is, on face value, a simple one. A mysterious man named Booker DeWitt has been challenged to bring back Elizabeth, a girl who has been locked away in Columbia, and in return all of his debts will be wiped clean. What are these debts? Well that’s never really made clear, but for a human life to wipe that away, it must be a pretty big one.
Naturally, there’s a catch. Elizabeth isn’t just any ordinary girl; she’s locked in a tower in the floating city of Columbia, and as if that wasn’t hard enough, she’s protected by a giant mechanical creature, Songbird, who bears a slight resemblance to a well-known character from the original. Naturally Elizabeth is oblivious to the ways of the world, knowing only what is inside her cage, so when Booker removes her from the comfort of her solitude, it’s like taking a small child on a magical trip to the zoo. Everything starts to get a little bit more complicated from then on, and nothing more can really be said without spoiling some of the many twists and turns Infinite puts you through on your journey through Columbia.
A floating city? Absurd
Anyone who has played the original Bioshock games will remember plasmids; the giant potion bottles that you inject yourself with to gain new powers. Opting for a less vicious way of digesting them, Infinite goes for the drinking option, as opposed to the painful needle injection. However, they are no longer called plasmids, but instead are called Vigors. There is very little difference between the two except the name, so the basic concept remains the same. Down a vigor, and shoot fireballs from your hands, simple. There are eight vigors in total, each with their own brutal abilities that are useful on different enemy types. The basic rules of gaming apply though; hit a turret with electricity and it will short-circuit. Hit a human with fire, and watch them burn.
The only negative thing about these vigors is that they are not as actively used by your enemies as you would expect. There are a few enemies that use similar vigors, but nothing like how the plasmids were used in Bioshock by the demented splicers. Naturally they are easily upgraded at the expense of a few golden eagles,Columbia’s currency, and this adds either a longer duration to the abilities, or more damage.
When you finally collect Elizabeth is when the fun really starts. Players of games like Resident Evil 4 will know the pain of having to escort a delicate young girl around, asking her to hide whenever danger comes close, but Elizabeth is a lot more clever than this; Elizabeth can think for herself, and is not a hindrance to your journey at all. If anything, Elizabeth is there to protect you, running around and finding salts, ammo and health for you when you’re starting to run low during battle. She even pries into your empty wallet and throws money at you in pity, seeing your sad eyes when stood at a vending machine. As an AI, Elizabeth is fantastic, and far from the charity case some players may be used to running around with in similar games. Her skills know almost no bounds, and without giving anything away, Elizabeth will be saving you in many sticky situations, just as much as you’re trying to saving her.
Of course it’s not just about vigors, as it wouldn’t be complete without a hefty arsenal of weapons at your disposal too. Each weapon is obviously upgradable through the use of the vending machines scattered around the city, blessing you with a bigger clip size, less recoil or simply more damage. Whether your weapon of choice is the itchy trigger finger machine gun, or the cool and calm sniper rifle, there is something for everyone here. Some weapons do hefty damage, such as the RPG, but others deal with less challenging enemies and for that you can easily use the pistol. The point is, there are plenty to choose from, and each go well with the various different vigors that can be utilised throughout the game.
In terms of new enemies, Infinite has tried its best to keep the enemy concepts familiar, but at the same time have gone for completely new character models. The most recognisable enemy will be the Handyman, bearing a striking resemblance to the much-loved Big Daddy. A giant mechanical man, fused with human flesh, the Handyman packs a hefty punch, but you don’t actually see that many of them during your time in Columbia. A far cry from the two or three Big Daddies per level in Bioshock, the Handymen only appear a handful of times throughout the entire game. This is perhaps by no means a bad thing, as they are absolute devils to kill, but a stronger presence would have added a little something more.
Another stand out enemy from the trailers for Infinite is the Boy of Silence. These bizarrely clad enemies wear a helmet on their head that shines a spotlight across rooms. As soon as you are seen through their gaze, an alarm is sounded and you had better hope you have enough ammo to get through the inevitable onslaught of enemies. Not quite as eerie as trailers made them out to be, The Silent Boy is more of a living, breathing alarm as opposed to an enemy, but that’s not to say they won’t make you jump out of your comfy gaming seat once or twice.
The supposed boss battles however take on a slightly different form in Infinite. Whereas most players might be used to having a showdown with a crazy extremist, fighting them face to face in an epic battle of skill and wits, Infinite takes a different approach. The main antagonists never come to face your blade, or bullets, instead sending a huge tribe of enemies to attack you in an almost unforgiving way, coming at you from all angles, and in all shapes and sizes. These battles really do test your skills, regardless of never coming face to face with the man, or woman, who sent them for you. While this is not a direct criticism, it would have been nice to have had the chance to face those who would dare to stand in your way, and deal with them by your own hand.
One of the biggest reflections of Rapture is the completely cultist and detached nature of the residents of Columbia, and this is where it really gets its eerie feeling from, and where Ken Levine did such a good job of tackling race and religion. Never an easy subject to broach in games, the extremity of religion, and the complete elitism of the white race at the time the game is set, really makes for an unsettling gameplay experience, but that is by no means a bad thing. Challenging the players own concepts of right and wrong, you are faced with a racial dilemma very early on, and are given the choice to do what the city of Columbia wants from you, or what you feel is right.
The residents of Columbia almost feel like purists, banishing anyone who isn’t in their ideal of perfection to a distant corner of the city. Segregation of white, blacks and even the Irish is broached several times, with even Elizabeth questioning these facts. Even if you weren’t originally questioning this, Elizabeth does it for you, constantly prompting the argument of right and wrong, and highlighting her innocence from being locked in the tower for so long.
And of course, no review of this game would be complete without a nod to the innovative skyline. A very novel way of getting around, the skyline in Columbia lets you almost literally fly around the city, attaching yourself with a magnetic hook, the skyhook. Conveniently doubling as a rather gruesome weapon, the skyhook allows you to latch onto any part of skyline and zoom around to your heart’s content, travelling to new destinations and even bludgeoning enemies from above.
I’m practically sitting on a cloud
Infinite is a beautiful game, there is no doubt about that, with attention to detail on every single enemy design as well as on the main characters. Nothing has been left as ‘that’s good enough’. Everything is stunning from the very moment you enter Columbia as you are catapulted towards the sky. A floating city is a thing of dreams, and the Infinite team really have captured the very essence of that dream world with floating buildings in a utopian style. You will struggle to find anywhere more beautiful than Columbia, even when it falls to ruin, suffering the same fate as Rapture.
There was an argument about whether Infinite really needed as much violence and brutality as it portrayed, but somehow the design of the game made it work. Fans of gore had just enough to keep them satisfied, while it didn’t really go all out to make you feel as though you were watching a horror flick. Decapitated heads and bodies turned to ash were done in a very stylish manner, and still maintained that cartoon like feel that Bioshock does so well. You know it’s not real, even if the harshness of some of the deaths are brought to life through incredible graphics.
Haven’t I heard this somewhere before?
The soundtrack takes on the old 20s and 30s feel that we became accustomed to in the original, and takes it even further. If you listen closely enough, you might even recognise some more modern tracks with a retro twist put on them, with startlingly good results.
Chaotic battles are captured with dramatic drums and violent violins, really making you feel the rush of the fight and pulling you into the urgent atmosphere the longer you battle for. Eerie moments are accompanied by that all too familiar violin with a disturbing background that seems almost out of tune, and serves to really remind you that this is most definitely a Bioshock game, regardless of it being set in a new location.
Sombre moments in the tale are told through sad songs crafted with delicate piano pieces, really pulling on the heartstrings and tying in very well with what you can see on the screen. Even the cultist sections of the game are really emphasised by a background of beautifully simple melodies sung by a calming choral group, giving that feeling of uneasiness at what they’re singing about, and the things they have been taught.
As soundtracks go, Infinite has a strong one, and the mix of orchestral, as well as modern and vocal works almost too perfectly together to the point where you might not even realise how brilliant it is while you’re playing. Give it a listen afterwards however, and you find yourself taken back to the scenes they are taken from, reliving the experience and discovering new things you had never even thought of before.
When all is said and done…
The ending of Bioshock Infinite is one you really need to pay attention to, otherwise you will be sat in front of your console, wondering what on earth just happened. It’s complicated, but satisfying, leaving a lot open for some interesting DLC if the rumours are to be believed.
Bioshock Infinite is a fantastic game in its own right, and as long as you take it at face value it’s easily a strong contender for game of the year. However, if you compare it to the world of Rapture, it falls ever so slightly short. This doesn’t take away the perfect score it so rightfully deserves, but there is surely a lot more to be explored in DLC in the future, and that is an extremely exciting prospect.