“Bioshock Infinite” belongs to a caliber of games that comes around only once or twice in a generation. Rarely is a shooter produced that has an affecting narrative, stunning landscapes, great character development, and a fantastic musical score. Ken Levine and his team at Irrational Games have outdone themselves and delivered a masterpiece.
“Bioshock Infinite” takes you to the floating utopia of Columbia in 1912 during a new renaissance age for the city. Players are shoved into the shoes of Booker Dewitt, a detective who is in so much debt that he is given one last job that will result in either all his debt being expunged, or him being killed. The job: Find Elizabeth in the city of Columbia and bring her back to the collectors. This proves harder than described due to the vast amount of things actively trying to kill you on this floating Utopia. Which in reality has an undercurrent of rebellion and oppression.
The world of Columbia and the rich history that follows it is undisputed as the greatest achievement in “Bioshock Infinite.” The narrative is slowly revealed to the player in small chunks, through Voxophones or voice recordings found in the environment that deal out important story beats and world building monologues. It works well to create a hunger for information that encourages longer play. The aesthetic of a 1912 America, with elements of crude steam powered machines that do incredible things is fun to look at, and makes for interesting environments, but Columbia is more than just a giant combat arena, Columbia is a place. There is a clear distinction of importance in that statement. Columbia feels like a place that could have existed and has a history, and that is one of the hardest things to do in a modern video game.
By placing the game in a time period where segregation was fairly prominent throughout society, “Bioshock Infinite” gives itself the freedom to tackle that specific theme in its narrative. The narrative deals with heavy themes like religion, politics, slavery, subjugation and control. Everything fits, and has its own unique perspectives. The narrative and the world come together in a way that I cannot recall seeing in other games and makes for a fantastic experience.
Irrational Games has already knocked world building out of the park before with “Bioshock,” the start of the Bioshock franchise. Although this game was praised at release for its stunning art and its relatively new aesthetic, the game is beginning to show its age in its combat mechanics and especially in the last few hours of game play. However, this is a non-problem in “Infinite,” the combat is smooth varied and fluid with lots of tools for destruction.
The three main components of combat are vigors, Elizabeth tears, and Skyhook based combat. Vigors are similar to the plasmids of “Bioshock” but now there are more of them, a total of eight that can be used in combination for satisfying effect. Elizabeth is not like most girls in 1912, she has a special ability; and that is being able to open inter-dimensional portals, and bring items into the current world. This means that you can change the combat landscape to include a place for higher ground, or produce cover, a machine-gun turret, or even a large mechanical version of George Washington that will fight alongside you. It makes for very interesting combinations in combat and encourages the player to explore the environment. The skyhook system not only adds complexity but verticality to the design of the game. Columbia is littered with rails in the sky that are normally used to transport people or cargo via ferries. However, Booker and pretty much every enemy in Infinite, have Skyhooks that can magnetize to the rail systems and propel you above a combat arena in a way that empowers the player and gives a great sense of speed and dynamism to the combat.
Dynamism might be the best to describe “Bioshock Infinite” as a whole. The game brings new life to a genre thought doomed to the military setting. From the very beginning of the game, Infinite nudges you into it’s incredibly complex world and makes sure not to tell you everything at once. By only revealing small bits of narrative through the environment, rather than in cut-scene info dumps, Infinite is able to create a sense of unquenchable wonder and curiosity that will follow the player all the way to the end of the game.
Infinite is a new masterpiece and will likely be praised even well into the next generation of video games. This game definitely earns 10 out of 10.