BioShock Infinite Review: Columbia knocks Rapture out of the water
I’m going to put BioShock fans at ease: BioShock Infinite is even better than the first two games to carry the BioShock title. Not only does it live up to the hype, but it also still manages to somehow feel like a BioShock game, although the setting has been entirely changed. It’s a great game, possibly the best we’ll see this year.
BioShock Infinite begins with you taking the reigns of Booker DeWitt, who has been given the task of rescuing a girl in order to relieve himself of a debt. He is delivered to a lighthouse by two mysterious people. There, he hops into a chair and is whisked up to a city in the sky – Columbia. In Columbia, not only does he rescue the girl, but he figures out who she is and where, he himself, fits into the grand scheme of things. (Don’t worry, no spoilers here).
What’s wonderful about BioShock Infinite is that it still feels a lot like the first two games. As previously mentioned, the setting has changed, but Columbia is as seriously screwed up as Rapture. The difference is that you get a better peek of what Columbia is like before it lies in ruins. In this world, plasmids are vigors and a Big Daddy is a giant mechanical bird who is intent on protecting Elizabeth (the girl) at any cost.
BioShock Infinite, though, takes one step further than previous games. Columbia is run by religious fanatics headed up by a man named Zachary Comstock. Comstock has instilled the fear of God into the people of Columbia, but he is also responsible for extreme racism and class oppression in the city. And the story goes there – at one point, you have a choice of throwing a baseball at an interracial couple or the man goading them. It’s gritty and depressing and yet holds up a mirror to what life was like in the early 1900’s for people of color and the Irish (who are slaving away in a Columbia factory). It’s written to make the player feel uncomfortable – kudos to the game developers for being so brave.
There is also a lot of unexpected science fiction elements to BioShock Infinite. Booker and Elizabeth travel through alternate universes and timelines, thanks to Elizabeth’s ability to open tears in the fabric of space and time. It’s part steampunk and part science fiction and the two elements are seamlessly blended together to create a unique and interesting plot.
My first thought upon playing the game was how beautiful Columbia really is. It’s even more fully realized than Rapture in the previous games. From the parks and cemeteries to the fair to the fake beaches, every scene is beautifully detailed. I highly recommend taking time to wander around the game (not to mention, wandering is a great way to find more items and coins).
Gameplay is smooth and hasn’t changed from previous games. Vigors work exactly like plasmids and can be collected by exploring Columbia. I will admit, though, that my favorite is and always will be Shock – it’s very effective for stopping enemies dead in their tracks.
Enemies range from guys in Big Daddy-like suits to everyone else who lives on Columbia (although it’s in the midst of a Civil War mid-game, Booker is still hated by all).
I’ve saved the best for last, though: Elizabeth. Elizabeth is one of the most beautifully created AI characters that I have ever seen. She is rendered in such a way that you see every reaction written upon her face. She cowers when enemies are nearby and she reacts to dialogue and situations as if she were almost real. She helps Booker by finding items needed during combat (health and ammo, for example). She also can open tears in the fabric of the universe, allowing you to bring items over from one universe to another. She is the highlight of the game and its story is really about her. She is the emotional key to the game and players will find themselves feeling what she feels as they play.
Now here comes my biggest complaint about BioShock Infinite. This wonderful character that was created, and that the game revolves around, was relegated to the back cover of the packaging. After reading about how The Last Of Us developer had to fight to keep their main female character on the front cover of the game, I understand why – women don’t appeal to gamers (or so the industry would have us believe). Not only does this really irk me, but it also lessens just how important Elizabeth is to the game (and honestly, she saves Booker more often than he saves her). Instead, Booker DeWitt, a character we actually only see (as this game is all first person) a few times, is on the cover – front and center.
Gameplay in BioShock Infinite with considerable wandering around and taking a few side quests runs for about 16 hours (I timed it on Raptr). The end of the game brings together all of the plots from the BioShock universes to one very satisfying conclusion – it’s complex, but works perfectly, and leaves the door open for future installments.