BioShock Infinite’s sky city Columbia is a completely different kind of terrifying than the original BioShock’s Rapture. Where Rapture was a dark, dank and destroyed former utopia filled with drug-crazed lunatics, Columbia is a seemingly beautiful haven full of citizens who appear perfectly normal at first glance. But then you spend some time with them and realize these folks are just, if not more insane than the splicers of Rapture; religion and race superiority is what drives their every action, and it’s as scary as it sounds. It also makes for a perfect setting for Irrational Games to dust off the BioShock franchise and tell a thematically rich story that pulls no punches tackling fascinating social issues that some might find too risqué for a blockbuster, AAA video game.
But that’s kind of always been Irrational’s M.O. - bend the envelope without breaking it - and BioShock Infinite is yet another testament to the studio’s pedigree. It’s a game that tells an engaging story set in a mesmerizingly creative universe, with gameplay that builds upon the original BioShock formula in new and exciting ways. BioShock Infinite somehow manages to rise above the seemingly insurmountable hype and deliver the goods.
I dare not spoil any plot details of BioShock Infinite. From the moment you reach Columbia in the game’s opening minutes, you’ll travel from one jaw-dropping sequence to the next. Some of these moments are strictly character driven; some are massive, explosive set pieces; and others are quiet moments when you simply stumble upon something in the environment - like a statue, for instance - and stop dead in your tracks to comprehend the gravity of what it signifies.
All I’m going to say about the game’s story is that you play as Booker DeWitt, a disgraced Pinkerton agent, sent to Columbia to retrieve a girl named Elizabeth for unknown reasons. Bringing her back from Columbia will wipe away your debt, or so you’re told. I’ll leave the rest of Infinite’s plot for you to discover. Feel free to thank me later.
A large reason the story of Infinite works so well is because of the characters that drive it. Unlike the original BioShock, Infinite features memorable personalities on both sides of the coin. You’ve got your replacement for antagonist Andrew Ryan in “Prophet” Comstock, sure, but the real star of the show is Elizabeth, who is arguably one of the most well rounded characters ever programmed into a game. Her story arc, one that goes hand in hand with the plight of protagonist Booker DeWitt, never falters or becomes dull; you’ll want to push through the game at a brisk pace because you’re dying to see how it all shakes out, even if that comes at the cost of exploring every nook and cranny of Columbia for precious money to buy more upgrades.
The combat of BioShock Infinite, however, does not make nearly as good a first impression. Combat is like an onion, and it takes a while to peel back all of its layers. At first, Infinite feels like a pretty ho-hum shooter. But once you get a few hours in (yes, hours), then things start to open up for the better.
You start finding new vigors, which grant you powers such as the ability to shoot murderous crows from your fingers tips or conjure up exploding flame balls to lob at your foes; you acquire the Sky-Hook, allowing you to not only travel about Columbia on its rail system, but also approach combat scenarios from a number of varying heights and angles; and lastly, Elizabeth starts letting you direct her to open up “tears” in reality that prove beneficial in the heat of combat, whether it’s to pull in a health pack crate, an ammo dump, or a friendly turret that will make quick work of the bad guys. Once all of these elements are introduced, combat scenarios in Infinite become engrossing sandbox experiences that can’t be found anywhere else. It just takes a while before all becomes clear and the value of Infinite’s combat mechanics shine through.
I’m keeping this write-up short and sweet. Odds are you were already looking to play BioShock Infinite and my words here weren’t going to sway you either way. That’s good; your gut intuition was spot on. This is a great game with a gorgeous visual style, memorable characters and a story that makes you think as much as it makes you cheer. The gunplay takes a while to get going, but once it kicks in you’ll be able to quickly look past the slow build-up. Some might miss the creepy halls of Rapture, but Columbia has proven itself a more than worthy replacement.
We received one review copy of BioShock Infinite from 2K Games for Xbox 360. We were held to the embargo date of Monday, March 25, 2013. We played through the game before starting our review.