The best thing about Bioshock Infinite is simply that it makes you think. Now, I’m not saying that other games have not or will not make me or you think- that’s not what I’m getting at at all. Plenty of games challenge your thinking abilities, either through puzzles or narrative, and I’ve played many of them- Mass Effect, Bioshock, Portal, etc. The reason why Bioshock Infinite is different, differing even from its two predecessors as well, in terms of brainpower and thinking things through, is that one reality is never enough, nor solid or buoyant enough. What does this mean? Whereas, in one reality, a certain person of interest could be alive and well, they might be dead in another, not even exist in another, and be public enemy number one in yet another shred of reality. Bioshock Infinite, truly living up to its name, offers endless and infinite views into the paradoxes, or lack thereof, within Booker/Elizabeth’s own reality, and others they come across throughout their adventures upon and without Columbia. Confusing as this may seem, and controversies over the actual explanations of the game’s ending though there may be, the many possibilities of Bioshock Infinite’s main attraction and even name of the game make for a truly invigorating and intriguing narrative experience- more so even than the first Bioshock game could with its gritty setting and insanity.
Ken Levine and the talented individuals at Irrational and 2K Games have made it clear that this third time is truly just as, if not more, charming than the first time around, and that Columbia is not “a floating version of Rapture”. Columbia is its own place, its own body and mind, and has its own bloody conflicts- possibly more specifically bloody problems than even Rapture ever had in all of its screwed up glory and atrocities. One thing that Rapture could never quite do was make me feel the pain that it went through to make itself seem like the perfect place to live, or utopian- but Columbia makes that effort easily, and even though I knew the whole painting was inevitably going to shatter around me, I was shocked when the frame actually did and violence exploded to the forefront of Columbian society. The steampunk setting is beautifully realized and recognized, with early 1900-era architecture melding seamlessly with skylines, trams, and zeppelins hanging about the marvel of technologically advanced air-superiority. As with Chicago in the early 1900’s and progressive era, this particular windy city has its white side- the beautiful, and its entirely darker, grey side- the ugly. It’s this ugly, insane, and twisted side that is infinitely more appealing to us gamers- and that is why Columbia takes the narrative in a 180 degree turn for the better, although things get much, much worse for its inhabitants and the hell they are put through.
As beautiful and well-balanced in terms of culture and shock value that the underwater city of Rapture was and is, Columbia is definitely its superior in every sense of the word- making the other so-called ‘utopian society’ ring hollow and less true in comparison. Irrational quite rationally deals with some hot-button topics such as racism, religion, and anti-foreigner semantics as the city is slowly unveiled and the can of worms is opened up for all to witness, willingly or otherwise. All of the propaganda, audio documentaries, and general laissez-faire feeling of things feels about like the German and/or Russian states must have felt like under Hitler or Stalin- what with their false sense that everything was quite alright and the world was only perfect under unified rules of their parties, etc. etc. All of this comes together to form a unique bond between you- the player, and Columbia- the world, and the game itself. It all helps to broaden your conceptual understanding and to make of situations what you will, how you will. We’ll each take away something different from this game, I can almost guarantee you- and that is in essence, its pure, sheer brilliancy. By blurring the fine lines of morals and ethics, Bioshock Infinite actually allows us to read and see between those very same lines, and discover who we truly are- and how the world(s) and reality/ies reacts. It’s a circular argument, and one that I am quite contented with to allow Irrational Games to win.
Bioshock Infinite carries an almost ironic ‘religious’ overtone from the very getgo, as well as a lot of spiritual reflection upon its very first predecessor especially- from the influence and importance of the lighthouse to Booker initial ‘baptism’ and ‘rebirth’. While you will at first wander along the golden streets of Columbia solo and alone, much as Jack did through the cavernous inroads of Rapture, it won’t be too long before the wheels and cogs of change and destiny are put into motion and Booker meets up and rescues Elizabeth as he was determined to from the very start of things. It is when Booker and Elizabeth are together as one that the real journey begins, and it is not until the very end that you wonder if it is truly over, or if something new is just beginning in earnest. If not the very best ever, Elizabeth is one of the best Allied companions that I have ever had the pleasure of playing through a game with. At times, I’d even go so far as to say that she is a better player and smarter or wiser companion than many of the real people I’ve played games cooperatively with over the years. She’s that good, and has that big of an endearing impact upon the majority of us gamers who’ve experienced the possibilities of Bioshock Infinite with her by our side. You’ll never have to worry about keeping her safer than you would expect from simply covering someone’s back, as she’ll often be the one saving you and pulling you out of the line of fire instead, a la Elika in Prince of Persia. Her value further increases when you realize that she actually helps you to fight, fetch, and generally get whatever jobs done you need done over the course of the game as well. Quite possibly the best and coolest gimmick that Elizabeth possess in her gigantic arsenal of neat tricks is the abilities to utilize ‘Tears’ across realities in order to spawn things n your present reality that could be of use- weapons, cover, distractions, etc. You name it, she’ll do it- one at a time anyway, which isn’t too big a letdown.
Combat is more fun than ever before, with many familiar abilities and feelings from the previous two Bioshock games, albeit with a newer twist and some awesome upgrades of course. It’s not the same old song and dance, but instead, a new canter with a nice new mask and shiny chrome coating on the whole ka-bosh. Booker possess an array of impressive firearms, powers (about like the plasmids of previous entries), and sheer will and strength in order to overcome nearly any foes- unless of course, you play the game on 1999 mode and take the no-buy, no-sell, no-pickup achievement/trophy challenge… When you aren’t using your skyhook to decapitate enemies, ride the skylines, or generally cause extreme mayhem without prejudice, it is also one of the coolest little new toys in this particular bag of tricks that I’ve seen in a long while- totally beating out Bionic Commando’s “wife-arm” for cool factor points. There is plenty of room for tailoring things in combat to how you want to play- from upgrades, augmenting your powers, and abilities to be discovered in tonic-like potions and viable resources. The only shortcoming of combat is the repetitive nature of your encounters, and some of the varieties of enemies as well. Other than that, short of playing on high difficulties, death has virtually no consequence, and you won’t have to worry about vita/non-vita chamber issues like in the previous games either- really.
Going back to a familiar topic that I touched on conceptually in the very beginning of my review here, the narrative itself is quite possibly the biggest draw to the game, awesome combat aside. Without completely giving everything away and ruining things for you all, I will say, it is key and important that you pay attention to many of the recurring elements of the narrative- as they come back to bite you or pat you on the back, and you’ll see some of them quite differently as your perspective changes by the end of the game. Your connections with Elizabeth, Columbia, and even other realities through Tears open up the playing field, and it remains far from level…ever throughout the game. The only letdown, and probably the biggest in the game now that I think about it, is that Songbird- essentially the alpha big daddy of Bioshock Infinite, is only truly used in a few scarily close situations, and in the endgame scenario- which is one of the most exciting battles in the series. Other than that, the ending is one of the most satisfying that I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing, and certainly won’t have any complaints a la Mass Effect 3, as far as I can see…
Crafting a sequel is always tricky business, as it should be, and while 2K’s Bioshock 2 fell down a little bit in many respects, although it succeeded in others, Bioshock Infinite does not face even the remote possibility of that problem at all. Irrational has completely redefined what the principles originally stated in Bioshock even mean or ever meant, and even with skepticism and speculation from others, has also shown that Columbia is more of a Bioshock tale than Rapture had hopes of being. Just because the setting has changed and some of the issues have morphed or changed, doesn’t make this any less of a challenging moral fistfight that Irrational intends to win. Infinite is new, and yet it retains many of the same elements as the game that started the series off- in addition to adding new gameplay elements, new stories, new characters, and new reasons to love the game. The core of the game is new, and hardly follows the same paths as previous series installments, despite nostalgic homages and other similarities within the game. Bioshock Infinite is an amazing and thoroughly invigorating experience, and one that I am quite glad I had the chance to embark upon.
Concept: Irrational Games returns to right the wrongs after the second Bioshock game, and with much more success than 2K had, crafting an excellent narrative and action-packed experience.
Graphics: The graphics are the best they’ve been in a series that has always looked pretty nice, even at its gloomiest moments.
Sound: The voice-acting is superb as are the vocal and instrumental accompaniments and musical overtones selected.
Playability: There are no qualms that I or anyone else I have asked, to be had with this games’ controls or elements.
Entertainment: It retains the shock value of the original and adds depth to a pretty big, if not completely open world experience.
Replay Value: Very High.
Overall Score: 9.5