BioShock is easily one of our favorite games of the past decade and quite simply, one of the most interesting, inspiring and playable titles I have ever sat down with. That being said, we are here at their latest iteration. Set in a world that floats in the sky, instead of our familiar “under the sea” setting, BioShock Infinite starts with Booker DeWitt (our protagonist) being taken to a lighthouse by boat. You are taken inside, given a gun (which you immediately lose) and you sit in a chair, which then launches you to Colombia, (as Reddit describes) a floating city of magical racists.
Anyone who has played BioShock in the past should not be surprised by the overall arrangement of things. Much like the original, you have Vigors – which give you superhuman abilities (replacing Plasmids from the first two installments). These are very similar in gameplay but much more useful in Infinite and I found myself using them much more than before. Health and Salt (the fuel that powers your Vigor abilities) are equally important. Health comes from food and various health packs, but be careful, you may stumble across some rotten food, which will (obviously) have a negative affect on your health bar. If you choose, you may also drink your pain away with alcohol at the cost of salt, you will live longer, but you may diminish your Vigor abilities.
Death is not much of an obstacle either. If you die, you come back, plain and simple. You lose some money and your enemies get healed slightly, but you will resurrect at a safe place and be back in the action in no time. Also, much like the previous installments, you will find yourself scavenging around for money, ammo and food from the people you kill. You will get quick at doing so, but I must say, it can get tedious clearing out every room looking for collectibles.
BioShock is big on selling you on their location. From Rapture to Colombia things couldn’t be much different (other than clouds maybe?) but it is hard to doubt that someone spent hours upon hours designing the setting of each and every aspect of this game. Oh, did I mention, it looks fantastic? Floating cities have always been a concept in a fantasy world, but something about Colombia instantly inspires imagination and makes you fall in love right away.
Because of the time period (1912) the city is also full of racism. It is handled responsibly though and there is never a point where I thought it was over the top or crossed any lines. While for some it can be tough to watch, it definitely adds realism to the game. It also makes the destruction of those responsible a much less difficult decision, morally of course.
Now, I wanted to enjoy the setting and story of the first time around, so I played on “normal” mode. Trust me, it should be called “children’s mode” because it was incredibly easy. In most games, you expect to die. A lot. This is not a worry if you plan on playing on “normal”. You will, generally, never run out of ammo and Elizabeth will throw Salts, Health Kits, and Ammo at you in combat, so you are surely going to be fine. What does intrigue me (and I will get started on it right after this review) is the game’s “1999” mode.
This came from Irrational Games survey to find out how people played and what makes it challenging to get through. The result: you will have to be more strategic in what upgrades you choose and how much ammo you use. This move feels like a turn back to the original BioShock, where ammo was far more scarce (even on normal). While 1999 mode is a great idea (for those daring enough to accept the challenge) you have to play the game once through to unlock it. Or, alternatively, you can “Konami Code” your way to it from the title screen (a nod to hardcore gamers). Some say this should have been an option from the start, but apparently this was a plan to keep “casual” gamers away (as they would more than likely get destroyed attempting this mode).
Finally, the story. If you don’t fall in love with Elizabeth instantly, then there is something wrong with you. I am not talking about physical attraction, but rather the skill in her scriptwriting. By the time you meet her, her story is constructed around you already and in the location you find her, you would not have a heart if you didn’t leap for both joy and sorrow.
I know what you are thinking “Great, I have to protect this girl for the rest of the game” – wrong. When you bring her into battle the first time, you are told “Don’t worry, Elizabeth can take care of herself.” And it is true in every way. Like previously mentioned, she will keep you stocked up while you fight off your enemies and when she is not there, you truly do feel like something is missing. Elizabeth is a character who’s thrust into a situation in which she has no choice, and she kicks ass constantly.
And Booker, the character you play, has an interesting enough story to sustain your interest in him through the game. You don’t know much at the start, and you don’t really know all that much until right at the end either, but he does become a character who you understand. He’s cliched at time, the man who kills but struggles to live with it, that’s a schtick that’s overused, but it seems to work well in Bioshock.
Bioshock Infinite is a great game. From a storytelling and character perspective, 2K couldn’t have done better. Honestly, you will care about both Booker and Elizabeth enormously, and as the tale comes to an end you’ll feel pangs of emotion that are as powerful, or more so, than you would for characters in a good book. And it’s this that sets Bioshock Infinite apart from most games titles. While stories have been improving for years, there has always been a problem getting tales that are as emotive and immersive as other media.