Upon completing the original Bioshock the one thing that went through my mind was the famous ‘Would You Kindly’ section. As well as serving as a dramatic twist in the narrative, this section of the game also acted as a commentary on the way we play videogames, compulsively following onscreen instructions with scarcely a thought about why we’re actually doing what we’re doing. Upon completing Bioshock Infinite, with my mind reeling from the implications of the end of the game, only one thing stuck in my mind: the lyrics to a song.
It may sound ridiculous, but never has a song (in this case God Only Knows, originally performed by the Beach Boys) so perfectly incapsulated a game. To say any more would doubtlessly spoil it, but once those end credits roll, and you’ve lifted your jaw from the ground, my statement will make sense.
To set the scene, Bioshock Infinite puts you in the role of Booker Dewitt. The year is 1912 and you are tasked with infiltrating the secretive floating city of Columbia to find a young woman named Elizabeth and bring her to New York. Booker’s motives aren’t even remotely altruistic, his only real motivation for to delivering the girl is to clear a substantial gambling debt. As the story progresses a clear and strong bond builds between Booker and Elizabeth, to the point that, by the end, Booker is willing to risk his life to save Elizabeth from her pursuers.
One of the strongest points of the whole game is the characterisation of both Booker and Elizabeth. In many other games female partners act as little more than sex objects that only get in the way. Elizabeth is never a hinderance, in fact she is a valuable companion, seeking out supplies and highlighting particularly dangerous enemies. As a character, she’s an adventurous young woman that desperately wants to leave the confines of her home and explore the world.
Meanwhile Booker is anything but heroic, as well as being a drinker and a gambler, Booker was responsible for many atrocities during the American Civil War, which goes some way towards explaining why he’s content enough to brutally murder hundreds of hundreds of Columbia’s citizens on his quest to rescue Elizabeth.
An equally important character is the city of Columbia itself – it’s a bright and gleaming utopia that, on the surface at least, seems like a pleasant and prosperous place to live. The Columbian society revolves around the belief of American superiority, with the founding fathers, particularly George Washington, placed on a pedestal. Overseeing the entire city is Father Comstock, a pious fanatic who claims to be a prophet that can see into the future. His puritanical beliefs, and strong views about the role of racial segregation, immediately makes him (and the majority of the residents of Columbia) unlikeable.
If you’ve ever played any of the previous Bioshock games then the gameplay will seem familiar – Booker is armed with a selection of firearms, including pistols, riffles and shotguns, as well as a number of powers, called Vigors, that add a tactical element to the combat. For instance, the Bucking Bronco Vigour, suspends enemies in the air, leaving them open to attack, while the Shock Jockey electrocutes any that come in its path. Along the way Booker can collect Gear, items of clothing that boost attributes or add abilities once equipped, allowing players to mold Booker to suit individual play styles.
As far as the gameplay goes, this is a narratively driven shooter, with next to no puzzle elements. Make no mistake, the most important thing about Bioshock Infinite is its story, with scarcely a wasted word. There are 80 collectable audio diaries strewn throughout Columbia that contribute towards filling in the backstory and explaining individual character motivations, making them essential if you want to get the most from the story.
The only real down side to the game is the fact that the enemies that you encounter are dumber than a sack of hammers. Soldiers will often stand idly in the corner, almost as if they were desperately trying to avoid Booker’s vicious gaze, all while yelling threats. It’s not a major issue, but at times they’re so stupid that it’s distracting. Likewise there are rarely any puzzles – essentially all you need to do is keep walking forward until you reach your objective. It would’ve been nice if there were more exploration, back tracking, or expansive side missions. To be honest, to even raise this as a complaint seems nitpicky, as overall Bioshock Infinite is one of the best games of recent years.
The team at Irrational have already confirmed that they’re working on at least three pieces of downloadable content, due to be released over the next year, and I cannot wait to see what how they continue this fantastic experience.
To close out this review, here’s the most significant song (in my view) from the game. If you haven’t played the game already it may not seem particularly telling, but come back to it once you’ve finished the game to see what I mean:
The good: Phenomenal story that will get everybody talking, a pure work of art in terms of art, sound, music and voice acting.
The bad: Would’ve been nice to see more puzzles, enemy A.I is pretty dire.
Overall: 5 out of 5
We were given a promotional copy of Bioshock Infinite for reviewing purposes. However we also bought a copy of it to test out other formats.