It has been nearly six years since Irrational Games last released a game; during that time we saw two presidential elections, a new pope, and 5 different iPhones. The wait for the newest title from Ken Levine and his team has been long but one entirely worth the wait. Many, including myself, began to worry about the game due to all of its delays and just how long the release has taken, but thankfully these fears were unrealized. Bioshock Infinite is a massive achievement for video games as a medium.
Our tale begins in 1912 with protagonist Booker DeWitt being given the chance to wipe away his debt by retrieving the girl (Elizabeth) from the floating city of Columbia. Booker, unlike Jack in the previous Bioshock, is a fully voiced character giving an entirely new dimension to him. The voice work was expertly done by veteran voice over actor Troy Baker, and his incredible talent shines through with nearly each word uttered. Booker is a rich and complex character. Seeing this somewhat broken man put into a city that considers itself “Heaven, or the closest we will see til judgment day” creates many moments that also allow you to delve further into his psyche. Booker quickly became one of my personal favorite protagonists in games, up there with the likes of Nathan Drake and Niko Bellic.
The city of Columbia is just as much of a character of the game, as Rapture was in the original. The opening of the game is so methodical that it truly lets you experience how beautiful and majestic the city can be, allowing the explorative player to see sights as simple as a Barbershop quartet singing or participating in carnival games. These minute moments are those rarely seen in gaming, and help Columbia stand out as such a rich and dynamic world that makes you want to veer off the path and see what’s around every corner. The game also features the Voxophones which, like the radios in Bioshock, expand even further on the mythology of this great city.
But Infinite truly isn’t a story about Booker nor Columbia; it’s a game about choice. Not choice in the normal video game sense, but rather about the choices we make, the choices we have made, and having to live with the consequences. The story of Infinite is so expertly crafted by Ken Levine and the team at Irrational that, in my opinion, it can stand with the literary classics like Fahrenheit 451, and film masterpieces like 2001: A Space Odyssey. I honestly don’t want to spoil a single bit of it (which is why I’m so light on explaining it); I will say though, the story comes together amazingly and crafts a tale on a level rarely see in any media, let alone gaming.
One of the most important pieces of the game is the venerable Princess in a tower named Elizabeth. Elizabeth, voiced incredibly by Courtney Draper, is one of the best characters that I have ever seen in a game. Once you rescue her she quickly becomes one of the most fascinating and beautifully written characters. The animations and design for Elizabeth are almost reminiscent of a Disney princess and help create her as one likeable, smart and all around incredible characters seen in gaming. Elizabeth makes the threats feel real, and the possible loss for failure feels greater than in traditional video games. Elizabeth is not just a major part of the story but helps in the games phenomenal combat as well. She offers ammunition, as well as other armament and cover during the combat. Never does she feel like a burden or a hindrance on the advancement of the games story. I give Irrational all the credit in the world for creating a character that you feel such affection for that you will likely go to worlds ends to save her.
The main villain of Infinite is the enigmatic Zachary Hale Comstock. Comstock is considered a prophet by his people, and they will defend his doctrine with their lives. This creates a unique dichotomy where I felt bad for the residents of Columbia as they would attack you to defend his will. Comstock creates such a bold vision for what he feels the world could be, and how he wants to change it, that I could truly see a man of his caliber succeeding in that day and age. He is in many ways a cross between Andrew Ryan’s skill of charisma with the near sadism of GLaDOs from Portal. He is another incredible character to add to the amazing cast of Infinite; I wish I could talk about them all but it would take far too long.
The combat for Infinite is just as visceral and fun as you would expect out of Bioshock. With the return of plasmid like powers with in the Vigors, and of course guns, combat becomes a raucous fun time. With all new enemy types like the Handy-man (who is in many ways what the Big Daddy was for Bioshock) and the Mechanized Patriot you will never run out of challenging and intelligent enemies to eviscerate in a litany of ways. All of these opponents move in different ways and force you change up your strategy mid combat as they enter the fray.
The combat sequences are often times long (right about 10 or so minutes) but it never feels dragged on or forced. These sequences are a jovial time for you to play and change dramatically depending on what weapon or vigor you use, as well as what items you have Elizabeth “tear” onto the field of battle; which can range from a piece of cover to an automated turret. You also now travel in the game via Sky-hook, a system which lets you move across the skylines that are prevalent throughout the game. You can jump to and from the lines at will and attack enemies from above. I’ll put it simply; the skyhook is an awesome addition to the game and turns the already fun combat into an adventure of merriment. Combining the tears, different vigors, weapons, the sky-hook and the mass of intelligent enemies creates the most unpredictable and just plain out fun combat in gaming not seen in some time.
From the screeching of the skyhook to the vending machines, Infinite once again excels in its sound design. The shots of each gun and plasmid all sound unique; as do each enemies attacks. Graphically the game is a beauty, which pushes the limit of the consoles it is on. If you have the chance to play it on PC though I highly recommend it, as when on a capable computer the game is a visual marvel. The games soundtrack is also a treat, which ranges from covers of songs like “Will the Circle be Unbroken” (sang and played incredibly well by Courtney Draper and Troy Baker respectively), to brand new compositions which add to the amazing atmosphere and world of Columbia.
Bioshock Infinite is, quite simply, a triumph. It succeeds at all facets it attempts and really lacks in none. The 1999 mode, which increases the difficulty to the levels of games from the 90s (read as: Incredibly freaking difficult), offers a new approach to the world and plays out very well. Infinite is such a polished masterpiece of a game that it easily ranks in my top 5 of best all time games, and may even be number one. This tale of love, choice, and consequences is one of the most remarkable experiences to ever grace a gaming system. I whole heartedly say thank you to Ken Levine and the rest of the team at Irrational for such an amazing game.
Final Score: 5 out of 5
Editor’s Choice Award Winner
Full Disclosure: This review was done on a retail version of the game purchased from Gamestop. I have received no advertisement money for my score or placement of this review.