Editor’s Note: Bioshock Infinite has been reviewed previously. This review is more complete and in-depth.
The original BioShock is a favorite of mine. Inspired by Ayn Rand, it delves into the depths of an underwater, should-be utopia for human beings to walk through corridors and large rooms that hints at what a city could be like at the bottom of the sea. Ken Levine (the game’s creative director) and the rest of the team at 2K Boston don’t take long to find flaw in an Ayn Rand inspired utopia however. Every person puts their ego before their sense of compassion, leading to people physically attacking one another for having different ideologies. Having read at least part of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, this is a valid critique of her fiction.
With 2K Boston (later called Irrational Games) at the helm of the series they created again, the studio could have opted for a number of settings for BioShock Infinite, including staying underwater, but instead decided upon a city in the sky called Columbia. Columbia is inspired by American Exceptionalism and the game takes place in 1912. The entire city is suspended by floats. The buildings look quasi-accurate to perhaps what a Philadelphia-New-York-Boston hybrid might have looked like at the time period. It’s very pleasing to look at with red bricks and yellow cobblestone contrasting nicely against the clear blue sky. Bioshock Infinite is very colorful throughout, but you can tell the Xbox 360 and PS3 were pushed to their limits at times. I played on PC, and recommend doing the same if possible.
The story is no longer shackled by one particular book author, allowing the creative minds at Irrational to create fiction of their own. As a city in the sky, there are themes of heaven and hell. Before touring the city, your character named Booker Dewitt enters a church which baptizes you, and corruption soon follows. Large statues of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson appear at the cities entrance, as if they were biblical figures themselves. The most worshipped individual is a man named Father Zachery Hale Comstock, who is still alive, and credited for Columbia’s creation.
You soon find and rescue a woman named Elizabeth from imprisonment, which is the sole reason you go to Columbia at all. Booker Dewitt can payback a debt by bringing Elizabeth to New York. Leaving Columbia does not prove simple, as Elizabeth informs you that there’s an insurgent group known as the Vox Populi fighting to take Father Comstock out of power for radical ideologies. Elizabeth can create “tears” in the world that lead to alternate dimensions and a Columbia that might have been different under other circumstances. There are twins who follow both of you around in the game who can count on a chalkboard the number of time history has repeated itself. There are “voxophones” throughout Columbia which are audio logs which tell the story of a sky city gone wrong all the more clearly.
Gunplay wasn’t my favorite, but I have to admit it’s a big improvement over the first BioShock. The original game’s combat could be reduced to striking your opponent with electricity to stun them and hitting him or her with a wrench after that. In Infinite, there is strategy to each gun, and combat is frequently in an arena-like area with a sky-hook for moving around more easily. There is no single way to win every battle – each “arena” is different. Guns in BioShock Infinite are a necessary evil. Another reviewer pointed out this could have been an adventure game if there wasn’t combat, but we can’t deny BioShock Infinite was released at a time when Call of Duty ruled the sales charts.
BioShock Infinite leaves you on a very philosophical note. I can’t spoil the ending, but Infinite feels like a good book, where some of the theme’s of the story are so loosely connected that you have to start guessing how they are connected at all. This was occasionally criticized by press, but overall reception of the game was very positive. I consider Infinite better than the original BioShock, but neither should be missed. Infinite’s unique story take us that much closer to games as art. Most of all, it is a beautiful swan song to the development team at Irrational Games, which disbanded after it’s release.