Graphical power and an engaging narrative isn’t as hard to come by in gaming today as it was 5 years or so ago. They’ve become very common and it has come to the point where an 8-10 hour campaign comes off as an afterthought or incomplete without a complementary multiplayer aspect. For a game that has no extra bells and whistles and has no multiplayer whatsoever, it has to be something truly special to set the game apart from the pack. Well, BioShock Infinite is that special game and it has nothing to do with anything groundbreaking, but its perfection of established standards other games have set. Seamless storytelling, clever but simple gameplay and emotionally invested characters are all fleshed out to make it a very worthwhile experience.
Taking control of ex-Pinkerton National Detective Agency agent, Booker DeWitt, the story begins as you are taken into a hyper-religious city with the mission to “retrieve the girl and wipe away the debt.” Things get uncomfortable early as you are required to go through a religious baptism to enter the city. From there, you get the chance to explore the city and get the hang of some controls, such as weapon handling, through cleverly implemented carnival games. These carnival games further reiterate the fact that something isn’t right with this city as these “family friendly” carnival games have some religious and serious connotations attached to them. One of the games is named “Cast Out the Devil” and Irrational Games really did a brilliant job having something like this play double duty as a tutorial of sorts while also telling a story through its environment. It’s an example of how much the game seamlessly does this throughout the game.
Infinite takes place in a city named “Columbia” and it isn’t your typical fictional setting based on something in real life. It is a city suspended in the sky and it is presented as beautifully as you’d imagine a city in the clouds would be. It’s hard not to believe in the living and breathing world the team over at Irrational Games has created. You can understand the history and culture by hearing the conversation of the residents or by observing the monuments erected. Later on in the game, the behavior of enemies also exemplify the brainwashed, cult-like city you assume from the beginning. One moment they could be attacking you and the next they’re seen praying as if nothing of significance is happening. Father Comstock is the faux Jesus of Columbia and he goes up against you with his army of puppets every step of the way.
Once the initial feeling that this place is too good to be true has settled in, the game quickly slaps you in the face with a dark turn for the worst that confirms all the discomfort you had in the first 30 or so minutes of the game. When that moment comes, Infinite never looks back. For the sake of providing zero spoiler content, let’s just say that things get very bloody quite suddenly. Your first weapon is a Skyhook, which can be used to mash enemies in the face as well as the practical use of magnetizing to rails and other hooks.
A range of weapons are introduced at a fast pace and skills that come in the form of Vigors come even faster. Although the game isn’t as challenging as it could have been if the Vigors were paced out a bit better, the feeling of having multiple skills at your disposal early on is a good feeling to have. Attacking enemies with crows or possessing enemies to work on your side for a little while are just a couple of the 8 total. Eventually, the novelty of some of these skills wear off and you’ll end up using two or three for the rest of the game.
When you finally meet the girl you’re supposed to rescue, Elizabeth, you’ll learn to love everything about her. Not only because she’s reminiscent of every pretty princess from those classic Disney movies, but she’s likable, not annoying with cries of “help!” and she actually helps you. Elizabeth has the skill to rip open dimension tears, which comes in handy when she can pull in weapons and health packs in the middle of battle. She also picks up money and ammo for you, tosses everything to you with an amazing throwing arm and picks locks to open up rooms of goodies. Yep, what’s not to like?
Aside from the help provided by Elizabeth, you also get assistance from purchasable weapon and Vigor upgrades. Upgrading your pistol, shotgun or any other gun comes at a hefty price and currency is found throughout the game by looting enemies or mostly by searching the trash. This aspect of the game slows things down very much, because you’re constantly scavenging for coins in order to afford weapon upgrades. And the same goes for upgrading Vigors too. By the time the game ends, you’re lucky if you see at least half of your arsenal upgraded. Health, Shield and Salt (Infinite‘s equivalent to Mana or MP) upgrades are also hidden away looking to be discovered and they can be applied to whichever meter you choose. You can play the entire game while only upgrading your health bar or be more conservative and balance everything out. It’s a simple system that isn’t as deep as having a skill tree or weapon creation system seen in other games, but it’s fun and effective nonetheless.
Voice acting is of the highest quality and every actor’s performance is very believable. Having an emotional investment can only happen if the characters’ emotions are portrayed correctly and it certainly is. Subtle facial expressions and breath-heavy monologues are noticeably strong tools that are used to get the storytelling across to the players. BioShock Infinite isn’t riddled with cutscenes followed by gameplay like most other games of the genre as you’re playing 99% of the time. Loading times are longer than desired, but they only occur when moving on from one main area to another. Besides that, the game is as smooth as can be.
As cliché as it may sound, BioShock is a rollercoaster ride that does not let up until the end. And by then, you are left speechless by the strong narrative you’ve just experienced. Like I mentioned earlier, it takes something special to rely solely on story and gameplay to sell copies of the game and BioShock Infinite hits all of its intended targets. Other games can be played for weeks or months before the next game comes around and steals its thunder, but BioShock Infinite is an 10 hour experience that will be remembered and referenced as a storytelling standard for years to come.