What a strange beast Bioshock: Infinite is. It triumphs, it falls. It aims high, and hits, yet misses at the same time. It’s a lot to think through, and even though I’ve had a few days now to let it sit in my head, my mind has only had more to think and ponder on. To put it simply though, there’s a saying about aiming for the moon, so that if you fall short, you’re still among the stars. Ignoring the fact that stars are much farther out from the Earth than the moon, Bioshock: Infinite is the perfect example of aiming for the moon, shooting past the stars, and damn near getting there.
Ambition is the key word for describing this game, and it starts right at the beginning, and ends after the credits roll. The year is 1913, and Booker DeWitt, our protagonist, is in debt to the wrong people, thanks to some gambling problems. So he is asked to retrieve a girl and bring her back to the people that own his debt. Simple enough. But once you’ve played through and think back on the original setting, you realize there is much going on underneath, and that is not the usual empty talk of a reviewer who enjoyed a game that has a twist at the end. This is something else.
Like Bioshock, you go to a lighthouse, where you travel to an idealist’s paradise city hidden from the world. Rather than the Ayn Rand influence that Andrew Ryan took for Rapture, Comstock, our antagonist, goes to the right of the political spectrum hardcore, embracing American exceptionalism and isolationism by taking his loyal followers up into the sky on his floating city of Colombia. There, he turns America’s founding fathers into gods, and demonizes Lincoln and minority sympathizers. You stay neutral to the whole matter for the most part, maintaining sole interest on the girl. Things get no better when you retrieve her, and the Vox Populi, a group of rebels, revolt against Comstock and the people of Colombia.
That would be enough for any other game, but there’s more. You find the girl, named Elizabeth, and see she is 9-and-a-half fingered. She also has a bubbly personality, knowledge of picking locks, and an incredible power. She can open tears to other versions of your world, which are scattered throughout the city. Opening these tears summons items such as health kits, sky hooks, cover, turrets, and other things. This power also has great implications in the story as well, making it a constant important story point alongside the corrupt city that Colombia has become.
What’s very interesting about Infinite is that there’s quite a lot of story and spectacle, and yet there’s enough gameplay and player control to make it not only bearable, but quite enjoyable. The gameplay itself, bearing quite a resemblance to Bioshock, provides the same type of variations in powers that plasmids did before, except in the form of liquors, providing some fun ways to combat your various opponents. Shooting is about as satisfying and fun, and the way they rationalize DeWitt’s skill with a gun and killing is typical, yet unique, and Elizabeth constantly reminding you of the level of brutality you’re dishing out to each person you kill.
One of the more fun things about fighting in Colombia in general is that there are often skylines on which people hook onto with wrist-mounted sky hooks and shoot around an area on. It feels like you’re on a roller coaster when you do this yourself, and it can be a little disorienting at first to do this and try to fight at the same time, but once you get the hang of it, it is a load of fun. With quite a few variations of enemies, and different powers being thrown in all different directions, it can get overwhelming, but Elizabeth is there to help you find ammo and vigors, along with opening tears.
The whole thing comes together in quite an odd way, and often such a concentration on both gameplay and story means compromising on both sides, or choosing to put an emphasis on gameplay and letting the story have less say on what happens in the game. Ken Levine and the other creatives at Irrational would not let that happen, and have succeeded quite valiantly. There are moments where you can see that this is how you move forward in games. There are those moments that take you back out of it, like the absurd violence of using your skyhook to kill your enemies, or when something glitches like many games occasionally do (in my playthrough and in our 60 Minute Access playthrough, we glitched off the airship, I still don’t know what we were supposed to do.) which only highlights what the industry still has yet to get better at, but that’s a testament to how great Infinite is: it’s a paradigm of modern games, an example, a benchmark. The amazing story unfolds in a steady way, with a big info dump at the end that may leave you wondering what just happened, but with a visit to a forum thread or two, and a night of sleep, it’ll come together in a logical way that most game stories don’t. It’s really quite an interesting feat that everyone should look to, to see where we’ve come, and where we still have to go.
Final Score: 9.5/10