By William Shelton
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Systems: PS3(reviewed), Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Irrational Games
Metacrtic Score: 94
The original Bioshock was one of the greatest games of the last generation and one of my all time favorites. But even with all of my love for the game, it was hard to get excited for Infinite when Bioshock 2 was such a massive disappointment. The move away from Rapture was a good start, as I didn’t want to see yet another game adding on to what should have been a competed story. Plus, there was a prominent female character, and that’s always good too see. I was liking what I was seeing, but it was hard to shake the idea that this would be another useless entry to the franchise. So, how did it turn out? Well, I liked it, but this is one of the few games I loved that I can honestly see why some people may not be able to get into it.
This division starts at the story. Unlike most of my other reviews, I’m going to assume you know at lest the basics of the games story. In case you don’t, here is a really simple run down: you play as Booker Dewitt and you have to save a girl named Elizabeth from the floating city of sky racists known as Columbia. That’s the what you should know before playing, and if you haven’t played the game yet, get out while you can cuz in order to really talk about the game I’m going to have to spoiler the shit out of the game. Before I get into why I like the games story, I’m going to address of the issues I’ve heard people bring up that is valid but also misses the point of the game. This is the use of racist imagery throughout the game. While it’s clear when playing the game that the developers do not think highly of racists, the game never makes a point about racism. Comstock (the main antagonist), does not suffer any consequences due to his treatment of the black population of Columbia, and in fact neither does any of the citizens of the games world. This has led to a fare few people I’ve meet not liking the game for adding in “useless” or “edgy” racist imagery for no reason. Now, here’s my thing: I think it is perfectly valid to see this imagery and the lack of punishment for it and not wanting to deal with the game, but it’s inclusion was far from pointless. In fact, with out these topics being in the game, it’s ultimate twist would not have worked so well.
See, part of what makes Bioshock Infinite so good is that it is a follow up to the original Bioshock. As much as Shakespeare would have us believe that a name is irrelevant, the fact is that with a name comes expectations. If the next Mario game was a gritty first person shooter, it would be a bad Mario game even if it was a good shooter. A Silent Hill game were you and three friends enjoy a sunlit day on the beach while playing a collection of mini games would be a bad Silent Hill game, even if it made for a fun “Wii Sports” like party game. The beauty of Bioshock Infinite is how it plays on and against our expectations on what a “Bioshock” game is supposed to be.
See, in the first game you start off thinking this is just one mans story. You are trapped and need to find a way out of Rapture. But by the time the credits role you’ve learned that the real story was much deeper than that. It was a condemnation of Rayndian Objectivitism, it was a meta narrative about interactive storytelling. Infinite does the same trick, only in reverse. Upon entering Columbia you are hit with a flood of big idea topics, and you’re left to ponder what it’s all leading up too. And it doesn’t lead up to anything. This really just is the story of Booker and Elizabeth. Everything the game was asking you to think about, racism, classism, the exploitation of the working class, it was all an act of subversion. It kept you looking for the big political twist when there wasn’t one. Personally, I think this was the best way to go. Honestly, other than “Racism really isn’t that bad and Slavery was a good thing” what kind of twist could the developers even have added here that players wouldn’t have seen coming? What could they have really said about the topics they presented that would have had the same power as “Would you kindly” or “A Man Chooses, A Slave Obeys” that wouldn’t have also been a retrograde endorsement of bullshit ideologies we should have already have moved on from?
And then the ending. My god does this game have a great ending. It’s the kind of thing that gets called “pretentious” by…well, the kind of people who label things as “pretentious”: idiots who don’t like being asked to think. And again, I’m about to spoil everything here, so move on if you haven’t played the game.
So, it turns out that Booker and Comstock are the same people, but from two different time lines. Both men committed atrocities as soldiers and both sought redemption through baptism. Booker (the one you play) decided not to go through with it and turned instead to self-destructive behavior like drinking and gambling. Comstock, on the other hand, takes the baptism and starts a religion dedicated to reconstituting his war crimes as acts of heroism. What the two men have in common is that neither could face the fact that they were, in fact, bad and violent people. After killing Comstock Elizabeth makes it clear that the one act didn’t matter as there are an infinite number of worlds with an infinite number of Booker’s and Comstock’s and the only way to make sure the world is truly safe is too go back to the point where all they all converge and stop the split for ever happening, back to the baptism ever Booker allows himself to be killed so that Comstock could never exist in the first place.
While the game does have it’s issues (Comstock’s isn’t as interesting a character as Andrew Ryan and his plan is a little too “cartoonish”) it is one of the most narrative ambitions games I’ve ever played and it’s absolutely on par with the original game, although I do have to say I think I prefer the first game just a tad more.
Infinite is superior on the game play front however. While I was originally disappointed that you were limited to only two weapons at a time, this didn’t turn out too be as much of a hassle as I thought it would be. These plenty of ammo lying around for whatever you’ll be carrying, and switching between guns and “vigors” (the games “plasmids”) is the best it’s ever felt, so shooting an enemy then hitting them with a fireball when you’re low on ammo feels like a viable strategy instead of a last ditch effort. Although, I do have to admit that by the time the game was ending I was playing it more like a strait shooter, almost completely ignoring the vigor’s altogether. I think this is because it was so much cheaper to level up guns that it was too level up vigor’s, so near the end of the game shooting was just more effective.
The sky hooks are also a good bit of fun, and they make good use of the vertical elements of the world around you, but as time progressed I found myself using them less and less. Riding along at full speed then jumping off and punching some dude off a cliff never got old.
The best part of the game, however, is Elizabeth. Not only does she keep you stocked on health, ammo and money, but she also has the power to open “tears” parts of the world she can change in order to give you a leg up in battle. The can be weapon stockpiles, cover, hooks so you can reach a vintage point and many more. While I may have started to ignore my vigor’s, I was always on the look out for tears because they were so useful. And they even found a narrative driven way to make it make scene that enemy would just ignore her while you’re in a firefight: Comstock wants her back a live, and none of the enemy want to anger their Profit.
However, there are still a few issues. The biggest one being the two “boss fights” in the game. The first of these is with the ghost of Elizabeth’s mother. This has too be the most aggravating fight i’ve played in a while (where the game wasn’t a broken mess. Yeah, looking at you “Ninja Gaiden Sigma”). She keeps bringing back dead soldiers to fight for her and there is no clue as how to get them to stop coming back (shoot them with lightning before killing them and they wont come back). While this is a great moment in the story, this boss could have been scraped and I can honestly say it would have made the game better. Or at lest not make us have to do the same thing 3 god damn times in a row.
Then there is another boss where you have to protect a ships power supply against waves of foes and it just keeps going. By the time it ended I was ready to not have to fight another enemy for the rest of the game. It’s filler. Worse than that, it’s late game filler, where you can feel the end approaching, but it just wont come because you have to keep dealing with these assholes. This makes the last few minuets of real game play more of a chore than a reward, and it’s a let down that the game’s last fight is one that’s so damn annoying.
I have no complaints about the sound design however. Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper do a fantastic job as the two leads, and Kiff VandenHeuvel gives a weight to Comstock that was desperately needed to make up for the underwhelming nature of his plan. It’s also a joy to listen in as NPC’s talk about random things, from political debates in the streets to a man complaining about working with Artist to a lowly worker complaining about his job as he scrubs the floors, they all feel natural and in character with the world Irrational created. Plus a lot of the music is as beautiful as the city itself, although most of the games songs are best in context.
Overall, this is a game that needs to be played, just like the original Bioshock. While some of the games content may make some players uncomfortable, it very much was the point of the game too do so. I can understand those who may choose not to play if their a bit extra sensitive towards racial issues and need the validation of seeing racist punished because they’re racist and not despite it. But if that’s not quite where you’re at, then I say give this game a look.