Bioshock Infinite is a hard game to judge. Do I critique it based off the original Bioshock, or as a stand alone entity? Certainly Bioshock was one of the most influential games of the last ten years, and fact has to be taken into consideration. Infinite’s comments on politics, religion and race—major aspects of the experience—are also worthy of their own separate articles. Let us not forget the violence debate surrounding the game and whether or not the ending is a logical and satisfactory conclusion.
Bear with me as I attempt to cram all this into one review.
As Infinite’s protagonist Booker DeWitt enters the sky-city of Columbia for the first time, I can safely say you will be in awe. An example of extreme American exceptionialism, the bright colors and early 1900s aesthetic make Columbia one of the most imaginative, beautiful and disturbing videogame settings in recent memory–even more so, dare I say, than Bioshock’s underwater city of Rapture.
Of course, not everything is as idyllic in Columbia as the first moments would have you believe. Shortly after arriving, Booker grinds a policeman’s face to shreds with a weapon—the Sky-Hook—mounted to his arm following a scene of jarring racism. Many may find the shocking shift to violence off-putting and alienating, and by the fifteenth exploded head and throat-slicing finishing animation, the violence begins to outstay its welcome.
Booker’s tale seems simple enough in the beginning: he’s tasked with finding and whisking Elizabeth—a woman with mysterious “powers”—away from Columbia and what the prophetic Zachary Comstock would do with her. However, the real star of Bioshock Infinite isn’t the plot, but rather its characters and Elizabeth herself; watching her interact with Booker and accept the realities of the world around her is both charming and haunting.
Infinite’s supporting characters also shine. Developer Irrational Games surprised me with how well they tied nearly every character into the game’s grand finale. For example, the comedic deadpan duo of the Lutece twins appear to function as a comic foil, but by the game’s conclusion they become a central crux to the narrative. All of Infinite’s supporting characters move the plot along at an engaging pace while keeping the controller locked in your hands until you see how their narrative threads tie the ending together.
That being said, Infinite’s ending will leave some feeling cheated. If you expect to comprehend the ending, it is necessary to explore Columbia and find as many of the optional audio recordings as possible. Called Voxophones, these recordings add a substantial amount of character, intrigue and plot to the game—so much so that they are necessary to fully comprehend the ending. Even then, the leap in logic and understanding Irrational Games expects you to take in the last hour will have players arguing about its effectiveness for a long, long time.
Relying on optional content to fully understand the game’s conclusion is a unique but somewhat negligible problem because BioShock Infinite plays incredibly well. Irrational Games did an astounding job creating a shooter that rewards player creativity on every level. Simply exploring the environment and scrounging around for ammo and gear becomes an opportunity to learn about the world Irrational Games created, and it is almost a necessity to replay the game to see what you missed the first time and experience it all over again.
When you’re not contemplating Infinite’s complicated narrative and characters, you’ll spend the rest of your time first-person shooting. A lot. However, Infinite’s eight Vigors—think magic spells or Bioshock’s Plasmids—evolve every conflict from a tight shooter to a circus playground full of fireballs, murderous crows and possessed enemies. Every player will have a favorite set of Vigors that fit his or her play-style. For instance, I adored shooting crows out of my hand, where just about everyone else I talked to preferred the bouncing fireballs of Devil’s Kiss. Elizabeth also develops her own special powers that help you strategically throughout each fight, but I won’t spoil the significance of her abilities here.
That’s not to say the gun play isn’t enjoyable on its own. Much like the Vigors, certain weapons will adhere more to your playing style. Despite a diverse arsenal available, I still felt some weapons—like the Volley Gun and the Heater—to be underwhelming in power and satisfaction. They just weren’t as enjoyable as popping heads with the Hand Cannon or as useful as the crowd clearing Shotgun.
Luckily for us, Infinite sports quite the variety of enemies to try out all these different guns and powers on. The flame-flinging Fireman, evasive Crow, Mechanized Patriot and Handyman keep the fights with Columbia’s police and soldiers diverse. While no enemy is quite as iconic as BioShock‘s Big Daddy, a fight with the Frankenstein-like Handyman amidst a dozen foot soldiers is both intense, difficult and terrifying—the creature cries out in pain as it leaps around the battlefield.
To round the package off, Infinite supports four well-balanced difficulties. In fact, each one of the four editors at Pixelitis played a different difficulty and loved the game. Infinite lets you switch between easy, normal and hard on the fly, so you can find the difficulty that’s right for you. Completing hard mode or popping in the Konami Code on the title screen unlocks 1999 Mode—Infinite’s throwback to the hardcore, pull-no-punches games of yore, and it is an enthralling experience which forces you to be creative and make every single bullet count. You will spend more time searching for ammo than using it in 1999 Mode, I guarantee it.
As of this sentence I’m already over the limit for our standard reviews with much of what makes Infinite a must-play having been left out–and not without an internal struggle. Simply put, Bioshock Infinite lives up to its expectations until the last hour of the game. You will fall in love with the characters. You will fall in love with the gameplay. And you’ll spend days contemplating the ending or minutes looking up an explanation online in frustration. Either way, the journey through Columbia will demand your full attention.