You find yourself on a boat in the middle of nowhere, with a solitary man rowing and a solitary woman, clearly acting as guides taking you to your road to redemption. You have a debt to pay, and you only have one task, bring back the girl unharmed. You stop at a dock and you look up at a solitary lighthouse. You enter the structure, and as you climb the stairs, you notice lines from Genesis 19, referring to the Bible when God took his people out of Sodom and Gomorrah. Your “employers” felt necessary to leave a message in the form of a man bound to a chair with a bag over his head, and blood surrounding what was his previously living body. These guys mean business, and as you get to the top, 3 bells greet you with you to play pretend maestro and ring away. The deafening blaring of a trumpet that may or may not be operated by someone named Gabriel, scorches the skies and the airways. A door opens up and with no other choice, you sit in a chair. Without warning, the chair as well as its occupant-you in this case-are encased in a pressurized shell with a voice uttering the words: “Ascension in 5, Ascension in 4, Ascension in 3…2…1″ You blast off into the heavens with incredible force and speed, worried about the eventual effects of gravity whipping up a recipe of your demise, but as soon as the thought enters, it disappears as you break the cloudy barrier to an astounding sight that neither you or possibly anyone else on Terra Firma for that matter has seen in person, a massive city, floating in the clouds. Populated. Welcome to Heaven, welcome to Columbia
“We’re Not In Kansas Anymore”
Right from the get-go, there are a lot of fusions that are taking place within Columbia. There is the small county fair, that takes place in a monolithic setting, the classical music, clothing and stores, coupled with the Steampunk items that are on display, sort of “The future of Tomorrow, Today!” kind of vibe. But the most noticeable is the marriage of church and state. The religious undertones are all over the place, with the founder and religious leader Zachary Comstock , taking the title of,”The Prophet”. There are also the founders such as Washington, being deified into gods that the denizens of Columbia pray to. The world of Columbia is nothing short of ambitious. Everything feels larger than life, and Irrational once again, displays its talents for establishing a particular mood and atmosphere, something that few games today are able to design, much less use it as a tool for telling a story. It is also interesting to compare and contrast Bioshock 1 and Infinite. Bioshock was, for all its grandiose settings, was in some ways, claustrophobic, compared to the open air of the streets of Columbia. Columbia also feels American. The Red, White and Blue colors really have that patriotic punch. Nathan Hale would have been proud.
Alright, enough of the platitudes,let’s get down to business. Bioshock Infinite does at its core, play like a Bioshock game. Take that statement in the spirit in which you associate Bioshock gameplay. One of the main criticisms of the series, is while it does have a variety of weapons and powers at your disposal, chances are most (as did I) resorted to the old “Electrocute then run up and hit with wrench” tactic. So has this been redone in order to accommodate different play styles? The truth is…kinda,sorta, not really. There are a variety of guns that are at your disposal (10 in all) and there are a variety of “Vigors” -read: plasmids- that are powered by “Salts-read:Adam- that you can use, but unless you are gunning for the every achievement, there may not be too much reason to really utilize all of the vigors that you have. That being said, the Vigors are much more aesthetically interesting, and the guns themselves have a noticeably more heavy feel about them. You will also have at your call and beckon a Sky Hook, a gauntlet that allows you to travel sky lines around Columbia that you can make incredible leaps to hook onto and rip around, shooting your enemies and gaining access to higher areas. They are particularly fun, and have a sort of theme park feel about them. This tool also comes into play as a melee weapon in order to turn your opponent’s faces, bodies and internal organs into a freshly blended giblet smoothie using your skyhook as your personal gloved Cuisinart. The result is dare I say,”Gore-ious” (BOO! HISS! HECKLE HECKLE!) There is also gear that you can pick up and load out Mr DeWitt with, ranging from health regen with melee kills, or 2x damage with your weapons when you are on the brink. You can load up to 4 of them at once, and can change them at will.
“Are you afraid of God, Mr Dewitt?”
“No, but I am afraid of you”
Now, I do not play Bioshock for the gameplay. There are indeed better shooters out there, but no shooter (or most games for that matter) has a story or setting quite like Bioshock Infinite, which is in itself, a league of its own. I obviously won’t spoil the whole story for you here, but I will say that the final act is a bit of a mind-bend. Here is the basic rundown, your character, Booker DeWitt has gotten himself into some trouble and now has to repay a debt. His objective is to go to Columbia, find a girl named Elizabeth, and bring her back to New York. Simple, right? What you do find is a story that takes pages right out of the history books in regards to the Emancipation Proclamation, racism, factional war, and salvation, all which culminate in a really excellent ending. The character dynamic of Dewitt and Elizabeth is very good, with the characters expertly voiced, and intelligently portrayed. Now some have asked, “Is this one long escort mission?” The answer is yes, but not in the way one has had in the past. To be honest, Elizabeth is consequential, only in terms of combat and navigation. Elizabeth is never in danger directly, and as a result, allows the player to get on with the business at hand, while she supports you with health and ammo. This gives the game a lot of freedom in this regard, and I do hope that developers look at this model in the future.
Simply put, Bioshock Infinite does right by the series name. It emits ideas that are new to the franchise, all the while breathing the air of familiarity by keeping the core spirit. It is no small feat that Infinite is not only a worthy successor, but indeed a brilliant testament to the excellence that games, and games alone can achieve in terms of storytelling and character development. Hopefully all the DLC that is on the way will only help to expand this wonderful world. Infinite will be a very difficult game to top this year, and hopefully will be regarded as a classic for many years to come.