It’s been a long time coming. First announced in August 2010 under the moniker “Project Icarus,” Bioshock Infinite has gone through a tragic development cycle and multiple delays, with Irrational Games losing a number of key members during that time. The notorious case of Duke Nukem Forever overshadowed Infinite’s release, and fans were skeptical that this game would see the light of day any time soon. It seemed almost impossible to surpass the expectation set by the predecessor, Bioshock. With its unique and ambitious attempt at implementing RPG elements to the FPS, the original was praised as a savior of the stale, Call of Duty-saturated shooter genre. However, Irrational has proved again that it continues to push innovations and never compromises the gameplay for the inspired in-game arts and environments.
Irrational has proved again that it continues to push innovations.
While Bioshock takes place in the depth of the ocean, Infinite takes players to Columbia, a once prosperous city 15,000 feet above the ground in an alternate universe of 1912. It is ruled by a man named “the Prophet,” and its masses worship America’s founding fathers as their gods. The player takes control of Booker DeWitt ‒ a man who agrees to find and capture a girl named Elizabeth in this mysterious city in order to wipe away his debt for past mistakes. After finding a dead body with a sign reading “Don’t Disappoint Us,” DeWitt ascends to the utopia in the sky to hunt for Elizabeth.
From the beginning, Infinite shows the entirety of the vast world it has to offer. Unlike the forgotten undersea city of Rapture in Bioshock, Columbia has life and energy. The player is not given weapons of any form or reasons to fight when they arrive in Columbia. Rather, they are introduced to the gorgeous architectures, the people who live there and the ideals, technologies and religions that tie them together. As beautiful as it seems, it is revealed that the city is in fact a decaying dystopia. DeWitt witnesses the morbid racism and nationalism that nest in the core of the city, and the game convinces the player that Columbia should not exist. While the initial part of the story centers around the internal corruption of Columbia, the focus shifts to Elizabeth and DeWitt’s search for truth as to why they are in Columbia and what Elizabeth means to the city in the sky.
The core game mechanics of Infinite is unchanged from Bioshock; it is a first-person shooter with magic. Much like plasmids in the original, the sequel has vigors ‒ elixirs that grant DeWitt magical powers, such as shooting fireballs and discharging electricity. Weapons and vigors can be upgraded as the player progresses. They can be stronger, have faster cool-downs or cover wider ranges, just to name a few. The new addition in Infinite is a gear which grants DeWitt with different boosts upon meeting certain conditions, such as choosing melee as primary attack in battle.
Infinite also introduces the skyhook, a device the player can use to travel through Columbia’s vast network of suspended skyline rails that connects different parts of the city. While it allows players to explore the city easily without having to walk around and jump over the floating platforms, players realize that it is more than just a means of transportation. As the game progresses, the player may be challenged by enemies from different levels and sides. In a case like this, the player could choose to zip through the skyline using the skyhook and fight from different angles.
And though Elizabeth is the princess to be saved, she does more than watch DeWitt fight. She occasionally provides the player with health packs, ammunition and fuel for vigor powers during combat. She can also utilize her power to control “tears” ‒ portals to an alternate universe that can be opened to summon things such as new platforms, covers and turrets. DeWitt and the player can use this ability to turn the tide of battle. This represents the core of strategy elements in Infinite, and the game offers players complete freedom to overcome challenges and battles; no two players have the same experience.
Elizabeth’s ability to control tears is also a crucial component of the story. DeWitt and the player are not informed until later in the game who Elizabeth really is, what she is capable of and why she is being hunted. Though DeWitt initially sees his involvement in Elizabeth’s life as part of his business, the two slowly see the personal side of each other, becoming allies and friends. As was the case in Bioshock, Irrational’s reputable director and voice cast made the character development remarkably special and memorable.
During combat, the players typically find themselves cycling through the weapons and magics of their choice while utilizing the environments, which together offer endless possibilities and outcomes that diversify the story. There is no other game that provides the same experience of leaping onto the sky, flying through the skylines and fighting your way through as you glide across the sky. Confronting enemies never feels like a process, thanks to Irrational’s flexible AI.
The stellar ending is breathtaking, and its impact leaves players stunned as the credit rolls.
Near the final section of the game is where Infinite shines the brightest. It is no ordinary twists and turns that lead to a happy ending. It is an uncovering of ugly secrets and truths about the past of characters and the existence of Columbia itself. The adventure and survival of Elizabeth and DeWitt tighten their bond, and the relationship ultimately turns toward love. Irrational’s superb presentation delivers the beauty of the pair’s trust and willingness to risk their lives to protect each other. The stellar ending is breathtaking, and its impact leaves players stunned as the credits roll.
Many recent titles have failed to present fulfilling ends to their narratives, but Infinite has delivered an excellent example of storytelling.
In 2007, Irrational released Bioshock with a statement that video games could be an inspirational art form. Six years later with Bioshock Infinite, the company continues to prove its point: the game has something to say to players from the very beginning. In so many ways, it lives up to its legacy. It is undoubtedly worth the wait and will be talked about for years to come.