It took me three attempts to get into Bioshock 1. I’d struggled and struggled to get to grips with the world, the mechanics and the difficulty, but nothing seemed to click.
Fortunately, my third attempt was most definitely a charm, and as a result, Bioshock has become one of my all-time favourite gaming franchises.
Suffice it to say, I’ve been looking forward to Infinite for longer than I dare remember…
Like many of you, however, I’ve been scared of Infinite for a number of reasons. The first, major reason being the loss of the underwater setting. Its been a series stigma for Bioshock, so emigrating to the skies is certainly a baffling choice. How can this relate and possibly be a Bioshock game?
Another major reason, how do you follow-up on a game like Bioshock? How can the same team succeed, or even match a game many still believe is the finest of its genre this generation.
Well, I can say quite confidently and happily that Infinite is very much a Bioshock game, and it absolutely, positively is the follow-up we’ve all been waiting for.
I’m avoiding as many story spoilers as possible here. The plot needs to be experienced fresh without prompting or expectations. Whether you’ve followed every trailer since its announcement or not, none of narrative falls into place until you’re acting out the story in sequence.
That being said, you’ll know a bit about Elizabeth by now. You’ll also have heard a little bit about the protagonist, Booker DeWitt and the cloud sky city of Columbia. That’s as far as I’m going to take this Overview.
Following on from that, I have no problem in saying that Elizabeth is the greatest AI companion I’ve seen in a video game to date. Whether you’re in combat or exploring the city, Elizabeth is useful in many, many ways. For instance, when in battle and you’re extremely low on health, she’ll toss you a stim pack that’ll restore you completely. Or, if you’re using Vigours (Infinite’s version of Plasmids) she’ll throw over salt packs to restore your energy.
Elizabeth is some of the smartest AI I’ve ever encountered. She knows exactly what you need, when you need it, and providing you’re not the needy type that requires help every second of play, she’ll provide it. There is a time-delay between each offering of aid, but it’s never long enough that you’re kept waiting longer than necessary.
Elizabeth also has an amazing ability which she can perform in and out of combat. This not only makes her invaluable but also causes Infinite to play out in an incredibly unique way. It’s a feature that does border on the spoiler territory, but it creates a fascinating dynamic in combat that rewards the adaptive player and one very aware of their surroundings.
Even out of combat, Elizabeth makes herself incredibly useful. She’ll toss coins to the player to help them afford weapon upgrades, health kits or salt packs from vending machines. She can even pick locks.
Every other developer could learn a lot from Elizabeth. If this is the kind of adaptive, intuitive, responsive and reliable AI we can expect from future games, just imagine how this could impact other Single-Player games. Just imagine how it could influence Multi-Player.
You know what, I’m just going to come out and say it. Alyx, it’s taken over a decade, but you’ve finally been surpassed. Thanks for the memories.
Because of Elizabeth’s influence, the gameplay in Infinite is always busy, dynamic and exciting. Infinite doesn’t feel like your conventional FPS. Far from it.
To compliment Elizabeth’s battle tactics and amazing abilities, Booker DeWitt is not only a skilled soldier with a will to win, he is adept at using Vigours, but most importantly, he is also able to traverse city sky-lines by using his newly ‘acquired’ sky-hook. This piece of equipment allows Booker to attach to any of the Sky-Lines running throughout Columbia, making navigation between areas a breeze.
This form of travel is so completely refreshing . It never gets tiring to see Booker attach himself to an ascending rail, building up to a major drop, then watching him plunge and see his shoes skim the tops of clouds. This rollercoaster-esque vibe is giddying, but utterly exhilarating and unlike anything seen in an FPS before.
It’s not just used for travel, however. Players can jump between rails to avoid capture. They can also fire their guns at other enemies who are travelling across rails. Booker can even execute Sky-Line strikes, seeing him drop from on high down on unsuspecting prey.
In some ways, I’m sad that a multi-player mode couldn’t have been added to Infinite (never thought I’d say that..). Fighting other players on Sky-Rails and using Elizabeth’s abilities, as well as the Vigours would have made for a very unique online experience. Just imagine playing Capture the Flag in that way…
I appreciate, however, that the physics and programming required to do such things would add years of development time to a game that has already been brewing for a very long time.
Besides, the emphasis on story is important and integral to Infinite, and it allows Irrational Games to make a truly refined, soulful title, with meaningful characters and a truly amazing world. Experiencing Columbia for the first time will rank as one of my all-time great gaming moments. The world is just beautiful and full of small, subtle details that cannot be appreciated and absorbed with just run-through. There’s far too much to take in. Yet comparisons to other intellectual properties can certainly be made, such as The Wizard of Oz and Lost.
Irrational have done an incredible job with the visual far sight, allowing players to look off in the distance and see other parts of Columbia, elegantly bobbing and weaving. It’s even breathtaking to look down at the clouds as they’ve been created so masterfully.
Rapture was a sight to behold, but Columbia is complete nirvana in comparison.
Infinite isn’t really an open-world game, but it’s not closed-door linear either. It falls somewhere in-between. Players are free to explore the city in greater detail than they could in previous Bioshock games, but they are confined to the story and where the story takes them. That’s why I’ve spent so long trying to explore every nook and cranny, trying to discover more about this world and where it sits, both in real-world history and within the Bioshock timeline.
This speaks volumes for Infinite. Many worlds created by game developers are rich with lore and detail, but many of them fail to suck you in quite like Columbia. You’ll want to listen to every recording, take advantage of all telescopic views and indulge in each history lesson. You’ll want to ensure you catch every line of dialogue, even if its being spoken against a rain of gunfire.
Part of the intrigue of Infinite is its relevance to the Bioshock name. Players will gradually pick up pieces of the puzzle and start making their own deductions almost right away. It’s sure to keep you glued to your pad until the bitter end.
From an expansive point of view, Columbia has a vast and rich history. There is plenty of scope for evolving this world in other directions. The Season Pass will offer three sets of content before March 2014, but we’re none the wiser on who these will focus on and who we will get to play. While there are plenty of references and nods to previous Bioshock games in Infinite, I feel the DLC will probably explore those connections in greater detail.
As for the future of the franchise? Who can say. Bioshock could continue past this point. Even if it didn’t, it’s hard to imagine a better swan song. There’s plenty of reasons to keep coming back to Infinite, though, including the 1999 mode, as well as different ways the game could play out, depending on the choices the player makes.
Infinite is an absolute triumph. It’s glorious, it’s engaging and it has some of the best casting in any game period. It does become a lot more shoot-shoot-bang-bang towards the end of the game, but never at a detriment to its narrative.
So, is Bioshock Infinite Game of the year? Try game of the generation.