My last experience with 2K’s world-famous Bioshock series had me tracing the ruins of a deep, dark underwater city populated by madmen. Infinite promised to switch things up completely with a trip to a city far above the clouds, and a flock tended to by their shepherd, Father Comstock, self-proclaimed prophet. For the longest time I’ve been unable to run the game due to incompatibility with my installed graphics card, but a recent update fixed that and the title screen gently piano-ed into life.
We assume control of one Booker DeWitt, a former detective with a mysterious past and significant debts to pay, both financial and otherwise. The task of the day is to infiltrate the floating city of Columbia, track down a young girl named Elizabeth being held captive on Memorial Island and bring her to your benefactors. This is of course easier said than done, as not only are the citizenry and police force at the beck and call of Comstock, but also the monstrous Songbird, a giant metallic ave with a penchant for tearing apart anyone who might try to move Elizabeth.
She has dreams of seeing the world beyond her tower, particularly the French capital, and ever-so-kindly knocks Booker out on learning his plans to take her back to New York and hand her over. From then on he also becomes involved with the Vox Populi, who represent the underclasses of Columbia and are in the process of an insurgency.
Core gameplay is much the same as in the original Bioshock, in that you have access to both traditional (or at least pseudo-steampunk) weaponry and supernatural abilities granted by consumable Vigors, counterparts to the Plasmids of the first game. This time only two weapons can be carried at once however, introducing a management element where the range of guns on offer must be considered to deal with particular situations.
Given Columbia’s rather more open and airy nature, altercations can be resolved in a number of different ways, and fights feel much more dynamic and free-flowing than in the cramped corridors of Rapture. The effects of multiple Vigors can be chained together and they can be deployed more strategically. For example, it might be easier to possess a turret from afar and watch it disrupt a crowd of enemies rather than charge in head-on.
"Elizabeth particularly is a new favourite of mine, both forceful and resourceful,
and grimly determined when the going gets tough"
Elizabeth has ethereal powers of her own, and is able to open ‘tears’, portals between different worlds, which serve as a central theme of Bioshock Infinite. Without wanting to give too much away for fear of spoilers, you’ll want to listen very carefully to the specific things that certain characters say in their dialogue sequences, particularly as far as she is concerned.
Which brings me nicely onto character development: Infinite is extremely deep in terms of both its story and its setting, and I loved the pairing of Booker and Elizabeth. At no point do they ever really truly see eye to eye, both are complete strongheaded and stubborn independents, rather reminiscent of Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us. Elizabeth particularly is a new favourite of mine, both forceful and resourceful, and grimly determined when the going gets tough. She’s a shining example of a fantastic female role model in gaming, at least in my humble opinion.
Her abilities come in handy too - not only can she use lockpicking skills developed during her time in captivity to open doors and safes, tears can be opened to provide resources such as weapons and health items during combat, alongside friendly turrets. Occasionally she’ll find these items in the environment and throw them to you mid-fight, and they saved my Columbian bacon more than once.
The plethora of enemies on offer was a highlight for me during Bioshock Infinite. There are of course standard grunt type policemen and defence workers, but specialists with Vigor powers of their own make a regular part of combat and are substantially more dangerous. Furthermore, the steampunk-esque technology of Columbia has given rise to huge and powerful mechs in the form of the Motorized Patriot, founding-father styled automatons wielding enormous crank guns, and the Handyman, insanely strong psychotic soldiers that will doggedly pursue you around an area.
Columbia serves as a beautifully crafted counterpart to Rapture, with bright colours, a generally happy and upbeat feeling and sprawling plazas. If you listen closely you’ll also notice certain elements of the soundtrack, such as the reworked tellings of modern songs parsed for the early 20th century locale. Musically the title is much more dynamic than the original Bioshock, with very distinct themes for combat and more subdued pieces for backing during exploration. I really enjoyed this range and consider it one of the highlights of the experience.
Whether you’ll prefer Infinite to the original Bioshock likely depends on your feelings on horror titles. Ultimately I still prefer the dim, creepy halls of Rapture to Columbia because of the terrifiying ambience the first title had, but they are both experiences that contribute to a wider view of the Bioshock universe. To get the most out of this latest entry you should really have played the first, but Infinite can make a great standalone story if a more typical action-heavy FPS is your bag.