“Booker, are you afraid of God?”
“No, but I’m afraid of you.”
There is always a lighthouse. A man. A city.
From the depths of Rapture, Bioshock brought players into a world unlike any other; where choices and decisions not only affected the player but also the ultimate consequences to come. Now the tables have turned to a new time and a new city; to a place so Utopian yet so corrupt: the sky-high dwelling of Columbia.
The year is 1912 and American exceptionalism has reached its pinnacle. The city floats high above “the sodom below” basking in the picturesque glow and ideals of its founder and prophet, Zachary Comstock. Kept afloat by a mix of quantum levitation and blimps, Columbia not only rises above the rest of America physically, but sees itself in a higher spectrum all around.
Despite its isolation and independence, the steampunk paradise amidst the clouds has more dark secrets and atrocity than one might initially suspect. It is something of a floating battle ship armed with heavy artillary, zeppelins, airships, machine gun turrets and various other weaponry. It is a hostility that has seen the face of and impacted The Boxer Rebellion and even houses a fierce civil conflict within its own boundaries. Within this internal struggle lies two main forces: the city’s ruling class which prioritizes a specific religion and strict signs of racial purification and the Vox Populi (translating to ‘voice of the people’ in Latin), a revolutionary group intending to overthrow the powers in charge and gain equal rights for all citizens of Columbia.
It is here that the player controlled protagonist, Booker DeWitt, is sent to retrieve the girl, fulfill his mission and finally erase his debt.
On a turbulent and rainy night, a small boat carrying three passengers rows towards a solitary lighthouse. Allowing DeWitt to exit upon the dock, the two confounding rowers turn away with hardly an explanation between them. Entering the lighthouse, DeWitt finds its sole occupant brutally murdered with but a small note left for him and him alone: “Don’t disappoint us.” Climbing to the top of the lighthouse, DeWitt discovers a contraption that will take him on the final leg of his journey: to Columbia.
Arriving at a half submerged candlelit church and forcibly receiving a hasty baptism drowning, DeWitt is finally set loose upon the sights and sounds of Columbia. He then sets his aim on getting to Monument Island, a huge angelic statue rising through the middle of the city, where Elizabeth is being held captive.
Once Elizabeth joins in on the escape, you will probably wonder where she has been all of your life. She becomes the best of npc allies almost instantly: telling you not to worry about her in battle, as she can fend for herself (which means ducking out of the line of fire, which also alerts you to when enemies are close at hand); additionally, Elizabeth will also pick up spare money, ammo, weapons, health kits and salts that she will toss to you mid-battle should the need arise as well as pick any locks along the way. One other unique ability that Elizabeth harnesses is the skill to open tears throughout the world. These tears can show a window to another time and place and can also bring useful objects to and from their current space time continuum.
Bioshock Infinite is a game where it is apparent to see the time and detail that went into its creation. From graphics to story to soundtrack, everything flows together in perfect harmony throughout so much of the game that it is no wonder it has received such high scores and reviews from numerous sources.
The graphics and visuals of Columbia make up for nearly the entire backdrop of the game and it is plain to see every beautiful painstaking detail that went into its mastery. Artistic flourishes and paintings line the streets, shops and buildings of Columbia in a mix of bright, steampunk design. From the initial setting of a happy, festival atmosphere to the defiled and burning streets of the lower commons, there is not a corner or crevice of the game left ignored. The skylines that run throughout the cloud city provide an even more unique element to the floating vessel, and not only bear a fast and necessary way of transportation but also add another versatile element to combat situations. Even though most of the time the action will be so great you only have time to look for the next cover or barrier between you and the onslaught of bullets, when you do have a moment to breathe, the setting is breathtaking and is worth taking in as often as possible.
Gameplay wise, Bioshock gives you an arsenal you should feel fairly accustomed with if you have played the previous installments. A main gun (of which you can hold and switch between two at a time), a melee weapon in the form of the skyhook and a power called vigors, which vary and are discovered throughout the game. A sleek mastery of using all three elements will grant the player the best outcome through any gunfight be it from regular infantry opposition, motorized patriots with the likeness of America’s founding fathers, or handymen, the giant mechanized “Big Daddys” of Columbia. Vigors range from possessing machines and enemies to fight for you to calling a murder of crows to swarm, damage and distract your target; they can also be set to fire directly upon an enemy or set as a trap to be walked over. The skyhook and skylines running throughout Columbia do add a fun alternative at times as well as providing a quick and often necessary means of travel. Smooth controls throughout aid in quick reaction times and uninterrupted action even taking Elizabeth’s aid into account. The endless fights can becomes repetitive at times as you find a setup that works for you, but the introduction of new enemies will often prove different weapons or vigors more useful and various upgrades to them will change their outcomes as well. However, for the length of the game the battles almost always had some measure of challenge to them – the final fight in particular.
The soundtrack that accompanies the game is the perfect accompaniment to the often astounding visuals. From serene choral pieces to adrenaline inducing battle tones, the background sounds move you just as much as the action and story itself. The various reintroduced hits of the 1900s also come as a pleasant surprise whether they consist of a barbershop quarter rendition of “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys or “Girls just Want to Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper heard briefly through a tear in a famous musicians house. They easily add an element of surprise and surrealness amidst the idealistic retro-future American background. It is a soundtrack that can find success of its own accord and adds to, and never takes away from, the entirety of the game from start to finish.
Despite some of the controversy about the extreme violence in Bioshock Infinite, it is a necessary evil. Even the characters remark at one point, “what did you think would happen?” after a particularly brutal scene. The game is not about skirting around issues, but rather envelopes a plethora of extremes. Criticism exists in mass on the amount and level of violence used; but it is through that violence that not only pushes the story forward but also forces players to go through with it despite an innate feeling of how very wrong it is. It makes the players confront the violence head-on not only through general survival, but also in the decisions they make (to spare or kill a person) and through Elizabeth’s reactions to those decisions. There truly can be no morality in extremes.
Although Bioshock Infinite may not hold up to every expectation set by the original, it is a game that is thoroughly enjoyable and stays with you long after the final credits have finished. It will, without a doubt, make you think and question everything that you have seen and done; and it is no wonder it is one of the most talked about games in the industry at this time. Various difficulties, to include the extra challenging 1999 mode unlocked after first completion, as well as numerous achievements gives this title plenty of replay value; and that doesn’t even include the fact that once you have seen the story to its end, playing through again will show you the game in an almost entirely new light. It may still be early in the year, but it is easy to see this as a GOTY contestant. Whether you have been with the series since the original or are looking to see what all the excitement is about, playing through this title is a decision you will not likely regret.
A debt. A girl. A cage. A songbird.
“The mind of the subject will desperately struggle to create memories where none exist…”