Despite what you may think of the sequel, we can all agree that Irrational struck pure gold in Bioshock upon its release back in August of 2007. The atmosphere and city of Rapture was unlike anything we’d seen in a video game before. This obviously set up some incredibly lofty expectations for Irrational’s next adventure, Bioshock Infinite. Those expectations only heightened once information begin to roll out and we realized that Rapture had been ditched for a new city, a city that existed high up in the air. Thankfully, Irrational and co-founder Ken Levine have become rather talented at taking expectations and exceeding them to a point that not even we perceived possible.
If you played Bioshock, you remember the intro. The plane crash, the elevator ride down, the broken glass, the imagery, everything, and it was without a doubt one of the best intros in the history of gaming. Irrational took that “one of” part seriously and decided to smash that over their knee by creating an intro that is so effective at inserting you directly into a new world, you can’t help but call it the best intro any video game has ever produced. From slight hidden nuggets to the skyscraper esque buildings surrounding the beautiful city of Columbia, this is an intro that will be absolutely impossible to forget.
Columbia, the actual city itself, meets all the same notes Rapture did. It’s a visually stimulating environment filled with different little touches that demand your exploration. I’ve never been one to wonder around a city aimlessly but I found myself doing that multiple times throughout Infinite. Then you begin to realize that the more you wander, the more you learn of Columbia, which just makes you want to learn even more. Turning the setting of a game into a character in and of itself is an insanely difficult thing to achieve, though that hasn’t stopped Irrational as they’ve managed to do that multiple time now.
A lot of the character found within Columbia comes from the gorgeous visual design of every aspect in the city. There’s a certain level of attention to detail found in the smallest things, like a simple newspaper laying on the sidewalk, that you just don’t see in other games. It’s a testament to just how hard the art team for Infinite wanted to bring this city to life, and they succeeded with flying colors. However, one of the few complaints regarding Infinite comes in the form of the frame rate. Frame rate tends to take a dip whenever things begin to get heated which can dull the experience slightly. But you ultimately begin to ignore it as the story continues forward.
As for the actual characters, both Elizabeth and Booker are nothing short of spectacular. A lot of hubbub was raised over the inclusion of Elizabeth, a character that would remain by your side for a large part of the game. The obvious scare was what if the whole game felt like one big escort mission? Irrational quickly lays that to bed once you realize just how helpful Elizabeth is within combat. Throughout your many heated encounters, Elizabeth will provide you with items ranging from ammo to health. Her helpful nature is so useful that the few times you don’t have her by your side, you miss her tremendously.
That goes without mentioning her actual personal characteristics, which rival her helpfulness in combat. She, along with your character Booker, are set up with some unsettling mystery surrounding their existence and what led them into the beautiful city of Columbia. As the story goes on, those mysteries begin to unravel and unlike most things in life, the answer to the mystery was actually better than the mystery itself. While Booker is a fine character, I feel it necessary to point out that the connection you establish with Elizabeth is something that few games have ever achieved. I’ll be shocked if she isn’t strong in the running for best character come December 2013.
The real cherry on top of Elizabeth and Booker’s characters is the voice work performed by Courtnee Draper and video game voice actor professional, Troy Baker. Baker has obviously been around the block a few times as he voiced characters in Brothers in Arms, Red Faction, Persona 4, and many others. His experience shines through as he does a raw but effective performance of the emotionally scarred Booker DeWitt. This is only Courtnee Draper’s second appearance, however, as before taking on Elizabeth, she appeared in Kingdom Hearts II. That being said, I think Draper has found her calling if she so chooses because she brings Elizabeth to life like not even I thought possible. Expressing emotion through reading into a microphone is a tough thing to do, Draper makes it seem impossibly easy.
Elizabeth and Booker would both be nothing without a tremendous overarching story and Bioshock Infinite has just that. While the original Bioshock had its fair amount of insanity, Infinite tops that by a mile at almost every story beat. The game begins and seems like a simple tyrannical dictator needs to be overthrown narrative but that story quickly evolves into a whole new beast. I suppose we shouldn’t expect any less than stunning material from the guys that brought us the previous two Bioshock’s but hot damn did they out do themselves this time around. Infinite also features an ending that manages to feel “right” but also leave you scratching your head for hours after the credits roll.
The combat is where Bioshock Infinite very clearly becomes a Bioshock game. You have a special power in your left hand, this time called Vigors, and a wide variety of weapons to choose from that you may insert into your right hand. This go around you gain power to unleash your Vigors by collecting salts, something that you’ll quickly realize needs to be used wisely. Not because salts are a hard thing to collect but instead because you always seem to run out of power as the worst possible time. Gunplay remains mostly unchanged, the real variety comes in the form of transit rails that you’re able to grind upon thanks to an object that Booker intelligently places on his hand early on in the game. Though it’s a rather small change, grinding around a combat area adds even more life to some already exciting combat.
I think we all knew Bioshock Infinite would at least be a memorable experience upon its release. What we didn’t know was just how memorable it would be. There’s no aspect of Infinite that won’t have a lasting impression on me in some way. Irrational has managed to stun even me by releasing not only one of the best games this year, but one of the best games to be found on this generation of consoles. Remember back in 2005 when we were all dreaming of what next gen games could achieve? Bioshock Infinite is the game we’ve been dreaming about for all these years, and it has finally arrived.
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