The original BioShock, released back in 2006, is heralded as a modern video game masterpiece. Combining survival horror, first-person shooter, and RPG elements, whilst simultaneously delivering a thought provoking narrative and one of the most immersive locales ever created – the underwater dystopia city of Rapture – it was an almost unparalleled success. Six years later, Irrational Games have returned with BioShock Infinite, in every way a worthy successor, fictionally reframing the original game and setting a new standard for storytelling in the medium.
Set in 1912, you play as Booker DeWitt, a disgraced private detective who is tasked with retrieving a mysterious girl named Elizabeth from a mysterious city called Columbia, in order to wipe away his mysterious debt. It’s fair to say that not all is as it seems.
A fantastic reversal of Rapture, the city of Columbia floats above the clouds, and was founded by religious fanatic Zachary Comstock. Having seceded from the United States, Columbia is full of pre-emancipation racism, xenophobia and jingoism. The founding fathers are hailed as idols, nay gods, while Abraham Lincoln is demonised, and statues are erected of John Wilkes Booth. “More American than America” has been a common critical observation.
As well as dealing in broad political strokes, the game’s detailed world and carefully cultivated aesthetic allows for more complex critiques. The Fraternal Order of the Raven for example, are a Klu Klux Klan stand in who attack Booker with crows, a literalised metaphor for Jim Crow segregation laws. Needless to say, those interested in American history will find Columbia most engrossing.
Shortly after arriving in Columbia, Booker is identified as a ‘false prophet’ and is quickly assaulted by Comstock’s troops, forcing Booker to fight his way through the hordes in order to find Elizabeth and escape. Arguably the weakest aspectof the original BioShock was its combat, so Irrational have gone to great lengths this time around, to make the gameplay as entertaining as the narrative is intriguing.
Photo: via bioshockinfinite.com
A regenerating shield is now present and gunplay is smoother and easier to control. Replacing plasmids are vigors, potions found and drunk by Booker that offer varying powers to use with his left hand/trigger. Some are familiar, such as Shock Jockey which shoots as electric bolt at your enemies, whilst others are entirely new, like Bucking Bronco, which launches enemies up in the air.
Combat also has a fantastic sense of scale due to the Skyhook, a tool that allows Booker to utilise Columbia’s aerial rail system, in order to speed over battlefields, shooting from afar or launching a devastating melee leaps. Player choice and experimentation is key, allowing the player to discover which weapons and vigor combinations work best and allowing them to dispense of enemies in their own way. Elizabeth is also a worthy companion, able to protect herself and thus not turning the game into one large escort mission. She also comes to Booker’s aid in the form of health packs, ammo and ‘salts’ to power his vigors.
Graphically the game is phenomenal, both from technical and artistic perspectives. The great looking character models and landscape is backed up by a fantastic brightly coloured, turn of the 20th century American aesthetic.
Overall, BioShock Infinite delivers everything expected of it and then some. The gameplay has been drastically improved, although those that particularly enjoyed the survival horror elements of the first two games may be disappointed by the bombastic and overlit new setting. Narratively, Irrational have yet again completely blown every other game away, providing an initially ambiguous tale that twists and turns towards an ending that will surely be talked about for years to come. 5/5