The original Bioshock set the standard for single-player gaming this generation, much like Half-Life 2 did the generation before. It is only fitting that Irrational Games bookend the HD era with Bioshock Infinite, which has once again set a new standard for single-player experiences this generation.
You play as Booker Dewitt, a former pinkerton (a government protection agent and detective) in search of a girl named Elizabeth by order of some dubious powers to which Booker is in indebted to. “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt”—Simple enough?
This search brings you to the floating city of Columbia. Few worlds in gaming have ever been so convincingly brought to life. Right up there with Rapture, Albion and Skyrim, Columbia is a beautifully realized world with a bunch of detail nuggets. You’ll scour it’s 1900-era halls for the tiniest of narrative scarps and love it. It’s idiosyncratic style is thematically unlike anything else in gaming. It’s juxtaposition of gleaming American exceptionalism with unnerving religious and oppressive racial-economic political ideologies provides a dense believability and synergy attempted by very, very few games. Sometimes it borders on pretentious, but with so many thematic moving parts it’s a miracle that it works at all (much less it’s frequently fantastic). Voxphones, like Audio Diaries in the original Bioshock, also help flesh out the world and allow you to dig in as much as you’d like or as minimal as you need. Columbia’s workings occur as a backdrop to the story of Booker and Elizabeth’s relationship and never gets in your way with periphery.
The Booker-Elizabeth dynamic is a very believable, and at times utterly touching, relationship that rarely gets disillusioned, with the exception of the jarring invincibility of Elizabeth in combat.There are plenty of non-combat interactions between Booker and Elizabeth that build character consistently. No super-character accelerations here (looking at you Tomb Raider).
Elizabeth is one of the finest NPCs this generation; truly emotive, empathetic and human. This game isn’t a 12 hour escort mission, and she can handle herself and aid you very capably.
One of the biggest surprises I encountered was the combat. Not that I expected it to be bad, but rather I didn’t expect it to be so satisfying and tactical. The gun combat and vigors (Infinite’s version of plasmids) come together in a synthesis of gameplay depth. Certain enemies are unaffected by certain vigors, and so you have to change your strategy on the fly in something that harkens back to my pokemon-washed childhood. And when you add gear (clothes that give you specific buffs and abilities which exentuate the effects of weapons, melee or vigors), rpg-like builds become apparent. Thankfully, the meta-skill tree structuring nature of the gear-weapons-vigors trifecta doesn’t come at the cost of the mechanics which remain sturdy and responsive.
Enemies can act stupidly at times, but that happens in just about every game so it’s easily forgivable. I recommend playing the game on hard if you are even remotely proficient at shooters. 1999 mode is unlocked after completion (or with a secret code), and offers another degree of difficulty by emphasizing resource management, increasing enemy damage, and creating stronger death penalties. It’s great fun for those looking for even more challenge.
The audio, in short, is incredible. I can’t think of a game with better voice acting, use of licensed music (really cool anachronistic tracks that I won’t spoil) and general design. Get some headphones and prepare foe immersion.
If you look through this review, you’ll notice a word I kept repeating; believable. Bioshock Infinite’s greatest expression of magic is how believable it is. Barring some rough looking textures (on the 360/ PS3 versions), enemy jitters and other minor grips, Bioshock Infinite’s grand artistic vision is majestic to look at and impressive to sift through. This is one of the few games the basically demand at least 2 playthorughs. After an incredibly original ending, your second playthrough will point things out you couldn’t have possibly realize the first time through, and it fundamentally alter your perspective on Columbia.
Good things come to those who wait, and Bioshock Infinite’s quality is proportional to an eternity masquerading as a 5 year turnaround.