It’s been almost three years since our first glimpse of Columbia. Its sunny sidewalks were in stark contrast to Rapture’s dark, water-logged setting. Gamers worried that BioShock Infinite could not recapture the crazy twists and turns of the first entry in the series. I’ll admit that at first I was one of them. However, now that I’ve been to Columbia, I can safely say Infinite definitely out does BioShock in “would you kindly” moments. It was only released in March, but I think we have our Game of the Year.
Gamers probably already know the basics of BioShock Infinite. It is set in 1912, in the city of Columbia. You play as Booker DeWitt, who is sent there to find a girl named Elizabeth. Of course, this turns out to be much more than a straightforward task. Even though many of the missions seem simple at first, they have a way of turning expectations on their heads. The story always keeps you guessing and thinking, even after it ends. I’m not exaggerating when I say Infinite is one of the best, if not the best story in gaming. I could probably write thousands of words based solely on the story, although, it is something that should be experienced first-hand.
The gameplay is a more polished version of BioShock and BioShock 2, but with some differences. There’s Vigors (that replace Plasmids) and a selection of weapons from the pistol to the RPG. While the selection of guns is more varied than in the first two games, you can only carry two at once. It’s not a big deal though, different guns are scattered around during most of the combat. You can also take enemy guns, even the Motorized Patriot’s big Crank gun.
Vigors are powered by salts. There’s less Vigors in Infinite than Plasmids in the other games, but just like with the two weapon carry limit, it doesn’t lessen the experience. Old BioShock favorites are still there, like the fire (Devil’s Kiss) and lightning (Shock Jockey) abilities. There are new ones, of course, but they all seem to have a familiar feel to them. With each Vigor, you can set a trap. You can even combine Vigors in combat like setting Murder of Crows on fire.
I’ve seen some other reviews lament at the two gun limit or say combat isn’t varied enough. But, the Sky Hook adds enough variety for two games. As a melee weapon, you can become something of an artist with it. The Sky Hook simply isn’t a “just bash them” type of weapon like the wrench in BioShock. There’s numerous gruesome ways to dispose of your foes. Add in the Sky Line and Booker can attack from above. Enemies can follow you on it, and a Handyman can electrocute it while you’re riding. It’s an ingenious way to get around a city in the sky.
Riding the Sky Line is thrilling, to say the least.
My only (minor) complaint is that hacking is gone. In BioShock, hacking was a necessity. It could be frustrating and tedious, but ultimately I found it a rewarding mini-game. In BioShock 2, the hacking was easier, but still an important part of the gameplay. In Infinite, it’s replaced by lock picking and only Elizabeth can do it.
Infinite is a gorgeous game. From the first time you see Columbia to walking around its streets, the city feels alive, more so than other cities in games. Groups of people gather and talk, children dance around (or smoke in a dark alley), experiences like these make Columbia have the atmosphere of an idyllic small turn of the century town. I spent more time than I should watching hummingbirds flutter about or looking at candlelight reflecting on a pool of water. It’s easy to get distracted in the detail of the setting. I played the game on the PS3 and there were minimal hiccups. A few times, the game would pause for a second while it loaded, but that was it. It never froze or had any other noticeable glitches.
Yes, Elizabeth deserves her own section. She is a revolution in non-playable characters. She’s smart, curious, and helpful. Best of all, she doesn’t get in the way during combat.
How many games do we suffer through terrible AI? Elizabeth will tell you when lockpicks are near. In combat, she will throw health, salts, or ammo your way. If she finds money, she’ll give it to you. When Booker is searching a room, she does as well. She never complains that you’re taking too long while exploring. She will even make herself comfortable on a bench and wait. Finally, a truly worthy video game companion.
I’ll admit I’m somewhat of a crazed BioShock completest. I love replaying the first two and I immediately started another game of Infinite as soon as I was done with the first. Not only do I want to get all the Voxophones, but I want to experience the story again and see the clues that I missed the first time round. Of course, there is also 1999 mode for those that love a challenge. It’s unlocked when you beat Infinite or you can get it before that by using a certain famous code. Be aware that once you start 1999 mode, there’s no way to switch the difficulty level. If you already started a game on any other level, you can’t switch to 1999 during it.
BioShock Infinite stands on its own. There are nods to the first BioShock, just listen to the Dollar Bill vending machine. However, the story isn’t dependent on gamers knowing anything about the previous titles. It’s a rich, unique experience that won’t leave you.
Infinite is truly a masterpiece that shouldn't be missed.
Position: Freelance Contributor
When not writing for VGI or telling people how great the Zelda series is, Jen can be found on Yahoo Voices and The Examiner.