By Steve Wright
You know that old saying, “assume, and you make an…”
Well, keeping it PG, you know you do. And I did, about Bioshock Infinite. And I was wrong.
I went into a preview of Infinite fairly sheltered from the game itself. Sure, I’d read previews from the biggest hitters of the industry, and they all seemed fairly positive… but I wasn’t sold. Having loved both(the then 2K Boston, now) Irrational Games’ Bioshock and its black sheep successor, 2K Marin’s Bioshock 2, the series was set in Rapture. Underwater. With Big Daddies, and plasmids, and all the other things that made the first game an immediate classic.
In my mind, Infinite was a game that was simply using the Bioshock franchise to help boost sales. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
From the get-go, Infinite FEELS like a Bioshock title. The parallels to the original Bioshock came fast and furious; just as I was once taken to Rapture in a submersible, a lighthouse in Infinite threw me into the air to provide a bird’s eye view (pun intended) of Columbia. I stared in awe as I drank in the city’s beautiful skyline.
The Bioshock feeling was there, and in a way that was legitimate; this wasn’t a laughable parody of a developer struggling -- and in most cases with sequels, failing -- to recreate past successes. As I left my shuttle and began to interact with Columbia, I knew I’d immediately been thrown into a world that I didn’t quite understand. But it was one I wanted to. Very badly.
Irrational had me hooked yet again.
Oh, and then? Bioshock Infinite threw some time travel paradoxes at me, only confusing (and exciting me) even more.
It turns out, that sense of exploration – both in the world around you, and how, from 1912, you can somehow look through a time-space tear to witness the cinematic run of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi in Paris circa 1983 -- is really what makes this game a Bioshock one. Like in Rapture, you’ll gain insight into the twisted city of Father Comstock’s Columbia from the small details that persist around you. The world is awash with NPCs, whose seemingly innocent conversations can really open your eyes to the dark and disturbing underworld that’s hidden behind its Pleasantville-eqsue facade. As you linger on the details, Columbia’s bright and shining exterior wears away to show you what it really is; a land full of elitism, sexism and racism.
On that note, you can just tell how much fun Irrational had when creating the voxophones (aka audio files) and kinetoscopes (aka video files, but done in the non-talkie style of the period) that flesh out the game’s world. They serve to both inform you of the time and locale that you’re in, but also poke fun of the backward and outdated values that society actually held in 1912.
You get that traditional Bioshock feeling in gameplay too; plasmids are now vigors, and the ADAM that powers that quasi-magic is now in the form of salts. Your left hand (and controller trigger) will fire off vigor-powered abilities, and your right hand (and controller trigger) handles your gun. Irrational hasn’t just stopped there – you can now click on the right-stick to aim down the barrel of your weapon, which adds a much-needed level of precision to gun combat. Later, when you meet Elizabeth (and there’s so much to say about her), she’ll be your gopher on the battlefield, letting you focus on enemies while she hunts for ammo and med packs. It’s nice to see Irrational are learning from past mistakes (and avoiding the realm of escort quests to boot!).
Elizabeth herself is a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, cloaked in a blanket labelled “WTF”. She looks to be another lesson learnt from past Bioshock titles. She is chatty, so your character, Booker DeWitt, is chatty. Both characters are likeable and you can easily connect with them, unlike the mostly mute heroes of previous titles. Best yet, Elizabeth and her unexplained powers – we’ll leave those for you to uncover as you play – give the game a super sci-fi twist that I can’t wait to explore in full.
Your new mode of transportation is your personal skyhook – which doubles as a very satisfying melee weapon (read: WAY better than the wrench!) – coupled with the skylines that connect areas of Columbia with one another. If you haven’t seen them, picture Sydney’s monorail line, and imagine yourself zipping around on it without the need for an actual monorail. Travelling is fun in and of itself -- as you get more adventurous, you can break from the line and jump from point to point to speed up the process. When you couple that with pouncing on enemies… well, it simply can’t be beat.
In the interest of fairness, it’s not all happiness and rainbows. For the life of me, I can’t explain why anyone would try to market a “Murder of Crows” vigor for the general populace of a floating city… but I guess you should be happy they did, cause it’s super-useful against your enemies. Similarly, while Irrational has tried to be as modern as they can with the title, the control scheme is still a bit off. I appreciate being able to use “down the sights” aiming, but I kept firing a vigor off every time I wanted to aim because my muscle memory attributes that feature to LT, not by clicking down on the right stick. That being said, that’s all the negative I could muster for the title.
In short, I got to play three hours of Bioshock Infinite the other day and I’m desperate to play more. It’s a game that will easily be in the running for “Game of the Year 2013” lists, and well-deservedly so. It’s one to watch out for in March.