When a game gets to the point where it is able to convince players to invest in a genre that they have never enjoyed in the past, it means the game did it right. I felt exactly like that when the first Bioshock was released and fell immediately in love with this incredible masterpiece of storytelling. The Bioshock series deserves all the honour and admiration it has received, again sending the player to one of the most beautiful and incredible cities ever.
Columbia — The City In The Sky
In Bioshock: Infinite the player controls Booker DeWitt, a private investigator who refers to himself as an “independent contractor.” Following a series of events and problems, which he faced in the past, he becomes involve in gambling, leaving an enormous debt to pay. To find a way to pay his debt, he is sent to Columbia — a floating city in the sky — to find a girl named Elizabeth and bring her back to New York City.
Columbia is divided into two different factions: the Founders and the Vox Populi. The Founders try to keep the city for “pure” Americans only, while the Vox Populi represents those of different color or ethnicity. With that in mind, the player will face all types of conflicts between those two groups of people.
Different from the other Bioshock games, Infinite introduces players to a character who actually speaks and has his own personality. Full of opinions and attitude, DeWitt expresses himself from beginning to end in the game, creating a very strong bond between player and character. And all of this “expression” gets even deeper when the player finally meets Elizabeth, having in-game dialogues throughout the game experience. Some players have criticised these dialogues as annoying distractions during the gameplay, but in my opinion — considering how immersive and important the story of the game is — the dialogues worked pretty well, and I can’t complain about a single one. Elizabeth is extremely interesting and special and I could listen to her talk for hours and hours.
Columbia is one of the most exciting and “welcoming” cities that I have ever experienced in a game. Every corner of Columbia is filled with NPC’s actions, colours, songs etc. You don’t feel like you are walking around a “synthetic and plastic” city. Columbia actually convinces you that you are facing a “real” place that’s nice to live in. Right at the beginning of the game, when you first get to Columbia, a city Fair is happening — full of people, music, activities and fireworks. Everything looks amazing and magical. Columbia is huge and all the parts that you see in the distance are actually areas you visit at some point in the game. But there is something dark brewing below its vibrant exterior.
Elizabeth — An AI That Actually Works
Elizabeth is an extremely special character in the game. While the whole plot of Infinite runs around her, the player also has her help during the combat situations and other moments of the game. I believe this is the first time an NPC artificial intelligence for in-game co-op has worked this well. Elizabeth will “never break” during the game. She always knows exactly where to go and where to hide from the enemies, while giving you 100% of her support all the time. She is there to give you tips, more ammunition, health packages and money — in this respect, it does get to be kind of annoying at some point, considering that she gives you items all the time, making the game too easy at times.
The mystery surrounding Elizabeth is the main plot of the game and it continues from the beginning until the last minute of it. Don’t expect to figure out the twist in the storyline, because YOU WILL NOT. Just let things happen and try to absorb as much information as you can from the game dialogues and Voxphones — the new Audio Diaries of the first two Bioshocks — and you will not regret it.
It is not too odd to compare Elizabeth with some Disney princess: The classic princess locked in the tower, watched over by a monster, waiting for her hero to save her. To be more specific, her tastes and desires to live in France, her appearance, her love for songs and dances, and even her commitment to reading, for me, compares her directly with Belle from Beauty and the Beast. In the first half of the game, Elizabeth will earn your affection, with all of her kindness and love. She is definitely more than an AI. She is a true character that follows you during your journey and stays at your side, allowing you to see how she grows up.
While Elizabeth “is” Belle, Songbird — the giant mechanical bird — is Beast; having mixed feelings, which evolve from protection to possession, rage and love, and that uncomfortably evoke for the player feelings of a possessive lover. I just wonder if this relationship between both characters is deliberately meant to reference the Disney classic.
Level Design And Gameplay Experience
As I said before, and as you may have already seen in some videos of the game, Columbia is a huge city. So, you might be wondering if you will feel lost at some moments of the game, while searching for your main objective direction. The answer is NO! DIfferent from the first two Bioshocks, in Infinite, the game offers an option to guide the player in the right direction by just pressing a button and following the arrow that will arise in the floor in front of you. In theory, this may seem like a very weak strategy, but in practice it works very well, and it can save hours lost by players who would otherwise be looking for the right direction.
Another cool aspect of the game is how the player is introduced to the new gameplay mechanics. By using the city Fair that is happening in Columbia as an excuse, the tutorial is presented as a part of the festival, at the same time offering more details for the plot: like, how racist and heavy the game is; an amazing set for the two first Vigors (the new Plasmids in Infinite); as well as shooting and aiming game controls. But as always, not everything is perfect. Something sounded weird to me: considering that he is using the two first Vigors for the first time in the game, DeWitt does not react hesitant or differently, despite knowing that his body is changing and being affected by this strange power. But what is even more odd is that when he finally gets a fixed Vigor, he starts feeling weird and uncomfortable, and reacts with dialogue in-game. I understand that the first Vigors to be introduced are there just as a part of a “tutorial section” of the game, but even so, they could have at least activated an “event” condition, where by the first time DeWitt gets the first Vigor — tutorial or not — he should react with his body changes.
But you know what? The Vigors are awesome, the special effects while using it are amazing, and the traditional “new power old-style explanation” is still in there, so I will stop being too judgmental and start giving the positive points of Infinite.
Level Design-wise the game works very well. All objectives are creative and pretty clear. I didn’t feel bored by completing any of them. Everything makes sense with the plot, and in relation to what you are searching for in the game. Another nice thing about the levels / environments is that, if you actually go back to an old area to complete a side mission, or even just to visit a specific place again, the game will not reload enemies. All enemies are spawned for a reason in each one of the environments and they all make sense for the game storytelling and combat situations. By playing the game, you can see that each part of Columbia was constructed to be able to be revisited in different moments, with different “eyes.”
The combat in Infinite is very similar to the old Bioshocks — except for the newest AI help from Elizabeth — you will be basically just swapping between weapons and Vigors, trying to find the perfect match between them. The difference is that this time you can only carry two weapons with you, forcing you to think carefully before making a choice. Another cool thing is that the game also allows you to combine Vigors Powers, damaging the enemy even more.
Another big surprise is how easy and intuitive the skylines are. It’s pretty easy and pleasurable to control DeWitt around the huge number of skylines of Columbia. They help you to reach some places faster in the city, as well as offering amazing, exciting combat situations.
Although the game offers some choice moments, your actual decisions for those choices do not influence the plot of the game at all. I understand that this was added more as a way to explore how the players will react and judge according to each situation, but I don’t think Irrational Games explored this in the best way possible.
Besides that, what else is changed for the better? — Mini games! They are not present in the game anymore and I am glad for that. You will not face mini games to unlock doors or hack computers and machines. That’s why Elizabeth is next to you, after all.
Stunning Visuals And Amazing Environment Atmosphere
Bioshock Infinite is stunning! I don’t have too much to say besides the fact that EVERYTHING in the game seems so well planned, from Pre-Production to actual Production. Again, Columbia is the most convincing city that I ever played in. Everything is so colourful, magical, beautiful, well modelled and alive.
The game introduces an amazing and bright city that drastically moves to a radical atmosphere — darker, dirtier and “cold.” Each one of the environments has something special to characterize the game moment and for exploring the maximum of its forms. We feel exactly the feelings that they wanted us to feel through playing and walking around the city.
Less Horror, Less Hardcore
Different from the previous Bioshocks, Infinite is extremely easy, considering the Normal Mode Difficult. Enemies seem to die easier, and if that wasn’t enough, Elizabeth is always there to give you extra life and salt, to help you during combat. Outside of the combat, the girl will also offer you loads of cash, making it super easy to buy new items, weapons and Vigors upgrades. The whole financially hard times presented in the old Bioshocks are not here in this game, and I still don’t know what I think about that…
Difficulty is not the only thing that changed in the game series. Infinite has no sense of horror or tension. Don’t expect to feel the tension that you probably had the first time you fought against a Big Daddy or a Big Sister. What Infinite offers is a very deep and strong sense of action. I guess my biggest mistake was to wait too long for Songbird and the Boys of Silence. Don’t get me wrong: both enemies are amazing and they totally make sense within the plot, but I was expecting to see them more often in the game and to face epic combat against them. And, unfortunately, that’s not what happens. I would say, actually, that characters like the Lutece Twins were much more interesting to me, if not my favourite ones in the game.
Finally, independent of whether you are a fan or not of Bioshock, you definitely need to try this one out. Infinite brings all the big aspects of an epic game, with a magical environment, a plot full of intelligent twists, and characters that make you believe even a digital character can have real feelings. I am trying to not show my personal feelings for this game too much, but I can say that it is — if not the — one of my favourite games ever.