A lot of people weren’t exactly satisfied with Bioshock 2, the 2010 sequel to the critically-acclaimed 2007 original, which took place in a decaying underwater utopia called Rapture. The story, while not terrible, simply lacked the complexity of its predecessor. In fact, it largely felt like a rehash of many of the elements introduced in the first game, with almost no new features aside from a multiplayer component. I was surprised at how straightforward the game was in its presentation, from the story to the core action set-pieces.
Now, I don’t actually dislike the game. In fact, I think it’s still a good game on its own. I loved the world of Rapture, and I was eager to go back in and discover more of it. It was nice to play as a Big Daddy too, rather than Jack from the original, although they both were lacking in the personality department. Since this game was handled by 2K Marin rather than Irrational Games, it’s understandable that the game took off in its own direction, and frankly, I think the game is solid regardless of how unnecessary a having a sequel is.
So of course, expectations for Bioshock Infinite were through the roof. Revealed back in 2010, Bioshock Infinite puts you in the role of Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent who has been disgraced for his violent methods. Riddled with debt, he is assigned to find a girl in a mysterious city called Columbia, a floating city in the sky. If he can get the girl back to New York, all of his debts will be cleared. And so begins this wild tale.
The gameplay is actually very similar to the first two Bioshock games. As a FPS, you have the standard arsenal of weaponry including the pistol, machine gun, shotgun, and so forth. Each weapon can be upgraded to increase power, clip size, and reload time. In addition to the weapons are Vigor powers, this game’s counterpart to Bioshock’s Plasmids. These genetic concoctions grant you many powerful and unusual abilities, such as Murder of Crows to summon a flock of crows to attack enemies and Bucking Bronco to lift enemies into the air and stun them. Just like Plasmids, these Vigors add an extra element in combat and are just interesting enough to keep the gameplay fresh.
The star of this game is the city itself, Columbia. Named after the female personification of America itself, the city is rife with American exceptionalism, albeit an extreme form of it. Originally launched to promote America’s greatness and technological advances, the city came under international backlash when it opened fired on Chinese bystanders during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. From then on, Columbia seceded from the Union and disappeared from the clouds. As you explore the city, you can see just how extreme this American exceptionalism is, with people going so far as to worship historical figures such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.
What I loved about the original Bioshock was the deep philosophical messages it tried to get across, and there are a lot of similarities between the two. It’s curious how both cities were founded with very strong ideals that are both taken to the extreme. Rapture was created with the intention of being a haven for the intellectual elite, free from government and religion, while Columbia was created to promote the greatness of America, whose leader Zachary Comstock preaches about his almost fanatical religious beliefs. The racism you see in Columbia is appalling, with xenophobia apparent in almost everything. It’s rare to see such an insane issue be addressed in this medium, but it does a great job showing the player just what set of beliefs the entire city is founded upon.
The world of Columbia is stunning. In contrast to the dark art-deco corridors of Rapture, Columbia’s neoclassical architecture breathes life into the city. You see a city at the height of its glory, with people going about their lives (for the first part of the game) and offering glimpses into the everyday life in a floating city. Drawing more parallels to the original story, the opening lighthouse sequence and the subsequent introduction to Columbia has a strong impact that sets the tone for the rest of the game. Despite being much brighter than Rapture, Columbia still manages to be creepy to me, with rampant racism, creepy religious propaganda, and distorted history really adding character to the city.
The characters are also well-written. This time around, the protagonist has a speaking role, and is an active participant in the story’s events. Booker’s backstory is established early on, and throughout the game, we get more insight into his thoughts and what drove him to go to Columbia to clear his debts. Elizabeth, the girl you’re tasked with finding, isn’t just a typical damsel in distress. Trapped in a tower her entire life, she has grown into a strong and dependable woman who is ready to help Booker in any way she can. She provides a lot of the emotional scenes in the game, as she struggles with who she is and her own destiny. Zachary Comstock and Daisy Fitzroy, the two main leaders you encounter in the game, are equally developed as the main antagonists, and we get to see enough of what drives them to do what they do.
Bioshock Infinite is a fantastic game, and is already one of my picks for the best game I’ve played this year. It’s got fun gameplay that harkens back to the original Bioshock, a memorable cast of characters, an immersive and fully realized world, and a smartly-written story. The final part of the game is mind-blowing, and left me thinking about it for days afterward. It’s memorable enough that players will surely be discussing it for months, and it definitely tops the original ending to Bioshock. If you’re a fan of Bioshock, you must play this game. If you’re looking for a fun FPS with a deep story, this game is worth checking out.