10 / 10 Banzai!s
Ken Levine and his team at Irrational Games, the original creators of the first Bioshock released in 2007, has made yet another masterpiece. A “sequel” titled Bioshock Infinite (the quotes on sequel is because the 2010 Bioshock 2 developed by 2K Marin has as much to do with the Bioshock series as Terminator 3 had to do with Terminator 1 & 2) A first-person shooter with minor RPG elements, taking the player out of the creepy underwater city of Rapture and up into the clouds.
Unlike the first Bioshock in which we are deliberately told nothing of our player character, the protagonist of Bioshock Infinite is Booker DeWitt, a member of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency (or at least, used to be) who is transported to a lighthouse via rowboat by a man and woman, whom we’re given little information about at the beginning. We’re not even sure exactly why Booker is being taken to this lighthouse, except that he’s been asked to “bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.” He reaches the lighthouse, sits in a barbershop-like seat, and is instantly transported up into the city.
Welcome to Columbia. A city in the clouds, with shops that drift from place to place, ships that can fly you to different areas, and a roller-coaster-like Sky-Line that whisks you from point A to point B. It’s a heaven straight out of picture books, ruled by a God-like man named “The Prophet.” A place where children run about gaily, people chat with enthusiasm about the upcoming raffle, and even the trash bins seem to harbor free money. It’s a paradise brought to you through an odd hybrid of science and religion.
But who is this “false shepherd” the signs warn you about? Who is the girl locked away in a tower? And what’s your prize after pulling the winning #77 baseball out from the raffle? It’s then that the veil is pulled away, and the story truly begins.
Much like the previous two Bioshock titles, players use an assortment of weapons which can be upgraded through purchases. Rather than injecting gene tonics and plasmids, you can find Vigors which enable bizarre powers, such as “possessing” an enemy so they’ll help you for a limited time before shooting themselves in the head, or throwing out bolts of electricity. Unlike the claustrophobic setting of Rapture, Columbia allows for more dynamic combat in which players can leap onto rooftops and fire away with a sniper rifle, or ride the Sky-Line and dive off in attack.
What I Liked:
Running about and shooting enemies aside, it’s apparent the real meat of this game is in the story itself, which is well-paced and always keeps you guessing. I don’t wish to spoil anything about the plot, as that would truly ruin the game for anyone who plans on playing it. So I’ll try to be as vague as possible when explaining what I liked about it.
The story purposefully sets itself up to be a mystery in itself. You understand your goal – save a girl and being her back to New York City. But why? Who’s the girl? And who are you, exactly? In the beginning, as you first start to explore Columbia, you’re met with a man and woman requesting you to flip a coin – which apparently always comes up as heads. But who has been flipping all those coins? And for what purpose? It’s never explained – at least, not yet. And to players good with voices, they may realize this couple seem awfully familiar. But, who are they?
Bioshock Infinite, much like the TV show Lost, is filled with questions that beg to be answered. The good news is, they are. Just as Bioshock uh, shocked players with its twist ending, so too does Bioshock Infinite. Though the surprise isn’t something as clear as it was in the first title, and instead requires some pondering on the player’s part.
A major difference which separates movies from games, is that the former is passive while the latter is active, as you must “play” the game in order to reach the end of the story. In the case of Bioshock Infinite however, aside from shooting enemies and using strange powers, the story itself requires some active thinking on the player’s part. It’s difficult to simply call this game a first-person shooter, because after having played through to the end, it feels as though all that action was a means for telling the story. In your usual first-person shooter, you’re given a mission, you do it, and the story’s over. But Bioshock Infinite is an experience, and the more the story is laid out for you, the more you want to learn what happens next, and what it all means.
Now, I don’t wish to give the wrong impression and say that the action is a hindrance on the story, because it isn’t. Soaring across the Sky-Line while striking enemies with a sniper, or taking cover from a wind-up tin soldier armed with a machine gun and seeking out its weakness, is all part of the fun. I’m just saying that while in some games I’ve played, the story is merely there to explain why you’re shooting enemies. But in Bioshock Infinite, the action and story compliment each other, putting the game’s overall greatness into one big package.
What I Didn’t Like:
This isn’t the first game I’ve given a perfect score, but it’s one of the first I can’t find a single flaw. Even on a technical level, there were no bugs or long moments of loading time. Bioshock Infinite may not be a game for everyone (and perhaps there isn’t a game out there “for everyone”) but anyone who enjoyed the first Bioshock will be blown away by this sequel.
If there’s still a debate out there whether video games can be considered art, Bioshock Infinite is like the Picasso of games. Just look up the title on the internet, and you’ll find dozens of sites where players continue to discuss, interpret, and even argue over the story and what it all means. And isn’t that what art is supposed to do? Stimulate our emotions and get us to actively ponder over and interpret what it means and how it attempts to define an aspect of who we are through its original perception of humanity and/or society?
American Exceptionalism, racism, political ideals, propaganda, objectivism, extreme religion, revolutions, choice versus fate – these are some of the themes in Bioshock Infinite which are open to interpretation. Ken Levine explains, “there are many parts of Infinite that are open to interpretation, and the purpose is that you draw your own theories from them. What actually matters is what people think.”
And that’s exactly what Bioshock Infinite is: a fun game that will leave you thinking long after you’ve completed it.