Grab A Coffee And A Loaded Pistol; We’re Talking Politics
If you aren’t aware of the fact that I simply adore the original BioShock, then you probably don’t know me very well. It was a brilliantly written game that poked at our brains, giving us a smorgasbord of philosophical and political questions to muse over for months and months and months. So it’s safe to say that I went into BioShock Infinite, the project Ken Levine and his team at Irrational Games have been working on for over half a decade, with some lofty expectations.
But Infinite delivers. The story is incredibly well penned, rife with political themes that feel as relevant in 2013 as they would have in 1912, the year in which the game is set. In fact, this is the sort of game I will be bugging all of my friends about, calling them up and forcing them to finish the game so we can sit down and discuss it over a cup of coffee as if it were a piece of 19th century Russian literature.
See, there is this flying city called Columbia that was once a technological marvel the United States would use to assert its dominance over pretty much every other country in the world. But Columbia can’t be tamed. When a man named Zachary Hale Comstock, leader of Columbia’s Founder party, has a scuffle with the U.S. government, the city claims its independence and sets sail as this rogue flying community that pretty much does whatever it wants. Of course, what it wants most, for some reason, is to start a twisted religious cult with Comstock as its prophet.
This is all in the past though, as during the time period covered in the game, the city has erupted in a civil war of sorts between the Founders and a left-wing rebel faction called Vox Populi. In the midst of all this, an ex-Pinkerton agent, Booker DeWitt, must escort a woman named Elizabeth out of the city. It’s all heady and thought-provoking, and it’s sure to incite discussions amongst game journalists for years to come.
And then there are the science fiction elements that make the whole thing even more interesting (in the nerdiest of ways), but I don’t want to spoil those for you. Let’s just say that the plot goes in some unexpected directions, bringing alternate dimensions into the fold that complicate things quite a bit for our protagonists.
Probably my favorite parts of the entire game, though, were the Songbird scenarios. Songbird is the mechanical guardian that watches over Elizabeth and causes obnoxious amounts of damage to any landmark that gets in its way. While the beauty of this game is that the exploration segments (which may feel a bit slow to some) are given so much breathing room, those moments are punctuated with adrenaline-intense action scenes in which Booker and Elizabeth must flee from this unstoppable mechanical marvel.
Of course, the one major flaw of the first BioShock was that the gunplay was shoddy. We all forgave it because the story and setting were so unlike anything else we’d ever seen before, but this is a legitimate complaint nonetheless. Thankfully, Irrational has addressed this. While I wouldn’t necessarily call this “buttery smooth” (a phrase I’d pretty much only feel comfortable applying to Modern Warfare 3), it’s still reactive, precise, and, most importantly, incredibly fun.
Now, the game could have easily devolved into this tedious escort quest, since the entire thing revolves around guiding Elizabeth off of Columbia. But Elizabeth is no Ashley Graham. She’ll take cover when she needs to, she’ll throw you health packs when you’re about to die, and she’ll never become a hindrance to you by dying and making you restart at the last checkpoint. Of course, she’s also a very well-written and interesting character, one who starts coming into her own very early in the game. You’ll like having her around so much, in fact, that the brief segments where you get separated from her will undoubtedly be your least favorite parts of the game.
But Infinite’s main attraction is the environment. We all remember the original BioShock’s Rapture as this immensely unforgettable and innovative place, and we wondered how Irrational could ever top it. Well, they’ve succeeded with Infinite; Columbia is possibly the most breathtaking environment ever seen in a video game. Every moment is packed with creative detail after creative detail, from the buildings that move through the air on massive balloons to the creepy lab inside of a massive statue to the serene section of beach where residents of Columbia loaf in the downtime between their weird cultic activities. And it all has this surrealistic steampunk weirdness to it. The game starts off a little slow, but that doesn’t even matter, as you’ll find yourself simply wanting to explore the world at your own pace, combat sections be damned.
And it’s all populated by some surprisingly realistic humans that interact with each other in interesting ways. There’s always ambient dialogue going on, making Columbia feel like a place that lives and breathes whether you’re there to see it happen or not. I’d almost compare it to Skyrim, though with the silliness meter cranked down to just about zero.
Of course, I do have to point out that some of the textures in this game are pretty low-resolution when you get up close. In fact, surprisingly so. I played the game on Xbox 360, so it’s possible that PC gamers can ignore this complaint, but it’s far worse than I’d expected from a game that’s launching so close to the end of this console cycle.
Then again, the backgrounds are so insanely complex and detailed, with massive chunks of land that float through the sky and move around independently, that corners probably had to be cut somewhere so that our consoles didn’t simply buckle under the weight of all this stuff happening at once. And I’ll gladly take some pixilated textures over a small draw distance, which could have completely destroyed the entire feel of this painstakingly crafted environment.
If you like video games at all, you simply shouldn’t miss BioShock Infinite. This is the game we’ll be sharing fond memories of—and discussing the politics and philosophies of—well into the next console generation. Don’t be left out of the conversation.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
One of the most beautiful environments we’ve ever seen, hindered a bit by some unexpectedly low-res textures in places. 4.5 Control
Not perfect, but the gunplay feels like a vast improvement over the original BioShock 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Simply amazing. From the absurdly talented voice actors to the so-happy-it’s-actually-creepy music selection to set the mood, this game sounds fantastic from start to finish. 5.0 Play Value
One of the best video game storylines in recent memory, coupled with an absolutely unforgettable environment you won’t want to ever leave. Though the game doesn’t actually give you any real incentive to return for a second playthrough, you’ll want to do so anyway because the experience is just so damn good. 5.0 Overall Rating – The Best
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|