Every few years a game comes along that can whisk you away to a far off land and make you really believe it exists. These games are the pinnacle of the medium and stand far and above the competition, looking down at them from the clouds. BIOSHOCK INFINITE, the follow-up to the fantastic 2007 game BIOSHOCK, stands tall among the clouds in a way that few games can, both literally and metaphorically.
BIOSHOCK INFINITE takes place in an alternate history 1912 where man has accomplished what we consider impossible; creating a city in the sky. As former Pinkerton agent, Booker Dewitt, you are hired to go to the floating city, Columbia, to rescue a young woman named Elizabeth and bring her back to them in New York. “Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt.” Booker is told. Unfortunately for Booker, he is in for more of a wild ride than originally planned.
The floating city of Columbia, while not actually a character, feels as alive as any place I have ever seen in a video game. The streets are full of life, people sit conversing with each other about the gossip of the times, and things happen whether or not you are there to witness them. This utopia in the sky is one of the most alluring and dissociating places I have ever seen. I both wanted to find a place to live there as well as wanted to escape, because things in Columbia are not all they are cracked up to be.
In Columbia, people believe in the founder, Zachary Comstock, in the way that people believe in a religious figure. He is seen as a prophet that led his people out of the world below and into an arc in the sky. This provides a backdrop for BIOSHOCK INFINITE that is rife with religious parallels, questions of morality, and whether or not people can be redeemed. Nothing in the story of BIOSHOCK INFINITE is black and white. Every situation was carefully researched by the developers at Irrational Games to make sure that players could take away what they wanted from the game.
There are a lot of interesting twists and turns that happen in Infinite that easily match the famous “Would you kindly?” twist from the original BIOSHOCK. I found myself surprised, choked up, and saddened several times throughout the game. This is a story that will likely be talked about for months to come.
Just as the story is rich and full of detail, so are the characters. Booker (voiced by Troy Baker) gives a fantastic performance and really makes you feel for the guy whose shoes you have to walk a few miles in. The many antagonists in the game are wonderfully psychotic, but not so much as they were in the original BIOSHOCK, lending Infinite a more human tone to its enemies. Among the enemies, the deadly Songbird (a huge, possibly mechanical bird creature that flies through the skies watching over Columbia) is by far the most memorable. Though his screen time is far too short, when he did show up, I was enthralled by his oppressive nature and mysterious origin. He is definitely a character I hope will be explored more in upcoming downloadable content.
There are many great characters in BIOSHOCK INFINITE, but the standout performance absolutely goes to Elizabeth (voiced by Courtnee Draper). As a twenty-year-old young woman that has been alone her entire life, Elizabeth wants what many girls her age want, to be whisked away to Paris where she can experience the beauty and majesty of the world. She wants her freedom, but is blind to the world around her. Over the course of the game, players get to watch Elizabeth grow from a doe-eyed young girl to a woman that knows the truth. It is both wonderful and saddening to watch her transformation, much like a parent watching a child move out for the first time.
BIOSHOCK INFINITE brings its A-Game in more than just world and character building. On top of all that there is a fantastic soundtrack that so totally engrosses you within the world of Columbia, that even after you know it isn’t somewhere you want to stay, you don’t want to leave. I was drawn to the music of the period that you can find playing on gramophones throughout the world. These little additions add so much to the experience of drawing you into the game. I haven’t felt so invested in a video game world since the original BIOSHOCK did the same thing with its 40’s soundtrack.
BIOSHOCK INFINITE has given players a great story to play through, interesting characters to understand, and an amazing soundtrack to back it all up. Instead of stopping there though, BIOSHOCK INFINITE decides to ask the hard questions that other games aren’t willing to. INFINITE poses questions about the nature of reality, can people truly be forgiven for their pasts and lets us cleverly examine the morals of people from the 1910’s in a slightly disturbing way. INFINITE doesn’t answer these questions for you. It wants you to decide for yourself what the answers are to these things that we all must live with, and it does so with aplomb.
There is very little bad to say about BIOSHOCK INFINITE. The game does so much correct that more than anything I am nitpicking here. If any one thing stood out to me as an annoyance though, it would be the combat. While the mechanics themselves are fine (though maybe a bit too loose), the amount of combat in the game felt staggering. You fight what feels like wave after wave of enemies, and while it makes sense from a story perspective to a degree, it feels to me like the developers had so many encounters to make it feel more like a “game.” This is actually to INFINITE’S detriment though because I found the quieter, more intimate moments of the game to be its strong suit. The combat works fine and there is very little consequence to death thankfully; I just would have enjoyed seeing a bit less of the fighting and a bit more of the conversing.
BIOSHOCK INFINITE provides a roller-coaster ride that only comes along every several years. This is the game that people around the world will be talking about for months to come and will likely be remembered as one of the greatest of all time. INFINITE gave me everything I could have asked for and more in terms of story, characters, and the soundtrack. Combat is great, but there is a bit too much of it for a game that wants to tell a story as much as INFINITE does. This is one of those games that gamers will hold above their heads as a clear example of video games as art. BIOSHOCK INFINITE absolutely deserves that amount of praise in my mind.
Final Score: 10 out of 10