Today’s topic is BioShock Infinite, a game that has been heavily anticipated by the gaming public and critics alike.  The third game in the critically acclaimed BioShock series, the game had a lot to live up to, especially the legacy of the first BioShock, which is considered by many to be one of the best games of the generation. There is no denying that the first BioShock is definitely one of the most important games of the last decade as it is considered as an example of how games are a legitimate art form.  When the game was finally released last month, it was heavily praised by critics with some saying that it surpassed the first BioShock.  However, it also caused some controversy among gamers over many different aspects such as the use of violence in the game, the ending, and other things that I can’t think of right now.  How does this game hold up to the original?

You take control on Booker DeWitt, an ex-soldier who feels regret for the casualties he committed during the Battle of Wounded Knee.  He is sent on a mission to go to Columbia, a floating city in the sky, to rescue a girl named Elizabeth in order to make up for the sins he committed in his life.  While his presence is initially unnoticed, he is discovered and is labeled the False Shepard, who is prophesied to bring about the downfall of Columbia.  He managed to rescue Elizabeth from her prison and tries to get out of Columbia, while on the run from Zachary Comstock, the religious leader of Columbia.

The story is the definition of a sprawling narrative as it deals with several themes such as religion, quantum theory, the worst aspects of humanity, jingoism, racial segregation and many others.  There is also a lot of mystery to the story as there are many aspects that are only revealed towards the end of the game.  There are many questions that are answered and a few that are left ambiguous.

BioShock Infinite’s story is incredibly ambitious and would be very easy to turn into a convoluted mess.  Thankfully, the story more than succeeds in dealing with its themes.  There are a few aspects could have been expanded on further such as the character of Songbird, who is interesting but doesn’t do all that much in the story.  There are also times where parts are dragged out for a bit longer than they should be, especially during the middle part of the game.

However, it manages to succeed on maintaining your interest throughout.  This is also due to the main characters in the game, Booker and Elizabeth.  Booker DeWitt could have easily fallen into the same trap as a lot of first person game protagonists suffer from and become blank slates.  However, he manages to be a surprisingly interesting character, being a cynical ex-solder who is doing this in hopes that it will erase all of the sins he committed.  There is also Elizabeth, who is an example of how to do a female protagonist right as she is the heart of the story and manages to play off Booker wonderfully.

Without spoilers, I will say that the most controversial element of the story is the ending.  The ending has divided gamers with many saying the ending is brilliant while others feel that it renders the story to be meaningless.  I personally am in the former camp as I felt the ending managed to fit in context of the story.

Now that the discussion of the story is done, we can now get to the gameplay.  Like previous games in the series, it is a first person shooter with role playing elements in it.  Booker is only allowed to carry two guns at once which makes it important to switch weapons and experiment with them in order to choose which type of guns best fit the situation.  It is also important to carefully choose which of these weapons to upgrade.  There is also gear, which Booker can equip and gain several offensive and defensive advantages with them as it is crucial that players choose which gear to equip in order provide the best advantage to them during firefight.

In addition to guns, you can also use vigors, which are Infinite’s equivalent of the plasmids from the first two BioShock games.  There are eight vigors total, which give you the power of telekinesis, the ability to manipulate electricity, control crows, reflect enemy fire back at enemies back at them, and other types of abilities.  It be imperative that players switch between the different vigors and experiment with them in order to figure out which powers are more useful in each type of situation, especially since some vigors are more useful overall than others.

Another crucial element of the game is Elizabeth.  She is your A.I. partner during the game that will be helpful to you during the game.  For example, unlike Ashley from Resident Evil 4, the player doesn’t need to worry about Elizabeth as she is able to take care of herself during firefight.  In addition, she will help Booker in various ways such as give him any health packs, ammo, and salts that she finds.  She will also be able to open tears that will allow players to gain certain advantages over enemies such as health packs, ammo, cover to protect Booker from enemy fire, and automatic machine guns that will open fire on enemies that are in range.

There is also the Skyline, which is a rail-based system that allows the players to travel, jump between rails, and use it to take down enemies.  Enemies can also use it in order to get closer to the player so Booker is not the only one who can use it.  Creative uses of the Skyline allows Booker to take down enemies, to flank them, and area of effect attacks against them.  The Skyline introduces new ways of doing combat in the game.  This element does admit-ably make me question how Booker and others can jump so high to get on the Skyline but that is honestly too much of a nitpick to really care all that much, even if I do get why some people will question it.

Once players beat the game for the first time, they gain the option of playing the game again in 1999 mode, which is a more challenging version of the game in which players have to be more be more careful choosing Booker’s upgrades with certain weapon types, which can make later parts of the game more difficult and might necessitate the player to reload from an earlier save in order to manage Booker’s resources more carefully.  I do feel that 1999 mode should have been available as an option for players at the start rather than having them need to beat the game once before they are allowed to choose that mode of difficulty.

I will now take the time to cover the controversy that surround the game.  Many people were very vocal in their opinion that the violence in the game is excessive and distracts from the narrative of the game.  While I do see where they are coming from, I do feel that the violence actually helps emphasis how Columbia is a false paradise that is just smoke and mirrors to cover up the fact that it is more dystopian in nature.  I do feel that this game is doing something right as it is provocative and is prompting discussion.

Now that’s out of the way, we can move on to the presentation of the game.  While textures and modeling are above par, it is the art design that really makes the visuals sign in BioShock Infinite.  The contrast between the colorful public areas and the darker, more empty looking places are incredibly striking.  There is some minor flaws as there is the occasional graphical glitch here and there but nothing that will really break immersion for players.

Sound-wise, Infinite has a fantastic soundtrack that really helps sell the atmosphere of the game, whether it is a quartet singing an arranged version of a Beach Boys song or the unnerving atmosphere of the seemingly peaceful sky city turn into the dystopia.  The rest of the sound design also impresses with the seemingly peaceful townsfolk juxtaposed with the more chaotic reality of Columbia making for an eerie atmosphere.  Finally, the voice acting is incredibly solid whether it is Troy Baker’s cynical Booker, Courtnee Draper’s seeming peaceful but ultimately disturbed Elizabeth, or Oliver Vaquer and and Jennifer Hale’s unsettling but memorable turns as the Lutece twins, there is not a sour beat in the voice cast.

BioShock Infinite is one of the best examples of a game that is more than the sum of its parts as while almost no aspect of the game is perfect, they are just done so well that it really comes together to make a fantastic and memorable experience whether it is the sprawling narrative, the eerie atmosphere, or the gameplay that has been expanded upon from it’s predecessors, BioShock Infinite is a game that simple needs to be experienced, even if you don’t end up liking it, as it is probably going to be one of the most important games, if not the most important game, this year.


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