I don’t usually review video games for a variety of reasons, the main one being that I never have the time these days to really plough through a game straight after release and then cobble together something that is both timely and reflective of the full experience.
There is, however, one exception to this rule. Back in 2007, 2K Games released an intriguing little shooter called BioShock. A spiritual successor to the System Shock games, the sinister underwater setting and core production values instantly installed the game as one of my all-time favourites, and I would go to bed at night with the Circus of Values chimes running over and over in my head. Finally a game had harnessed modern console power to produce a stunningly immersive experience and a storyline in which you actually gave two hoots about the main characters.
Six years on and after the not-quite-as-good BioShock 2, we finally get the game we’ve been waiting for; BioShock Infinite. Early trailers and screens had given away the theme, with 2K taking the setting from fathoms below the Earth to miles above it in the floating city of Columbia, its gleaming spires hiding something sinister within.
The story is pretty simple in theory, even going so far as to mirror the earliest of Donkey Kong games; rescue the girl. But that is where the simplicities end. As lead protagonist Booker DeWitt, you are charged with not only finding the girl in question, Elizabeth, but also uncovering exactly what debts you will be repaying by doing so, and exploring the majestic flying city as you do.
To cover off the full plot would take another 2000 words, and as the game really needs to be experienced I’m not going to go into too much detail here. It doesn’t give too much away to say that Columbia is governed by Father Zachary Comstock, leader of a group called the Founders who strive to keep Columbia orderly against the rising discontent of revolutionaries the Vox Populi. A self-proclaimed ‘Prophet’, Comstock spends his time warning his people against the coming of the False Shepherd who is said to be responsible for bringing about Columbia’s downfall.
The city is a brilliant dystopia, rivalling Rapture as a morally ambiguous haven for saints and sinners. Throughout the game, you’ll come across various other characters from businessmen and scientists to shopkeepers and slaves who you can choose to treat either with respect or disdain, depending on your reading of the game’s society and of your character’s motivation.
Weaponry comes in the form of the usual line-up of pistols, shotguns, machine guns, sniper rifles and RPGs, all of which can be upgraded to the hilt, whilst kit parcels hidden amongst Columbia’s buildings give you special abilities which can be swapped in and out depending on the enemy you’re fighting at the time.
Of course, you can’t have a BioShock game without some supernatural special powers and just as the original had plasmids, here we have vigors which provide you with magical, mystical abilities. Powered by salts, the vigors feature amongst their number the ability to unleash a quite literal murder of ravens upon your foes, the power to shoot Sith-like crackles of electricity at all and sundry, or a talent for possessing machines and humans to do your bidding. All of the vigors have a secondary ability too in the form of traps which can be laid in the path of on-rushing foes, adding a nice tactical element to proceedings.
The combination of weaponry (right trigger) and vigors (left) works exceptionally well, and you’ll quickly be raining bullets down on enemies before finishing them off with an electrical burst or bull in a china shop charge.
The other part of your arsenal is the Sky-Hook. Created for attaching yourself to the monorail system that coils around Columbia, the wrist-based hook can not only be used for speeding around the city, but also as a melee weapon with which to batter your opponents.
An integral part of the game is Elizabeth herself and again it isn’t really a spoiler to say that you will travel with her for some of your journey. Elizabeth serves a few purposes and most importantly, she looks after herself. The game would have been severely hampered if 2K had focused on you having to constantly watch her back, so it’s pleasing to see the young lady intelligently taking cover and even going so far as to search the surroundings, lobbing you salts, ammo or money when required. She can also pick locks and open tears in space and time, allowing you to ask her to bring through assistance such as turrets, drones or cover during some of the trickier battles.
Graphically, there is little that surpasses this game on modern consoles. The environments are varied enough without ever being jarring and seeing the city both sparkling in sunlight and shrouded in darkness are equally satisfying. Enemies are insanely designed enough for you to know that you’re in a BioShock game and despite Infinite being set a fair few years before the first two in the franchise, similar stylistic themes prevail.
A special mention should also go to the soundtrack. Not only are the voice actors involved all on top form (including veteran Troy Baker as Booker) the music throughout is everything from haunting to jolly to maniacal, topped off by a brilliant cover of Tears For Fears ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’.
So, is this game better than the first Bioshock? Possibly. It does look even better than its forebear, whilst the mechanics have been tweaked just enough so that it is familiar but also as tight as a gnat’s chuff.
There are a couple of minor quibbles, however. Medium difficulty generally gives you plenty of opportunity and cash to restock with ammo, but a random section suddenly provided me with zero ammunition for an extended length of time. Fortunately, this only served to make me more resourceful with my vigors and Sky-Hook. There are also a couple of ‘stuck in the scenery’ moments when the area you’re in becomes particularly dark (warning kids – don’t knock your brightness right down at the start) and the game also glitched once, refusing to let me past without a reboot, but presumably that will get fixed with a patch.
All in all, BioShock Infinite is a stunning game. As soon as I completed it I had to sit in awe, watching the credits and taking some deep breaths, trying to digest all that had been presented to me over a pretty mammoth 15+ hour journey through Columbia and beyond. 2K Games have delivered an astonishing, thinking person’s shooter that sucks you so far into its world, you’ll wonder if you or Booker will ever escape.