I’ll start this review by getting the obvious out of the way; this is the best video game I have played in years. No fooling. I’ll also say right away that I’m going to be posting massive spoilers, and will be talking in depth about the ending, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, then look away now. You have been warned.
So yeah, this game is such a masterpiece. But why is it so? Well let’s get into it, shall we?
Bioshock Infinite is the third game in the Bioshock series (or 5th if you wanna lump the System Shock games into one big “shock” series. While the first two games took place in the underwater utopia of Rapture, this new entry takes a large departure and sets the game in the early 1900′s in the floating city of Columbia. The ideas behind this city are much different as well. While Rapture was based on the ideas of Ayn Rand and other likeminded individuals, Columbia is a sort of “ideal” version of America, heavily based on the founding fathers and whatnot. What we get here is a game that feels familiar to those who have played the first two Bioshock’s, but is a game that is also very, very different. The game begins in a rowboat heading for a lighthouse just of the east coast of the United States. Main character Booker DeWitt is a man in debt to the wrong people and has been given a task that will absolve him of his troubles; go to the floating city of Columbia and find a young woman names Elizabeth, and bring her back to New York. Pretty simple set up, but this game is far from simple, as anyone who has played it will attest to.
A striking moment for me is the moment when you first arrive in Columbia. It is so vastly different to your arrival in Rapture in Bioshock 1. When you first arrive in Rapture, it is broken, battered and the verge of absolute collapse. The citizens are not reduced to near feral beings, and it is clear from the very beginning the city is well beyond saving. Columbia is a vastly different place. When you first set foot outdoors, you see a city that is exactly that, a city. The sun is bright, everything looks clean and orderly, and people are going about their lives. You even see people attending parades and a fair. There are clear indications that not all is peachy in this city, however. There are inklings that there are those within the city who wish to bring about change using less than peaceful methods (the Vox Populi), and that the people of Columbia are not entirely accepting of those who are different (aka non-white people). In fact, it is a blatant example of racism that sets things in motion at the beginning of the game. It also really demonstrates how nasty of a weapon the skyhook can be…that poor man’s face. This is one reason I absolutely adore this game; Columbia is just an absolute wonder, and is one of the best video game settings I’ve had the pleasure of exploring in a long time. Its actually kind of sad to see it degenerate into anarchy later on the game, as this once beautiful city is reduced to blood-filled streets and columns of smoke and fire.
In regards to gameplay, this one soars above the other two Bioshock games, and for a number of reasons. With weapons, things have been changed rather extensively. Whereas in the Bioshock 1 and 2 you had a permanent stable of upgradable weapons, this game opts for a more modern approach and only allows for you to carry 2 weapons at a time. This means you’ll be changing weapons a lot throughout the game, and while there are weapon upgrades to be purchased throughout the game, they are a little different from the other games. The selection of weapons includes most of your standard stuff, from pistols to machine guns, shotguns to rifles, to various kinds of explosive weapons. I absolutely love the weapon aesthetics in this game. A lot of the weapons are very early 1900′s, fitting the timeframe of the game, but a lot of the other stuff looks almost cobbled together, such as the burst rifle and the rocket launcher. They all look fantastic and very steampunk in a way. Combat itself is also very engaging, but it is also very new feeling as well. Whereas the first two games took place in secluded corridors, this game mostly takes place outdoors, so what we get is much more intense, larger gunfights. The enemies are also immensely different. We are no longer fighting crazy degenerate splicers, but Columbia’s police and military, to eventually the Vox Populi rebels (who do channel Bioshock’s splicers with their weird attire and personalities). This means fights are bigger and more intense than ever. Another new aspect for this game is the skyhook and rails. Used as a method of transportation, they allow for faster travel around areas, but they can also be used in combat. When on a rail, you can leap down on enemies for a deadly aerial strike. The rails also can be used for quickly moving around your enemies to gain the advantage in battle. Its a really fun mechanic, and can make a pitched battle even more intense and fun. Perhaps the biggest aspect of the gameplay is of course secondary main character and your partner for most of the game, Elizabeth. After you meet her for the first time, she is with you for practically the rest of the game (aside from one or two spots where she is briefly gone) and is the perfect AI partner in my opinion. The game makes it very clear to you that you don’t need to worry about Elizabeth. In other words, the game avoids being a giant escort quest by making it so Elizabeth doesn’t die, and takes cover in combat. While she doesn’t actually fight, she is a big support in battle. She will sometimes toss you ammo, health packs, salt (the resource for your Vigor powers, which are the new plasmids.) or even money. SHe is also able to summon various things through rifts, such as turrets, cover, or weapons and supplies, for you to use. All you have to do is hit the button prompt when it pops up, and there you go. She’s also helpful outside of combat as you’ll need her to open locks with lock-picks, and she’ll often point out items around you. Elizabeth beng your partner in crime really is what makes this game special. It makes the game a little less lonely, and she’s just such an awesome character to have around. She might be one of the best female characters in gaming history in my opinion.
The story of this game also shines, and it is so deep and complex that it really makes you think. The primary plot revolves around Elizabeth, and her mysterious power which allows her to open rifts into other time-periods and even parallel universes. The leader of Columbia, the enigmatic Zachariah Comstock, intends to use her power to lead Columbia into glory, and has Elizabeth locked away inside a large monument/tower where she is studied day and night. To make sure she never escapes, the massive and powerful Songbird is created to keep her locked up. This is where I’m gonna dive into some of the more complex aspects of the plot. Elizabeth’s power allows her to not only see other time periods, but entirely separate parallel universes as well. THis comes up numerous times as you are forced to step into these alternate timelines in order to change events around you. It is also heavily implied that nearly all of the advanced technologies used by Columbia and its odd scientists were gained by viewing these alternate worlds through the rifts and gleaming bits of future tech and science. The Songbird especially comes into play here, but I’ll get into that later, as it deals heavily with the ending. The idea of the future and alternate timelines/universes pops up all the time. When you first meet Elizabeth, she attempts to open a rift to Paris, but quickly closes it as a vehicle on the other side nearly runs her down through the portal. From the quick glance we see through the rift, it is Paris in the 1980′s (as a sign on a nearby theater show that Return of the Jedi is playing, or at least I’m fairly certain thats what the sign says) and rifts found throughout the game play songs from the 60′s and 80′s.
The ending itself is incredibly complex, but it is absolutely stunning and amazing. After killing Comstock and taking control of his airship, you attempt to make your way to the Monument to destroy the Siphon, which is essentially preventing Elizabeth from being at her strongest level of power; being not only able to open rifts, but create them at will. At this point, you gain control over the Songbird and can get Elizabeth to call it in to attack enemies and airships. Once you command the Songbird to destroy the Siphon, however, the Songbird turns on you. However, Elizabeth is once again fully powered and teleport all 3 of you away at the last moment. It’s where she teleports you that is truly interesting. She teleports you to the underwater city of Rapture.
This is where we’ll diverge for a moment and talk about the Songbird and its origins. Simply put, the Songbird is Columbia’s own version of Rapture’s Big Daddy’s. An audio log obtained in the game implies that when looking through a rift, the scientists of Columbia saw technology that combined man and machine. This is the Big Daddy, as you’ll remember that in the first and second Bioshock games, the Big Daddy’s were not simply big dudes in diving suit, but men fused to technological suits and turned into the guardians of the little sisters. Hmm…big bio-mechanical monstrosities protecting powerful girls…sound familiar? Its exactly the same as Songbird and Elizabeth. In Infinite, Elizabeth is the Little Sister, while Songbird is the Big Daddy.
So back to the ending. Elizabeth transports her, Booker and Songbird to Rapture, where the Songbird is crushed by the pressure of being so deep underwater. From here, you make your way to a world where all there is an infinite number of lighthouses. This realm is essentially a world where the entrances to each and every parallel universe exists. From here, everything becomes clear. Elizabeth is in fact Booker’s daughter, Anna, and Zachariah Comstock is Booker DeWitt. The key to this is the baptism Booker attended after the tragedy he encountered at the battle of Broken Knee. In one universe, Booker accepted the Baptism, and was reborn as Comstock, who went on to form Columbia. By using the rifts, he was able to see future events. But unfortunately use of the rifts left him sterile, so in order to create a successor, he went to our Booker’s universe (this Booker, the one we play as, didn’t accept the baptism, so he remained himself, and went on to have a daughter, Anna). Booker gave up Anna to clear himself of his debts. At the last minute he changed his mind and tried to get Anna back, but he was unable to stop Comstock from taking her back through the rift to Columbia. As the rift closed, however, part of Anna’s pinky finger was severed by the closing rift, and this is what led to Elizabeth’s power; she was technically in two universes at once. Booker was then brought into the universe of Columbia and set on the task of rescuing Elizabeth (forging in his mind that he had to get her to wipe away the debt, even though he had technically already done that). The game ends on two notes. Booker realizes that the only way to end things is to ensure Columbia never existed. This means ensuring Comstock never existed. Of course, this is when we learn that Booker and Comstock are the same person, and this means only one thing; Booker himself must die, and he is drowned by various alternate Elizabeth’s in the place of his baptism. The game ends on a positive note, as during a post credit scene, we are once again Booker back in his New York Office. We can hear a baby in the other room, and the game ends as we walk through the door, seeing only a baby crib. It is implied by this that when Booker died, the timeline was reset and the universe was reset to one where Booker didn’t accept the baptism and instead lived a peaceful life with his daughter Anna, never creating the floating city of Columbia.
There is also a unique theory floating out there regarding the songbird. The Songbird is so overprotective of Elizabeth, and is devoted to protecting her even as it dies by her hand. Much like a father. The idea is that yet another alternate Booker DeWitt was used to create the Songbird, and I actually like to think this theory is true. It really gives new meaning to the name “Big Daddy” if you ask me.
This game is truly something else. Never before have I truly been sucked into a game as I was with Infinite, and the fact that I’m still thinking about it now after finishing it is truly a testament to its emotional power. If you play just one game this year, make it Bioshock Infinite. It towers above other games not only in gameplay, but in its cast of characters and its powerful and emotional storyline. This is without a doubt the best game I have played in many, many years. I know their’s a lot I’m leaving out here in regards to story and plot points, but there is just so much to this game I just don’t have the time to point out every little thing in this game. This is something that must truly be experienced for oneself.