Whoa there, pilgrim! Let me save you some time from reading this digital gospel. In a nutshell, the game is excellent and by far the greatest interactive narrative to grace us in a very long while.
Still not convinced? Read on.
Bioshock Infinite is the third entry in Irrational Games’ award-winning Bioshock series, and a powerful one at that. Twice we were brought under the sea in the Randian city of Rapture; this time we’re taken to the sky amidst the majestic city of Columbia. The tale starts off strong with a brief and vague delivery of your point of view character, a Pinkerton agent named Booker DeWitt. The opening sequence delivers us a promise: DeWitt is indebted to the wrong people and is on his way to fulfill his end of a mysterious bargain. This pilgrimage is summarized by a recurring sentence: “bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt.”
The girl in question is Elizabeth, a sage of a lady with the mysterious ability to open up tears in time. A captive in a tower guarded by the ubiquitous Songbird, Elizabeth drives the emotional engine of the game as both companion and goal in your quest to spirit her away from the clutches of her captors. This sets the stage for what appears to be a grand rescue, a seemingly impossible infiltration of the heavenly community of Columbia. Where Bioshock discussed crumbling utopias and objectivism, Infinite played with religion and manifest destiny. Columbia is a city rife with dogma and zeal; in it the white man rules supreme, and the city is a sort of Death Star that looms over lands beneath or what it dubs as the “Sodom below”.
Infinite runs on the Unreal Engine, a relic alongside modern graphical powers such as CryTek’s CryEngine and Ubisoft’s Dunia. Despite that, it still manages to hold its own and dazzle with elegant lighting effects, vibrant palletes and stunning vistas. Columbia is ALIVE, in every sense of the word: from cobbled streets to decrepit alleyways, the city teems with life. Various NPCs litter the place, each supplying the player with vignette ambient dialogue making it a joy to simply walk around and take a break from combat.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about battle.
Like how the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, Infinite respects its formers well. Featuring a tight control system that supplies you the right function for the job, Infinite supplements its predecessor’s control system by allowing the player to carry two weapons and powers to easily switch on the fly. Replacing Rapture’s Plasmids are Vigors, powerful concoctions that grant its consumers access to various esoteric abilities such as summoning numerous crows, igniting both environment and adversaries alike, and even possessing machines or people to fight alongside you. The results are very rewarding albeit overpowered: you will find yourself relying far too much on Murder of Crows to even try using the other Vigors in your arsenal simply because of ease.
Weapons in Infinite are more traditional compared to its predecessor, providing the player with shotguns, pistols and machine guns that simply function rather than bog the user down with complexity. But the star of the player’s arsenal is the Skyhook, a melee device that acts as both transportational tool and combat armament. An array of rails dance around certain locations in Columbia, and the player can latch on to them ala rollercoaster ride to take them to vantage points or quest specifics.
Pacing is a trait Infinite exercises magnificently. The game is linear yet the pacing is woven so seamlessly. It feels like a good book, taking you from plot point to combat, while providing you a steady trickle of mystery that rival works done by narrative legends like Christopher Nolan and Alfred Hitchcock. And like an excellent prose, you’ll crave to know what’s next without any narrative air pockets to shake you out of the experience. It starts strong and ends with a bang. It delivers a certain kind of storytelling suspense that creeps slowly towards you, like a rabid dog that appears docile, and will slam you with an “oh snap!” realization that will leave you reeling long after the game is finished.
I may be praising the game far too much despite a few shortcomings, yet the pros significantly outweigh the cons and Infinite is only human despite its near perfection. In closing, Bioshock Infinite is a powerful and thought-invoking title that clearly justifies its notorious development delays and ambitious marketing boasts. It’s a testimony to the power of story: the wonders of the pledge, the glamour of the prestige in a gentle wrapping of pop culture and historical references. It’s a masterclass of design and balance and a true technical marvel despite visual handicaps. In an industry saturated with so many derivatives, it’s refreshing to know that developers can still deliver impressive works and make players go “hallelujah.”