Are you afraid of God?
No…but I’m afraid of you.
And with that begins the most anticipated video game of 2013.
Litta’ Bitta’ Plot (only minor spoilers):
In Bioshock Infinite, you are Booker Dewitt, a private investigator who has been hired to retrieve a girl from Columbia, mysterious floating city in the sky. Self-proclaimed prophet Zachary Comstock, a former war hero and ultra-nationalist, founded the city as a haven of prosperity and purity.
Walking through the city, you see the fruits of his efforts: the glory of the great floating city, the smiling citizens, the technological marvels…but as one would expect in a Bioshock game, not everything is what it seems. Look a little deeper, and you find deep-seated racism, cultism, and exploitation.
You manage to find the girl, Elizabeth, but she too is not what she seems. And the story’s just getting started…
Bioshock 3, or Something Else?
With a name like Bioshock Infinite, a question begs to be asked: Is it a Bioshock sequel, or a completely different game?
The answer is…both. And neither.
Bioshock Infinite is like Bioshock in all the right ways and different in all the right ways as well. Columbia echoes of Rapture at times, both cities bent and guided by one man’s philosophical vision. But where Rapture is dark and terrifying from its first moments and remains so throughout, we see the entire devolution of Columbia, from shining city to roiling madness. The audio diaries are still around (now called voxophones), and there are plenty of other things to look around and find on your journey.
So How’s It Play?
When playing a new game in a franchise, it’s easy to ask, “What did they break?” Rather than finding anything broken, I think the changes made actually improve on the original’s gameplay.
Infinite shares its predecessor’s mix of gunplay and unique abilities–this time powered by ‘vigors’ instead of plasmids. Instead of having a full arsenal of guns and just a handful of vigors, though, you keep all vigors equipped as they are found, and only hold two guns at a time. Although this may sound limiting, it really isn’t. First, there are enough guns lying around to switch to a new one every couple minutes or so. Second, it encourages you to use the vigors more and experiment with their uses.
There are still plenty of upgrades for weapons and vigors, but instead of searching for special upgrade stations, you buy all upgrades with money at vending machines. This allows them to include a lot more upgrades, and offers you more choice in how you improve yourself.
Hoarded healthpacks and hypos are out. Health and salts are replenished by what you find on the battlefield, and supplies are appropriately increased to accommodate this shift. You also receive a magnetic shield early in the game, which recharges when not in battle. Yeah, I know every other game does that, but they all do it because it works. And it works here too.
As in the original Bioshock, player death is non-deathy, taking away money and healing enemies, but not forcing you to go back to your last checkpoint. The game’s length is comparable to the original game. I rented it from Redbox and played through it in a day and a half (Best two dollars I’ve spent in a long time). It took me about 14-15 hours to play through, and I found 3/4 of the voxophones and other collectibles, so a little shorter if you want to speed through, and a little longer if you like to FIND ALL THE THINGS.
What About Elizabeth?
The game just came out yesterday, but people have been doing Elizabeth cosplay at the ‘cons for over a year now. And that’s probably just going to increase now that the game is out. Move over, Alyx Vance, because Elizabeth is everything you could ask for in an AI companion.
And in-game hint informs you early on that you don’t need to watch out for Elizabeth, because she can take care of herself. You hear that, Ashley Graham? Yeah, just go on back and hide in your garbage bin.
But she also doesn’t try to play the game for you, ala Resident Evil 5. She brings her own abilities to combat, but the gameplay is still up to you. She also doesn’t always get in the way when you JUST WANT TO GO THROUGH A #%$& DOORWAY!
But you can avoid the classic AI pitfalls and still be annoying, cloying, or just unremarkable. Fortunately, Elizabeth does none of these. She is intelligent and capable without being a video game bad-ass she-man. She is emotional and caring without being a Disney princess or Mary Sue. She’s scared, yet hopeful. Vulnerable, yet strong. Trusting, yet careful. She’s three-dimensional, and I’m not just talking about her model design.
Her vibrant animation keeps her from ever feeling like a cold, robotic NPC wanderer. She provides a warmth and feeling that counters and contrasts the growing darkness of Columbia, and an emotional tie that keeps you running through the world without a second thought.
So Which Game’s Your Favorite?
Aw, are you really going to make me choose one or the other?
Although the games share commonalities, they are about fundamentally different ideas. Bioshock explored themes of choice and free will. Bioshock Infinite explores personal worth, corruption, redemption…and quantum physics. Bioshock Infinite may not have the same sort of ‘Whoa’ moment that the original had, but it has its own shocks and surprises that are just as deep in their own way.
The two games are fighting it out for #1 and #2 on my all-time favorite video games list, but if I had to pick one right now, I’d give the spot to Bioshock Infinite, if only because I’m still contemplating its ramifications and reeling from the story’s emotional impact. Bioshock may have made me think more, but Infinite made me think and feel.
So go buy it. Or rent it! I’m taking my rental back to Redbox today, so there’s at least one copy floating around out there. Just play it. Would you, kindly?