BioShock Infinite is not the game that I thought it would be, nor is it the game that I wanted. Before diving into this shooter a few things need to be made clear: BioShock Infinite has very little of importance to say on the matters of racism and racial purity, overzealous nationalism and religious extremism and the various social issues that are present in the game. They are merely window dressing in order to tell a character-based fantasy story. They have their moments in the narrative, but are far from the main focus. For those who may have held onto the hope that BioShock Infinite would make a significant social statement, temper your expectations.
But as soon as that disappointment wore off, the game had me. Those that are looking for the best first-person shooter released to market in years are going to be in for a treat, and should also avoid reading everything there is on this game until they complete it. Cast as Booker DeWitt, you begin the game with a goal, "Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt," and an unimaginably beautiful place, Columbia, the city in the sky. Both that opening line and the city are two of the driving forces behind the game. BioShock Infinite is a game of absolute cohesion, and it never breaks from what it sets out to do.
When you first land on Columbia a sense of sheer wonder begins to flood over you as you explore the city and take in the sights. Exploration is ultimately so enjoyable that I found myself wishing that BioShock Infinite was a non-combat game, and instead a puzzle-based adventure where I could explore the sights, rescue the girl, use vigors to help get us out of the city with wits, and deal with the racist population and their extreme religious views. I wanted ammunition to be limited so that if I had to kill someone it would take a toll on Booker and Elizabeth. That fantasy of the game I wanted quickly came to an end of course, as I was typically forced to view the world of Columbia down the barrel of a gun. You get what you pay for however, its hard to condemn a first-person shooter simply for being a first-person shooter, and BioShock Infinite is one of the best in years.
The quality of exploration is spectacular, all due of course to the magical feel of Columbia. But the same issue arose in the first BioShock, where exploring Rapture was a joy, but combat was rather dull. Thankfully that is not the case this time around. BioShock Infinite is a spectacular combat experience that has you utilizing your weapons, vigors, gear that you have found and the verticality of the battlegrounds to defeat your opponents.
As with any first-person shooter, the main method of combat will likely come by firing your weapons. Most of the guns have two weapon types with the exception of the RPG and Sniper Rifle. I did however have certain preferences, so it was nice to have the ability to run with a machine gun that I actually enjoyed using. The shooting is nowhere near as floaty as in the first BioShock, this time around it feels weightier and more substantial. Weapons have the ability to be upgraded just like in the first game, although this time around the design of the guns does not change into the elaborate models of the first game.
Vigors, essentially Plasmids from the first BioShock, are an important part of combat as well. You can play the game without really using them, but it would be unwise to do so. There are eight vigors in total that allow you to possess enemies, use the elements, and for reasons unknown, launch crows from the palm of your hand. Each of the vigors can work in tandem with one another, for instance, shocking mechanical enemies with electricity to stop them, while possessing a rocket turret that will blast them from behind is as cool as it sounds.
Gear is a little off in BioShock Infinite, however. For reasons that never make any sense, you can wear pants, hats and other articles of clothing that will aid you in combat. Sometimes by letting you reload faster, other times by causing a fiery explosion every time you land from a skyline. It is an immersion breaker; however, you will quickly find your favorites and stick to them. There are many variations to be found, for instance, those more focused on aiming down ironsights will prefer a hat that gives them added damage when they aim, but gives reduced damage when they fire from the hip. None of the gear is upgradeable so it is simply a matter of finding the pieces that work with your playstyle.
The most impressive part of combat however is the level design. Skylines connect various parts of the game world together and let you get a jump on your enemies or escape from difficult situations to catch a breather. Enemies can be above or below you, not just in front of you, and dealing with that verticality is the key to survival. However, you are not the only one who can use the skylines, so be prepared for a few rollercoaster like chases in larger encounters.
Enemy AI is a bit improved from the first BioShock, but much of that is due in large part to the more open level design. Thankfully, enemies do not become more powerful as you progress through the game. This was an issue in the first BioShock where you would shoot an enemy with your shotgun and they simply would not die, despite upgrading the weapon. That sort of level scaling is not present here. Enemies remain the same, so when you upgrade the damage of your weapon, your opponents wont be negating the effects you paid for.
BioShock Infinite also understands when to utilize enemies. The first BioShock had you facing down Splicers and Big Daddies. The Big Daddies were meant to be enemies that would produce a sense of fear, but it ultimately failed because you fought them so frequently. They just felt like beefier opponents, albeit ones with a very sad backstory. BioShock Infinite avoids that hurdle, often forcing merely human opponents and mechanical presidents to do battle against you. But it also saved the imposing enemies for a select few encounters. The use of the Handyman in BioShock Infinite is spectacular. There are only a handful of encounters with this opponent and each of them feels like true mini-boss battles that get you on edge. The design is not nearly as iconic as the Big Daddy, and in terms of narrative they dont necessarily work as well as the Big Daddy, but in terms of gameplay, each encounter with the Handyman is a thrilling battle.
Columbia is a rich and beautiful game world with quite a bit of darkness to it. The beauty of this game lies in how dreamlike the city feels. You almost expect a whimsical journey to take place. The way the clouds float across the city, to the architecture and design of Columbia itself. If anything can be criticized about the game's graphics it is the repeated character models for NPCs. There aren't enough unique bodies and it is a little silly to sometimes see an entire group of characters having a discussion, all with the same character model. Another thing is how every NPC magically disappears during combat, rather than having to deal with the horror of seeing murders take place in front of them. But that is more than made up for with the beauty of the environments you will explore, as well as the beautifully animated Elizabeth, who simply comes to life on-screen.
BioShock Infinite also has some of the finest sound mixing and editing that I have heard. Most games in the genre tend to go for explosions, but BioShock Infinite utilizes audio throughout the game perfectly. In one scene you are trying to talk to a teller to get tickets to an airship. But as the conversation progresses, the music and dialogue die down and the ticking of the clock picks up. The audio mixing creates a sense of place, and most importantly, paying attention to the audio will begin to give you clues to the narrative as well. BioShock Infinite is a game that is at its best when it is listened to, and this rarely applies to the majority of videogame releases. Combine this with one of the most beautiful soundtracks composed for a shooter and BioShock Infinite is an absolute joy to listen to.
BioShock Infinite is a game best played at your own pace. While combat is fast-paced, the explorative gamer will see and hear things that the objective-focused gamer will miss out on. The audio logs are spectacular, the kinetoscopes are fantastic pieces of propaganda and seeing and hearing each of them is vital to enriching an already fantastic experience. Average playtimes of BioShock Infinite seem to take about twelve hours, however, my playthrough took almost twenty hours, and I still missed out on some of the kinetoscopes and audio logs. If you have not played the game, than by all means, avoid reading any of the discussions on the game, avoid listening to overly excited friends who want to boast about what they have experienced, and just go dark. It is the best way to experience BioShock Infinite. While it is a shame that the narrative is not the meaningful experience I had hoped it would be, it still provides an excellent fantasy story that will have you hooked to see more of it, and almost without a doubt, ready for a second run through it all again.