Everyone was surprised when Irrational Games announced that the next BioShock would take place in the sky. Many feared that it would lose the unique touch that made the original so popular. Specially after the sequel wasn’t as well received. Will this brave new setting help inject some much needed inspiration back in such a highly regarded video-game?
Combat in BioShock Infinite is fairly similar to the previous titles. Main character, Booker DeWitt, starts off with a small pistol. His rather impressive arsenal of weapons continues to grow throughout the course of the journey. Weapons range from the ever useful shotgun to heavy weapons like the RPG. Weapons even have fancy names, such as the Founder China Broom shotgun or the Paddywacker hand cannon.
Using these weapons in combat is very straight forward. It’s possible to either use the broader sight to aim at enemies, or click the right stick to get a better view of distant targets. Obviously some weapons aren’t built for long range combat. However, there are times when it feels like it’s somewhat difficult to aim at distant targets. This is easily fixed further into the story once the trusty sniper rifle is introduced. Strangely enough, it’s only possible to equip two weapons, but it’s fairly easy to obtain different weapons from enemies or by exploring areas.
Another aspect of combat is the use of a sky hook that Booker obtains early into the story. This functional device allows him to hit enemies. Successfully stringing together a few sky hook hits and Booker will finish off the enemy with a gruesome move.
Infinite also makes use of powers like in the previous BioShock video-games. They are referred to as Vigors and require the use of salts. Interestingly enough, Booker naturally obtains new Vigor powers with progress. It’s much better to progressively introduce new powers. Powers are useful on several occasions throughout the course of the story. This applies to both combat and helping Booker get further ahead.
Each of the Vigors has at least two ways to use it in combat. Holding down the power button usually means that it will affect a wider group of enemies in a slightly different manner or having a stronger effect. The Possession power for example will daze a group of enemies when holding down the button. Each Vigor power and its variations will use different chunks of the salts blue bar. It makes the use of these powers balanced, and it means that players won’t rely too much when it comes to using them.
If anything it feels like the combat in BioShock Infinite has been simplified on purpose. This is great since it means that any kind of player can successfully play through the story. Those more experienced will find the upgrades system rewarding.
Upgrades are applied to Vigors and weapons. As usual these are obtained from vending machines found all over the great flying city of Columbia. There are also upgrades that the player can find throughout the story. These give the option to either boost health, a shield earned throughout the story or the Vigor blue bar. It’s a nice touch since each player will think differently. For example, some will want to focus on fortifying the shield and save money on buying health regenerating items.
Experienced players will also like the idea of clothing gear pieces. These will have different functions, such as boosting abilities or even add the chance of burning enemies, when using certain abilities. It’s interesting to try and use different gear to make the most of different situations.
The sky hook isn’t just used during combat to poke holes in enemies. It’s also a handy way to go sightseeing in the flying city. The sky hook acts as a magnet that can be attached to railings found throughout the story, so Booker can travel to new locations. It’s also possible to use these railings during combat. Naturally, doing so will feel disorientating at first because of how fast Booker is moving.
There are also other metal hangers that Booker can use to get to higher places. One of the best ways to use the hook is to drop down on enemies, by making use of the highlighted green area that appears. Travelling with the sky hook is exhilarating and it always works with no exceptions. The clever use of one button to jump on and off the rail makes it nearly impossible to fall. In fact, it never feels like the control mechanics make the experience any less enjoyable. On the contrary, since ideas like the sky hook works like a charm.
But what brings Booker to the flying city of Columbia? His goal is to rescue the mysterious Elizabeth. Once retrieved, Elizabeth becomes an ally that helps Booker throughout the course of their uneasy alliance.
Elizabeth is a resourceful young lady and one of her more unique talents is the ability to create tears to other realities. What this means is that she can bring over other items, cover or even allies from other realities.
She can also scavenge for items, such as money or ammo, that she often enthusiastically throws at Booker. Her ability to predict what items Booker is in dire needs of, during combat, is nothing short of remarkable. She is literally a life saver as she often gives out health packs when health is just about to run out.
It’s certainly refreshing to have a functional AI partner that isn’t there to shoot at enemies. Elizabeth never becomes a burden either. She cleverly stays out of harm, whilst providing support when needed. She even learned to pick locks during the time that she spent locked away in her makeshift home.
The dialogue between Elizabeth and Booker never ceases to amuse. At times it even bizarrely seems like they are turning into a bickering couple. It’s heart breaking to see Elizabeth’s transformation from a shy innocent girl to someone who experienced the harsh realities of the real world, that her cage shielded her from. Even the way she behaves around others changes over time. Initially she is curious about the world, but eventually starts to see that actions have consequences. She will often go off exploring without needing any input from the player. Elizabeth is perhaps one of the best uses of AI seen in this generation.
Ideas like the sky hook and the tears add the possibility of employing more advanced strategies further into the story. Not to say that combat before such features feels dull. It just makes it more exciting to come up with strategies and successfully employ them during combat. It’s certainly handy to only introduce these abilities further into the story, since it ensures that players aren’t overwhelmed with information.
Level design is nothing short of impressive. It’s even possible to go back to areas visited(to a certain extent) and complete optional side quests. One of these involves finding codes to unlock new areas that potentially contain treasure. The streets of Columbia are there for the player to explore. It’s often the case that most buildings and doors are accessible.
Anyone fearing the fact that a sky city would feel limited is in for a shock. Entire areas are dedicated to unusual depictions of familiar locations, such as a lush beach ( that Booker falls into). It’s remarkable to see that the team went all out with ideas when it comes to the city.
Rapture was a fantastic world to explore, due to its claustrophobic network of buildings, narrow passages and the ever impending danger of being underwater. In contrast, Columbia feels inspiring with many of its majestic buildings floating proud in the distant skyline. The use of bright colours against the radiant background of the sky is ingenious. It never gets old just sitting back and taking in the views that BioShock Infinite has to offer.
The use of environmental props, such as being able to electrocute enemies by using the Shock Jockey Vigor, is also commendable. There isn’t a map of the current areas, but a handy way point ensures that players never feel lost. Perhaps what is confusing is the fact that saving is only possible by means of checkpoints. But fortunately these occur often, so it’s not necessary to continue playing for long, when planning on quitting a game session.
BioShock Infinite is a story focused experience at heart. There are plenty of twists that will keep players on their toes. It’s interesting to see Irrational making mention of issues at the time, such as racial inequality and the deep divide between the poor and rich. Even more as the story takes Booker and Elizabeth through the rich and poor districts of Columbia.
What is fascinating though is that these act as triggers to flesh out the characters. The player will tackle the various issues that plague the society of Columbia, but deep down, it’s really about the characters. It’s essentially the desperate escape from the relentless Zachary Hale Comstock and his menacing Songbird pet that moves events forward.
It’s satisfying to start to put together all the pieces that make for a very special story. At times players are even given the choice to pick the outcome of events. These tend to have minor impacts further into the story that will surprise players. The writing is on part with the likes of tv shows such as Lost, in terms of how it engages players to actively seek answers, and shows off just how far video-games have come.
It certainly helps that the character designs are impressive too. The attention to detail is a highlight. Everything down from costumes to the decorations found throughout the city feels like it belongs in 1912. As usual, quirky touches such as information machines and collectible voxophones provide further story details.
The various enemies that Booker is pitted against are resourceful. Enemies will attempt to get the upper hand at all times. Booker can even make enemies by performing questionable actions, such as taking money from cash registers. The key bosses that Booker faces all have memorable characteristics. However, the fights don’t feel particularly different from usual fights. The conflict between the freedom group Vox Populi and Founders provides plenty of fight opportunities. Funnily enough it’s less traditional enemies, such as the armed robot statues, that make fights feel more unique.
As expected, the soundtrack consists of music that is mostly associated with the era Infinite is set in. But what is so great about is is how music is used during certain situations, such as combat. Music suddenly changes whenever an enemy is killed or to warn players. It’s an effective trigger that players will probably find useful.
BioShock Infinite is a successful experience that proves even video-games can engage players in the sort of story typically associated with other types of media. It might prove hard to keep up with the story, but those that do will more than likely find the reward is worth it. Some minor combat issues aside, this is easily one of the highlights of the current generation.
BioShock Infinite manages to find that balance of storytelling and exploration that will keep players busy for hours. Another incredible offer from Irrational Games that shows the sky is certainly not the limit, in one of the most inspiring video-games of this generation.