BioShock Infinite seems like a pretty swell game so far. I was late to the party with the original, but after catching up, I found it to be one of the best modern-day single-player shooters out there. BioShock brought plenty of creativity to the table, with hulking Big Daddies and the awe-inspiring, DNA corrupting plasmids. The real star of the show, however, was the setting – Rapture will inevitably go down in gaming history as one of the most memorable gaming environments. It’s dark, despicable, and inhospitable vibes were only amplified by the ominous black veil of the ocean depths – and it would be a tough act to follow.
Irrational games took their time, sure – but it was well worth it. Infinite is one beautiful, twisted little package.
The floating city of Columbia is the place this time, and right off the bat, it contrasts the original’s Rapture beautifully. However, Irrational was able to pull off something much more sinister this time around, for Columbia is not what it seems.
The initial arrival of the player character goes well enough. There are children playing, adults laughing, and a light-hearted carnival of fun set up for the locals to enjoy. The city itself is beautiful, with a light color palette and strikingly vivid architecture, held up in place directly above the clouds. One wonders to themselves, how can things go wrong? This place is practically the definition of a utopia.
It’s a delightfully clever setup, and a deliberately well-planned one, too. After stumbling across the horror-show that was BioShock’s Rapture, Columbia seems like a questionable setting choice. Where is the action? How could things possibly go wrong up here, high above the perils of the rest of humanity?
The answer, though, comes swiftly. When the first drops of blood are spilled on Columbia’s streets, the realization sets in like the sensation of a sinking stomach. Much like the red splashes of blood on Columbia’s neatly-cut grass, within seconds, Columbia shows it’s true colors. Despite it’s harmonious and idealized nature, Columbia is nothing more than a floating pit of sickening discrimination and despair, lead by a xenophobic, tyrannical leader. It is in these precious seconds that you realize that Columbia is every bit as hopeless and lost as the very world it hopes to escape from.
I think it’s safe to say I’m about two-thirds through Infinite as it stands, about nine or ten hours in. By and large, it feels like a more expanded take on the original BioShock in every way. The environments are larger and scale and there are always plenty of ways to approach firefights. This isn’t immediately apparent, but after a few hours of basic corridor shooting, Infinite really opens up and lets you do things your way. It’s the skyhook by itself that makes Infinite’s combat feel appropriately mobile and vertical – you can use it to get to higher places, launch yourself at unsuspecting foes below for a quick execution, or even just to make a quick getaway on Columbia’s many signature Sky-Lines. In this sense, Infinite does a great job of defying expectations as a shooter, as it almost rarely relies on closed, claustrophobic combat environments, instead utilizing the open-ended nature of Columbia’s sprawling layout to provide the player with shootouts that feel open-ended but also fittingly frenetic. Add to the fact that Elizabeth can open various “tears” for Booker during the course of the game that provide strategic advantages such as extra cover and defense turrets, and you have a shooter that plays like little else out there, even when compared to the previous BioShock titles.
I also can’t end things here without mentioning the art design and intricately-detailed environments that make up Infinite’s vision of Columbia. Bar shelves are stocked with a myriad of beverages, and tables are littered with plates and utensils, as if the patrons had left mid-meal. Tools lay on workbenches, along with scraps of machinery and sawdust. Rooms are decorated lavishly, with hardly any areas lacking evidence of personal possessions or objects. Everything you’ll see in Infinite looks as if it was lifted straight out of a painting, with no area ever appearing sparse or unfinished. “Attention to detail” seems like a simple enough approach to visual design – yet Irrational have managed to set the bar higher than it probably has ever been in video games with Infinite. A common consensus on the web is that Infinite resembles something of a Disney-esque experience, and it’s a comment I wholeheartedly agree with. Never have I seen a video game world so vividly realized and meticulously crafted – Infinite’s Columbia is wildly inspirational, and I can’t wait to see the wake of its influences on video games to come, especially in the fields of visual design.
So yeah, Infinite is pretty kick-ass so far. Who would’ve thought? Certainly, the critics seem to agree.
However, the internet seems to be abuzz with criticisms regarding Infinite’s violent, disturbing nature. Some are even outright criticizing it for being a shooter. ..Huh?
But, for brevity’s sake, I’ll save my response to those criticisms for another post sometime this week. Just know that BioShock Infinite, is, of course, the stuff of legends – and honestly, would you expect any less?