Storytelling in games seems to be a lost art these days. To experience a truly cinematic game while keeping players emotionally involved in a character (or several) is a feat worth recognition. I can think of several games within the last year that have attempted to reach into your heart and pull out some sort of emotional heartstring. Nothing has ever made me feel so empty and cold as much as the credit roll of Bioshock Infinite. I wanted to cry, because what I experienced was more than just a game, it was the pure essence of action, storytelling, and virtual beauty.
As I sat there and watched the ending credits roll, I was in disbelief. I could feel the emotional trauma start to happen within myself. Both my mind and body collapsed, and I was left in the cold harsh reality that this game is actually over. I have beat the game and collected my Gamerscore points, but I honestly don’t care about the achievements, I played this game to be one of the people to witness great ingenuity in this industry. I cannot even say that Irrational Games and Ken Levine did a great job making Bioshock Infinite, because I would have to find an adjective that means more than “great,” and that word does not exist within the lexicon of all languages. But less about the fact that I am speechless and more onto why exactly I feel this way.
What Irrational Games has done is introduce the player to the world of Columbia, a floating city amongst the clouds that has the outer shell of innocence, and a core fabricated of pure horror. Not the kind of gritty horror that is held in the same regard as the Silent Hill series, but a different type of horror. The realism of the very early 1900’s is alive with racism, sexism, and an abundance of religious propaganda that can easily stir up conversations on the Fox News network. Although, that is what is horrifying about it, the fact that you play a character who is a witness to the events around you is. Bioshock is not based directly off true events (duh), but there is a piece of historical ancestry that is held as the backbone of the Bioshock series, making Columbia out to seem like it could actually be a real place. When you realize what people did in the past to other people, and see it played out on a screen in your house is what brings the idea of this horror to life. Although once you start to really get involved, it’s obvious that this is a game and not some sort of History Channel sponsored lesson.
Before I continue, I will state that the racism in the game is not propagated by you, the player. You are a witness to a lot of the controversial style of dialog that occurred in those times, but you are not a person who harbors the actual fundamentals of racists or sexists. Instead you are a man on a mission, and at one segment you are rewarded for doing what I (and probably a whole lot of other people) think is the right decisions.
You view this game through the eyes of the every smooth, yet self-deprecating protagonist Booker DeWitt. The main reason for Booker DeWitt’s travel to Colombia is sketchy at best. From when you start the game you are given directions to get into Columbia, find the young woman Elizabeth, and bring her to New York. Booker, unlike the previous heroes in the other Bioshock installments, does not play the role of “the silent protagonist.” Instead he has a lot of interactions with Elizabeth which prove to be touching and humorous at times. There is a play of emotions that starts with this character, and his motivation to pay off his debts by following his mission of finding Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is an “almost Disney” like figure of Bioshock Infinite. She shows the heart of a truly innocent bystander held against her own will in a tower that was constructed as her prison. She is even guarded by a giant mechanical looking beast named “Songbird.” In this tower she reads a lot of books and learns a lot of skills and- okay, seriously. How does this not sound like the premise of a Disney film? Like Disney films that feature Princesses that have an overbearing protector, Songbird serves specifically to protect Elizabeth. At a point I actually feel bad for Songbird, for it is only a casualty of the more sentient antagonist; Comstock, the evangelical creator of Colombia.
Now, the one thing that Infinite does share in common with the previous games is that you don’t physically have any interactions with Comstock. He is usually kept at a distance, talking to you through intercoms, or a video of him plays on giant video screens. I honestly feel there is no way Irrational could have dodged this sort of tactic, because the second that Booker sees Comstock, he would kill him immediately. Although none of that stops me from having a true appreciation for an enemy as vile as Comstock. He sounds insane and with his hyper religious banter that serves as a catalyst to his actions, that he sounds creepy. Comstock has his own demons to face through the story of Infinite, as does Booker.
Combat in Infinite is very similar to almost every basic first person shooter that is out there to date. It also doesn’t really so much change from the original Bioshock. You have your guns and you have your “Vigors.” To call “Vigors” magical powers is the most basic term that you could use for these elixirs of DNA altering substances. Instead of the previous Bioshock games where you are showered with different abilities, you get a total of 8 Vigors. Even though they seem to have been slacking on the number of abilities, I find myself okay with the decision to keep it simple. The great exchange can be explained in a sense of quality over quantity. You can utilize your Vigors with each other. You can summon a murder of crows and then electrocute them to deal electric damage while stunning the enemy. This does come at a cost: Salts. Salts are used as the main resource for your Vigors. You can regain salts by finding food or blue bottles laying around, and every once in a while Elizabeth will toss you some to aide you in your battles. She will also occasionally throw you ammo, health, and money whenever she feels it’s necessary.
One gameplay aspect I did love is the fact that I never had to actually worry about Elizabeth. Most games leave you to escort some sort of defenseless character out of the woods, but Elizabeth is there purely for back-up. She doesn’t fight, but with her sense of keenness, she gets me the things I need right when I need them. You might be escorting this character off of a floating city, but it doesn’t make you feel as if you are dragging a sack of potatoes (that happens to cry anytime an enemy comes by) behind you. She doesn’t fight, but she does provide the emotional backing to the story at certain segments. She even fills you in on certain parts of the city as you travel through it, providing you with knowledge and a thick backstory.
Unfortunately, with all the positive enforcement I have behind this game, I cannot let one simple fact go unnoticed: graphical performance. I played the game on the Xbox 360, and even though the game looked gorgeous, it was lacking. I could tell that they had to skim back on certain details in order to make the game actually work. The depth of field seemed to be very limited compared to its PC counterparts. I also witnessed some aspects of sluggishness and particle density diminish faster or not exist when the game had several enemies on screen at the same time. With all these issues, it’s becoming quite clear that the current generation of console gaming is surely coming to an end. Although maybe a year from now we can see a nice “Game of the Year” edition for the next generation systems.
I will say that Bioshock Infinite, a game that was pushed back several times, came out and provided us the reasons why it was pushed back. I don’t even want to think what this game could have been if it did come out on the original launch date. Bioshock Infinite is a game that works out so perfectly, has an ending that actually gives the player some closure instead of providing some lame cliffhanger, and an unforgettable cast of characters that makes you want to interact with this game more than once. From here on out, if it takes Ken Levine and the rest of Irrational Games 10 years to make a game, you can count on it to be one of the best gaming experiences to date.