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Floating on Cloud 9 – BioShock Infinite Review

BioShock Infinite is a game that has been divisive since it was released. It seems there are many people who are high on it and a similar number of people aren’t as high on it, but still applaud it as an accomplishment for Irrational Games. This should come as no surprise seeing as it’s the newest iteration in a beloved franchise, but also because of the fact that delves heavily into the touchy topic of race. So, was the highly-anticipated Bioshock Infinite able to reach the lofty expectations many fans had put on it?

The answer to that question is an emphatic yes.  Not only does it live up to the expectations, but it actually manages to surpass it. Sure there’s some fun combat and special power-ups to use, but that’s not where this game shines. What makes BioShock Infinite an exceptional game is its story and its ability to handle different topics and issues in a way that has rarely been done in games before. It touches on a variety of topics like nationalism, politics, and ideology, but the way it handles much more difficult issues like racism, religion, sexism, xenophobia, and poverty is what makes this game captivating.

Welcome to Columbia, a deceptively utopian city in the clouds. Columbia is a city that’s comprised of a cluster of floating islands governed by a man named Zachary Hale Comstock. These flying land masses are a technological marvel that is modeled after a perverted vision of America that never existed. Comstock’s moral beliefs shape Columbia to its very core and as such, most citizens of Columbia idolize Comstock to near godly levels.  

Columbia is no simple rehashing of the underwater city of Rapture; it is something completely different that has a life of its own. The city is so important to the story that, in a way, it could be considered a character itself. At first glance, Columbia gives the appearance of an actualized utopia, but beneath its breathtaking exterior lies a city marred by publicly demanded racial purity, political dismay, and revolution.

In Bioshock Infinite, you assume the role of Booker DeWitt, a private investigator and veteran of the U.S. Calvary. Booker is indebted to the wrong people and has been given one last chance to clear his debt. For the debt to be forgiven, Booker must travel to the floating city of Columbia, retrieve a girl named Elizabeth, and deliver her to an unspecified group in New York. The job almost sounds too easy given the gravity of Booker’s situation, but once you step foot on Columbia, you find out that this mission is more than Booker bargained for.

The plot is strong and expertly executed. Columbia has a society that wants to keep its racial purity, but at the same time, it’s in desperate need of immigrant labor to maintain its way of life.  The immigrant laborers of Columbia – and anybody who sympathizes with them – are seen as trash by Columbia’s society and are ostracized as a result. This oppression has created a strong resentment toward the original inhabitants of the city. Tensions between the two groups could be described as a pressure cooker that’s teetering on the edge of exploding.

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The desire for change guides these oppressed individuals to form a group called the Vox Populi, and their resentment fuels an inevitable, violent revolution. By the time Booker arrives in the city, Columbia is already at the tipping point. Booker and Elizabeth prove to be the catalyst that will change Columbia forever. As Booker and Elizabeth make their way through the city, you will see the very untethering of Columbia’s foundations.

Everything looks great in this game: the graphics are sharp, the scenery is breathtaking, and the environments are vibrant and brimming with color. BioShock Infinite has an almost Disney-like aesthetic to it; everything during the happier moments seems beautiful and whimsical. A perfect example of this is when you and Elizabeth wind up on a beach. The moment the music hits Elizabeth’s ears, she begins dancing almost like a Disney princess. If you were to cut this moment out and insert it into something like Beauty and the Beast, nothing would seem out of place.

The voice acting is superb, and you can tell that each notable character puts real feeling into each spoken word. This greatly helps the player to become fully immersed in the game.  Courtnee Draper, the voice of Elizabeth, gives an astounding and memorable performance that draws you into every moment. Every emotion Elizabeth emotes is believable, and it’s this believability that makes it much easier to form a bond with the character.

When it comes gameplay, movement through the level feels very fluid. Combat is great and the tear system – combined with the skyline – creates fun and dynamic firefights. Most of the battle areas give the player the freedom to choose how they want to confront enemies, whether that be up close, mid-range, or long-range. The addition of special enemies, like the handyman, the crow, and the motorized patriot, forces you to actively change the way you normally attempt to dispatch enemies. The fact that the game continually forces you to change your combat strategy keeps fights from feeling stagnant and repetitive.

In Infinite, you are given special consumable powers called vigors. Vigors will send you on scary, drug-like hallucinations when first taken, but in return, you are given vigorous powers (pun intended) that you can use to decimate your foes. Vigors, when used in combination with the variety of weapons available, the surrounding skylines, and extra-dimensional tears, allows you to creatively tip fights in your favor.

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Overall, this is a great game that does many things right, but unfortunately, there are also a few things it gets wrong. Each gun should have their own distinct feel in order to give the player a reason to want to use different weapons. The Vox repeater and machine gun fail to do this, as the two guns feel so similar that it’s hard to tell one from the other. Another problem is that all the guns (except for the sniper rifle) feel weak; they just don’t seem like they do as much damage as they should.

There are also a few noticeable issues in the game that could’ve been easily fixed before the game’s release. For instance, you may occasionally find that you are unable to pick up certain items like lockpicks or food. Finally, there is a minor flaw with the AI who are supposedly non-immediate threats. These particular AI were too quick to draw their guns. There were times when one would approach an area where non-immediate threats would say something like, “I’ll give you to the count of three,” but end up shooting at you anyway.

When it comes down to it, Infinite is one of those great, rare games that is unlike anything before it. It has an incredible story that begs to be told and the gameplay to accompany it. You would be doing yourself a disservice to pass up the opportunity to play this groundbreaking game.

Rating: 9/10         

This review is based on a retail copy of the PlayStation 3 version of BioShock Infinite developed by Irrational Games and distributed by 2K Games.