Chandler Kilgore-Parshall / Emertainment Monthly Staff
It’s not just a video game. It’s not just entertainment. Bioshock Infinite is a masterpiece. An imaginative, interactive piece of fiction that peruses dark and taboo themes that lies at the crux of American society. While it delves into very controversial and historical issues, Infinite also contains a sci-fi mystery that keeps its story captivating with an ending that is bound to be discussed for years to come. Infinite is pure adrenaline that tests your trigger finger on a gun, and challenges your perception of American society and its values on freedom and the pursuit of happiness that we take for granted.
It’s 1912 and you play as Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent tasked with entering Columbia, a city in the sky, to rescue Elizabeth from imprisonment. Who is Elizabeth? A young woman who can open “tears,” gates into dimensions of time and space. Her powers have been restricted by Columbia’s religious founder, Zachary Comstock and by her monstrous keeper, Songbird. Booker and Elizabeth realize that Columbia is not as it seems, as civil war breaks out between Comstock’s white supremacy followers and the insurgency militia, the Vox Populi. Elizabeth’s special gift is central to altering the tide of the conflict to whoever’s favor. With all of Columbia’s participants in play, Booker and Elizabeth venture deeper into the city’s corruption to find answers about their past, present and future.
If you have played the previous Bioshock or any first-person shooters, then getting into Infinite’s gameplay will not be challenging. It’s not the Lutece twins’ quantum physics theory. Booker is easy to control when moving around the city, and has a variety of destructive weapons like the Peppermill Crank Gun or the Hail Fire that shoots grenade-like explosives. But only talking about the guns and the conventional “take-cover-and-fire-back” mechanic would be underselling the astonishing elements of Infinite’s gameplay.
Since Booker and Elizabeth are traveling around Columbia, they’ll need to move quickly and efficiently within the sky. Early in the game, DeWitt finds the Skyhook and Columbia’s transport system, the skylines. It is a breath of excitement as the skylines are a steampunk-inspired roller coaster ride as Booker zips through the city at high velocities to elevate above Columbia’s perimeters. The ziplines and Skyhook also provide Booker a tactical advantage in skirmishes as he can get the drop on his enemies and knock them unconscious. Booker also finds Vigors throughout Columbia, magical potions that allow him to use supernatural abilities such as possessing enemies or sic a murder of crows upon his enemies. With an arsenal of offensive and defensive powers along with Booker’s weapons make him the ultimate one-man army in Columbia.
Finally, there’s Elizabeth, since you escort her throughout the game, the AI (artificial intelligence) needs to be intuitive and responsive to plot points and gunfights. During the heat of battle, Elizabeth’s powers to open turrets, cover, and supplies from other dimensions are a welcomed addition. Although, it is a great help, Elizabeth finds a lot of supplies in a short amount of time, reducing the challenge as she can save you at the last minute. With Columbia’s bizarre armaments, Elizabeth’s assistance, and the exhilarating joyride that are the ziplines, Infinite has an abundant amount of choices in defeating the opposition. And while it doesn’t redefine the first-person shooter genre; like rocketing on a skyline, Infinite ensures that its momentum never decelerates.
Bioshock Infinite’s biggest strength is in exploration into the game’s themes, and subliminal context that lie in the city. When Booker arrives at Columbia, it is during a fair celebrating the city’s secession from the United States. The people are playing carnival games and socializing, a balloon float of Columbia’s forefathers: Ben Franklin and George Washington loom over the city and a barbershop quarter sings “God Only Knows” from an airship. Everything seems hunky-dory until Booker witnesses an interracial couple held captive for a show, exposing the racism and prejudice of Columbia. Throughout the game, exploring will uncover more unpleasant acts of violence, bigotry, religious persecution, including corruption of politics and power. It’s morbid and frankly disturbing, even for a game.
Columbia is a sandbox of discussion as everything that is morally and socially wrong is evident. Booker and Elizabeth may merely be videogame characters but they understand how immoral Columbia’s society truly is and they react as such. Elizabeth especially is interesting to watch as her naiveté and innocence about finding peace within herself in such a hostile world begs the question: “Can morality thrive in a city that has none?” The two protagonists’ viewpoints heard in dialogue are not just part of the script, but masqueraded as social commentary. It gives voice to the themes that Infinite is trying is to express. Even though the topics and subject matter are mature and gritty, the game doesn’t beat them to death. It allows the players to decide to either immerse themselves in all that the game has to say, or strictly enjoy the interactivity of the game. The choice is yours.
Bioshock Infinite is fun to play and fascinating enough to discuss once you beat it. Ken Levine and Irrational Games have crafted a masterful story that is suspenseful, and by its climax, blows everything you knew about Columbia out of the water. Its take on an unethical society governed by hypocrisy and immoral governance is a very intriguing topic for introspection and conversation. Some will be turned off by Infinite’s dark and gritty tone. Others will be stimulated not only by its gameplay, but also by the exceptional storytelling and the thought-provoking way it confronts how religious and racial extremism shape our culture and society. Infinite is a game that’s destined to be a classic and will be remembered as a piece of interactive art that examined the downfalls of society and how far a utopia in the sky could fall.
Bioshock Infinite is available now on Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, and Apple OS X.