When the original “BioShock” was released in 2007, it shook up the first-person shooter genre by being more than a game about shooting people. The game dealt with how our choices define what kind of person we are and it delved into complicated philosophical, religious and political themes not often seen in a video game. Now, six years later, the same team that created the original, Irrational Games, has released the follow up, “BioShock Infinite.” (2010’s “BioShock 2″ was not developed by the same team and the new game doesn’t have anything to do with it.)
The game is set in 1912 in the floating city of Columbia. The city is beautifully realized, showing off amazing technical and artistic direction. In many ways, Columbia is the polar opposite of the first game’s setting of Rapture, the underwater dystopia. While Rapture’s tagline was “No Gods or Kings, Only Man,” Columbia is defined by worship – worshipping God, the city’s founder (and the game’s primary antagonist) Zachary Comstock, and the Founding Fathers of America, such as George Washington and Ben Franklin. While these contrasts are immediately striking, there is also an eerie similarity between the two cities, one that won’t be fully understood by the player until the completion of the game.
The player controls Booker DeWitt, a man hired to retrieve a girl, Elizabeth, from the city of Columbia. From there, the story is a brilliantly told tale that weaves together themes of American exceptionalism, racism, choice, chance and even quantum physics in a way that’s simply unprecedented for a video game. The two main characters, Booker and Elizabeth, are incredibly well-written and voice acted, and it’s this dynamic that allows the game to so successfully integrate all of these themes into the game without it feeling forced.
While it is impossible to separate the gameplay from the game’s story, the game also shines as a first-person shooter thanks to some creative design decisions that set it apart from other shooters like “Battlefield” or “Call of Duty.” Throughout the game, your character gains what are called Vigors, special items that allow for seemingly magical abilities such as throwing fireballs or levitating enemies. These items fill the same role that Plasmids did in the original “BioShock,” and while they aren’t as well integrated into the story as Plasmids were, they still serve to make the gunfights much more interesting. Also of note is the skyhook, an item that allows the player to ride roller coaster-like tracks found throughout Columbia. These tracks add a vertical aspect to shoot-outs that makes them much more dynamic.
However, the game’s biggest gameplay innovation is Elizabeth herself. She is quite possibly the best implemented computer partner ever in a video game, which is good, because you spend about 80 percent of the game with her. During combat, Elizabeth assists you by tossing you ammo, med kits and other needed items during combat. She also has the ability to “warp in” items like automated gun turrets from other dimensions, and this ability becomes key to the story later on.
“BioShock Infinite” is a rare game, one that explores complex ideas and themes without getting bogged down by them. Every aspect of the game shines on its own, but the fact that they work so well together as a cohesive whole makes the game so special, and more than a worthy successor to the 2007 original.