“The mind of the subject will desperately struggle to create memories where none exist.”
These are the enigmatic first words directed at players as they begin “BioShock Infinite,” the latest installment in the best-selling and critically-acclaimed “BioShock” video game series developed by Irrational Games. Much like the strange intro quote that kickstarts the game’s campaign, “BioShock Infinite” is, from start to finish, completely atypical from your average first-person shooter game. Ultimately, it makes for a truly unique, powerful and amazing gaming experience.
In the game, the year is 1912 and you assume the role of Booker DeWitt, an ex-Pinkerton agent with a chip on his shoulder and a massive debt to pay. He is called to the floating city of Columbia to rescue Elizabeth, a young girl with otherworldly powers, in an effort to exchange her for a chance at a clean slate. Things go far from according to plan as Booker and Elizabeth get caught up in a civil uprising and have to fight their way out. Despite how it sounds, the plot of “BioShock Infinite” is far from simple. The second half of the game takes some interesting turns that leave the player guessing.
The gameplay in “BioShock Infinite” is as varied and unique as the game’s premise. Booker utilizes a variety of firearms and vigors, which are tonics with supernatural effects. Booker can also make use of the city’s skylines and freighting rails that suddenly turn the game’s grounded shooting mechanics into a high-speed roller-coaster shootout.
Elizabeth may be a constant companion in your travels across Columbia, but unlike other A.I. counterparts, she is far from a hindrance when it comes to combat. She is extremely handy in finding ammunition and first aid or even using her reality-tearing powers to give Booker a paranormal edge in battle.
While the combat is polished down to a shine, players may find it a bit lacking. I highly recommend that you turn up the difficulty before playing if you have had prior experience with the first two “BioShock” games, or any other first-person shooter.
When the gun smoke settles, the city of Columbia is a breathtaking place to explore—I believe this sells the game by itself. The view is incredible with massive 20th-century buildings that drift along the horizon, decked out with patriotic colors and artwork. It feels like a Norman Rockwell concept of heaven, but the city also has a dark side.
Columbia was built on the ideals of American Exceptionalism, a turn-of-the-century philosophy that believes America to be the one true example of what every country should aspire to be. Because of this, Columbia exemplifies nationalism to an extreme, worshipping the Founder Fathers as religious deities. The city ends up seceding from the rest of the United States for not following in their example, referring to it as “the Sodom below.”
While industrious, prideful and independent, Columbia is also wracked with jingoism, racism and civil war. The zealous, white-supremacist Founder class of Columbia is countered by the Vox Populi, a violent revolutionary group formed from Columbia’s disenfranchised black, Irish and Chinese citizens. There isn’t a clear “good” faction to side with, and it’s sobering to be reminded that while Columbia’s depiction of “national-pride-gone-horribly-wrong” is ridiculous by today’s standards, such a sentiment did in fact exist at one point in American history. “BioShock Infinite” deserves commendation for handling such a sensitive topic in an engaging way. It’s rare to be able to explore such heavy-handed subjects through a video game, of all things.
Fans have eagerly awaited “BioShock Infinite” since it was announced nearly three years ago. With its level of anticipation came impossibly high expectations. Yet, in spite of all the hype, “BioShock Infinite” exceeds in all places. The gameplay, setting, characters and narrative all feel fresh. The final 15 minutes of the story literally, not figuratively, stunned me with the mother of all reveals.
Upon completing the campaign, I found myself instantly wanting to explore Columbia all over again to immerse myself in the imagery and literary themes, interact with the characters and have my mind blown by that ending all over again.
Storytelling in video games has made huge strides thanks to games like the “BioShock” series, and this installment far from disappoints. People will be talking about this game for a long time, and it’s absolutely worth the price of admission to be a part of the discussion.
Parker Wilhelm is a junior in mass communications. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.