BioShock Infinite Evaluation

Depending on where in the country you live, you may find yourself nagging that parts of the United States have broken down clean. Just got up and decided to switch to their own lanes, the consequences are damned.

And because any notion that these states are not united is genuinely uncomfortable, a cacophony of voices presses in to demonize their opposing factions. They say the other side has selfishly broken away from the reality we Americans are all supposed to share. How dare you ?!

BioShock Infinite takes that nagging sense of disagreement and lets players wade through its prehistory centuries ago in a way that exposes the excruciating personal cost paid for the grinding cycle of the story.

Columbia is a piece of America that actually went to pieces. And the result is terrible. But also nice.

You have never been to a place like this. The fictional floating city where Infinite is set consists of clockwork platforms and brass gears. Hucksters, nerds, lovers and school children live in its many sections. One minute you walk past a steep slope, the next a park swings into the open space. Sure, they have left the Union, but it is such a blooming paradise that you can hardly blame them.

Why: BioShock Infinite isn't just a worthy sequel to a popular predecessor. He also manages to talk about America – touching its past, present and possibilities – in a way that makes it a must-see.

Developer: Irrational Games

Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (version played)

Release DATE: March 26th

Type of game: first person shooter, which is also a twisted fable about American history

What I played: I played through the entire campaign in about 10-12 hours.

My two favorite things

  • All-round excellent voice output – anchored by Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper as Booker and Elizabeth – makes this feeling seem like an operatively violent radio play.
  • Columbia is full of beautiful architecture and design. The struggle for survival in such a pretty place doesn't make the bullets hurt less, it inspires awe.

Two things that I hated

  • Despite the appearance of the sprawling rooms, part of Infinite can feel very comfortable as if they were on rails.
  • Certain sections are just straight line killboxes that you grind up like a hamburger.

Back-of-box offers made to order

  • "Add Columbia to the list of video game venues that I wish I had, just without all the racism / sexism / space-time fool." Evan Narcisse, Kotaku.com
  • "Like Portal 2, BioShock Infinite is a sequel that builds on the original game and maybe even surpasses it." Evan Narcisse, Kotaku.com

Then you come with me. Well, not you. Booker DeWitt – the ex-soldier and control of the Pinkerton agent's players – is not a cipher to occupy, like the silent protagonist of BioShock 1. He is his own man with a voice, a troubled past and reasons for staging a one-man invasion. Debt weighs heavily on his soul and the only way he can get out of it is to get a supernaturally driven young woman named Elizabeth. If he takes them to the people who want them, maybe he can get on with the rest of his life.

If you agree with the idea that there actually is a formula for creating a BioShock game, Infinite only endorses your thesis. Mix science fiction archetypes, comic super science, ideologically motivated conflict, and old-school first person shooter love with narrative ambition and philosophical discord. The player character's special abilities are wielded by the left hand, while the weapons are grasped by the right, and he must meander through an isolated city-state in an uproar. Once you've done this, you have – broadly speaking – the components of the games that have been called BioShock.

The powers that you exert this time are called power. You can mix and match them so you can electrify a flock of crows after throwing them at an enemy. Or you can hold aloft the soldiers you are fighting and then set them on fire with telekinetic and pyrokinetic force.

Major moments of choice were another hallmark of BioShock games. This time around, the importance of choice isn't where you land in relation to the plot. It's how you play. The way you cobble together the upgrades you find with Elizabeth's combat support and the amazing verticality of the game's battlefields leaves you with a unique experience that you can transform over time. Combine that with the various firearms and powers that you will collect and Infinites Play seems to give you more tools and a faster pace to use in an expertly designed playground.

For all that is known, the new version from Irrational Games adds new spices to this BioShock recipe. One of the big changes is in basic locomotion. Colombia's mass transit system is a series of pipelines called skylines that are a thrilling, dizzying way to get around the city. They feel like a one-man roller coaster to shoot people from. Other than that, you can pounce on enemies from above or fire shots while you ride along. And enemies will do the same to you, so this is not an easy way out of most battles.

But it's the character of Elizabeth who represents the biggest change to the BioShock formula that has barely kept you company on your adventures in Rapture so far. At first, Elizabeth might remind you in a broad way of the dog from Fable II. This pooch looted you and helped you explore the world of Albion. You made a simple but meaningful connection with it.

Elizabeth is much more complex. She is a fully scripted person who will help you fight and clean up by finding and delivering health, money, and ammunition. Most impressive is that she can manipulate tears, which are space-time hiccups, and allow her to drag things from the alternate reality into this world. Discount machines, machine gun turrets, and grab points are just some of the assets it can summon for you. Which tears you manifest affects the strategy options you have during a firefight, and this ramification opens up the uniqueness of the strategies available.

From an emotional point of view, things change instantly when you meet Elizabeth. She is naive, but with strong streaks of curiosity and despair permeates her. A sky-bound city doesn't feel like paradise when it's all you've ever known and it longs to see the world below. The founder of Columbia, Father Comstock, is a religious zealot who commands a city of completely obedient martyrs. If he tells them not to fight, it's a lot creepier than if you fight them. He wants to use Elizabeth's abilities to bring an apocalyptic judgment to the America below him. But Comstock also has to deal with an uprising by the Vox Populi proletariat who want to overthrow what they see as a corrupt oligarchy.

Elizabeth would take turns to impress Booker and run away from him. They need each other and she never feels like a pile of AI scripts running next to you. If she throws you a health package into a firefight, her need to survive is palpable. She is haunted by a lack of the past while Booker is haunted by a story that is too bloody. Together, their journey together moves from caution to warmth to determination with real sharpness.

With all talk of parts, this game is more than just the sum of its parts. You are playing for the story here, and that story is embedded throughout the Infinite fabric. The more you explore Columbia, the more you attract the fictional citizens and history. There is a mystery about the clouds that surround the city and it got me guessing until the end of the game.

There are early signs that more than isolationism is wrong in Colombia. These tears in reality are a nod to the main idea behind the game, with the game being nothing less than the rewriting of American history. Colombia is well advanced on this path as its spiritual revisionism has made demigods of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin. But you can't get rid of the creeping feeling that many things are going to happen because of your actions. They do and they are all pretty heavy.

Given that there are inevitable conflicts waiting to be joined, one might think that BioShock Infinite is just a rejection of American self-expansion. The humble sky dwellers in Colombia have to pull a hook, right? But what's more surprising than the rude awakening is the extent to which Infinite is a celebration of Americana. It's a game squeezed out of regular Rockwell paintings, plays ragtime music, and filled to the brim with light-hearted slang. It zips up even if it knocks you down with giant enemies of the robot president.

And yes, irrational creative director Ken Levine and his crew throw up a range of scientific discoveries for players to chew through: racism, sexism, anti-intellectualism, 18th century revival, and the gospel of industrialism as stewards from cradle to cradle Worker's stretcher. Tribalism, inextricably linked to America's spiritual DNA, is also a huge part of the game's factions and battlefields. The Vox Populi – made up of ordinary workers – believe they have too little, while the wealthy founders essentially believe that Comstock's vision of America is better than that lived on solid ground.

If you are familiar with the language of revolution and regime change, many of the rhetoric that goes on about the conflicts in Infinite will sound familiar to you. Opponents from different classes and backgrounds slander each other. The divine / universal logic is on our side. Such a thing. The difference is that Infinite puts players in the fires of tumult and shows them the results of bloody revolts up close. Most of the people you hear on Infinite are racist, classic, snooty, and sullen. They feel bad for them, however, as some of the illusions that hold Columbia in the air are beginning to crumble. It's a damn good thing to believe in a dream with all of your being for good and bad reasons.

BioShock Infinite may not be the first game to try to say something about the nature of the land it was made in – and the people who make it up – but it is certainly one of the best. Several scenes reminded me of how people who looked like me had an incredible number of adverse forces from public and private institutions against them. Yet as I acted out those moments, I was reminded that America is a great experiment. This experiment of letting people determine their own fate has sometimes made it so that brother fights brother.

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It's easy to sack the people who are floating in the broken mirror of America that we disagree with. You are wrong; We are right. Who cares why they are the way they are? But BioShock Infinite asks us to examine exactly this question and gives an answer that combines hope with bitterness, wonder with despair, and allegory with history. The game doesn't offer advice on how to get along better all of us, but it makes a strong case for owning – and owning – all of our collective pasts.

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