It’s no exaggeration to say that even if the final game was just four hours long, with features not
extending beyond what we’ve played, BioShock Infinite would still stand among the best games of
recent years. It’s that good so far. And it’s not far off from release. This is very good news indeed.
We recently sat down with a mostly complete build of 2K Boston’s anticipated quasi-prequel to
BioShock, BioShock Infinite. No smoke and mirrors, the developer was confident enough to simply
let the first portion of the game speak for itself. And boy, when it talks, you’ll listen.
Remember that sense of wonder when you entered the lighthouse at the start of the original
BioShock? I’m talking about that otherworldly atmosphere – instantly relatable, yet foreign enough
to instil a critical sense of adventure (and oh-so-much menace). It’s all here in Infinite. It’s here in
It’s clear this isn’t some hackneyed attempt to extend a franchise into inappropriate directions.
Under the wizened helm of Ken Levine and a team of fine artists (and I count the programmers
among these artists, for the clever coding results in some incredible and inventive moments),
BioShock Infinite may be this console generation’s swansong.
The game opens with your character, Booker DeWitt, on approach to a lighthouse once again –
though this time it’s clear the game’s narrative means to make far more use out of your character’s
reaction and personality.
After stopping to admire the radical step-up in texture work and technical direction, you’re
eventually sent aloft into the seemingly idyllic sky city of ‘Columbia’. It’s here the game begins
Like BioShock, and perhaps even more so, Infinite has a flowing pace to it. There are innumerable
opportunities to venture off the path that 2K Boston has set for you and just bask in the little details.
The city’s various regions, each a kind of themed borough alone the lines of BioShock’s ‘Rapture’, is
packed with places to explore, shops chock-full of baffling and intriguing products, advertisements
and, pleasingly, some excellent dialogue between the residents.
While it’s easy to press forward early on, the game paces itself beautifully, allowing you just enough
time to take in the sights before leading you into a very clever training portion of the game (and
one that not only disguises the way it teaches you the game’s core mechanics but also rewards
you for mastery). If only other developers put this kind of thoughtful narrative integration of the
traditionally tedious training segments. Of course, Infinite is a rare game indeed.
It’s clear this isn’t some hackneyed attempt to extend a franchise into inappropriate directions. BioShock Infinite may be this console generation’s swansong.
In BioShock you had Plasmids; in Infinite, the equivalent is known as Vigour. They operate in a
similar manner; you ingest the bottle of gene-manipulating super-juice to imbue Booker with all
kinds of world-effecting, body altering power. Swarms of crows, Mario-like fireballs, abilities to
manipulate physics, people and machines – all kinds of godly powers are at your disposal once again.
Of course, enemies are just as reactive to specific elemental attacks this time around, and the streets
and concourses of Columbia are littered with clever opportunities for strategic vigour power use.
It’s hard to say if they’re going to have the same kind of gameplay-altering impact as Plasmid's did five years
ago, but even after a mere taste, we sense the underlying complexity to the Vigours system here.
Vigours are, naturally, only part of the larger gameplay formula. This time, there’s a greater
emphasis on deciding where your strengths should lie. You’re given the opportunity to increase your
health, shield (a new addition to the gameplay) and salts (which are the magical basis for your Vigour
powers). It’s an old-school RPG touch, but an important one. More importantly still, all of these
systems, as well as the world’s inherent reactivity, coalesce beautifully into one sterling experience
But what is the story actually about? What are the core chin-scratching themes you’ll be contending
with – perhaps stretching your values to indulge in? At heart, it would seem both American
exceptionalism and religion are the social threats at play here. So do racism, class struggles and
morality. These are uncomfortable themes for mainstream media, let alone games – but Irrational’s
grand vision is to compel players to think for themselves about these situations. Naturally, they also
hold some striking parallels to today’s world events too.
As important as the story is the integration of Elizabeth – referred to casually by Irrational’s staff
as ‘Liz’ because everyone is so accustomed to working on (and with) her in the world of Columbia. Imprisoned and
experimented upon, Elizabeth quickly becomes the ultimate AI companion – one who not only joins
your adventures and provides you with well-timed ammunition assistance and world background –
but also is interesting and worldly enough to warrant being saved in the first place.
The first four hours are enough to get a sense of the larger gameplay roles she plays. In addition
to item support (and thankfully staying out of your hair while in the thick of a firefight), she is also
capable of opening up small tears in the fabric of space/time. This lets her drag objects, weapons
and more through the wormhole and into your world. This opens up all kinds of fascinating strategic
options like instant cover creation during hectic encounters, creating turrets and handy grapple
points. Again, we get the sense the surface has barely been scratched here.
You’ll grow to care about Elizabeth, Irrational promises.
Whether that empathy is genuine or forced through hurried writing and scenarios has yet to be
seen – but the circumstances are set for a unique twist on the “rescue the Princess” formula. Her
captors – and the ever-looming threat of the robotic Songbird menace – add just enough threat in
the background to keep the pressure on.
Weaving all of these elements together is the grand vision of Columbia itself; the sprawling sky-
metropolis is as much a character as Booker or Elizabeth. The joy of jumping between skyrails,
tearing across the expansive levels as you’re ducking and weaving past enemies, is impossible to
overstate. Even just wandering through the well-paced quiet moments you’re afforded gives you the
chance to take in the small details carefully scattered throughout the areas. Books, posters, stained
glass, small scraps of newspaper — all of it builds a completeness and authenticity that only comes
through time, care and terrific talent.
Given, expectations are high for BioShock Infinite – but, after our time with it, we’re confident that
the hype – the hyperbole and all – are justified. Get set for the next great video game.
By Patrick Kolan
BioShock Infinite will be released in Australia on March 26 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC!