Editors note: If you’re truly trying to go into this game knowing nothing about it, you probably shouldn’t read this review. This review contains no plot spoilers but does discuss the setting of the game, its themes, and its mechanics.
The famous intro to Bohemian Rhapsody goes: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality.”
But what if there was an escape from reality? An escape into a new one. One in which a mistake wasn’t made, a war wasn’t fought, a sin wasn’t committed. Bioshock Infinite ponders this question and founds its narrative upon it.
Infinite builds the perfect world to sell its concept of multiple realities: Columbia. In the game, Columbia was originally part of the North American Union until one day it became a rather extremist nation and took to the skies. If you’re familiar with the Bioshock series (which I hope you are, having played the original game will increase your appreciation of Infinite dramatically) then you know about Rapture. A dark, horrific underwater city that shuns any belief in a god in favor of humanism. Columbia is the polar opposite of that. A bright — somewhat cheery world founded on religion. Despite the two environments’ stark fundamental differences, it’s incredible how similar they can be under certain circumstances.
The head of Columbia is a religious zealot who calls himself “The Prophet”, his people believe every word he says. And to make matters worse, he’s hell-bent on “cleansing the world of sin”… He isn’t talking about a revival.
Along with fanatical religious oppression, Bioshock Infinite explores theme of racism, as well as flat-out xenophobia. While these are rather touchy subjects to many, Infinite manages to respect them all within its context, creating a deep world full of themes that haven’t been explored within the gaming medium
Because it’s so rich in character, simply exploring and learning about Columbia would probably be enough the keep any player going. But “probably” isn’t good enough for Infinite. So the game hits players with the real kicker: a damsel in distress.
Locked up in a tower since her early childhood, Elizabeth is the player character Booker Dewitt’s goal. Booker is tasked with rescuing her to pay back an unexplained “debt”. Along with being the player’s primary investment in the story, Elizabeth is one of the game’s most impressive triumphs. Saying too much would spoil the plot points in the relationship between her and the protagonist, but these points in the story are crafted with such care and detail… I’d really best not say much more. But the relationship that is built over the course of the game rivals that of the relationships built in The Walking Dead.
However, unlike The Walking Dead, Bioshock Infinite builds this relationship while still having engaging gameplay and combat. Like past Bioshock games, the game features Plasmids, but in this iteration, Plasmids are called “Vigors”. While these — once again do a great job of mixing up the combat by giving the player lots of different ways to approach various situations, the most unique aspect of the combat is the Sky-Line Rail System. You may have seen this Rail System used in a gameplay video or two and thought “There’s no way it’s that seamless, this has to be a scripted event”. I know that’s what I thought, when you see it in action, it looks sort of impossible. But as I quickly found out, Bioshock Infinite couldn’t care less about what I think is impossible. The Rail System adds an unmatched verticality to the gunplay.
Speaking of the gunplay, if you played the original Bioshock, you know its gunplay — or its gameplay in general for that matter — wasn’t its strong-suit. It rode almost solely on its unique setting and compelling plot. Thankfully, Bioshock Infinite has great gameplay to match its great narrative.
The simplicity of the controls were a help, but I was amazed at how quickly I found myself leaping from one Sky Rail to the next shooting baddies down, using my Vigor powers when the situation called for them. The game plays extraordinarily well and manages to teach you without putting you through a bloated tutorial sequence.
Continuing the “Saying positive things about Bioshock Infinite” trend of this review, the game’s world is presented beautifully. I played the game on PC, which I’m guessing is the best way to play it, but I’m sure the console versions aren’t too far off as far as picture quality goes.
So we end where we began. The concept of multiple realities. While I don’t know if an alternate reality of the real world exists. I am confident that — at least in this reality — Bioshock Infinite is one of the the closest things to a perfect game players can experience in a 3D space. It is sure to be the center of discussion among gamers for years to come.