Review: BioShock Infinite (Part 1)
The first BioShock was widely regarded as a ‘thinking man’s FPS’ for its unique take on interactive storytelling, resulting in one of the most infamous fourth wall-breaking plot twist in videogame history. A direct sequel was green-lit soon after, which revisited the crumbling dystopia of Rapture without the involvement of Irrational Games, but under the capable hands of 2K Marin.
As players were reacquainting themselves with what remains of the undersea city, creative director Ken Levine and his team at Irrational Games were already hard at work on a follow-up effort – one that shares thematic and gameplay elements, but at the same time serves as an antithesis to the previous BioShock games.
Castle in the Cloud
While Rapture was envisioned as an idealistic underwater utopia, the floating city of Columbia in BioShock Infinite is the very epitome of American exceptionalism. Instead of the dark, decrepit corridors and halls that served as a playground for deformed Splicers, Columbia comprises of several interconnecting districts that are kept afloat by giant blimps and balloons where citizens – young and old – go about their daily business (or so it appears).
Following a brief introductory sequence that includes a deliberate nod to the original BioShock opening, players will get to guide protagonist Booker DeWitt as he takes in the sights and sounds of the living, breathing air-city at their leisure. It is here that Infinite cleverly weaves a tutorial into the narrative in a way that feels natural and non-intrusive – something more games should strive for when introducing the gameplay mechanics.
All is Not as it Seems
Of course, things soon takes a turn for the worst when the rose-tinted glasses are lifted from the players, revealing the extent of xenophobic bigotry and prejudice in Columbia. Like BioShock, the bulk of the backstory and character motivations are gradually made clear by a series of silent shorts (Kinetoscopes) and in-game chatters (Voxophones) that are scattered throughout the game.
Amidst the growing tensions between the city’s ruling power (The Founders) and the resistance faction (Vox Populi), there’s tremendous attention to detail throughout the world of Infinite, where bustling streets are adorned with flowers, ice cream carts and propaganda posters, while building interiors are filled to the brim with era-accurate décors. The PC version, in particular, benefits from higher quality textures, improved viewing distances, diffusion-based depth-of-field effect and other DirectX 11 visual treats.
From its vibrant Victorian architecture to the sun-kissed light strewn through the windows, a part of us likes to imagine such a place could exist in 1912, minus the racial overtone. Much of the charm of Infinite derives from its alternate retelling of American history. For instance, a statue of John Wilkes Booth can be found early in the game, seemingly erected to commemorate the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.