Bioshock: Infinite had a lot to live up to, and a huge weight of expectation surrounded it’s protracted development. It was the first game Ken Levin creatively directed since the original, and many a game had emulated that classic, so what innovations were Irrational delivering this time? Despite failing to create the same impact as Bioshock, the game delivered an experience that was amongst the best of the generation, let alone this year.
It has the best opening hour of any game ever. From the initial journey in the rowboat to the lighthouse to the shocking moment you first partake in some good old fashioned violence, the introductory segments are designed to make you feel woozy and unsettled, calm yet highly aware, before the traditional gameplay commences. It’s sound design helps to strengthen this sense of unease, especially in it’s inspired use of contemporary music for unsettling effect, making you feel like things are not quite right.
Criticised for it’s shooting mechanics, Infinite certainly has it’s betters when the physical act of shooting and connection is concerned. It may not reach the speed and fluidity of Call of Duty, or the weight and heft of Gears, but it offers open ended environments, huge weaponry choice and speedy maneuverability, but that’s missing the point. In fact it’s missing two thirds. One other third is the vigours and the last third is mobility, as the introduction of skylines offer a sense of movement not present in previous games.
DLC pack Clash in the Clouds further highlighted and reinforced this, and the recent Burial at Sea two-parter is building on the revelations at the conclusion of Infinite by returning to the iconic Rapture. With the second part still to come, the story in Infinite is still offering twists and turns.
This is one of the densest, carefully layered, and most intricate plotted videogames ever written. Many accused the game of being an elaborate fairground ride, all artifice with little behind the colourful veneer, funnelling the player along a rigid path, only able to take in the sights and the sounds. This is both the point and the strengths of the game. The freedom came in the combat encounters themselves, and how you chose to engage in the narrative, and search out those nuggets of environmental storytelling that added depth to the narrative.
A couple of boss encounters didn’t sit right, and there were one or two times when the Handymen, Infinite’s version of Big Daddies, could unfairly overwhelm you, but overall the criticism of the combat seems unfair, especially when it is such a vast improvement over that of the original, and when it is clear that story, narrative and character take much more of a priority. The relationship and interaction between Booker and Elizabeth drives the game, and is its very heart. Elizabeth herself is one of gaming’s most interesting recent creations. She cannot be killed, is independent and never gets in your way. In combat situations, she can create dimensional tears that drag useful objects into existence.
No game in the past year has had such a deep effect on me. It was met with such high adulation, that the inevitable backlash was enough to drown out the initial praise. But that praise should still stand. In my mind Infinite still has the best opening hour of any game ever, and an ending that is both satisfying in it’s finality, yet thought-provoking enough to cause debate, and meaningful introspection. In between, the player is treated to some fabulous set pieces, and some of the most criminally under-rated combat this generation.