In BioShock I ventured ten miles beneath the sea to Rapture, colliding with a leaky dystopia and weapons-grade Randian philosophy. BioShock Infinite swaps out Rapture’s aquatic seclusion for Columbia, a city floating high above the clouds. Good ol’ fashioned turn-of-the-century racism replaces Objectivism. Minorities toil in unfair working conditions, dogmatic religion is law and security is a George Washington robot armed with an RPG launcher. Flags and posters reminds us that the “Prophet” is the undisputed Lord and Savior Jesus Gandhi.
The Prophet is Father Zachary Hale Comstock, who has rejected America’s move toward progessivism and tolerance. He discovers the best way to secede from the Union is by launching his city into the sky, where the 1912 American government will have difficulty opposing separatists.
The game gives little information about the character at the beginning, save his name and his mission. Booker DeWitt. “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt.”
My task was to infiltrate Columbia, find the girl and deliver her to my contacts in New York. As I made the long ascent toward Columbia, I figured the best course of action was retrieving the girl without a ruckus. They were celebrating Founder’s Day on this sunny July afternoon. I walked around, enjoying the cracker carnival and attention given to the overt propaganda. I kept hearing warnings about a bogeyman called “The False Shepard.” Comstock personified this False Shepard in the people’s minds as Satan, Lucifer, the Fallen Angel; every shooting gallery target featured a cute devil to serve as a reminder.
Then came the turning point. I bought a raffle ticket. Sure, fine, whatever. Keep blending. I won the raffle. Great. Then I learned of my reward: stagehands dragged out a bound interracial couple, and my prize was throwing the first pitch!
At the point the game gave me two options: hit the couple, or reject racism and bean the contest barker. Here was the dilemma: I’m a player in 2017 who abhors this sort of behavior, but I’m portraying a man who lives in the mindset and ideology of 1912. I know what the moral choice should be, but what would Booker do?
After reflecting a moment, I threw the baseball at the barker. Thunk. This proved problematic, as every uniform aimed his sidearm at my face. My own weapon went unholstered. The festivities imploded into a paranoid, screaming, murdering bloodbath, the smell of death and gunpowder permeating the air. I’d been fingered as the False Shepard; every step from here to the girl would be wrought with potential lead poisoning.
“The girl” Elizabeth has spent her twenty years locked in a tower with nothing but a huge library and giant robot bird keeping her company. Faced with potentially lethal boredom, she’s had no choice but to give herself a world-class education, becoming a master of unlocking who can determine locations from coordinates.
She has also been blessed/cursed with the ability to open ‘Tears,’ rips in the dimensional fabric leading to parallel worlds. Booker and Elizabeth jump through many of these during the game, ending up in a Columbia so crossed with different timelines that taking notes might help.
Elizabeth is the most helpful companion I’ve had the pleasure of fighting alongside in a video game. Not since Ashley in Resident Evil 4 have I found an escort mission character so tolerable. The on-screen prompt that says Elizabeth will never need protecting is the purest breath of fresh air. Aside from never taking damage she is invaluable in firefights, tossing Booker medical kits, ammo and Salts (Infinite’s answer to the EVE hypo). She scrounges for loot outside combat as well. It’s clear how essential she is to have around during the sections when she is absent.
In addition, Elizabeth’s Tears materialize helpful objects like gun turrets, airships and supply boxes. Although Elizabeth can have one Tear object in play at a time, it’s advisable to go from taking cover to raining down death from above.
This game is a hell of a lot of fun. It feels more on rails for a free-roaming first person shooter than its predecessor, but the overall aesthetic is an almost never-ending, sweeping sense of action and adventure that only stops to drop story or tender moments. Plasmids make their return here, this time as ‘Vigors.’ Unleashing superpowered destruction is just as thrilling as before, second to raking up Achievements with Booker’s wide assortment of weapons.
Despite what a thrill ride I had with Infinite, there are a few issues that quieted my excitement. The challenge has been adjusted, but each added handicap softens another hardship. Unlike Jack, who lugged his entire arsenal in his pants pockets, Booker can carry two weapons. Having to sacrifice one gun to pick up another seems frustrating, but weapons best suited for upcoming firefights are always nearby. Likewise Booker can equip a maximum of two Vigors, but the rest are swappable from the inventory screen, requiring no visit to a Gene Bank.
The instant reviving from BioShock makes a return with small adjustments. Dying depletes your money while enemies regain their health. Though some consequences for losing are better than none, they are not large penalties. The money you lose is small pocket change and your corpse resurrects with more ammo than before your fall. In other words, dying still means nothing. Once again the ‘challenge’ lies in staying alive as long as possible, though it’s easy to die if you’re not careful.
My other complaint is the overall story. It starts off as a played straight parody of racist ideology with a sinister plot lurking beneath. The game introduces a rebellion against Comstock made up of downtrodden, oppressed minorities. It then commentates on the nature of revolutionaries becoming the monsters they fought against.
This is fine because it fits the premise. But once parallel worlds, time travel and Multiverse conundrums enter the fray the story loses itself, suffering from too many overlapping ideas. There’s the kind of silly where you’re the prime target in a cartoon racist amusement park, and another where you’re dealing with metaphysics and a renegade banshee. The streams don’t cross well. It’s like pouring Ketchup on Rice Krisipies or baking macaroni into Cheetos.
Despite my issues with the plot, the main characters themselves are wonderful company. I loved every moment of Elizabeth’s arc as she comprehended the new world around her and her role in it. Booker is of the same caliber. I actually felt like this character, understood his plight and felt his apprehension. This is characterization worthy of much praise.
Rapture was a cramped, foreboding blue hell. Columbia is deceptive in its sun drenched presentation. What BioShock lacks in narrative coherence it makes up for in immersive gameplay, deep characters, and a setting that’s fun to run and gun through. Definitely worth keeping.
FINAL GRADE: B