Like many gamers, I was hypnotized by the advertising campaign and gameplay videos of Bioshock: Infinite. There were promises of adventure and intrigue in a 1912 floating city, a single-player campaign heavily influenced by a compelling feminine protagonist, and the depth of storyline that made the previous titles of the Bioshock franchise so compelling. At the same time, the raw wounds opened by the shortcomings of Prometheus and Assassin's Creed 3 left me wondering if I was capable of investing my blind faith into pop culture hype again. Thankfully, it paid off. Bioshock: Infinite isn't just a great game, it's an important one.
The plot is deceptively simple: "Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt." Booker Dewitt ascends to Columbia, a floating American utopia, to rescue the imprisoned co-protagonist, Elizabeth. They must use a combination of wit, weapons, and particle physics in order to shepherd Elizabeth to freedom. Columbia will not let her go without a fight.
From the outset, Infinite communicates to its players that the game is much more than it seems on the surface level. This should come as no surprise to anyone following the franchise thus far. Veterans of System Shock or Bioshock have come to expect that their character's perception of environment and self is being manipulated, and worthy of suspicion. Infinite doesn't hide this fact. It draws attention to the player's sense that something beyond their knowledge is unfolding. This is professional-grade misdirection. I suspected, from the outset, that I would have to play it a second time.
Elizabeth and Booker are well-matched protagonists, counterbalancing his cumbersome regret with her good-hearted naïveté. Elizabeth interacts with her environment with the most genuine sense of humanity that I've witnessed in a companion character. During ordinary scenes, I found myself checking her visual cues to offer any additional context on our present course within Columbia. It changed my goals as a player when she hung back with a concerned expression, as opposed to reading advertisements or exploring on her own. A significant portion of the game focuses on Elizabeth's developing maturity, and is brilliantly paced to capture the player's emotional investment in her safety. It would be an understatement to say she's changed the stakes of single-player cooperative gaming.
An argument could be made that the first Bioshock transcended the status of "game" and became a "text." Its story, and the method of delivery, are worthy of dissection by anyone in a creative medium. What, then, could we possibly expect of Bioshock's spiritual successor? I was extremely surprised to realize that Infinite was able to match—if not exceed—its predecessor. As Bioshock contained echoes of The Manchurian Candidate, Ayn Rand, and George Orwell, Infinite often read to me like one of Stephen King's Dark Tower novels. Barbershop quartets and phonographs play songs that have no earthly business in 1912. It's not enough to say that the players aren't in Kansas anymore. Kansas flew away to form an independent nation, and the player is struggling to catch up.
Infinite makes welcome assumptions of gamer intelligence, and it is our duty to deserve them. We think you should play Bioshock: Infinite and see how a real game is made.
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