My experience previewing BioShock Infinite at E3 2011 still remains fresh in my mind. I can still feel the soft cushion of my seat and my fingers curling over the armrests as I witnessed a visual onslaught of Booker fast traveling across skylines trouncing foes in epic fashion with breath left to spare as he exchanges dialogue with Elizabeth in surround sound. It really is hard to believe that two years had gone by since.
Vivid trailers can be appreciated as, when the time comes to engage in the final product, one can map the creative process traversed to bring you the experience that you see now – what got changed around, omitted, the final destination of highlighted scenes of preview. In this case, Infinite‘s premise remains generally the same but with a few alterations and additions. Former Pinkerton, Booker DeWitt, is neck deep in gambling debts with his back to the one wall many in his position dread nearing. Exit the options of coming up with the money and enter the realm of favors.
“Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.“
Booker is sent off on a wild trip to the eccentric floating city of Columbia. Above the clouds it soars, on wings of technology that its people deem undeserving to the sinful world they left behind. Amongst the heavens is where the shirked American Dream lives on, where it is the duty of every White man to put one boot over the face of a battered demon now calling themselves Jews, Irish, or whatever anti-American snake oil they’re selling draped in their colored skin. It’s important to let these disgusting creatures know where they stand in the universe, after all, isn’t that what the Lord expects from us? This is but an iota of the coveted beliefs held steadfast by Columbia’s ruler, Comstock (now designed as a white haired elderly man) who his people worship as an actual prophet, going as far as creating religious art in narrating his life of bravery and sacrifice. Although not ascertainably horrific when compared to Rapture’s Splicers, Columbia’s citizens are horrific monsters all the same.
Nevermind its people’s dark axiom or the huge statue erected in loving memory of John Wilkes Booth for his heroic triumph over the antichrist. Minority or not, upon touching down on Columbia there’s just something enchanting about this city. The need to explore comes natural, but you suddenly find yourself obligated to consume every food item encountered, to eavesdrop on the latest gossip in town, to see what that family brought to the picnic. Maybe it’s the Yankee Doodle charm, or the fact that this is an impossible paradise separate from Earth. No matter what faults lie beneath you immediately feel compelled to fit in, to make yourself at home as you tour condos and have a blast at the carnival’s midway. Then it hits the fan. Comstock foretold Booker’s arrival as the False Prophet, the people’s threat. Columbia’s law enforcement wastes no time to appease their shepherd by attempting to bring you back in pieces.
Core combat remains the same as the original where dual wielding between Vigors (dictated by the salts meter) and firearms (which are greater in upgrade options compared to the original) are concerned. Unlike the original, favorite weapons and powers cannot be button mapped, instead you can choose a secondary gun or Vigor on standby for quick cycling. Though not as intriguing as the Ice Wrench, Booker is outfitted with a magnetic claw gauntlet that brings about self gratifying finishers in melee combat.
Compared to the original BioShock, Infinite‘s combat burns dim in contrast. One of the signature features of the first game were the many creative kill options at your disposal by quantifying the environment, the situation, and your abilities. Infinite offers little in the way of creative ingenuity (and hilarity). Battles are waged on standard FPS fare as you try to find cover and respond back with bullets, then throw in the Vigor powers for support. Vigors offer some fun with combining abilities such as setting summoned crows on fire or made electrified for added effect. You can even lay mines to ensnare oncoming foes. After a while though, despite a few upgrades, you might find yourself relying on only a select few to get by. Enemies generally react the same when at the butt end of offensive Vigors. For example, Columbia’s minions are satisfied with just standing in place and screaming as they’re set ablaze versus the Splicers who are forced to find the nearest body of water to extinguish their suffering.
The newest addition to the series is having Elizabeth. As you lead her outside her prison tower, she comes in handy scrounging ammo, health, salts and money whenever you’re running low. Elizabeth also has the ability to open tears in time and space to assist you in battle allowing access to supplies, bringing over turrets, and summoning cover and decoys – all this without being distracted by having to actively protect her. Outside of battle, she can pick locks and decipher code books allowing access to a treasure trove of secrets. This is well and all but in contrast to previews she doesn’t come with telekinesis so no floating roses, no calling upon a telekinetic maelstrom of pots and pans for makeshift battering rams, and no dying horse in sight that drives Liz to create an act of God. The commercial for Infinite alone isn’t even based on anything you’ll experience. Perhaps it’s for the best that this direction was taken, however a mix-and-match of combat elements could’ve been exploited if the original intent remained while procuring a real sense of camaraderie between Booker and Elizabeth.
Seeing two individuals develop a bond and come to trust one another with their lives was one of the aspects looked forward to as alluded in earlier trailers. However, the two don’t seem to grow a recognizable bond as they spend time with one another. No jokes thrown around in combat and conversations during down time barely creates a conduit for the two to really get to know each other. Impactful dialogue shared between the two in trailers ended up being broken and scattered as one liners said here and there. The duo go through their share of disagreements but the light mincing of dialogue incurs shallow resolutions and despite Elizabeth having every reason to be angry at Booker at times she still doesn’t have a problem unlocking his doors and tossing him necessities.
At this point, you’re already at the midsection of the game. Despite Infinite setting things up fairly well for a story you thought you were going to experience, it ends up going through extensive episodes of an identity crisis. The presumed basis of two individuals trying to find meaning in one another as they come between a mad white supremacist’s ambition and the revolt of Columbia’s minority manual laborers in the Vox Populi is suddenly shoved off to the side and Elizabeth’s origins becomes the main focus. Nothing wrong with that at all, but the pacing makes for a confusing trek of discovery where the majority of objectives has you running in full circles fighting outlandish adversaries, including the Vox Populi whom, for non-buoyant reasons, declare Booker and Elizabeth enemies. All the while, Songbird doesn’t get the spotlight promised with a half felt compensation produced towards the end.
The ending to Infinite does have some shock factor to it and it comes with a pleasant surprise, but if you’ve been exposed to enough weird ’90s anime the revelations aren’t at all that startling. Predictable even for certain people. In the end, Rapture still comes out on top as the better constructed utopia. Despite that, BioShock Infinite still capitalizes as an experience in its own right regardless of what your expectations may be. The plot and combat could’ve been better, but its mode of storytelling demands your attention nonetheless as there’s no other experience like it and, for a good many, that means a lot of return trips to come.