Religion, racism, class warfare, American exceptionalism and more are evaluated throughout Booker DeWitt’s quest to rescue a girl named Elizabeth from the floating city of Columbia. Though it seems overly ambitious at a glance, “BioShock Infinite” expertly weaves together its many complex themes and gameplay systems to create an incredibly satisfying experience.
The early star of “BioShock Infinite” is the city of Columbia itself. Columbia is a floating American city launched in 1893 that was created to share American ideals across the world. After a dramatic introduction to the city when Booker DeWitt arrives in 1912, you are left free to soak in every little detail of the brilliantly portrayed world. The bright color palette is immediately inviting, and its bizarre anachronistic elements and history beg investigation. The wondrous optimism the city inspires is undercut by the extreme and ugly positions its citizens adopt on topics of religion, race and politics.
While I knew Columbia would be a fascinating setting to explore, especially given its subject matter, what really surprised me about the story is how the themes the game tackles interconnect with one another. I don’t want to give away the why or the how, since discovery is at the heart of the experience, but I will say I was increasingly and pleasantly surprised, as the themes became linked to one another in meaningful and unexpected ways.
One crucial element of the story that must be discussed is the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth that forms the crux of the narrative. Elizabeth is, without a doubt, one of the biggest mysteries in the game, and discovering why she was locked up in Columbia and why she has the power to open tears in the universe will give you extra incentive to push forward.
What really allows the relationship between Elizabeth and you as a player to work is that Elizabeth only helps Booker during gameplay. Elizabeth has no health bar, so you never have to worry about “BioShock Infinite” turning into a giant escort mission. In battle and in exploration, you can ask Elizabeth to use tears scattered around the environment to drag helpful objects into reality that function as cover, platforms and turrets.
Although the story and setting is the main reason why you should play “BioShock Infinite,” the actual combat is very impressive and a lot of fun. The game gives you so many tools and abilities that you will eventually feel overpowered, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t engaging. The guns in “BioShock Infinite” feel really powerful in a good way. Also, Booker has a Halo-like shield in addition to his health bar, which I appreciate because it encourages experimentation.
The core shooting is complemented by the abilities granted by “vigors.” Possession, fire grenades, chain lightning and more are all at your disposal, provided you have enough energy in your universal salts/magic gauge. Vigors open up plenty of additional tactics and are particularly accessible because salts are readily available.
These two core systems are immensely fun by themselves, but “BioShock Infinite” gives you more tools to work with. Elizabeth, her powers and the Skylines, which are essentially mini-rollercoasters that wrap around most of the very vertical battlefields, complicate the sandbox further. The enemies thankfully adapt well to their surroundings, but make no mistake: all of these tools give you a huge advantage over them.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that exploration outside of combat is rewarded with audio log collectibles and lots of loot such as money, gear and stat-boosting items.
After reflecting on “BioShock Infinite” with a little distance, I really appreciated how thoughtfully designed the story and game was. I feel confident in saying that “BioShock Infinite” is one of the best games of the generation.
Recommended: “BioShock Infinite” creates a world that will leave you with an incredible and unforgettable experience.