Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lives, Lived, Will Live: Bioshock Infinite

Irrational Games' Bioshock Infinite is set in 1912, in the floating city of Columbia, and centers around the character Booker DeWitt. Booker's mission is to make his way into the city, retrieve the girl Elizabeth, and take her back to his employers. "Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt." It couldn't be simpler than that. Right...?

Gameplay: This is a video game, obviously. So no matter how much the writer in me wants to forever talk about the artistic qualities—yes, video games are art—of this game, the gameplay will always be a major part of how it is viewed. So, first off, Bioshock Infinite is a first person shooter. But not in the typical sense. In one hand is your weapon—you can carry two—and in the other are your 'Vigors', which, basically, are powers you gain from drinking special mixtures throughout the game. These Vigors are drawn from what is essentially a mana pool: a blue bar at the bottom of your screen which you keep full by consuming 'salts'. There is no shortage of choices for combat style, and the various pieces of gear you find can help shape that. From sniping at long distances, using Vigor traps to protect yourself to charging into battle with a shotgun in hand, using your Vigors to stun your enemies—there's something here for everyone.
The controls are rather simple to grasp for anyone who's ever picked up an FPS game before, but different enough that the experience is unique (and for the record, I have yet to play the first or second Bioshock games, so I cannot compare Infinite's controls to those of the first two). Weapon choices are simple and uncomplicated (unless you're a gun hoarder like me), and Vigor and weapon upgrades are easy to understand. There are plenty of minor details in the mechanics that are sure to please. For example, looting doesn't pause the game or interrupt dialogue; melee finishers are easy to accomplish and are worth doing, if only for the cinematics; and Elizabeth will constantly sling health, guns, and salts your way, accompanied by the quickly familiar shout of "Booker, catch!" The gameplay and controls, all in all, are fun without being over-complicated. It allows the game to tell its story, and you to have tons of fun experiencing it.
Setting: The city Columbia floats above the U.S. in hidden brilliance. It's truly captivating. Filled with 1912 style propaganda aplenty, its steampunk roots are undeniably present. Floating buildings and bits of road litter the sky and the sun blazes over and around the enormous statue of the angel Columbia on Monument Island. The gorgeous panorama of the city, specifically at the start of the game, takes your breath away. Fantastic minor details are everywhere, from the period clothing to the kinetoscopes that sporadically appear to the people chatting in the streets. As the game progresses and the city begins to change, the darker, crumbling version of Columbia is just as stunning as the bright, beautiful scenes from the earliest view. Absolutely amazing.
Characters: The characters are not lacking either, in any way. The development of Booker, whose face you rarely see due to the first-person nature of the game, is stellar. Instead of being the faceless protagonist most first person games leave the player to control, Booker is alive and an active part of the story. Booker is a job-first-people-later kind of guy, with bits of sarcasm ingrained into his personality (like any good protagonist). Amazingly, though, he reacts when spoken to by passers-by on the street, he comments on things and changes as a character throughout the storyline, he has seriously meaningful dialogue with most of the characters he meets, and he makes you feel all the emotion he does, because the whole time you’re seeing through his eyes! Whether you see through the eyes of a character or not, they're almost never as well-rounded and developed as Booker DeWitt. He's become one of my favorite protagonist characters of all time.
Elizabeth is a major character as well, and very much worth mentioning, as she travels with you for most of the game. She starts off a naive girl, not knowing much about her purpose in the scheme of things. However, throughout the story she becomes more and more the dignified, purposed woman you see at the end. The Prophet Comstock is the antagonist, and as the religious and political ruler of the city he is an expert at causing you problems. But he isn't just a villainous face—he's much more. He's a leader, guiding his people away from the darkness; a father, protecting his child from the false prophet; a survivor, insuring his own longevity even if everything else is bound to fall. He is a worthy antagonist for our protagonist. Also of note are the Lutece siblings, Robert and Rosalind, who appear randomly throughout the game. Not much can be said about them without throwing out spoilers, but suffice to say they are extremely entertaining, impactful, and worthy of their position in the narrative. Other great characters such as Fink, Daisy Fitzroy, Songbird, and the myriad enemies themselves also appear to enhance the game's characters' effectiveness.
Story: The game's overall narrative is gripping, to say the least. Even early on, it snatches ahold of you. And the nature of the story creates a need to explore in the player. Pieces of history and facts that add interesting spins to the epic being unfolded throughout the game encourages the player to find every detail he can, specifically the 'voxophone' recordings scattered throughout Columbia. I was thrilled the entire way through by the revelations, big and small, that were displayed by the characters and the settings themselves. The game seemingly tells Elizabeth's story and Columbia’s, and that is definitely resolved by the end. But the ending simply blew my mind. It totally changes the way you see the rest of the game, using the characters' interactions to that point to propel your mind into a mode of thought that you struggle to comprehend at first, and most likely will end up thinking on for days after. It's stories like this that inspire me as a writer to try and affect people in ways they will always remember like this.
Overall: I’m impressed. Bioshock Infinite was a game changer for me, and I highly doubt I’ll ever be able to forget it. I recommend it to anyone, interested or not. It’s worth playing, for sure.