As another generation of consoles draws to an end, we can start to reflect back over the past few years and decide which games where the best of the generation. For me, one of the stand out titles was Bioshock, a game that took the FPS genre by the scruff of the neck and scared the heebie-jeebies out of it. The underwater city of Rapture was captivating, the shooting and plasmid gameplay great fun and the storyline exceptional. It would take a great game to compete with it in terms of style and even its own sequel failed. However, we all know that Bioshock 2 was no true sequel; it is the Ken Levine Bioshock Infinite that we care about. Can the true sequel live up to the legacy of the original to bookmark this great generation of gaming?
The answer is a resounding yes. I am a cynical kind of guy, but even I fell a little bit in love with Bioshock Infinite and especially with Elizabeth, the best gaming companion since Half Life 2’s Alyx. You play as Booker DeWitt, a down on his luck ex-Pinkerton who is sent on a mission to find a girl and bring her back to pay off a debt. Straight forward, except this girl lives in Columbia, a massive floating city in the sky and you just happen to be known as the False Shepherd, a man hated by the people of Columbia and especially their leader the mysterious Father Comstock.
There are similarities in tone and gameplay with the first Bioshock, but this is by no means a bad thing. The world of Columbia is almost as intriguing as that of Rapture. Whilst the surroundings may not quite live up to the majesty of the deep, the political intrigue of this game certainly does. As an Englishman my knowledge of US history is not as strong as a native, but I was able to glean some fascinating insights into Bioshock Infinite’s alternative take on America’s past and a 1912 that could have happened. Once again the world that Irrational Games have created is richer than possibly any other franchise, there are posters to read, people to interact with and recordings dotted around the landscape fleshing out the narrative. With a revolutionary finale that is able to compete with the first Bioshock, Levine and co. remain masters of storytelling.
The gameplay itself is also incredibly impressive. I am an explorer, so the various nooks and crannies throughout the game allowed me to search to my heart’s content. This does not mean the combat elements are poor – there are some great arenas that allow you to combine gunplay with a variety of new Plasmids (in this game called Vigors). New to Infinite are the overhead rails that you can attach DeWitt to. This allows more tactical shooting as you hunt for alternative points of interaction. You also have Elizabeth on your side who has the ability to provide useful items to aid you.
The enemies are mostly human cannon fodder, but there are bigger foe that compare to Big Daddy (not the 80s UK wrestler, but the epic enemy from the first game). The Motorized Patriots are robotic interpretations of former US President, if said Presidents carried massive machine guns. There are also the Handymen, leaping monstrosities who cry in anguish as you fight them. Both types of enemy are well designed, but neither filled me with the terror of the Big Daddy, or even the Big Sisters. It is perhaps Songbird who is the most memorable foe, but what is this contraption; jailer or friend?
If someone came into my house today and unplugged my 360, saying this is the end of the generation, I would be a happy man. Bioshock Infinite is a fitting game to come at this time. Graphically, stylistically, gameplay wise – it is a triumph, one of the best games of the generation. However, it is also fitting for the end of the generation as it is feels too much like the 360/PS3 era. It evokes Bioshock, Left 4 Dead 2, Gears of War, Uncharted; all games that have excelled, but borrowed from one another. The impact of Columbia is just below that of Rapture, just because it cannot possibly be as fresh. What comes next? Hopefully, Levine will take on a new story and reinvent the FPS genre once more on a new generation, but in the meantime buy, play and then play again the excellent Bioshock Infinite.5