BioShock Infinite is a stupendous game, portraying a beautiful and broken city that will absorb your every waking thought.

The Good

  • Columbia is an amazing place to be and explore
  • Depicts uncomfortable, relevant themes in an effective way
  • Vigors and skyline rails make for fluid, exciting action
  • Upgrades make you feel increasingly powerful
  • Mind-blowing ending that you won’t soon forget.

The Bad

  • Occasional quirks and contrivances disrupt the immersion.

What drives a man of God to wash away the sins of his past, only to blacken his heart with a multitude more? How far can a freedom fighter be pushed before virtue and righteousness are replaced by a lust for vengeance? What does a privileged society do when the foundation of its prosperity is shaken? BioShock Infinite dares to explore these heady themes and many more, giving you glimpses at just how the seemingly smallest of decisions can forever alter our realities, and our hearts. As an agent provocateur in the fantastical floating city of Columbia, your actions bring turmoil and strife to an ostensibly idyllic landscape. It’s immensely fun to stir up trouble, and even more engaging to see how boldly BioShock Infinite portrays a society torn asunder. You’ll be haunted by this thematically devastating adventure, and indeed, its phenomenal final minutes, which are bound to be discussed and dissected for some time to come.

And when they had found him, they said unto him, all men seek for thee.

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It starts with a lighthouse. As former private investigator Booker DeWitt, you enter this lighthouse knowing that you have been hired to retrieve “the girl”–but who this girl is, and who hired Booker, remain a mystery, if not to Booker, than at least to you. At the top of that lighthouse is a chair, and once strapped into it, Booker is fired into the stratosphere, toward the city in the sky called Columbia. And what a fitting name for this hyper-American domain of 1912, which incorporates the classical architecture of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The red, white, and blue Columbian flag flies from spires across the city, and statuaries and bas-relief panels immediately evoke the sense of old America.

The buildings of that 1893 exposition were part of an area known as The White City, and here, too, Columbia lives up to the name of its inspiration–not just in the whiteness of its buildings, but in the whiteness of its racial structure. At a key early moment, you confront the festering illness corrupting this porcelain-white culture, where anyone whose skin is not the ideal color is ostracized and enslaved. You also confront one of BioShock Infinite’s many core mysteries: What is the nature of the brand on Booker’s hand? In Columbia, the brand is a mark of the false shepherd, this culture’s version of the Christian Antichrist and the 666 that marks him. Identified as a prophesied fiend, Booker has no choice but to run.

Then shall the lame man leap as a hart.

Then shall the lame man leap as a hart.

Columbia is a tremendous place to be, the all-American dream-turned-nightmare crossed with steampunk sensibilities. Nationalist propaganda is mixed with airships and mechanical combatants, and the moving picture machines you occasionally use elaborate on the history of Columbia, which seceded from an America that just wasn’t American enough. The leader of this city is Father Comstock, a self-proclaimed prophet and religious zealot whose likeness and influence pervade the game. What Andrew Ryan was to Rapture, Comstock is to Columbia; he is a frightfully well-meaning man who believes so strongly in his own damaged philosophies that you can only fear him. His worshipers are just as fearsome in their blind willingness to follow their leader, even when the costs are high. In BioShock Infinite, religious and political fervor intertwine, much as they do in real life, and these similarities could fill you with dread and unease.

You eventually find “the girl.” She is the supernaturally talented Elizabeth, locked in a floating tower and protected by a monstrous clockwork creature called Songbird. Your first confrontation with Songbird is one of many eye-opening scenes, and Elizabeth’s relationship with her protector is a complicated one. So is her relationship with Booker, for that matter, though he is key to Elizabeth’s escape from her solitary life, and to the city of her dreams: Paris.

And so the two go on the run, alternately exploring Columbia’s private nooks and allying with a resistance force called the Vox Populi, not out of politics, but out of necessity. Columbia isn’t as hushed and mysterious as Rapture, but exploring it is no less tense. You are a witness to (and a participant in) an imploding social order, and as the story darkens, so too do the places you investigate. Sunny blue skies and perfect manmade beaches give way to burning streets and ghostly memorials. When the narrative has you questioning the nature of reality, the surreality of the environments reflects your confusion. So, too, does the soundscape metamorphose. The concordant harmonies of a hymn of praise take a sour and ominous turn as the more disturbing qualities of Columbia’s unerring faith emerge.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Your confusion is appeased by audio recordings you discover called voxophones, which serve as personal diaries to past events. There are clues here to the nature of Elizabeth’s gift: her ability to open tears in spacetime and peer into…the future? The past? Other dimensions? Voxophones also elaborate on Columbia’s most important citizens, such as Comstock’s troubled, martyred wife, whose story illuminates the desperate lengths to which her husband stooped to ensure that his message might be heard in perpetuum. They even provide a few touches of humor, as do other atmospheric audio audio details; alternate versions of well-known tunes could have you grinning once you pick your jaw up off the floor.

BioShock Infinite is a first-person shooter, but you aren’t armed just with machine guns, pistols, shotguns, and the like; you also have vigors. Vigors, like the original BioShock’s plasmids, are seemingly magical powers that you can fling at your enemies. Thus, you can weaken your enemies by zapping them with a bolt of electricity or by charging into them at impossible speed. Try distracting them with a murder of crows before gunning them down with your carbine, or flinging them over the edge of a walkway with a shock wave and watching them plummet to their deaths. You may even combine these powers, perhaps setting a foe on fire and then charging into him for an explosive finish.

BioShock Infinite is a stupendous game, portraying a beautiful and broken city that will absorb your every waking thought.

By Kevin VanOrd