Monday, 13 January 2014

Best of 2013: Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock still remains one of my favourite games of all-time. Melding an intense and engrossing story with an phenomenal sense of atmosphere, exploring the underwater utopia of Rapture and the plight of its creator Andrew Ryan was an incredible experience. After a rather disappointing sequel and a series of undisclosed delays, Bioshock Infinite gained critical and unanimous appraisal on its release back in March. 

Infinite continues Irrational Game’s prowess in visual story-telling with another stellar narrative journey that further explores fairy-tale sentiment within the context of a complex commentary on American ideology pre-WWI. Set in the early 1910s, the story follows Booker DeWitt’s who has been “hired” to retrieve a young woman, Elizabeth, from the floating city of Columbia. Along the way, like the events of Rapture, the player uncovers the secrets, the friction and conflict revolving around Elizabeth’s character and Columbia itself. Like it’s true predecessor, Infinite is an engaging story start to finish. What’s particularly impressive is Irrational’s strict notion of ambiguity and discovery. While the player is channeled down a narrow, linear path, Infinite manages to generate a strong sense of breadth and wonder. Thematically, the game’s plot and setting aspire to engage the audience with a multiplicity of -isms. Whether it be cultism, racism, nationalism or extremism, it is sure to address the socio-political issues of American society during the period, especially those relating to the “Founding Fathers”, Manifest Destiny and patriotism. While the game can and has already been broadly and monotonously critiqued by many, the game’s atmosphere and artistic endeavour bring this world to life. 

Yet the crucial element of Infinite’s success is the character of Elizabeth. Like my love for Ellie in The Last of Us, Elizabeth stems from a similar set of circumstances and situations. A “Rapunzel-esque princess” locked in a tower, we are slowly revealed her ordeals/ torment and discovery outside the walls of her cell. Exposed to the world through literature and that of her captors’ boundaries, Elizabeth reacts realistically towards the true sights and sounds of Columbia and to the events that are occurring around her. Voice actor Courtnee Draper really does an amazing job at portraying this charming and complex personality. Her exaggerated body movements and facial expressions offer a glimmer of constant humanity in a world succumbed to hate and greed. Additionally she’s an important part of the gameplay. With ammo in short supply, she regularly throws you bullets, weapons, salts and money. You really get a sense of her importance to your survival, leading to the one or two instances when she’s elsewhere being increasingly unnerving and unbelievably tense.

On a technical level Infinite looks and sounds spectacular, more so in the PC version. With it’s unique art style, superb soundtrack and expansive colour palette, Columbia is a distinct and vibrant setting that evolves as the player and the story progresses. The key is atmosphere, and the game’s ability to capture the “birth of a nation” ideals, and the fractured personas of Columbia really sets the unparalleled tone of the game. While playing it as a “game” can be a rather laborious affair, Irrational Games managed to fix some of the major issues I had with its previous releases. Dual wielding vigor powers and gunplay is a fluid and satisfying set of actions, but nothing terribly unique or inventive. It’s slightly unfortunately that the variety of vigors seem irrelevant after the Possession and Shock Jockey powers are introduced. The Skyhook mechanic also failed to live up to the hype. But strong A.I and some interesting level design help to bring some diversity to the proceedings. 

Bioshock Infinite impressed me more as an experience rather than as a game. Irrational Games poured its heart and technical soul into creating an impressive narrative with a fierce personality that would capture and engulf the imagination and enthusiasm of its audience. And they undoubtably succeeded. Who knows where the next instalment will take us?

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