The Bioshock franchise is one that most gamers will have heard about. The original game, released way back in 2007, was the kind of massive hit that only seems to come along once or twice a decade, where the game not only ends up becoming a huge seller, but is labelled as ‘redefining’ the genre it’s a part of.
And in a lot of ways Bioshock did change first person shooters, and there were a number of games that tried to cash in on its success, with studios quickly churning out imitations. Even the creators of Bioshock tried to cash in on the popularity of their game with Bioshock 2, a sequel that perhaps played it a little too similar to the first to really be creative or impress. The creators seemed to realise that they’d need something different if they were going to recapture the magic of that first game, and as such fans got a huge shift in tone and style with Bioshock Infinite.
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Where Bioshock took players deep under the ocean to the underwater city of Rapture (and again in the sequel), Bioshock Infinite does the opposite, and takes to the skies. Players take control of grizzled Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt (Troy Baker), who is drowning himself in debt and drink in order to deal with the phantoms of his past. When he’s recruited by a pair of mysterious siblings to travel to the city of Columbia to rescue a girl named Elizabeth (Courtnee Draper), he thinks that he might be able to get a fresh start. However, things become extremely complicated when he arrives in Columbia, a floating city.
Columbia is a place filled with technological wonders, where not only does the city fly, but autonomous machines exist, and people are able to harness the elements at their will. There is, however, a darker underside to the city, as Booker soon learns that racism and bigotry run rampant in Columbia, and the downtrodden are treated as little better than slaves. A public act of defiance by Booker, in which he refuses to abuse an interracial couple, seems to be the spark that Columbia needed, and a full blown civil war begins around Booker as he tries to escape the city with Elizabeth.
One of the best descriptions I’ve heard about Bioshock Infinite (and I can’t for the life of me remember who said it), is that the first game felt like you’d missed the party because you turn up in Rapture after the fall of the city, but in this game you are the party. This time round players see the violence erupt on the city streets, they get to help the rebels fight back against the fascist government, and they see this once amazing place fall into ruin and disrepair. And thanks to the way the game is set up, it’s an incredibly fun time too.
One of the best new additions to this entry in the series is the Sky-Line system. These rails run across Columbia, connecting different locations, levels, and even floating segments. Thanks to a weapon that you get early in the game (by shoving a fascist cop’s face into whirling blades!) you’re able to ride these rails. Players are no longer hampered in combat, stuck behind cover, trying to make their way through tight corridors and small rooms. If there’s a Sky-Line nearby simply grab hold and fly around the battlefield. You can move from area to area, or even attack enemies whilst zipping past them.
The game also introduced a new element in the form of Elizabeth. As well as being a hugely important part of the story, Elizabeth got to accompany the player across parts of the game as an AI controlled companion. I’m sure that there are some people already groaning at that, remembering some of the worse examples of this in gaming, but Elizabeth wasn’t just a damsel in distress, nor was she another combatant. Thanks to powers that let her tear holes into time and space, Elizabeth is able to help out in combat by tossing Booker weapons, ammo, and health kits. It might not sound like much, but these moments can make a big difference in terms of combat, and there will be a number of times where Elizabeth’s help can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
The bold new direction for Bioshock seemed to work, and fans and critics praised the third game for ditching Rapture and trying something new. Ask any fans of Bioshock which of the series is the best and you’ll probably find a pretty decent split between this and the first game (sorry Bioshock 2), and that’s the beauty of this third instalment. It’s very clearly a Bioshock game, with all of the things that you come to expect from the series, but it also offers some very different things. If you want fast paced combat that you can tackle multiple ways, then it’s the one for you. If you want spookier, more horror based stuff, then the first one is the way to go. If you’re looking for a more character focused adventure with a more complex story, Bioshock Infinite ticks those boxes. It added options for players, for those who might want something a bit different in tone and style.
Bioshock Infinite sold incredibly well upon release, landing in the top ten on Steam on release week, and selling more than 878,000 physical copies in the first month. According to the studio, it would go on to sell 6 million copies in it’s first year, and 11 million by the end of its second. It was the third highest selling game of 2013, only losing out to mammoth hits Grand Theft Auto V, and The Last of Us. It would also go on to win several awards for its music, art, and visual design.
Despite being a huge hit, having created several new gameplay systems, and reinventing the series in a new direction, there has still been no follow-up to the game (other than an additional DLC). With the popularity of the series as a whole, it’s surprising that Bioshock Infinite was the last we’ve seen of the series. And whilst it’s not impossible that another entry may surface one day, if this is the final part of the series it’s a hell of a high note to end on.
Bioshock Infinite was released on the 26th March 2013.