Box art depicting protagonist Booker DeWitt.
Aspyr (OS X)
|Engine||Modified Unreal Engine 3|
|Distribution||Optical disc, download|
BioShock Infinite is a first-person shooter video game developed by Irrational Games, and published by 2K Games. It was released worldwide for the Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 platforms on March 26, 2013; an OS X port by Aspyr was later released on August 29, 2013. Infinite is the third installment in the BioShock series, and though it is not immediately part of the storyline of previous BioShock games, it does feature similar gameplay concepts and themes. Irrational Games and creative director Ken Levine based the game's concept and setting on the ideas of American exceptionalism by taking inspiration from historical events at the turn of the 20th century such as the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, while also incorporating influences from more recent events at the time such as the 2011 Occupy movement.
Set in 1912, the game has protagonist, former Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt, sent to the floating air city of Columbia to find a young woman, Elizabeth, who has been held captive there for most of her life. Though Booker rescues Elizabeth, the two become involved with the city's warring factions: the nativist and elite Founders that rule Columbia and strive to keep its privileges for White Americans, and the Vox Populi, underground rebels representing the underclass of the city. During this conflict, Booker learns that Elizabeth possesses strange powers to manipulate "Tears" in the space-time continuum that ravage Columbia, and soon discovers her to be central to the city's dark secrets.
The player controls Booker throughout the game, eventually working with the AI-controlled Elizabeth. Like previous BioShock games, the player utilizes a combination of weapons, Gears, and psychokinetic powers granted through Vigors. Elizabeth's powers can also be used to help fight hostile forces. In contrast to the limited spaces of the underwater city of Rapture, the open air city of Columbia provides for more dynamic combat challenges, including combat that takes place aboard the city's Sky-Line rollercoaster-like rail system. Downloadable content for the game includes a story-based mission, Burial at Sea, that links Infinite's story to that of the first two BioShock games.
The game won over 85 pre-release awards for its display at E3 2011, including Best of Show from the Game Critics Awards. BioShock Infinite received critical acclaim upon release, with many critics particularly praising its story, setting, and visual art design, and was the third-highest rated video game of 2013 according to review aggregator Metacritic. It went on to sell over 3.7 million retail copies within the first two months of its release, and has since sold more than 4 million copies overall. The game received numerous year-end awards, including Game of the Year from several publications, Best Shooter at the VGX 2013, and Action Game of the Year at the 17th Annual D.I.C.E. Awards.
- 1 Synopsis
- 2 Gameplay
- 3 Development
- 4 Marketing
- 5 Reception
- 6 Themes and interpretation
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
BioShock Infinite, set in 1912, takes place in Columbia, a fictional city suspended in the air through a combination of giant blimps, balloons, reactors, propellers, and mainly "quantum levitation." Named in homage to the female personification of the United States, the city of Columbia was founded by self-proclaimed prophet Zachary Hale Comstock who used his connections in Congress to have the American government build it. The government intended Columbia to serve as a floating world's fair and as a display to the rest of the world of the success of American exceptionalism. The city was launched to much fanfare and publicity at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, and was later dispatched to distant shores, travelling from continent to continent.
Initially seen as the pride of the United States, tensions eventually rose between Columbia and the American government. In 1901, against the government's wishes, Columbia brutally and violently put an end to the Boxer Rebellion in Peking. This event revealed the floating city was a heavily armed aerial battleship, capable of unleashing devastation across the world. The American government subsequently demanded Columbia's return to sovereign soil, and, in response, Columbia seceded from the United States and disappeared into the clouds, its location soon lost to everyone else. Free from outside influence, Comstock now had complete control over the city, transforming it from a floating world's fair to a theocratic police state.
Under Comstock's rule, Columbia became a militant pseudo-Christian utopian society that worshiped him as a divine prophetic figure and the Founding Fathers of the United States as religious icons. Despite Columbia's apparent utopia exteriors, it is soon revealed to be a hidden dystopia. Institutionalized racism and elitism are widespread in the city, with Anglo-Saxon supremacy of the upper and middle classes heavily enforced by the government as law. Despite the drive for racial purity in Columbia, people of minority races are brought in to the city as a source for cheap labor. They are the underclass of Columbia, and are subjugated to serve mainly as slaves or indentured servants. As a result of this subjugation, minorities are largely relegated to menial and hard labor with no obvious opportunity for upward mobility. Racial segregation is also heavily enforced within the city, to the point where interracial couples face the risk of a public stoning.
By the time of the game's events, racial tensions have risen to the point where Columbia is on the verge of civil war, waged between the ruling "Founders" and the insurgent "Vox Populi," two factions with strongly opposing ideologies. The Founders, led by Comstock, are the prevailing political faction in the city, and are the rulers of Columbia. The city's ruling class, they are the racist ultra-nationalists who seek to keep Columbia's privileges purely for White American citizens while denying the same right to foreigners. The Vox Populi (Latin for "Voice of the People"), led by Daisy Fitzroy, are a rag-tag resistance group who fight to restore the rights of Columbian citizenship to people of all races and religions. However, years of bitter struggle have driven them to fight opposition more out of blind hatred, resulting in more violent and brutal methods.
In addition to the internal strife, Columbia is ravaged by "Tears" in the fabric of space-time. Being the result of past scientific experiments, these Tears reveal alternate universes, and allow for interaction with them. While most Columbian citizens regard these Tears as mere curiosity, some individuals have exploited the insight offered by them to create radically new weapons and technologies, while several others have replicated futuristic music and songs heard from the Tears, bringing anachronistic elements into the Columbia of 1912.
As with BioShock and BioShock 2, the player is able to locate audio logs – Voxophones – and film projectors – Kinetoscopes – that will expand on the history and nature of Columbia beyond those events occurring within the game. Though the game takes place before the events of the previous two BioShock games (occurring in 1960 for BioShock and in 1968 for BioShock 2), the question of whether Infinite occurs within this same timeline remains unanswered.
The player controls protagonist Booker DeWitt (Troy Baker), a disgraced member of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency emotionally scarred from the acts of violence he committed at the Battle of Wounded Knee. Faced with mounting debts, he is sent to Columbia to rescue Elizabeth (Courtnee Draper), a young woman imprisoned there since childhood, who has the ability to open Tears. Her confinement has been maintained by Songbird, a large, robotic bird-like creature who has been both her friend and her warden, and which has been programmed to feel betrayal should Elizabeth attempt to escape.
"Father" Zachary Hale Comstock (Kiff VandenHeuvel), the main antagonist, is the founder of Columbia and the leader of the elite Founders who rule the city. Revered as "the Prophet" in Columbia, Comstock has maintained his power in the city through a powerful cult of personality based on Christianity and the Founding Fathers of the United States. The Founders are opposed by the Vox Populi, led by Daisy Fitzroy (Kimberly Brooks). Initially the servant housemaid for Comstock's house, Fitzroy fled after she was framed by Comstock for the murder of his wife. Shortly after her escape, she formed the Vox Populi and became its leader due to her hatred of the Founder's ways.
Robert (Oliver Vaquer) and Rosalind Lutece (Jennifer Hale) are two mysterious individuals that direct Booker to Columbia and appear throughout his travels. Though they appear as twins, they are revealed to be the same person but from two different realities, having managed to figure out how to communicate and subsequently cross through realities. Rosalind is shown to be the one behind the technological wonders that keep Columbia afloat.
In 1912, Booker DeWitt is taken by Robert and Rosalind Lutece to an island lighthouse off the coast of Maine. Told to "bring us the girl and wipe away the debt," Booker enters a rocket silo which transports him to Columbia.
Booker is soon pursued by the city authority when he is found bearing a scar of the letters "AD," matching the description of the foretold "False Shepherd" who will corrupt Elizabeth and overthrow Columbia. Freeing Elizabeth from her tower, Booker narrowly evades her captor, the "Songbird." Reaching an airship, Booker promises to take Elizabeth to Paris; when she realizes they are going to New York City to wipe Booker's debt, a tearful Elizabeth knocks him out. Booker awakes to find the airship under the control of Daisy Fitzroy and the Vox Populi, who offer to return the ship if Booker recovers a weapon shipment.
Finding Elizabeth, Booker continues with her. Assisting with her ability to open Tears, Elizabeth grows disturbed by the consequential damage on Booker and Columbia by her altering reality: one Tear leads them to a world where Booker is a martyr of the Vox Populi, sparking open warfare between the Founders and the Vox Populi. Believing a new, living Booker undermines the martyr Booker's sacrifice, Fitzroy turns her forces against Booker. Elizabeth kills Fitzroy to prevent her from executing a Founder boy.
As they attempt to leave by airship, Songbird attacks the duo and they crash back to Columbia. Continuing onwards, they unravel a conspiracy behind the city's founding: Zachary Hale Comstock had the Lutece twins construct a "Siphon" device to inhibit Elizabeth's powers; Elizabeth is Comstock's adopted daughter, whom he plans to groom into taking over after his death; and Comstock plotted to kill his wife and the Luteces to hide the truth. After Elizabeth is captured by Songbird, Booker pursues but is brought into the future by an elderly Elizabeth; she explains that, since Booker did not stop Songbird, she suffered decades of torture and brainwashing, inheriting Comstock's cause and waging war on the world. Explaining that Songbird always prevented his previous rescue attempts, Elizabeth begs Booker to stop Songbird with his song and returns him to his present.
Booker reaches present Elizabeth, and the pair pursue Comstock to his airship. Comstock demands that Booker explain Elizabeth's past to her; an enraged Booker drowns Comstock. Booker denies knowledge about Elizabeth's missing little finger, but she asserts that he has simply forgotten. Controlling Songbird, the pair fend off a Vox Populi attack, before ordering Songbird to destroy the Siphon. As Songbird turns on Booker again, Elizabeth's powers fully awaken, allowing her to open a Tear and transport them to the underwater city of Rapture.[note 1] Booker and Elizabeth materialize inside the city, from where they see Songbird crushed outside by the water pressure.
Elizabeth takes Booker to the surface lighthouse, explaining there are countless alternate lighthouses and versions of Booker and Elizabeth; they are within one of infinite possible realities dependent on their choices. She shows that on October 8, 1893, Robert Lutece approached Booker on behalf of Comstock, requesting that he "give us the girl and wipe away the debt," referring to Booker's infant daughter, Anna DeWitt – Booker's "AD" branding. Booker reluctantly agreed, but soon gave chase; arriving as Comstock barely escaped through a Tear, its closing severed Anna's finger. Comstock then raised Anna as his own daughter, Elizabeth, and due to her severed finger, her existing over two realities simultaneously allows her to create Tears and move between them. Robert Lutece, angry at Comstock's actions, convinced Rosalind to help him bring Booker to the reality where Columbia exists to rescue Elizabeth.
Elizabeth explains that Comstock will always remain alive in alternate universes, as the Luteces have enlisted different universe Bookers numerous times to try to end the cycle. As stopping Comstock requires intervening in his birth, Elizabeth takes Booker back in time to a baptism he attended in hopes to atone for the sins he committed at Wounded Knee; she explains that, while Booker changed his mind, some alternative Bookers accepted the baptism and were reborn as "Zachary Comstock." Comstock, later aware of his connection to Booker and sterile from overusing the Lutece Tear machine, abducted Anna to provide a biological heir for Columbia. Booker, then joined by other universe Elizabeths at the baptism, allows them to drown him, preventing his baptismal choice and thus preventing Comstock's existence. One by one, the Elizabeths begin to disappear, the screen cutting to black on the last.
Like BioShock and BioShock 2, BioShock Infinite is a first-person shooter with role-playing elements. In contrast to the limited spaces of Rapture in previous BioShock games, the expanded environment of Columbia provides for more dynamic combat challenges in Infinite. As Booker, the player must fight their way through Columbia using weapons and a variety of tools in order to complete objectives. The player may carry only two weapons at a time, and can collect other weapons and ammunition either from defeated enemies or from random locations around the city. In addition to his health, Booker is also equipped with a shield. When damaged, the shield regenerates after a few seconds, while health can be replenished with medical kits or food. Should Booker die, the player revives in a safe area but loses a slight amount of money; Booker regains partial health and is granted additional ammunition, while local enemies are also partially healed. The player can still recover from death should they lose all their money.
Booker gains powers and abilities through Vigors, Gears, and Infusions, all scattered around Columbia. Vigors, the equivalent of BioShock's Plasmids, grant activated powers such as creating shockwaves, releasing bolts of electricity, and machine/human possession. Vigors require Salt, the equivalent of magic points or BioShock's EVE, for powering their abilities. Salts can be found throughout Columbia, and are also granted upon death. Wearing Gears grant passive abilities that can improve the player's strength or damage resistance, similar in function to BioShock's Tonics. Each piece of Gear attaches to one of four specific slots: Hats, Shirts, Boots, and Pants. Only one piece of Gear can be affixed to a slot at a time; any extra Gear is stored in the player's inventory. Infusions grant the ability to permanently boost the player's health, Salts or shield meter by one stat; they also fully restore whatever is being boosted.
Booker can traverse Columbia both on foot and by riding the "Sky-Line." The Sky-Line is a roller coaster-like rail-based system — originally designed for moving cargo around Columbia but later used for personal transport — whereupon the player activates a wrist-mounted tool — called the Sky-Hook — that Booker and enemies wear to jump and hang onto the self-powered tracks. Players can jump onto, off of, and between Sky-Line tracks at any time, and may face enemies that use the system to attack; the player can use one-handed weapons in Booker's free hand while using the Sky-Line. Freedom of movement along the Sky-Line allows for several varieties of combat, including flanking, cover, and area-of-effect attacks through creative uses of the system. Booker can also dive off from the Sky-Line to strike enemies with his Sky-Hook; while on the ground, he can melee and execute enemies with it.
Once reunited with Elizabeth, the player must work with her to escape Columbia. The player does not directly control Elizabeth, but instead she reacts to the player and the current situation in a manner similar to the AI Director in Left 4 Dead. Unlike BioShock, where the player is tasked with protecting a Little Sister while escorting her, Elizabeth requires no protection and can take care of herself in combat. While the player is in battle, Elizabeth scavenges the area for supplies such as ammunition, medical kits, Salts, and other items, and tosses them to Booker as needed. She can also use her Tear-opening powers to aid the player, bringing in weapons, health, Salts, environmental features such as cover or a ledge for higher ground, and automated defense units. Only one Tear can be opened at a time, making the player decide between the available options to suit the battle. Elizabeth also has the ability to pick locks using her hairpin. However, she requires "one-use" lockpicks, found all over Columbia, to open doors or safes storing valuable or hidden items.
While exploring Columbia, the player, and Elizabeth, can find various useful items such as cash, food, medical kits, ammunition and Salts. Vending machines, present throughout Columbia, can be used to buy supplies, and powerful upgrades for weapons and Vigors. Optional side-missions are also available, where the player must unlock safes or decode hidden ciphers; completing them rewards Booker with a handful of supplies, Voxophones and Infusion upgrades.
As the player progresses through the city, he is opposed by various enemies, classified into three types: Standard Enemies, Heavy Hitters and Basic Security Automata. Standard Enemies are regular foes consisting of several different human forces representing the Founders and the Vox Populi. Heavy Hitters are more formidable enemies, aligned with the Founders, who act as mini-bosses throughout the game, demanding new tactics from the player. They consist of: the Vigor-powered Fireman and Zealot of the Lady, the heavily armored Beast, the powerful robotic-like monster Handyman, the crank gun-wielding automaton Motorized Patriot, and the enemy-detecting Boys of Silence. The Vox Populi also possess their own versions of the Fireman, Beast and Motorized Patriot. Basic Security Automata are armed machines scattered throughout Columbia that act as a security defense system for the city, consisting of the fixed Gun and Rocket Automatons, and the flying Mosquito.
After completing the story mode on Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulties, a "1999 Mode" is unlocked, where the challenge of the game is significantly increased. Enemies are much tougher, the player's navigational aid and aim assist is removed, and resource management is much more crucial to survival; also, the difficulty of the game cannot be changed while playing. Additionally, in this mode, reviving after dying uses up more money; should Booker die with less than $100, the game ends, and the player is sent back to the main menu and has to resume from their last autosave prior to the section where they died. Alternatively, 1999 Mode can simply be unlocked by inputting a secret code — the Konami Code — in the main menu. The mode is a callback to System Shock 2, a video game developed by Irrational Games, released in 1999.
BioShock Infinite was developed by Irrational Games and published by 2K Games, with Ken Levine as the game's lead writer and creative director. Irrational and Levine, who had previously developed the first BioShock, passed over to work on the sequel BioShock 2 in favor of a new BioShock game with a different setting, with Take-Two Interactive giving them freedom to develop it. Work on Infinite began in February 2008, with the game's concept being formed six months after BioShock's release. Under the moniker "Project Icarus", Irrational worked in secrecy on Infinite for two-and-a-half years prior to its announcement on August 12, 2010. The game's development took about five years, with it finally announced as going gold on February 19, 2013.
During the initial stages of development, the Irrational team originally considered several settings for the game, including reusing Rapture or setting the story in the Renaissance period, before finally deciding on the floating city of Columbia. To shape the game's story and its world of Columbia, the team took inspiration from events at the turn of the 20th century and the expansion of the concept of American Exceptionalism set by the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Recent events at the time such as the Occupy movement in 2011, as well as films including Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, Robert Zemeckis's Back to the Future, and David Lynch's Blue Velvet also served as inspiration for the game.
Central to the game was the character of Elizabeth, who Levine wanted to be more of an "emotional driver" and companion to the player similar to Half-Life 2's Alyx Vance rather than an escort mission. Also, in contrast to the silent Jack from BioShock, the player character Booker was given a voice, a decision to avoid complacency with the "silent protagonist" motif as well to have face-to-face interactions with other non-player characters instead of being told what to do over a radio or separated by a barrier. Levine took a more novel approach for his story by bringing the voice actors for Booker and Elizabeth, Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper, respectively, into the studio to develop the characters and help refine the story. Levine, however, did not provide the actors with full knowledge of the story in order to help them develop their characters' relationship in a much more natural manner.
The development team chose to work on the game with a heavily-modified Unreal Engine 3, as the original BioShock engine, a modified Unreal Engine 2.5, was deemed inadequate for their vision. According to Levine, Infinite was a game created from scratch, with none of its assets taken from previous BioShock games. In terms of gameplay, the team designed the vertical and open-air spaces of Columbia to provide more opportunities to include various types of combat compared to the close-ranged limits of Rapture within the first BioShock. Irrational also considered options for a multiplayer element but these were later scrapped, with the game ultimately shipping with only the single-player mode. Numerous materials, such as locations, weapons, Vigors, Tear mechanics, characters, and other enemies, were cut from the game as it neared publication, with claims that enough material for five or six games had been scrapped during this process.
BioShock Infinite was released worldwide on the Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 platforms on March 26, 2013, with the PlayStation 3 edition also including the original Bioshock. Levine stated that the issues faced by the Windows and PlayStation 3 versions of the previous BioShock games had been rectified in Infinite; the Windows version, enabled by Steamworks, would not use additional digital rights management software such as Games for Windows - Live or SecuRom, while the PlayStation 3 version would not be a port, as that version was developed in-house simultaneously with the Windows and Xbox 360 versions. Aspyr later helped to port Infinite to the OS X platform which was released on August 29, 2013.
The original score for BioShock Infinite was composed by Garry Schyman, who had previously composed both the scores for BioShock and BioShock 2. Ken Levine stated that Infinite's score was different compared to that of the previous games in the series, in that it was "sparer" in "instrumentation and the style." He felt that the game had a "much more of an American feel to it," and added that team wanted "a bit more of a frontier feel to it, slightly." Levine went on to comment that the score was partly inspired by Jonny Greenwood's score for There Will Be Blood, which served as a "good" starting point, and Paul Buckmaster's score for 12 Monkeys.
From the very beginning during development, Schyman opted for a completely fresh approach to the score for Infinite due to its differences with previous BioShock games. He said that compared to the previous games, Infinite's world and time period were "completely different and unique in nearly every respect," and that it was "much more fleshed out in terms of the characters" with story being driven by the two main protagonists. Schyman noted that he worked on the score over an extended period of time, and due to the game's long and evolving development cycle, it took longer to find the right approach to the score. After much experimentation, Schyman found that using a simpler musical score was best for the game as he felt that it was consistent with the simpler time of 1912. However, Schyman stated that he did not limit himself to the music of the period, and added that while the game's setting of 1912 was very influential, it was not determinative. He said, "I did not wish to imitate the popular music of 1912 which is not particularly emotional to our ears in 2013." Originally working with a more orchestral approach, Schyman later used very intimate small string ensembles with anywhere from three to ten players to compose the game's relatively simpler score. Schyman also called Elizabeth a critical element to the music, explaining that "a lot of the music relates to her and some of the emotional things that she's going through." He went on to describe Infinite's music as "more of an emotional score" as it was about the relationship between the two key characters in the game, Booker and Elizabeth.
Levine stated that choosing the licensed music for Infinite was much more challenging compared to the first BioShock game. He commented that with the original BioShock game, set in 1959 in the mid 20th century, it was easy to acquire musical pieces representative of the era, with him saying that the team "had this huge slate of great music to choose from." Levine stated that with Infinite, however, it was set in 1912 in the early 20th century, which had music he described to be "awful" and "not very listenable" to the "modern ear." Consequently, the development team had to "dig really deep" and research extensively for more satisfactory music in Infinite's time period. Levine noted that he was not strict with selecting the music and songs that was accurate to the game's time period, as he felt that the most important thing with regards to the music was "that you get people to feel things." He added that the game's fictional nature justified him and the team "play[ing] a little fast and loose" and "[doing] things a little differently" with the music. Levine also stated that Infinite's music would play a "strange role" in the game; he explained that the music would "tie into the macro story, to some degree," and that the team had "a lot of little stories" to tell about it.
Irrational and 2K Games used a number of different marketing approaches to promote the game. They worked with various gaming magazines to create promotional artwork reflecting the turn of the 20th Century, and developed tie-in video clips teasing the game's mythology in the style of In Search Of.... A standalone browser game, BioShock Infinite: Industrial Revolution, was developed by Lazy 8 Studios under Irrational's direction to promote the main game and provide the player with in-game rewards. Additional promotional media included an art book, figurines of various characters in the game, a prequel novella, a board game, and a contest to have the winner have their name used within the game.
One week after its announcement, BioShock Infinite was exhibited at Gamescom 2010, where it received its first awards there, winning IGN's Game of the Show and Best Xbox 360 Game awards. It was nominated for Most Anticipated Game at the 2010 Spike Video Game Awards, though it did not win. Infinite was on display for the general video game audience at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2011 (E3 2011), where it was heavily awarded, winning over 85 editorial awards, 39 of which were Game of Show. Most notably at E3 2011, the game received four Game Critics Awards for Best of Show, Best Original Game, Best PC Game, and Best Action/Adventure Game. For the second and third consecutive times, Infinite was again nominated for Most Anticipated Game by the Spike Video Game Awards in 2011 and 2012.
BioShock Infinite received critical acclaim upon release, with reviewers highlighting the story, setting and visual art design. Aggregating review website GameRankings gave BioShock Infinite an average rating of 95.94% based on 17 reviews for the PlayStation 3 version, 92.62% based on 39 reviews for the PC version, and 91.89% based on 27 reviews for the Xbox 360 version. Metacritic gave the game a score of 94/100 from 27 critics for the PlayStation 3 version, 94/100 from 68 critics for the PC version, and 93/100 from 33 critics for the Xbox 360 version, with all three platform versions of the game considered to be of "universal acclaim".
Many reviewers favorably compared BioShock Infinite to the first BioShock game, with some even believing that Infinite had surpassed it. Game Informer's Joe Juba believed that, unlike BioShock 2, Infinite had succeeded the challenging goal of "replicating the achievements of the original BioShock," and praised the game as a "fresh vision [that] redefines what the BioShock name means." Adam Kovic of Machinima.com described Infinite as a game that could "co-exist and remain equal in quality" with the original BioShock, before concluding that "when the history of videogames is written, not one, but two BioShocks will be remembered for pushing gameplay, story, and subject matter to new levels." Entertainment Weekly's Darren Franich stated that "if BioShock was The Godfather, then BioShock Infinite is Apocalypse Now."
Heavy acclaim was directed to the story, with Wired's Kyle Orland considering it to be "one of the best stories ever told through the gaming medium" and Mike Wehner of The Escapist calling it "one of the most carefully crafted videogame narratives of all time." PlayStation Official Magazine praised the game's story as "perhaps the best narrative of the entire generation," while Joystiq's Xav de Matos called it "one of the best told stories of this generation." Rolling Stone stated that "Infinite represents a huge leap in storytelling and sets the bar high for every narrative to come," with The Boston Globe's Lou Kesten concluding that it "sets a new standard for video-game storytelling." The story's twist ending was mostly praised, with critics predicting that it would provoke debate, and that it would leave a deep impression on players, prompting them to replay the game immediately. Critics also generally agreed that Infinite's ending was an improvement over the first BioShock's, with PlayStation Official Magazine's Joel Gregory explaining that, unlike the original Bioshock game, Infinite never lost momentum after revealing its twist. However, some critics complained that the ending was confusing. After the game's release, several publications released articles debating and attempting to explain the game's ending.
Reviewers particularly acclaimed the city of Columbia as the setting of the game. Polygon's Arthur Gies stated that the setting was "one of BioShock Infinite's greatest assets," with Andrew Fitch of Electronic Gaming Monthly believing Columbia to be "the most intriguing, fascinating [and] enthralling setting" ever seen in video games. Sterling felt that, unlike BioShock 2, Infinite made a wise decision in abandoning Rapture "for an all new story in an all new setting, introducing us to the cloud city of Columbia." IGN's Ryan McCaffrey praised the setting as a "stunning original world of retro-sci-fi technology and gorgeous scenery," and complimented the fact that Columbia had "its own history and hierarchy." The setting's visual design and attention to detail also drew praise, with several reviewers lauding Columbia as a "beautiful" world. Lucas Sullivan of GamesRadar and McCaffrey were impressed at how diverse the environments were, both noting how no two of Columbia's many different areas ever "feel alike." Reviewers also praised the way at how the detailed world encouraged them to explore more of Columbia, with Game Informer's Joe Juba adding "whether you’re looking at a piece of propaganda, listening to an audio log, or participating in a horrifying raffle, almost everything you encounter contributes to your understanding of the floating world."
Elizabeth's role in the gameplay and narrative was well received. Her implementation as an AI partner for the player-controlled Booker was described by Sullivan to be "downright ingenious," and was stated by Fitch and McCaffrey to be the main aspect that separated Infinite from its predecessors. Special praise was given not only to Elizabeth's ability to take care of herself in combat, but also for actively assisting the player by finding ammo and health, and opening tears. Reviewers acknowledged Elizabeth as not just a combat partner, but also as a companion that invoked an emotional response from the player. Eurogamer's Tom Bramwell believed that the game "creates a familial bond" between Elizabeth and the player, with Sullivan stating that she felt like "a friend." McCaffrey explained that Elizabeth "provides motivation and moves the story forward," and felt that her presence in the game added "emotional depth," something he believed the first BioShock lacked. Several reviewers also praised Elizabeth's relationship and interactions with Booker, believing that they formed the core of Infinite's story; Official Xbox Magazine's Mikel Reparaz explained that "the evolving interplay between her and Booker is the heart and soul of what makes BioShock Infinite such an involving, memorable experience."
The game's voice cast was well received. Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper were particularly praised for their performances as Booker and Elizabeth, respectively, with critics complimenting them for anchoring the game's story as well as the relationship between their two characters. The soundtrack was also received positive responses, with Juba describing it as "fantastic" before explaining that "it sets the tone [of the game] perfectly", and praised the anachronistic songs present throughout the game.
The gameplay's combat system received a more divided response from critics. Gregory stated that Infinite's combat was "more flexible and expressive" than the previous BioShock games, and praised the vigors for their experimental nature. He also felt that the expanded environments made fights "truly exhilarating", and hailed the addition of the Skylines a "real game-changer." McCaffrey praised the game's "myriad combat options," and called the vigors "a useful toolset [...] particularly in their impressively powerful upgraded forms." Reserving special praise for the Skyline, he complimented the freedom of movement it offered and believed that it made the combat "nimble in the truest sense of the word." Juba also praised the combat, adding that it "on the whole is fun and satisfying." He explained that "the upgradeable weapons and abilities – augmented by the skylines and Elizabeth’s powers – give players plenty of space to develop their own style of play." GameSpot's Kevin VanOrd agreed, complimenting the upgrades for making the player feel more powerful, and praised the way vigors and skyline rails made the action more fluid and exciting. In contrast, Reparaz expressed his disappointment at fact that Infinite limited the player to only two weapons, feeling that the game's combat was "not quite up to BioShock's high standards." He explained that compared to "the big arsenals of creative weapons that can receive outlandish upgrades" of the previous BioShock games, Infinite was "less inventive." Juba also noted that, excluding in the 1999 mode, death was only a "meager penalty," with Reparaz explaining that since "[the player will] almost instantly be revived, and any surviving adversaries will be only partially healed," it is "often possible to throw strategy to the wind and simply brute-force your enemies until you outlast them." VideoGamer.com's Steven Burns criticized the combat for being tiresome, blaming its repetitive nature and lack of escalation. He also complained that the tears were underused and "gimmicky."
In its first week of release, BioShock Infinite was the best-selling game on Steam's digital Top 10 PC Charts. In the United States, BioShock Infinite was the top-selling console game for March 2013, with more than 878,000 units sold; these figures do not include digital sales such as through Steam. During the first week of sales in the United Kingdom, BioShock Infinite debuted as the number one selling PC game, and the best-selling game on all available formats, topping the UK PC Retail Sales and the UK All Formats video games charts. In the game's opening week in the UK, its Xbox 360 version ranked #1, PlayStation 3 version ranked #2, and the PC version ranked #9 in the UK Individual Formats video games charts, due to 64 percent of its sales being on the Xbox 360, 31 percent on the PlayStation 3, and 5 percent on PC. As of April 2, 2013, it is currently the second biggest launch of 2013 in the UK after Tomb Raider, and is the biggest UK game launch in the BioShock franchise's history with approximately 9000 more sales than BioShock 2. During the game's second week in the UK, despite a 75 percent drop in sales, BioShock Infinite maintained its lead in the UK All Formats charts. In its third week, Infinite became the first 2013 game to top the UK charts for three weeks in a row. Take Two reported that the game has shipped 3.7 million copies to retail by their May 2013 financial report, and surpassed 4 million in late July.
BioShock Infinite received numerous year-end awards and nominations from different media outlets. At the 31st Golden Joystick Awards, it won the award for Best Visual Design, while also receiving further nominations for Game of the Year, Best Storytelling, Studio of the Year (Irrational Games), and Best Gaming Moment ("Hallelujah" scene); Ken Levine also received the first Golden Joystick Lifetime Achievement award for his accomplishments in video gaming. The 5th Annual Inside Gaming Awards saw the game receive two awards for Best Art and Best Story, while also being nominated for Game of the Year, Most Immersive, Best Voice Acting, Best Additional Content (Burial at Sea - Episode One), and Gamers' Choice. At the Spike VGX 2013, Infinite won three awards for Best Shooter, Best Song in a Game ("Will the Circle Be Unbroken?"), and Character of the Year (The Lutece Twins); it received additional nominations for Game of the Year, Studio of the Year (Irrational Games), Best Xbox Game, Best Voice Actor (Troy Baker), Best Voice Actress (Courtnee Draper), and Best Soundtrack. For the 17th Annual D.I.C.E. Awards, the game has received six nominations for Game of the Year, Action Game of the Year, Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction, Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition, Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design, and Outstanding Achievement in Story. It has also been nominated for Outstanding Action / Adventure Video Game at the 18th Satellite Awards. The game has received two nominations for Best Audio and Best Visual Art at the 14th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards.
According to Metacritic, BioShock Infinite was the third-highest rated video game of 2013 across all platforms, behind Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us; the website also ranked it as the highest rated PC video game, the second-highest rated Xbox 360 video game, and the third-highest rated PlayStation 3 video game of 2013. Infinite was also ranked as one of the best games of 2013 on several lists by various video game publications, and was placed at number one and awarded Game of the Year by Associated Press, CNN, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Entertainment Weekly, and Forbes; number two by Digital Spy, The Gloucester Citizen, Machinima.com, Salon, Slant Magazine, T3, and VentureBeat; number three by CNET, Complex, Gamereactor, GamesRadar, Giant Bomb, Hardcore Gamer, The Huffington Post Canada, and International Business Times; number four by Contactmusic.com, CraveOnline, New York Daily News, Polygon, and USA Today; number five by Shacknews; number six by Amazon.com, and E! Online; number eight by Time; and number nine by Ars Technica, and Wired. It was also listed as one of the ten best games of 2013 by Rolling Stone, and Yahoo!.
BioShock Infinite has appeared on several "Best Games" lists by various video game publications. In July 2013, GamesRadar ranked the game's story number eleven on its list of "The Best Videogame Stories Ever". In September 2013, Official Xbox Magazine included the game on its list of the "Best Xbox Games". That same month, IGN placed Infinite at number thirty-one on its "Top 100 First-Person Shooters" list, and at number twelve on its list of "The Top 25 Xbox 360 Games". In October 2013, WatchMojo.com placed Infinite's story at number one its list of the "Top 10 Video Games With Great Stories". In November 2013, Eurogamer ranked Infinite number twenty-five on its "Games of the Generation: The Top 50" list, while Hardcore Gamer ranked it number twelve on its list of the "Top 100 Games of the Generation". That same month, Complex placed Infinite at number twenty on its "The Greatest Xbox 360 Video Games of the Last Generation" list, while PlayStation Universe placed it at number eight on its "The Top 100 Games Of The PS3 Generation" list. In December 2013, PlayStation Official Magazine ranked Infinite number five on its "Greatest PS3 Games – The Best of the Generation" list, and praised its story as "perhaps the best narrative of the entire generation."
Themes and interpretation
Shawn Robertson, the game's lead artist, stated that, despite the several themes the game would explore, the story in the end was not about them. Robertson explained that the themes were there to serve as a backdrop and to frame a "more human-sized" and emotionally-resonant story about individuals. He went on to say that, while the "opera-sized story" and "the political turmoil" would serve as the background, the story was ultimately about Booker and Elizabeth.
Ken Levine, the creative lead of the game, stated that players are supposed to draw their own conclusions from the game, and ultimately decide "what is good and bad." He explained that "there are many parts of Infinite that are open to interpretation, and the purpose is that you draw your own theories from them." To this end, Levine avoided providing an authoritative final answer regarding the game's ending, replying "What actually matters is what people think. Why does my interpretation matter more than yours?" Acknowledging that Infinite's themes left fans debating and frustrated, Levine was nevertheless satisfied by the game's opacity, stating that it was his intent, and compared the game's interpretation of quantum mechanics to some of his favorite films 2001: A Space Odyssey, Fight Club, The Master, Miller's Crossing, and There Will Be Blood. Rob Crossley of CVG stated that "To [Levine], the [game's] Many Worlds Theory is a storytelling device; one that gives his narrative something unique in games yet celebrated in film: interpretability.
Levine claimed that the core messages in Infinite were neither personal nor political, insisting instead that they were historical. In response to people discussing Columbia "as a particularly racist society," he said that the game was making no particular point about the theme of racism and that the game's depiction of it was merely "more a factor of the time." The racism portrayed in Columbia was seen by Levine "more as a reflection of what race relations in the U.S. were like in 1912;" Levine explained that the game was "less about exploring the good and bad sides of racism and more just a reflection of the time and how it impacted that era." He noted that several historic American figures such as the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were "men of their times," great men who were nevertheless racist because of the times they lived in. Consequently, Levine reasoned that the depictions of nationalism and racism were warranted in the game, saying that to not do so would be "dishonest" and "strange" to the time period.
In addition to racism, the game was interpreted as tackling political and social problems, as well as exploring several themes such as constants and variables, American exceptionalism, extremism, fundamentalism, nationalism, fanaticism, cultism, populism, religion, dichotomy, sameness, multiple realities, fatalism, choice, consequences, free will, hope, self-loathing, denial, rebirth, and redemption.
The story's theme of multiple realities in particular was also commented as drawing parallels with the fact that, in contrast to previous BioShock games, Infinite only had a single ending despite the in-game morality decisions it offered. Wired's Chris Kohler explained that, similar to how the alternate universes within the story all had their similar "constants" and different "variables", the game could be played through in an infinite number of ways, but that certain things would always be the same. Tom Phillips of Eurogamer agreed, interpreting Elizabeth's line ("We swim in different oceans, but land on the same shore") as meaning that, just like Booker's journey in different worlds, different players would have different experiences throughout the game but would nevertheless all reach the same ending. This has led some to identify BioShock Infinite as a metagame and meta-commentary on the whole process of players making different choices in games.
Some have also inferred Infinite to be an alternate version of previous BioShock games, with comparisons being made between elements of the games such as the protagonists, antagonists, setting, and story. The story's theme of alternate universes and Elizabeth's explanation that "There's always a lighthouse, there's always a man, there's always a city" has been cited as reinforcement to this.
Infinite's themes of racism, extreme religion and an ideological society caused controversy. In the various reveals of the Founders and Vox Populi before release, Levine and Irrational Games were criticized by various groups; upon demonstrating the Founders, people that favored the ideals of the Tea Party including Levine's relatives felt the game was attacking that movement; on the announcement of the Vox Populi, Levine found some websites claiming the game was an attack on the labor movement, and one white supremacist website claimed that "The Jew Ken Levine is making a white-person-killing simulator." Levine considered that Infinite, like BioShock before it, was a Rorschach test for most people, though it would be taken negatively in nature and upset them, as his vision in crafting the stories was "about not buying into a single point of view".
Zachary Comstock's portrayal as a zealot was also deemed to offend "gamers with strong religious backgrounds," as a member of the BioShock Infinite development team even threatened to resign over the game's ending, believing the game was saying "Being religious causes you to be evil." Comstock was altered after Levine spoke with this developer, who helped Levine to reconsider the notion of forgiveness in the New Testament and set to figure out why people came to follow Comstock and to understand the ecstatic religious experience they would be seeking. Levine did not consider this reinvention of the character to be censorship, instead a means to present the story better to a broad audience. In another case, a player that considered himself a "devout believer" of Christianity was strongly upset with the forced baptism that Booker receives prior to entering Columbia proper, prompting him to request a refund from Valve due to being unaware of this content in the game. Patricia Hernadez of Kotaku considered that the baptism scene was "admirable" in the context of video games as an art form, as the scene created numerous responses and controversy on social media. The baptism scenes throughout the game were also interpreted by some not as a critique of Christianity or religion, but as a representation of themes such as free will, evil, rebirth and redemption.
Depiction of graphic violence
Infinite's depiction of graphic violence has generated a substantial amount of discussion. Polygon's Chris Plante considered that the degree of violence in the game can make it a detractor for potential players who are more interested in the game's themes and narrative, noting the game's violence distracts from it rather than serving it. He believed that unlike films that are based on violence as part of their themes, Infinite does not attempt to rationalize its violence, claiming the "magnitude of lives taken" and the "cold efficiency in doing so" was "unfamiliar to even the most exploitative films." Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton agreed with these facets, stating that while violence is a common theme across video games, "[the] ridiculous violence stands out in such sharp relief when placed against the game's thoughtful story and lovely world." Hamilton acknowledged that Infinite likely would have been difficult to sell at the mass market if it lacked the first-person shooter elements, but still said that the violent kills felt "indulgent and leering" and unnecessary for the game. Cliff Bleszinski, the creative lead of Gears of War series which Bleszinski has acknowledged as being purposely violent, agreed with these sentiments, and that he "felt the violence actually detracted from the experience". Dean Takashi of VentureBeat felt that the game's nature as a first-person shooter limited its audience appeal due to the extreme violence inherent in the genre.
Conversely, Eric Kain of Forbes magazine opined that the scripted moments of high-impact violence worked well from a narrative perspective, standing out in stark contrast to the idyllic setting and reinforcing the idea that there were serious problems within the world of the game, which only served to draw him further into the story. Kain pointed to the conventions of the first-person shooter genre and the way the player must constantly fight wave after wave of enemies as the real problem, suggesting that these constant, lesser acts of violence diluted the narrative, undermining the point that the game was trying to make. Kain further argued that this trend was not exclusive to BioShock Infinite, pointing out that even games that attempted to address the issue of violence in games — citing Spec Ops: The Line and Far Cry 3 as examples — failed because of their rigid adherence to constant violence, concluding that he saw BioShock Infinite as an unintentional commentary on the genre and adding that he hoped other game developers would observe and learn from its shortcomings. Rus McLaughlin of VentureBeat also stated that the sudden onset of violence at the carnival at the start of the game was a necessary element to show that "Columbia is not perfect. It's ugly, xenophobic, and ready to explode." McLaughlin also considered the message carried by Infinite about the extreme nature of the violent acts Booker commits to be tied to his redemption by the end of the game, that "there can be no morality in an extreme". Jim Sterling from Destructoid said that the violence in the game is justified because "BioShock Infinite is a game about violence." He claimed that "Though he (Booker) feels guilt for what he did, he's a violent man at heart, who inescapably resorts to butchery to solve his problems" and "His entire story is one of denial." Similarly, Sterling also pointed out that "Columbia is a fake, a sham, with an atmosphere of horror under its manufactured surface." He believed that having a non-violent option would go against everything natural to the game itself and "Those asking for a non-violent BioShock Infinite are asking for a different game entirely." He claimed that those asking for a non-violent Bioshock were asking for "yet more homogenization in games" and "BioShock Infinite is not your game if you want a non-violent exploration of its themes, because Infinite's themes revolve around violence as a core concept".
Levine defended the game's depiction of violence, stating that using violence as a narrative device was as old as storytelling itself and that it was "a part of the storyteller's toolkit." He went on to say that art had a responsibility to authentically replicate and depict violence.
- It is not clear if this is the same Rapture from either of the previous two BioShock games.
- The game does not clarify if this is the same version of Booker that the player has played as, or a Booker from a different alternate reality.
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- Irrational Games (March 26, 2013). BioShock Infinite. 2K Games. Level/area: Battleship Bay. "Zachary Hale Comstock (via Voxophone): "As the months and years turned to memories, so did the men of Congress turn to righteousness. And through the technology of men, the dollars of Washington, the Lord worked his will upon Columbia and raised her high above the Sodom below.""
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- Irrational Games (March 26, 2013). BioShock Infinite. 2K Games. Level/area: The Factory. "Jeremiah Fink (via Voxophone): "These holes have shown me yet another wonder, though I've yet to see the application for it. They illuminate a merger of machine and man that is somehow the lesser, yet the greater, of both parties. The process seems to be irreversible. Perhaps, though, Comstock will have some need of this kind of thing to keep watch in that tower of his.""
- Irrational Games (March 26, 2013). BioShock Infinite. 2K Games. Level/area: Downtown Emporia. "Jeremiah Fink (via Voxophone): "Dear brother, these holes in the thin air continue to pay dividends. I know not which musician you borrow your notes from, but if he has half the genius of the biologist I now observe, well...then you are to be the Mozart of Columbia.""
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- Irrational Games (March 26, 2013). BioShock Infinite. 2K Games. Level/area: Bull House Impound. "Daisy Fitzroy (via Voxophone): They argued somethin' fierce at night—Lady Comstock and the Prophet. Could never make out what it was about from my bunk, though. After the worst, I see she ain't left for morning prayer...so I crept upstairs to check in on her. And like a fool...I lingered. "Scullery maid" was what they called me when I walked into Comstock House. "Murderer" was what they shouted when I ran out."
- Irrational Games (March 26, 2013). BioShock Infinite. 2K Games. Level/area: The Hall of Heroes. "Daisy Fitzroy (via Voxophone): The one thing people need to learn is that fear is the antidote to fear. I don't want to be a part of their world. I don't want to be a part of their culture, their politics, their people. The sun is setting on their world, and soon enough, all they gon'[na] see...is the dark."
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to BioShock Infinite.|
- Official website
- BioShock Infinite at Aspyr
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