I am a story-driven gamer. A compelling story is more important to me than graphics or even gameplay so when I say that BioShock Infinite surpasses my expectations in all three categories, it’s no surprise that it would be my 2013 Game of the Year.
2013 saw many strong contenders from the hauntingly exceptional The Last of Us to the indie smash hit Guacamelee! but BioShock Infinite is the one title that has continued to stay in the recesses of my mind throughout the year. While much changed since its initial announcement trailer in 2010, my enthusiasm never waned. A lot can happen in three years, but thankfully Irrational Games delivered one of the best gaming experiences of the year.
Even before I started Infinite I opted to revisit Rapture one more time and play through the original BioShock and BioShock 2 once again. The games still hold up remarkably well after all these years, and it’s because of their superb story. I imagine Infinite will be the exact same when we look back on it five or 10 years from now.
The game revolves around protagonist Booker DeWitt, a New York City private investigator whose life has become consumed by gambling and booze. In a last ditch attempt to “wipe away the debt” Booker accepts a job to travel to the floating city of Columbia and rescue a girl named Elizabeth from the clutches of its elitist leader and founder, Zachary Hale Comstock. He’s not letting her go without a fight, though, and will use everything Columbia has to offer to stop him.
BioShock Infinite’s attention to detail is what sets the game apart. Almost immediately players are taken away from the gloomy Maine coast and are literally skyrocketed to the floating island clouds of Columbia. This so-called paradise is a living, breathing environment populated with people and businesses that immerse you into its world. Columbia isn’t some cookie-cutter hallway that you progress from one area to another without hesitation.
It’s a city where you can catch an a cappella stage performance or wander through a carnival. Every citizen has something to say, and while the majority of what they tell you has no impact on the game whatsoever, it adds to the lore of the city. Collectibles in the form of voxophone audio logs and kinetoscope videos expand upon the lore of Columbia. The city is its own character with the freedom to be explored at your own pace.
While Columbia is a beautiful sight to be hold, it’s the characters that drive BioShock Infinite’s story forward, namely Booker and Elizabeth. First person shooters are notorious for having generic and dull protagonists but Infinite manages to defy convention with Booker. Veteran voice actor Troy Baker breathes life into the flawed character. What begins as just another job soon evolves into a complex relationship with the leading lady, Elizabeth. There’s an innocence to Elizabeth that voice actor Courtnee Draper brings out. All her life she’s been shielded by Comstock and his ever watchful guard Songbird, and Booker isn’t exactly the knight in shining armor she’s read about in her books.
Booker and Elizabeth have a wonderful dynamic throughout the game. While it’s essentially one, big escort mission, BioShock Infinite hardly feels like you’re holding Elizabeth’s hand the whole time. She’s no damsel in distress as she can obviously fend for herself. And sure, it may get annoying to hear “Booker, catch!” for the hundredth time, but you’ll welcome her with open arms when you’re running low on supplies.
Infinite shines brightest when it seamlessly weaves its story into the gameplay. You never feel rushed to get to the next area or cutscene and are free to explore Columbia at your own pace. One of the most memorable moments is an impromptu singing session in which Booker picks up a guitar and Elizabeth sings “Will the Circle be Unbroken.” Don’t pick up the guitar or bypass the room and you’ll miss this heartwarming moment.
BioShock Infinite may not have the graphical fidelity of Beyond: Two Souls or the 100’s of hours of gameplay of Persona 4 Golden, but Irrational Games manages to create one of the most memorable stories of the year across any medium of entertainment. No doubt we haven’t seen the last of Booker and Elizabeth. Part 2 of the Burial at Sea DLC is scheduled for early next year, and who knows what’s next for them after that. The sky is the limit.