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, Xbox 360, and OS X platforms in 2013, and a Linux port was released in 2015. Infinite is the third installment in the BioShock series, and though it is not immediately part of the storyline of previous BioShock games, it features similar gameplay concepts and themes. Irrational Games and creative director Ken Levine based the game’s setting on historical events at the turn of the 20th century, such as the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, and based the story on the concept of American exceptionalism, while also incorporating influences from more recent events at the time such as the 2011 Occupy movement.
The game is set in the year 1912 and follows its protagonist, former Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt, who is sent to the airborne 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 Dewitt throughout the game, eventually working with the AI-controlled Elizabeth. Like previous BioShock games, the player uses a combination of weapons, clothing called Gear that offer unique attributes, 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 openness of Columbia provides for more dynamic combat, including combat that takes place aboard the city’s Sky-Line roller coaster-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 original BioShock game.
The game won over 85 pre-release awards for its display at E3 2011, including Best of Show from the Game Critics Awards. At release, BioShock Infinite received critical acclaim, with praise particularly directed at its story, setting, and visual art design, and is often regarded as one of the best video games of the seventh generation of consoles. According to review aggregator Metacritic, it was the third-highest rated video game of 2013. Within two months of release, it sold over 3.7 million retail copies, and has since sold more than 11 million copies overall. It won year-end accolades, including Game of the Year from several gaming publications. It was re-released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on September 13, 2016, as part of BioShock: The Collection, alongside its remastered predecessors. Both a standalone version and The Collection were later released on Nintendo Switch on May 29, 2020.
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. Players 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.
At certain points throughout the story, the player will be forced to make a choice in order to continue, each choice making minor changes on the story. For example, at a raffle at the start of the game, Booker wins and the raffle is revealed to be a front for a public stoning of an interracial couple. As a reward for winning the raffle, Booker is given the very first throw, and the player is given a choice to throw at the couple or at the announcer. If the player chooses the latter option, the couple appears later to thank him for sparing them, but if the player chooses the former option, the announcer congratulates him later in the game.
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. The player 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.