At it’s heart, Bioshock Infinite’s first act is essentially a classic ‘knight saves princess from her tower’ story. Whereas a lot of games would be happy to tell that story alone, in Infinite that’s just where the story starts to get interesting. For anyone not in the know, the player controls the character of Booker DeWitt, who has been tasked with finding a girl called Elizabeth. “Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt” is the mysterious instructions that he has been given. What Booker was not told is who that girl is, and what she has the power to do.
Once Elizabeth is rescued, the game’s second act turns into a glorified escort mission. I say ‘escort’ mission loosely, as you certainly don’t need to take care of Elizabeth. In fact it’s often the very opposite of that.
Looking back at the appalling escort missions of Goldeneye or Resident Evil 4, characters whom you need to take along for the ride are usually more of a hindrance and definitely detrimental to the gameplay. The AI was simply not advanced enough to allow the characters to make decisions based on their own safety. ‘Why the hell are you just standing there being shot’ the player screams at the TV. Fast forward to present day and things have changed big time.
In modern gaming Elizabeth can be easily compared to Ellie from The Last of Us. They both take care of themselves and certainly know what to do when the going gets tough. But Ellie is a character who has been programmed to hide and be ignored during a gunfight. It’s rare that she gets involved in the action. Enemies don’t even seem to pay her any mind, as they steamroll towards you. In Bioshock, Elizabeth is there to help you at every opportunity you can. Need Ammo or health, and Elizabeth quickly throws some your way. She can even tactically create cover or gun nest to give you an edge in the game’s trickier combat sections. The player never feels hindered by her presence. Instead they wonder what they would do without her!
During combat Elizabeth does exactly what you would hope for in an AI companion. It’s during the times when action takes a back seat to exploration that she truly comes to life. Ken Levine’s team at Irrational Games used various techniques to really add interest to how your big eyed companion interacts with the world before her. New players should just stand still for a moment and watch what she does. Never does she just stand still blinking at you. She wanders off on her own and explores things of interest to her. These things are not scripted, she may never do them. She’ll also never abandon you for them. As soon as you move on, she’s right there with you. Her mood also changes depending on your recent actions in the game world. Kill a bunch of guys and don’t expect her to be all rosy faced when talking to you.
The voice work by actress Courtney Draper is a performance worthy of the highest accolades. Nothing was held back in delivering a vast emotional range. Take a look at this clip of Troy Baker encouraging the best out of her.
As single player games continue down the route of becoming more narrative focused. We can only hope that the lessons taught in Bioshock Infinite by the whole team at Irrational Games become the standard by which all AI characters are judged. Booker’s journey through the world of Columbia would be a lonely slog if it wasn’t for Elizabeth by his side. It’s a true compliment to the coders, designers, animators, writers and both motion capture and voice actresses that I can say Elizabeth is a character I fell in love with. In times when online co-op seems to be the new trend in gaming, I wonder who on earth would want a real human companion when Elizabeth is both more interesting and more dependable. I would choose her every time.
Irrational have brought us the girl. Any debt there ever was has been thoroughly wiped clean!