If you’re anything like me, you may have been left wanting for challenge if you played BioShock Infinite on the default difficulty setting. Death may have cost a few bucks and your enemies may have regained a wee bit of health, but that hardly seemed like penalty enough to warrant a change in tactics. Further to that, every man and his dog seemed to be packing enough fruit (and other health recovery items) to open a greengrocer. Every secret of Columbia can be accessed without encountering a lick of trouble, but to get any real sense of satisfaction from the myriad of combat situations you’ll encounter over the course of the game, I recommend a second playthrough with 1999 Mode.
1999 Mode is unlocked by completing the game using any difficulty or, according to IGN, by entering the Konami code while in the main menu. It’s the highest difficulty level and it offers reduced spawn points, enemies that deal greater damage, a more fragile Booker DeWitt, and if you don’t have enough money to cover the cost of a respawn, it’s game over (don’t worry though, you’ll be able to reload your last save if you’re bankrupted). It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s far from insurmountable.
While I’ll mainly be detailing general strategies, know that some battles are addressed specifically. In other words, spoilers ahead!
Coming in a few bucks short at the register might mean that you need to wait a little while longer to experiment with gun and Vigor upgrades on lower difficulties. In 1999 Mode, budgeting can mean the difference between success and losing big chunks of progress. With this in mind, the following strategies should guide your approach to play:
- Pick and stick with two Vigors: I know it’s hard to show restraint with the breadth of visually spectacular abilities available, but there are going to be times where money is tight. Vigors are key to success in combat, but bottom line, you’re going to have trouble beating most anything without lead in the equation. For my run, I chose Shock Jockey and Possession and upgraded them completely.Possession was the bedrock of my combat plans as, if nothing else, it leads to a guaranteed kill on standard infantry – including deadly troopers equipped with rocket launchers, flak cannons and sniper rifles. It also serves to slow down Motorised Patriots, Firemen and Zealots, so you can move out of harm’s way. Be sure to pick up the “Possession for less” upgrade as soon as possible to make the most of your Salts. Perhaps most importantly of all, Possession allows you to make a few quick bucks when used on any vending machine; if you’ve got any means of refreshing your salts nearby, you simply have to take the time to steal some Silver Eagles. Shock Jockey offers an effective means of crowd control, particularly when fully upgraded. While it may not do much to slow down Handymen, it can set up a “1-2 punch” against other heavy hitters if you have a shotgun, hand cannon or crank gun at your disposal. It’s also a cost effective Vigor which offers a solid trap option for more open battles.
- The Lara Flynn Boyle Gun Rack: Pardon the Wayne’s World reference, but the point is don’t go purchasing upgrades for every gun. Pick a few to switch between to suit your situation, don’t be a jack of all trades and a master of none. That being said, you’re best off picking guns which deal big damage and have a big ammo count. A fully-upgraded carbine is the best pound-for-pound gun in the game, but you’ll be well served by the shotgun, the sniper rifle, the RPG, and the hand cannon. I’d also recommend picking up a crank gun whenever you get the chance – be it from a downed Patriot, or an opportunistic tear.
- Manage your gear: There are very few stretches of gameplay that require micromanagement of gear, but be mindful of what you’re wearing if you run into trouble. For those of you who bought the Collector’s Edition, make sure you have Extra! Extra! equipped when you find a Voxophone; much like possessing vending machines, you won’t get much for your trouble, but it’s in the bank all the same. Urgent Care is easily the most indispensable piece of kit that you’ll find as it doubles the efficiency of your shield, but other pieces like Bullet Boon and Overkill are also worth searching high and low for.
- Nooks and crannies: Keep an eye out for Vox Codes and lock picks so you have every chance of collecting Infusions and pieces of gear. My strategy of maxing out the shield before addressing Salts and then health worked extremely well. The value of the shield can easily be underestimated until you encounter your first sniper. Locked doors and secret rooms are also likely to house money as well as health and salt recovery items, so take your time and leave no desk untouched.
- I’m not supposed to go on sprees: Be sure to have enough coin saved for at least three respawns at all times. It might be tempting to buy those upgrades before you walk into a big battle, but odds are, you won’t be walking out of there alive if you do.
The heat of battle
Without addressing any specific firefights, patience and cover are key to any successful strategy. There’s no shame in running back behind that wall if you cop a few choice shots. Better still, very few times was I pursued if I retreated through two or more doorways. Make sure that your shield is at full charge before you emerge from your carefully-selected sanctuary as well: you’ll want as much between Booker and your enemies’ bullets as you can afford. Finally, check your ammo count before you wander into the next battle; swap to another favoured firearm if you’re running low on bullets for the guns you’ve equipped.
In retrospect, there were three situations where some advice wouldn’t have gone astray:
- The second encounter with the Siren: By far the hardest single fight in the game, duelling with Lady Comstock in the bank withdrew hundreds from my savings account. Rushing the Siren is not an option – her close range attacks do big damage, and her entourage of revive-able cronies will be more than willing to finish what she started. Worse still, there’s plenty of places for the ethereal enemy to hide and weave between. My winning run didn’t involve any acts of valour, rather I exploited the unwillingness of my foes to follow me through the vault door. Crouched, with my sights creeping just above the threshold, I unloaded an entire cache of sniper rifle rounds plus a few carbine shots to emerge victorious. Keep in mind that if you fall, Lady Comstock will heal completely from any unsuccessful assault.
- The final battle with Lady Comstock: Yes, it’s her again. After charging to the hidden corner of the forecourt that houses three vending machines, patience and a sniper rifle are your best friends. If you’re having trouble with this fight, be sure to possess the vending machines to refill your wallet. Getting close to the Siren and her posse is, once again, a recipe for certain death.
- Any fucking fight that involves a fucking Handyman: Sweet mother of Zeus, do I hate Handymen. They’re deceptively fast, they’re able to cover huge distances with a single bound and they can kill you in two hits – and that’s with a fully-upgraded shield! The only advice I can give is to create as much distance between you and the big bastards as humanly possible. I know they say “Aim for the heart,” but this is 1999, man! Nobody’s taking a fall. When planning your escape from an onslaught, don’t rely too heavily on Skylines either, as Handymen can electrify them for a big hurt. I should also probably mention that those of you who dabbled in the pre-order exclusive, Industrial Revolution should have access to and as a result, equip Handyman Nemesis – a piece of gear that will increase the damage you deal to these colossi by fifty percent.
We shall scrimp and save
For those looking for an even greater challenge, try going for the “Scavenger Hunt” achievement (or trophy, depending on your preferred system) on your 1999 run, which forbids you from buying anything from a Dollar Bill machine. Forbidding yourself from buying ammo and health does put you in some awkward situations; as an example, my first unsuccessful tilt at the second Siren fight had me exhausting all ammo for all available weapons. It is, however, entirely doable. Please note that possessing Dollar Bill machines for extra cash does not disqualify you from earning this achievement.
The conditions may seem daunting, but be rest-assured that 1999 Mode can be conquered with patience and sound strategy. Making the most of your money, guns and gear, are simple matters of budgeting and sound administration. Beating some of the more brutal opponents, however, requires a strong constitution and an eye for detail. Are we playing shooters, or going for a job interview?
If you have any hints that I’ve missed, please feel free to share them in the comments below. If you want to see more of my adventures on higher difficulty levels, here’s my account of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance on Hard.