Bioshock Infinite Review

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“Wow” was the first word I said to myself when Bioshock Infinite was finished. I then proceeded to put the controller down and think. I thought about the ending, I thought about the characters, and I thought about what the game taught me about society, the dangers of Religious Fundamentalism, and the lengths a person would go through to absolve their sins. The real surprising thing is once I put the controller down I actually thought in depth about a game’s story. I couldn’t remember the last time I did that. Oh wait, it was when I finished playing the original Bioshock.

Irrational Games continues their absolute mastery of video game storytelling and mixes it in with some really tight gun-play, surprisingly deep but at the same time simple RPG mechanics, and a gorgeous world that really sucks you in and makes you believe a scenario like this game’s could exist. I was personally worried that Infinite would not stand up to it’s predecessor’s (we don’t count Bioshock 2 in this) glory, but it definitely did, and then some.

You are Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent with debt issues that offers to travel to the floating island city of Columbia to collect a mysterious girl and bring her back to New York. By doing this he settles his debt, though what the debt is and to whom is never really explained. He arrives in Columbia to find what on the outside seams like an idealistic paradise, but turns out to be overrun by racism, bigotry and religious fundamentalism, all of which is encouraged by the town’s leader; the “Prophet” Zachary Comstock, who founded the city. What turned into a simple rescue mission becomes much more as Booker meets Elizabeth, who turns out to have the ability to manipulate space and time, and has a nasty guardian (named the Song Bird) who packs one hell of a punch.

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The story is told completely from Booker’s perspective, which you never leave from start to finish (the Half-Life method as I call it), with audio logs scattered around the levels which help flesh out the characters and the background of the city. Even the environments do a good job of telling the story. Every nook and cranny paints a picture of a very believable world, with propaganda posters everywhere, citizens talking about their daily lives and commenting on the events around them, and sometimes you just have to stop and take all the details in.

The highlight of the story without a doubt is Elizabeth herself. Booker and her are constantly chatting between fire-fights, discussing current events, bantering over certain situations, or in one scene that I nearly missed because I didn’t look around enough, add some levity to what is mostly a sombre tale. Her facial animation is fantastic, as its exaggerated nature allows you to really see how she’s feeling, and I can promise by the end of the game, you will think of Elizabeth as one of the most likeable characters by the end of the game.

This commitment to driving narrative through game-play means that this story is without a shadow of a doubt one of the best game stories ever told, and I can promise that people will be talking about this one for years to come. I cannot stress enough the importance of the first 20 minutes to half an hour or so of the game. When you arrive in Columbia, make sure to take in every sight and let the game’s world talk to you. You will find it a far richer experience if you do.

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Now, on to the nuts and bolts. Much like its predecessors, Infinite is an FPS with RPG elements, that focuses on special powers (Now called Vigors, as opposed to Plasmids from the original) and a varying arsenal of classic ordnance in order to power your way through your enemies. The Vigors are extremely well designed and varied. There’s the classics, like the fire and shock powers, but also new ones such as a floating shield that absorbs damage which you can fling back at opponents, or a watery tentacle that can pull pesky snipers towards you. As well as a health bar, you now have a regenerating shield (with really cool looking effects when it breaks) which means that even when low on health (as it does not regenerate) you are able to continue fighting.

The shooting is where Infinite leans the closest to the original Bioshock, and it manages to maintain a very similar feel, while being different in many respects. The action is a lot heavier, and the emphasis is on maneuverability and tactical choice. This is best emphasized by Elizabeth when she joins the fray. A lot of you will groan and think back to Resident Evil 4 and the permanent escort quest that was, but there’s nothing to fear. Irrational were very clever in her implementation. Elizabeth cannot be harmed in combat. What she does is move around the battlefield and scavenge items for you. This can be ammunition, health, salts (basically mana), and money, which is used to buy weapon and Vigor upgrades, and for purchasing of health pick-ups and ammo. What she scavenges depends on your desperate need at the time. For example, you approach a vending machine, and she’ll toss you an extra $20 or so which will buy another couple of ammo clips. Get low on health and she’ll toss you a med-kit. There are intervals when she does not find things, and that is when you’re at your most vulnerable, so this addition is by no means a walk in the park. Another thing she can do (which is also important to the story) is open portals to other dimensions (called tears) and bring certain objects to change the flow of battle, like some extra cover, an automated turret, or a crate of medical supplies.

The most interesting game-play addition is the Skyhook. This ingenious contraption is not only a particularly gruesome melee weapon (seriously, the executions will make you cringe), but it also allows you to move around the battlefield with ease thanks to floating rails dotted liberally around the maps. Using the Skyhook means you can re-position so you have an advantage over a particularly tough enemy, or even just move fast enough so you can’t be shot so easily.

If there is one minor gripe I have, its with the enemies. Unlike the Splicers from the original, the enemies here are mostly just generic soldiers. There are some cool “Heavy Hitter” additions, such as the Motorized Patriots, who are actually robot George Washington’s with chain guns. I am dead serious, and the Handy Man, who is an obvious replacement to the Big Daddies from the original, but are not nearly as interesting, and are only fought about 3-5 times in the entire game. I feel like more could have been done with the enemies, and while there are some good designs, Irrational is definitely better than this.

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Graphically, on the PS3 anyway, the game is gorgeous. The slightly exaggerated “cartoony” visuals allow it to keep a stylish presentation that looks pretty, and is perfectly suited to the game’s art style, which incidentally is inspired. The first time you walk outside and see the buildings floating towards you as if to say “come and explore, you know you want to” is absolutely stunning, and I promise you, you won’t be disappointed. The frame rate remains consistent, no matter the sheer number of bullets and enemies the game throws at you, and the gore is surprisingly satisfying for such a bright looking game.

The music adds to the combat by adding notes when an enemy is killed, and slowly dying down as threats disappear. My only gripe sound wise is that there are no memorable tracks, with the possible exception of the Beach Boys song “God Only Knows” performed A Capella style about 50 years before its supposed release date!

10

All in all, apart from some very very minor issues, I have to say, developers are going to have to look at this game and realize they need to step up their development, because I highly doubt we’re going to see anything of this quality for a long time. The game-play is tight, perfectly suited to an outstanding action fps, but the story is where this game truly stands head and shoulders above any other interactive experience that at least I have played in this generation, hell maybe even my life. This one is staying in the history books for a long time, and I command anyone who has a love for games as a medium, to play this game right now. I promise you won’t regret a second.

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Categories: Reviews

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One Comment on “Bioshock Infinite Review”

  1. Jozef A Bissaker
    April 3, 2013 at 12:42 am #

    Nice one Gary 🙂 great review, glad you enjoyed the game!

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