Platforms: Playstation 3/Xbox 360/PC/Mac. Genre: First Person Shooter.
Developer: Irrational Games. Publisher: 2K.
Platform Reviewed on: PlayStation 3.
Bioshock Infinite has been such a long time coming that you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d never be able to play the game. First revealed in August 2010, the game has undergone many changes, most notably with the appearance of Elizabeth over the years as well as the floating city of Columbia itself. Before its announcement, the game was already in development for some time so it’s an impressive display of talent that Irrational has not only managed to get Bioshock Infinite out of the door, they’ve also managed to keep it relevant. Irrational have made sure that Bioshock Infinite not only looks and plays at the same level as games in 2013, they’ve put out one that looks better and plays better than most.
Bioshock Irrational casts you in the role of has-been and former Pinkerton agent, Booker DeWitt. In the aftermath of his glory years, DeWitt has fallen on hard times and even harder debt. His only shot at redemption is travelling to the mythical floating city of Columbia to get a girl and bring her back to New York. To quote DeWitt’s instructions, “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt.” As you might expect, things quickly go pear shaped by the time you get to Columbia. Thankfully, the game won’t throw you into the action straight away. Upon arriving in the floating city, you’ll simply get to walk the streets of Columbia for half an hour to forty minutes. It really does depend on whether you want to see everything and in all honesty, you should. During it’s long development time, things we’ve seen from demos have been taken out. Things we saw in the debut footage and the E3 2011 demo don’t even make an appearance in the game and whilst that may annoy some including me, you’ll realise that Columbia still looks as fantastic as it did in those demos regardless.
The opening hour or so is a crash-course-in-Columbia for those of you unfamiliar with the setting. You’ll feel the racial purity, the religious zealotry and the social tensions lingering in the air. These are themes featured throughout the entire game through other areas in the game, dialogue from characters, propaganda posters and all the other crazy things that occur in this city. The theme behind Bioshock Infinite is American History from over the years bottled up into one space. The founding fathers, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are seen as religious figures rather than political and they’re often hailed as Prophets used to fit into antagonist Zachary Comstock’s vision of what America should be. Irrational have turned what we know on it’s head and have produced an extremely heavy and interesting look into how a tyrant has taken the political ideals of America and has forged them into religious foundations.
Columbia would be a place you definitely wouldn’t want to live but at the same time, it’s a fantastic place to visit. There are shops, there are fun fairs which cleverly disguises itself as the games tutorial section and there are everyday people. You’re going to see people living in this turn of the century, self proclaimed Utopia they’ve carved out for themselves and having AI that actually look like they’re doing something with a purpose is not a feature that every game is able to do well. Infinite’s NPC’s will stand around talking about what their neighbour was doing last week, what they’re thinking of having for lunch, kids will play rock/paper/scissors with each other. These are all things that are boring in real life but in a setting like Columbia where everything is designed to be perfect for these people, it does a lot to sell the image Irrational is trying to give with Bioshock Infinite.
The way the history of Columbia is told differs greatly from that of the original Bioshock. It’s possible to go through the entire game and miss all of the Voxophones in the game which act as Infinite’s version of Audio Logs commonly seen in games. You could just as easily miss the conversations held between citizens of Columbia. The telling of the history isn’t spoon fed to you, it’s there for you to discover for yourself. Exploring Columbia, collecting Voxophones and listening to the conversations of the average Joe is an activity in itself. The actual plot of Bioshock itself is shown to you in the necessary segments but actually appreciating Columbia as a world is a task you as the player will have to fulfil for yourself.
Besides the new setting and the new protagonist in the game, Bioshock Infinite’s biggest difference over the original is that we know have a character that shadows the player for 90 per cent of the game. This character’s name is Elizabeth. This is the girl Booker will be delivery to his client to wipe away his debt. However, Elizabeth is so much more than a new character. She serves as the players direction in the game, a key asset in combat and as the biggest plot device. In many ways, Elizabeth is Bioshock Infinite’s main character. Many times in the game, you’ll find yourself guided to the next area in the game by Elizabeth but it’s designed in a way so you’re following her because you want to rather than the game telling you explicitly where to go.
As an example of AI, Elizabeth is some of the finest AI work of this generation. Whilst she does effectively follow you around, she’ll make herself useful. She won’t just stand in your way so many other AI in games today, she’ll find you money, ammo, salts to power your Vigors and weapons and so on. Elizabeth also posses the ability open time and space through these portals called Tears. Elizabeth will be able to pull through cover in combat or a medical crate or various weapons. It mixes up combat dynamically and adds a layer of tactical thinking to the game. The Tears also serve as plot devices in the game allowing Booker and Elizabeth to step in and out of alternate realities. Without you necessarily realising it, Elizabeth will be getting you through the game and at your own pace. If you want to hang around and explore a bit, you’ll be able to do just that. There’s no constant reminder from Elizabeth bugging you hurry up.
Given the complexities of Bioshock Infinite’s story and just how crucial Elizabeth is to that story, it’s difficult to inform someone who hasn’t played this game of the plot without spoiling it too much. Lets just say that you won’t be expecting to experience the story you’re told. For the most part, you’ll be heavily engaged in Infinite. Halfway though the game it does drop in interest for an hour or two and at one point was actually quite boring. However, some brilliant voice acting from Troy Baker and Courtney Draper will keep the controller in your hands.
Bioshock Infinite does suffer from some problems. Being in development for many years, one would expect the game to have aged in a metaphorical time capsule the way Duke Nukem did. As mentioned earlier, this is not the case. Instead, Bioshock Infinite suffers from the occasionally dry combat as one example. Bioshock Infinite at its core is a first person shooter despite being a game with an incredibly rich world and an engaging story with memorable characters. For the most part, Bioshock’s combat is fun. It doesn’t blow any other games out of the water but there are games out there that certainly do play worse. Instead, Bioshock’s combat works in some place whereas sometimes it doesn’t. When exploring the world which, it is necessary to reiterate, you must do, you’ll come across the super-powered Vigors that allow you to shoot fireballs from your hands, deflect bullets, cast electricity and much more. About half of these Vigors are only helpful. Using the Bucking Bronco Vigor to lift your enemies into the air to leave them open to a blast from the Shock Jockey power thus electrocuting them or you could choose to unleash the Murder of Crows which allows players to cast a flurry of Crows that pick the flesh off of their enemies.
You’ll find yourself only using a handful after having experimenting with the Vigors you come across in the game. One particular Vigor was one named Return To Sender which allows Booker to stop all damage coming his way and then send it flying back into his foes. Sending it back must be done so by purchasing the upgrades. Bioshock’s use of the Vigors encourages exploration and experimentation into how ultimately effective they can be but ultimately it ends up being somewhat one sided. You lift an enemy into the air and you either shock him, fry him or throw him. With the upgrades you can throw, shock and fry them longer but I expected more from the Vigors.
The game’s actual shooting mechanics are fine tuned and they feel tight. When playing a shooter you’ll know when the controls don’t feel quite right. Playing Bioshock Infinite feels like you’re playing any other AAA FPS and this is a good thing as story will only get a game so far. Much like the Vigors, you’ll get opportunities to upgrade the damage your weapons deal out, you’ll increase your ammo clip. Enemies become bullet sponges later on in the game but fortunately so does Booker.
With Columbia being a much more open environment than Rapture ever was in the original game, Irrational has introduced the Skyline system which is used for cargo transportation across the city. However, the residents and authorities of Columbia have a tool known as the Skyhook that allows individuals to ride the Skyline. The way the Skyline is used in Infinite is dynamic and exciting. You’ll be placed in an open environment with enemies come at you from all sides and the Skyline is your tool to change the tide of battle. I often found myself zipping up to somewhere nice and high to pick off my enemies one by one with a sniper rifle. What makes it even more dynamic is that enemies are also able to utilise the Skyline and come after you. When you have a giant fisted and towering Handyman riding the Skyline after you, you’ll feel the rush of combat and it becomes frantic and dangerous but most of all it allowed me to experience some of the most fun I’ve had playing a game. My only complaint is that the Skylines felt somewhat underused compare to what were shown in the E3 2011 demo with the expansive map and many different directions the Skyline could lead you into. The Skyline certainly isn’t innovative in its functions, but it does free up combat in an interesting way. We’ve seen dynamic and open combat before in games such as Transformers: Fall of Cybertron and Far Cry 3 but this goes for a lot of the gameplay in Bioshock Infinite.
Playing the game, I found that in terms of how the game played, it offered me nothing new but what was obvious to me is that it does what other games do but the mechanics and the gameplay work better in Bioshock Infinite than collectively in some other games.
The way Bioshock Infinite handles character death in the game is something not really seen in a game too much. When Booker dies he’ll be resuscitated by Elizabeth at the cost of some money and your enemies regaining half of their health. It becomes frustrating and tedious at times to die, come back, chip away at the enemies health, die and repeat. If anything, these are very ‘video game-ish’ problems Bioshock Infinite suffers from.
Perhaps my biggest disappointment with Bioshock Infinite was the Songbird’s role in the game or rather his lack of said role. During previews, trailers and demos, the Songbird was beefed up to to be this frightening, unstoppable beast that would be stalking you at every point. The Songbird serves as Elizabeth’s guardian for when she’s locked away in her tower. To say he’s protective of her is an understatement of grand proportions. With this in mind, it bothered me with how little he was in the game. Surely, I wondered, if he was ultra protective of Elizabeth, the woman he was designed to protect, would I not see him haunting my every step? In the end, the Songbird boils down to a plot device used a handful of times to turn the story down a new path. When you do see him, control is taken away from the player and you’re forced to watch him almost hit you again and again. It’s as if Irrational almost forgot to include him in the game and he’s now rendered as something of a missed opportunity.
Bioshock Infinite is a game that many people will be talking about for many years to come. They’ll discuss the good. They’ll discuss the bad. From what you’ve experience in Bioshock Infinite, you’ll remember it. One thing I do hope people remember is the hidden genius behind Infinite’s story telling and how you as the player are encouraged to get out there and discover the story for yourself. Bioshock Infinite simply wants you to play the game which perhaps is a quality one might argue some developers have forgotten about over the years.
Bioshock Infinite does suffer from problems and the game will stick with me as an experience I rarely find in a video game but ultimately it’ll be remembered as a flawed treasure. The final product of the game is something that right now, is a contender for Game of the Year but I found problems such as the limited use of the Vigors, the blandness of the middle portion of the game and the cutting out of the open, dynamic environments from previous builds of the game to have left a somewhat soured taste in my mouth.
What Bioshock succeeds in doing is having high quality story telling and high quality albeit flawed combat working in unison, something which has been proven over the years, is a very tough thing to do.
- Masterful story telling.
- Cleverly designed Elizabeth AI.
- Fun and engaging combat.
- A deep and rich world.
- An unexpected plot.
- An underwhelming Vigor system.
- Previous E3 demos misled me somewhat.
- A yawn inducing second act.
- The lack of the Songbird.
- Flawed death/respawn system.
8.5 out of 10.
George Sinclair is an editor for Analog Addiction, the home of the latest news, reviews and previews. You can find George on Twitter and his blog on IGN. Be sure to follow the OFFICIAL Analog Addiction Twitter as well!