Summary [9.5 out of 10]
The true sequel to Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite takes a new protagonist to a new location, the airborne city of Columbia several decades before the events in Rapture. The game, which takes place in 1912, features similar baseline gameplay with added complexity to the gameplay structure and storytelling. Taking the role of Booker DeWitt, a Pinkerton agent turned private eye and gambling aficionado, you must find a girl, Elizabeth, in Columbia and bring her back to a contact in New York. You do this and your substantial debt is wiped away. The game takes you on a roller coaster of action and exploration that allows you to ride air rails, exploit tears in reality and utilized a host of new weapons and powers (this time named Vigors). Bioshock Infiinite might not be perfect but it comes pretty close and even if you don’t plug into the gameplay you will be hard pressed not to be taken with the story.
What It’s Like:
Bioshock: The basic game play elements here have remained unchanged with combat feeling roughly the same. This is a good thing or a bad thing depending on how much franchise fatigue you felt with the second game. Still, if you had the hang of the first game, your skills will carry over here. The general tone of the story and how it interacts with philosophy is also constant despite the ideologies at work being different.
Dishonored: This is a little bit circlular as Dishonored owes more than a little to Bioshock but the new verticality in Infinite feels a lot like the platforming elements of Dishonored. The occasional dream sequences are also similar to those found in Dishonored and the darkness of the player character will also be familiar.
Story: I loved the first Bioshock and its twist that floored me when I got to it. Because of this, I had a hard time accepting what was going on in Infinite as I was constantly looking for the twist. I was a little more ahead of it this time around but when reveals started happening they were badass and disarming. The overall story is far superior to the original’s as well as it delves into very complex issues in terms of time and reality while at the same time dealing with social issues like religion, freedom and racism. That those things are folding into a coherent and compelling story is nothing short of amazing given the number of balls that the game keeps in the air and it becomes even more so when you take the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth into consideration. They don’t trust each other at first but they grow together as the game goes on and becomes a powerful element of the game. The story is strong enough that even if you hate the game play, it is still worth going through to see where this thing goes.
Graphics: The graphics, while showing a tiny bit of the hardware’s age, are amazing. Some textures are muddled here and there but by and large the game looks fantastic and offers cool Vigor effects, awesome explosions, terrific architecture and character models that look just right. I am surprised that they were able to achieve something that looks this good this late into the hardware cycle.
Pacing/Balance: Rather than long stretches of exploring and over-long waves of enemies spawning left and right (although that does happen once or twice) Infinite doles each element out in an even amount so that just when you are reaching a point where you are ready for something new, you change to a new thing. Objectives make sense and the whole thing clips along at a great pace so there is always something new around the corner.
Voice Acting: The voice acting here is fantastic and really helps bring the characters alive. Story and dialogue are very important but if the voices are lifeless or inappropriate to the material, the whole illusion comes crashing down. The voices are great here and really add to the drama of the situations and relationships.
Details/Easter Eggs/Extras: I don’t want to spoil particulars here but this game is absolutely packed with little details and easter eggs. Ever where you look there is something hidden to see or hear and it makes exploration even more important and more fun. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything so I will leave it at that. Just keep your eyes open because even extraneous things have hidden gems. Also, do yourself a favor and if you are ever given the option to play the guitar, take it.
Social Commentary: As mentioned above the game deals with some heavy social and philosophical issues and does them in a creative and interesting way. I have seen some people complain about the use of racism in the story and I believe it is important to make a heavy distinction. Just because the game depicts racism and racist characters does not mean the game, or the design team are racist. There is a very heavy faction in the game that preach segregation and white superiority but they are depicted as villains and are treated as such. When taken the way intended the game is effective at demonstrating how evil and dangerous this can be while also examining what absolute power does to otherwise good people. There are deep themes at play and they are handled in a mature way if you ignore the steam punk weapons and special powers and it gives the game more gravitas and weight than something like this would otherwise afford.
Gameplay: Your mileage may vary on this point but the variety of options offered here makes the game play interesting even when you are fighting standard battles. You can melee, shoot with one of several weapons, use one of several vigors, utilize Elizabeth’s ability to open rifts and bring helpful items over or you can do a combination of several of those things on a single enemy. And you can do all that while sliding around on a sky rail if one is handy. Sure, you can use the same weapon all the time or stick with the same vigor over and over but branching out with the variety helps keep it interesting and finding the correct tactic also pays dividends by way of avoiding wasted time and money stealing deaths. As mentioned, when Elizabeth is around your options open up even more and I was very glad to see the message pop on the screen that said ‘You don’t have to protect Elizabeth, she can take care of herself.’ This is both helpful and empowering at the same time and it is cool that she isn’t just a damsel in distress.
Vigors: The vigors are this game’s version of the original games’ plasmids. The plasmids in Bioshock were cool and the new ones in Bioshock 2 were alright but I felt like the Vigors here were a lot more fun and a lot more useful than the plasmids and having two loaded up to switch back and forth is helpful. Some of them are standard like the fire ball throwing Devil’s Kiss but it’s secondary mode that allows you to create an exploding fire trap is even better. New ideas are even better. Undertow, in particular, is pretty amazing as you can grab enemies from a long distance and bring them to you and Possession is probably the most useful especially once you upgrade it to work on humans as well as machines. Sure, there are some of these I used more than others but I used them all a fair amount and none felt particularly tacked on. And who doesn’t want to see a murder of crows attack someone and peck them to death?
Music: The score for the game is amazing but there are other hidden gems throughout the game that are even better. Instrumentals from phonograph loudspeakers will catch you off guard and the deeper you get into the game the more curious some of these become. In particular, a barbershop quartet is worth listening to as the song is surprising and beautiful.
Weapons: The weapons in the game are fairly interesting both for the fact that the majority of them shouldn’t exist and for the interesting ways they do exist. Here again, I found my favorites but I used a wide variety of the guns throughout the game and they all had specialties that justified their existence. Each has an analog of it so there are two of each type but even those two guns vary despite being of the same type. The ability to upgrade them in a variety of ways goes a long way toward proving their worth and also customizing them to the way that you play and work the way that you want them to (within reason of course).
Exploration: As mentioned above there are a lot of easter eggs to look for throughout the game but also the game features interesting nooks and crannies to root around in and find upgrades, armor, money, health items, voxphones and assorted other goodies that make it worth while to really root around. Columbia is a rich and interesting place to explore anyway based on aesthetics alone so having so many cool things to find just ups the ante that much more.
Checkpoints/resurrections: The one real issue I had with Infinite is one I had in the original Bioshock as well. When you die you are resurrected immediately in the same general place as you were the last time with few consequences. Infinite tries to fix this by taking money from you and healing your enemies a bit so there is a penalty for dying but it really isn’t enough. While it is true that the unlockable 1999 mode ups this particular ante considerably, in the normal difficulties death is just annoying as opposed to a real penalty. Likewise, the checkpoints are sometimes sketchy in terms of the length between them. When you have to stop playing it becomes annoying to have to find a checkpoint (that you can’t see) and if you don’t do that you can lose a bunch of progress. More frequent check points or the ability to save where you want would be helpful and appreciated.
Conclusion [9.5 out of 10]
Bioshock Infinite is an amazing game that to my mind surpasses the original, which is excellent in its own right. The story alone is worth the price of admission here but I enjoyed the actual game play quite a bit as well. The game is different enough from the original Bioshock to keep players engaged and interested (unlike, say, Bioshock 2) but it doesn’t reinvent the wheel and if you dug the first game you will likely dig this one too. By that token if you didn’t dig the first, there is not a huge amount to recommend it for your taste. Still, the story is amazing and the game itself is expertly executed so I have a very difficult time not recommending it across the board. This is what a AAA title should deliver.