REVIEW: Bioshock Infinite
Well hello again for the first time. Confusing I know, but I say this because this is exactly how I felt during my play-through of Bioware’s highly anticipated Bioshock Infinite. The criss-crossy and some times weak story line is, however, the one and only fault I could find with this game, and really is more of an aside than anything else. That being said let’s begin, shall we?
In the spirit of Columbia I will confess my “sin” first and testify second. I did not complete the first Bioshock. Though many of my friends loved this game, it fell a little short for me. Its launch right into the gloom and doom of Rapture, a city under the sea which had seen better days, seemed appealing and was enough to get me through about half of the game. The action was sporadic and the characters and story left me wanting. Not to mention the AI made combat too arcade-y for me. I know I am not the norm here, but in order to redeem oneself you must confess right? Right. So now that that is over with I am free to say, where Bioshock fell short, Bioshock Infinite soared!
It is fair to say the creation of a successful sequel to any story is always the hardest goal to achieve. Stick too closely to what made the first successful and it is easy to become bored and miss the chance to increase your fan base. Depart too far from the original ideas and the fan base feels cheated and will complain even louder and you’ll lose what audience you did have. The strong foundation and core of the game’s “plasmid” combat (their form of super powers or magic) is what got me to play the first game. That coupled with the art deco setting and old timey feel used to flesh out the world made it even more enticing. Infinite utilizes the same concepts, but improves on them greatly.
Rather than starting in a dank and destroyed utopia, Infinite grabs the player with the Eden that is Columbia, and is in stark contrast to its predecessor. The combat and story do not overwhelm right off the bat. Rather, the game has you explore and interact with the population of Columbia while walking the streets, making you a part of the world. Eavesdropping on NPCs’ conversations, watching them interact with one another as well as you allows you to take in the setting and get the feel of the place while introducing key elements of the overlying story arc to come. The world itself is, for me, the biggest draw to the game. I cannot say enough about the art direction. From the buildings and skyline to the humming birds, it draws you in and gives you a much more involved and complete experience.
You play as Booker Dewitt, a disenchanted war vet and former Pinkerton turned drunkard. He comes to the floating city of Columbia as a hired gun in order to repay some debt. Your ultimate goal is to capture “the girl” (Elizabeth) and bring her to New York. Accompanying you and re-appearing throughout the game are a mysterious brother and sister duo who, through their banter, seem to know much more of what is afoot than you do and reveal nothing to you (get used to it). They warn that your arrival was and is anticipated by the girl’s keepers, and of course you must fight to achieve your goal. Sadly this is where I must stop talking about the plot as not to spoil it for anyone. I will say that at times it does fall apart and the ending is a little week. Overall, between the gameplay and ocular appeal (yeah I said it…ocular) it really didn’t affect my enjoyment.
As you wander you are coached in the mechanics of the game as is the norm. Press this to crouch, this to run…and shortly after getting your legs under you it introduces you to those most delicious of powers called “vigors” (formerly plasmids). These powers range from calling in a “murder of crows” to harnessing a tentacle of water to pull enemies to you in order to kill them more…intimately. Along with your genetic enhancements and an assortemant of weapons, an element of RPG is brought in with a choice of clothing upgrades you find scattered around. These hats, pants, and boots can increase armor, damage and movement speed along with other twists that help this FPS to stand out on its own.
Now that the game has introduced you to the core mechanics of the game and coached you through the use of the your first vigor you are allowed to proceed. As you explore you find yourself at a raffle that is being held the winner of which gets to throw the first baseball at a prosecuted interracial couple tied up on stage. This is the conflict. The overwhelming racist tones with which the city is governed are what is used to make the player not feel like a complete dick for wreaking havoc from one district to the next. The light-hearted relaxing walk through is over, and thus begins the combat and the progression of the story.
The choice to give the protagonist a voice in the game was another way they chose to do this and frankly it worried me at first. After all, I am the protagonist. His opinions in game might not be the same as mine, his reactions to certain events might differ from how I feel I want him to react, and the character I have in mind while playing might not be represented by the game. It’s like watching a movie based on your favorite book; most of the time you are left saying “well, that’s not how I pictured him!” However, every now and again they hit the nail on the head or, even better, they exceed your own ideas and you can’t imagine them in any other way.
Again, I have to say Irrational Games did a wonderful job with their protagonist’s characterization. He reacts, comments and expresses just enough emotion to make the player empathize. The back-and-forth between him and Elizabeth lightens the mood enough to help pick you up as you play, and the mechanic that exists between the two is one of the best parts of the game. As you loot rooms, Elizabeth will run around exploring, seemingly just for fun. However you quickly come to realize she is actually looking at and will sometimes tell you about items you may want to check out, or entire rooms you may want to explore. She will find ammo and salts (used to power your vigors) for you during combat, as well as fabricate turrets and giant gatling gun-wielding robot-George Washingtons for you.
Throughout the game she will throw you money as well as pick locks for you to help find secret areas leading to some nice easter eggs. Money, or “silver eagles,” are used at the vending machines where you power up your vigors and or weapons. The teamwork that this produces makes the relationship between the two feel equal, and gives the player a real sense that you must protect her. Don’t get me wrong, this is not one big escort mission. Enemies will not attack her and she will not proceed on a path of her own. She is a companion and large part of the story. As this relationship develops, the threat of disappointing and alienating her becomes apparent and is part of the story as well as her character development and is done exceedingly well.
The combat AI is challenging, but not enough to frustrate. Rather than throwing hordes of enemies your way, it mixes it up with placement and types of enemies. The rift powers of Elizabeth coupled with your vigors give the action sequences a sandbox feel, allowing you to fight the enemy how you chose. Go for cover, charge head on, or call in turrets or robots to help and watch as chaos ensues.
I will say that I was a bit wary of the skyline aspect of the game, that is, the transportation system used by inhabitants of Columbia. This system of rails used to transport cargo and trams from section to section of the city can be used to expedite travel throughout the city. Booker does this by latching onto these rails with his Skyhook and thus rockets along them. Normally, when a developer makes a mechanic the forefront of any game (watch any of the trailers and you’ll know what I mean) it is fun and unique at first, but in the end becomes old hat. This is again, not true here. Zipping through the sky and toppling your foe only to zip off again helps to keep the combat flowing and exciting. Enemies will do the same to you if you’re not careful, and just when you think you have it figured out they do their best to take it away from you and challenge you in new ways. Case in point: the “handy man,” one of the most unique and fun enemies in any game I’ve ever played. This big bastard is seemingly oblivious to traps and turrets, and knows how to bring you to a grinding halt by grasping a-hold of the rails and blocking it off with his body. If you decide, “I’ll just turn around then. Screw you.” well, the result can be pretty shocking. Boss fights are pretty much nonexistent, Irrational having chosen to make every struggle intense and fun instead. Not being allowed or forced to focus on one big baddy helps drive home the feeling of chaos and drags you deeper into the game as the story unfolds.
In the end, it is not any one thing that makes this game such an amazing experience, but how well each plays off of the other. The setting, story, and characters all come together to make a very fun, in-depth, involved and rewarding experience. It’s always a good sign when, at the end of a game, you are left saying, “…but, but….I want more!” Until DLC is released and (if it’s even possible) the story is continued, I guess I’ll give the first one another shot. That’s how good Bioshock Infinite was.
89% (plot holes are the only thing keeping this from perfection)
completed in 11.0 hours
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