The original Bioshock was a genre-defining release and one of the most acclaimed new IPs of this console generation, so it’s no surprise that both the hype and expectations for BioShock Infinite have been exceptionally high. Taking the series from the murky depths of Rapture into a fantastical city in the clouds is an eye-catching move by Irrational Games and 2K Games, but many fans wondered if this would deliver on the BioShock name. The short answer is yes, with a gorgeously new setting and a strong, politically-charged story making it one of the games to beat in 2013. While sometimes a change in direction can be a detriment to the series, let this review help assuage any doubts your may have. BioShock Infinite is here, and it delivers.
The main plot of BioShock Infinite has you playing a Booker DeWitt, a gambler and former defense agent who finds himself off the deep end with gambling debts. To whom he owes this money is not immediately clear, however he is tasked by them to travel to the city of Columbia, a large metropolis suspended in the clouds, to locate a mysterious girl. She has been imprisoned in a tower for the past twelve years by a giant creature called Songbird, and Booker must get her out and return her to New York unharmed. Doing so would effectively erase his debts, so it takes little convincing to get him up to task. After a brief boat ride to a deserted lighthouse, Booker is launched into the cloud and thus begins his journey in Columbia. The sunny vistas and perfectly manicured scenery is perhaps the most striking departure from the BioShock standard.
Being set in 1912, the city of Columbia screams turn of the century Americana, coupled with an almost Vaudeville musical quality. The industrial age technology also gives the game a strong steampunk flavour, The well off citizens live a life of luxury and indulgence in the picturesque city in the clouds, and your early explorations are filled with sunshine, carnivals, parades and people who are literally the picture of happiness. Early in Booker’s journey, however, the sleek veneer of American exceptionalism unravels after he is found to be baring the tattoo of the “false prophet”, a sworn enemy of Columbia’s founder and figure of worship, Father Comstock. From here on out, Booker is a pariah of sorts, subject to scorn and endless aggression.
DeWitt eventually accomplishes his mission of rescuing the girl, Elizabeth, who has the ability to manipulate the fabric of space and time to visit points in the past or present. These “tears” that she opens become integral to the gameplay and the plot, though elaborating on how would be giving away too much. The plot in BioShock covers a lot of ground, including the heavy themes such as religious and political extremism, class and race division and social upheaval. It makes for a deep and interesting narrative that will keep you interested and engaged throughout. The delve any further into the story would run the risk of spoiling key points, but suffice it to say, this is one journey that you will remember long after the credits roll.
Central to the plot are two running stories, the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth, and the back story of Columbia and Father Comstock. Columbia is a dystopia in which the wealthy thrive and the proletariat struggle to survive, with everyone being kept in line with communist-calibre philosophies and military force to keep the poor from revolting. As the game progresses, DeWitt becomes aware of a brewing civil war that he will eventually become a central figure in. Audio logs and short films help flesh out these plots throughout the game, and despite a few lags mid-game, the story and the characters remain consistently interesting and engaging.
While the style of BioShock Infinite is a departure from the games that preceded it, many gameplay similarities have carried over. This is the same first-person shooter that affords you both brute and brawn. In your right hand, you have a wise array of guns at your disposal, including the usual array of pistols, assault rifles, rocket launchers and sniper rifles. The most interesting inclusion is the Sky Hook, that allows you to both ride the rails that snake across Columbia and melee enemies at close quarters. In your left hand, you have powers at your disposal called Vigors. Functioning the same as the Plasmids in previous BioShock installments, these allow you various powers such as mind control, fire, lightning, a force punch and various other augments. These powers can be replenished by “salts”, which are found scattered throughout the environment. Since you no longer depend on Little Sisters to harvest Adam to replenish your powers, this feels significantly more streamlined.
The character of Elizabeth is perhaps the most interesting inclusion in BioShock Infinite. She is completely AI controlled and does not actively engage in combat, however you don’t need to constantly protect her or escort her through the game. Her back story and dialogue is integral to the game and you’ll find yourself quickly endearing towards her. While she does not fight enemies alongside you, she does fill a supporting role by replenishing your resources when needed. If you health, salts or ammunition run low, she usually tosses you more to help keep you in the game. If you die, she is quick to revive you. Outside of losing a little money and starting a few paces back, there is little consequence in death. The enemies you were fighting will still remain, however they don’t respawn of completely regenerate health. Elizabeth’s constant assistance does make the game feel easier than it should at times, with the normal difficulty barely causing you to break a sweat.
As with the previous BioShock games, you can acquire loot and resources in your environment, although this has been greatly emphasized in BioShock Infinite. Pretty much everything contains some kind of loot; trash cans, crates, barrels and items just laying out in the open. Dead bodies and felled enemies are also a great source of loot and money, ensuring that you’ll rarely be short on money, salts and health for long. Should you find yourself short, vending machines scattered throughout the game will provide you with resource top-ups and upgrades for your weapons and Vigors. Elizabeth is also a great resource, since she will point out objects, pick locks get get into otherwise inaccessible areas and frequently find money and throw it your way. This happens a little too often and results in the same cinematic each time, leading to annoying pauses in your exploration. This also trivializes loot hunting to an extent, since money often gets topped up with minimal effort on your part.
While you occasionally have the option to bypass enemies combat is what makes the BioShock wheels turn and it’s something you’ll engage in frequently. The world of Columbia is full of soldiers who will attack you on sight, so wise use of your weapons and Vigors is key to getting through each battle. The enemies themselves consist mainly of soldiers and are easy to kill, though the lager enemies such as the Patriots and Handymen will provide a heightened challenge. Compared to the Splicers in previous installments, the enemy roster feels rather stock in BioShock Infinite. The body count is also significantly higher here than in previous BioShock games, so the repetition of battle will start to wear on you as you progress in the game. The standard “enter a room, clear waves of enemies, move on” trope that we see in other cover-based shooters is especially prevalent here, leading to repetition in later chapters. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that using your Vigors and weapons to make short work of enemies is great fun at times.
As you would expect from a top shelf game release, the controls in BioShock Infinite are polished and responsive, and mapped out in a way that will be familiar to series fans. The left trigger handles your Vigors while the left controls whatever gun you have equipped. You can carry up to two guns at the same time, and you have access to all of your Vigors with the click of a button, so controlling your weapons during combat is a pain-free experience. The segments in which you must use the SkyHook to grapple a hook or Skyline are initiated with the push of a face button, but it thankfully doesn’t feel on rails. You have full freedom of movement and the ability to shoot and change directions on the fly. Games that offer so many gameplay options sometimes result in a cramped control scheme, but that is thankfully not the case here.
In terms of running time, your mileage will vary depending on how much time you take to explore and find hidden items. The main story can be beaten in about 12 hours with moderate exploration, but completionists can easily add a few more to that count. On its default “Normal” difficulty, BioShock Infinite is surprisingly easy, so those who favour a challenge are advised to bump it up to hard or unlock the “1999 Mode”, which takes away many of the assists in the game and ramps up the difficulty significantly. Your actions also have greater consequence and death can sometimes mean a definite game over. This mode can be unlocked by beating the game or by entering a code on the menu screen at any time. If you’re a hardcore gamer, 1999 mode might jut be your cup of tea. For everyone else, consider yourself warned.
One of the most talked about aspects of BioShock Infinite was the new look and art style, which is quite literally night and day over the previous games. Graphically, BioShock Infinite might not pack the same “wow” value as the original did back in 2007, but it is a technical marvel nonetheless. Columbia, both inside and out, is a richly detailed and imaginatively create environment that you will quickly fall in love with. Exploring every nook and cranny is half the pleasure of the game, and small details such as propaganda posters, period-specific architecture and other hidden goodies give you added incentive to stray from the main path of the story. The character animations are above average as well, with Elizabeth being especially effective at conveying emotion.
The other standout aspect of the game is the sound design, which is at the top of it’s class. The voice acting from Booker and Elizabeth is top notch, and the dialogue from everyone else, including Comstock and the citizens of Columbia, is wonderfully written and superbly acted. The soundtrack is comprised mostly of the kind of music that would have been popular in 1912, and phonograph machines scattered throughout the game play a variety of songs. The songs are wonderfully evocative of the period and setting of the game, and I often found myself stopping to listen to a record that was playing. Even more amusing, several modern songs have been incorporated into the game, lending an element of humour. I won’t spoil which ones are included, but they are unmistakeable once you come across them.
In reviewing this game, I could easily several more pages with details and impressions, but I’m sure you’ve gathered by now that I liked the game. A lot. As a longtime fan of the BioShock Universe, I went into it with cautious optimism that quickly dissipated into pure enjoyment. It’s an ambitious game that does make a few missteps, and not every aspect of the gameplay is fun, but the peaks definitely outnumber the valleys. Once you have beaten the game and gotten everything out of the story, the replay value is diminished, however this is the kind of game that you’ll want to revisit every couple of years. Its charm, style and satisfying gameplay make it a game that’ll retain it’s appeal over the long haul. If you’re looking for an unforgettable experience in gaming, your ship has finally come in.
Here is the Rundown:
+ Columbia is a gorgeous city that you’ll want to spend a lot of time exploring.
+ The social and political undertones give the story a sense of depth rarely seen in video games.
+ Solid gameplay and combat mechanics make BioShock Infinite a treat to play.
+ Stellar sound design and variety of music incorporated into the game.
+ The combination of guns and Vigors gives you multiple ways to wreak carnage on your enemies.
- Elizabeth’s constantly tossing you money can become a bothersome interruption.
- Compared to the Splicers and Big Daddies in previous BioShock games, the majority of the enemies feel generic and uninspired.
- The game is very easy on the default difficulty setting.
9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well.
BioShock Infinite was published by 2K Games and developed by Irrational Games. It was released on March 26, 2013 for the Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3 and PC, at the MSRP of $59.99. The copy used for the purpose of this review was purchased by me and played to completion.