Review Bioshock Infinite: Lasting Thoughts

For those who have yet to play the game, this review will be spoiler-free. I tend to make my reviews spoiler-free, but I thought I’d mention it this time because the story is so central to the game.

Bioshock Infinite has immense shoes to fill. Being the follow up to Irrational’s Bioshock, one of the finest games of the generation, means there are some serious expectations gamers bring with them when playing the game. Unlike Bioshock 2, this game is made by the same team as the ones who made the original, and it actually tries to be its own game instead of simply being derivative. This game has been hotly anticipated since it was announced and has made major waves at a plethora of conferences that it’s been shown off at. Infinite has been getting stellar reviews from professional review sites, currently holding between 93 and 96 depending on what platform you play on. Because of this there has been a bit of backlash from gamers who claim that the game isn’t perfect and, thus, does not deserve perfect scores. I’ll try to keep that in mind when scoring.

Using generic box art when your game is anything but. Fortunately, the reversible cover fixes the problem.
Source

The story is the centre of Bioshock Infinite and thus gets the first paragraph. Unfortunately, I can’t go into specifics for spoiler reasons, but it’s good, very good. The game revolves around Booker DeWitt, an ex-Pinkerton agent, who is thankfully voiced in this game, unlike Bioshock’s protagonist. He has run into some debt and has been sent to retrieve a girl, Elizabeth, from the floating city Columbia. Like Bioshock before it, this game takes place in a fictional city. While Bioshock’s Rapture was an underwater city of grime and corruption, Infinite’s Columbia is the bright-lit city of whitewashing and religious zealotry. There are two noticeable lulls in the story, but they are necessary due to the fact that one of them is required to explain a central mechanic to the player and the other is required to give Elizabeth time to work through certain emotions in a believable fashion. The basic story seems very much like the basic rescue the princess in a castle, which is so common in video games. However, in truth, the story is anything but basic and clichéd. Owing to both strong performances from the leads, a solid script, and some really great ideas, Bioshock Infinite manages to be the first game in maybe as long as three years, that I can recommend entirely for the story.

Yes, this is a steam punk lover’s wet dream.
Source

The original Bioshock was a very tight game with a particularly tight concept. It dealt with capitalism run amok, pretty much showing the insanity of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. It did this on several layers, but that was the primary focus. Bioshock Infinite takes on larger themes, and considerably more of them. This is very indicative of Bioshock Infinite as a whole. The game is considerably less tight than Bishock, but considerably more grand in scale, which fits in with their themes pretty well. The game examines nationalism/patriotism, revolutionary zealotry run amok, manipulation through religious iconography, and many more heavy themes. Some of these themes are less fleshed out than others, and others fade in and out as the story progresses. However, the primary theme is constant throughout the entire game, and only becomes more clear and thought provoking upon multiple playthroughs. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what that is, which makes reviewing the story kind of hard.

And yes, they mispronounce the latin.
Source

As mentioned earlier, the strong leads really push this game above and beyond. Troy Baker is a voice acting vet that you’ve heard a thousand times if you’ve spent any time playing video games or watching animation. He is in true form as Booker DeWitt, managing to combine Han Solo levels of badassery in a very torn and emotionally damaged performance. Elizabeth is voiced by Courtnee Draper, who has apparently quit acting to become a lawyer, so I wouldn’t expect to see her again. This is unfortunate because Elizabeth is one of the best realized and strongest female video game characters ever created. It’s easy to give a woman a gun or a sword and declare her a strong character. Elizabeth manages to be stronger than even the strongest “warrior woman” archetype, without ever having to lift a finger. It’s clear that the leads work well together and the chemistry makes the story pop out even more than before.

Remember when Elizabeth’s design was called sexist? Isn’t it ironic that she’s probably the most progressive female character we’ve seen in years?
Source

Bioshock Infinite’s supporting cast will always fall in the shadow of the great Andrew Ryan from the original Bioshock, a man so great, so ever-looming, that his presence could single-handedly carry that game. The main antagonist of Infinite, Zachary Comstock, does not have Andrew Ryan’s presence; although, he beats him in villainous intent. While there are other well done major characters, the only other supporting cast members I find worth mentioning are the Luteces. The Luteces are twins that continuously pop up throughout the game and are tied to the game’s central theme. They add a bit of existential flavour and comedy at times. Rosalid Lutece is played by the always fantastic Jennifer Hale, while Robert Lutece is played by Oliver Vaquer, a man who hasn’t done much in the industry, but managed to leave a lasting impression as one half of the duo. Bioshock Infinite may not have an Andrew Ryan, but its main cast is extremely strong, and worth the two paragraphs I’ve allotted to them.

If you don’t love these characters, you’re an inhuman monster.
Source

The gameplay of Bioshock Infinite has been accused of feeling dated, and this is true to an extent. The basics of the gameplay are very similar to the original Bioshock with magic, in the form of vigors on one hand and guns on the other. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, and all the usual guns appear, and none of the powers are things that you haven’t seen before. However, this lack of innovation doesn’t mean that the gameplay is bad. There is actually a lot of strategy that can go into each individual combat. Each power has two functions depending how long you hold the button down for, and using powers as traps is an effective way of ambushing enemies. Powers also have combos. You can launch a murder of crows at enemies to distract them, and then light those crows on fire to cause extra damage. This adds a nice additional layer to the combat. One new feature to this game is one I keep going back and forth on whether or not it was a good addition or a detrimental one. The game only allows you to carry two weapons at once, conforming to modern military shooter rules instead of the carry all the weapons mentality of the original Bioshock. This leads to more tense encounters where ammo can be a concern and more strategic weapon choices, but it also leads to less strategic thinking as players can no longer always choose the best weapon for the job.

Why yes, you can shoot crows at people.
Source

Elizabeth is with you most of the game, but unlike most/every NPC follower, she isn’t a drain. In fact, she’s probably one of the most useful NPCs out there. She never gets in your way and she cannot die. To make matters better, she’ll provide you with health, ammo and salts (Mana) at regular intervals during combat. She also has the power to make various things appear, which can range from friendly gun turrets to a bunch of health packs. Half of the game’s combat revolves around using Elizabeth properly and this becomes even more important on the higher difficulties where you have less leeway to screw around. The final combat-related thing Elizabeth brings to the table is the ability to spot strong enemies. This brings up an icon on the HUD allowing you to quickly see where the threat is to either avoid them, possess them (Power), or target them with heavy weapon fire. It’s really hand when you know exactly where a rocket trooper is so you can possess them at long range and cause them to decimate their own numbers.

Notice how Elizabeth isn’t standing in front of you and blocking your shot? Yeah, it’s pretty good.
Source

Enemy variety is fairly standard in Bioshock Infinite. I wouldn’t go into this game expecting the massive Big Daddy fights which were central in the original. However, there are lots of tiny details that really help enemy diversity. Regular grunts come in many shapes and sizes: some of them are fat; some are slim; some are fast; and some are armoured. This means that even among the basic grunt there is a good amount of variety. The mechanized patriot is a large robot with a gatling gun and a weakness on his back, which is fairly standard in games. What isn’t standard is how fast the thing is, being the second fastest enemy in the game. The fastest enemy is what many assumed would be a Big Daddy replacement: The Handyman. This enemy is incredibly fast and strong, with only a tiny weakpoint on its chest. While the Handyman can destroy you as good as any Big Daddy, there is a certain lack of intensity that comes with the fight, which were present in the Big Daddy encounters.

He’s no Big Daddy, but he’ll still mess you up.
Source

The environments of Bioshock Infinite are usually grand, and leave a lot of choice as to how gamers can approach each situation. Sometimes, this winds up making each area seem more like a shooting stage than a real place, but most of the times it works quite well. While, in Bioshock, the player only took to the streets of Rapture after the city had already fallen, in Infinite, the city is still very much alive and there are many scenes throughout the game where you’ll be in non-hostile territory. This is very impactful, as you get to see the city degenerate into violence. This loss of innocence mirrors the loss of innocence of the United States in the decade, as well as acts as a mirror to no fewer than three characters in the game. Level design in general is good, but with few exceptions, isn’t anything mind-blowing. The level of detail is there, and it adds so much to the world, but there isn’t too much variety in this game and the same cityscape, which was so amazing at the beginning, becomes ho hum by the end.

Turrets in the back for possession. Shops on the left and right for cover, and traps. High ground on either side for sniping, or just levitate the enemies and pick them off, like this chap.
Source

The downsides to the game can be summed up in a single paragraph. The graphics are nothing special; although, they never detract from the experience. The game isn’t very long. I cleared my first playthrough in seven hours, and my second on the highest difficulty in probably five or six. Now, keep in mind a less experienced player will take considerably longer, but I wasn’t rushing and managed to get most of the collectibles throughout. From what I’ve read, ten hours seems to be the average length. That being said, the game doesn’t feel short unlike games such as Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, and the pacing is generally good, minus the two lulls in the story that I mentioned earlier. Another problem is that the game isn’t too difficult, which can be a turn off to hardcore players, or a blessing to those who aren’t shooter veterans. Finally there are the promises. Infinite has been going around the conference circuit for years now, and some things they had been hyping simply didn’t make it into the game. Songbird, an giant metal antagonist, was hyped to be similar to Nemesis from Resident Evil 3, constantly hunting you down. In the end, he’s criminally underused, and only really appears about four or five times in the game. The skyline system was hyped to be much bigger than it ended up being, and it never really stood out as being too interesting. Finally, there is 1999 mode which was meant to be a creative hard mode with all sorts of neat restrictions, being hyped as basically a new game experience. It is not. 1999 mode is just very hard. Enemies have more health, do more damage, and if you don’t have enough money, it’s game over and you’ll go back to your last autosave. These things are disappointing, but none of them diminish the final product in any meaningful way, and you would be a fool to think that ideas and plans don’t change as the game develops.

Criminally underused.
Source

What we have with Bioshock Infinite is a game with an amazing, well-crafted story, with script behind it to back it up. It has been a very long time since I’ve enjoyed a game’s story as much as this and I’d fully recommend the game for that reason alone. The gameplay may feel dated and lacks innovation, but that doesn’t change the fact that enemy encounters are fun and varied. There is a lot of strategy and experimentation to be had, especially with the vigor combos. I have a hard time not seeing the combat as a plus even if it doesn’t change the game. With massive environments, a large number of tools at your disposal, and general enemy diversity, there’s too much good here to be upset. However, story and gameplay aside, this game really shines based on its two leads and the actors behind them. Elizabeth and Booker feel like real characters and their journey through the story is something that is worth the price of admission. Bioshock Infinite manages to be similar to the original Bioshock, while simultaneously being its own game. That’s rare and it should be praised. The game isn’t perfect. There are dips along the way, and some themes are left half finished. However, none of the problems with the game even begin to outweigh the positives. Perfect scores aren’t for perfect games. They are simply tools reviewers use to highlight the best of the best and make full recommendations. This seems like an appropriate use of such a tool.

Pros

– Amazing, thought-provoking story
– Deep underlying themes
– Excellent art direction
– Characters stand at the pinnacle of video game characters
– Top of the line voice acting
– Huge environments that can be approached from various sides
– Finally an NPC that’s helpful
– Lots of room for experimentation in the gameplay

Cons

– Some themes feel underdeveloped
– No gameplay innovation
– Not very long
– Graphics don’t impress

Score     10

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s