As much as I enjoyed BioShock 2, it was hard to call it a proper follow up to the original. We all knew that Irrational Games was hard at work creating the real sequel, and that we were going to have to wait a while to have it. Well, it’s been a little under six years, and we’ve waited long enough. BioShock Infinite is here, and with it comes a brand new city, a host of new characters, and one of the best playing games to come out in a long time.
You play as Booker DeWitt, a man with a debt to repay and the abilities to see it repaid. He’s hired to go to the airborne city of Columbia and bring back a girl named Elizabeth. Oh yeah, this is an alternate 1916, where a floating city has been created. It also seceded from the United States and created its own city-state.
Columbia is the most fascinating setting in the history of gaming. Not only does it involve a religion created around the founding fathers, it also sets up as a remarkable case study in race relations. At first, I found myself shaking my head at how far they were taking the racism. That was until I realized that the game was pretty much accurate to that time period, only the racism and hatred had become mandated from above. It becomes all too easy to hate the propaganda-fueled reign of Zachariah Comstock, the so called prophet that serves both as a religious and political leader. However, the game doesn’t tell you how to feel about how things are going. Instead, it shows you the ugly truth behind both sides, and I found that fascinating. I can’t say more without spoiling some things, so, sorry.
That isn’t all that’s interesting. Rifts through time have opened up throughout the city, and its denizens look through them. Doing so has lead to technological advancements, but in unexpected ways. One man has created â€œvigorsâ€ which give users abilities that are not unlike magic. This explains why Booker can throw fire and lighting at enemies, but gameplay mechanics aren’t all that the rifts bring. Music from the future makes its way into the game. Surreal is the only way to explain hearing a little girl singing â€œFortunate Sonâ€ by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Then there’s the barbershop quartet doing a cover of The Beach Boys. It’s just bizarre and really cool.
Then there’s Elizabeth. Everything about her is captivating, from her lines to her animations. Her character arc is incredible, and she becomes a more than welcome companion throughout the game. Booker pales in comparison as a character, though even he is well above the typical video game protagonist. There’s a depth here you just don’t get in the medium. Even if the plot itself can be vague and overbearing at times, the characters are what make the game, and they’re fantastic.
Visually, the game is running on all cylinders thanks to a brilliant art design. Like Rapture, Columbia is covered with propaganda posters so awesome that I want to hang them on my wall. The character designs are very strong, and the animations bring them to life. On a technical level, the game suffers from some shoddy textures and low pixel counts. The game is running on Unreal after all. Still, the artistic direction more than makes up for it.
The audio is even more fantastic. All of the voices are fantastic, and the lines are delivered expertly. Elizabeth steals the show with every word out of her mouth, but she has an incredibly strong supporting cast. The game’s score is great, but its use of classical and pop music is what sets it apart. You’ll hear Mozart’s â€œRequiemâ€ on more than one occasion. That’s always a good thing. Beyond that, there are some anachronistic covers, such as the one by CCR I mentioned earlier. Add in some more time appropriate tunes, and the overall soundtrack is top of the line. Effects are also great, and each gun and power has a unique sound that gives it some extra oomph. There’s only one problem that I found. As you’d expect, there are many scenes where you can walk around while someone talks out of an overhead speaker or something similar. If you turn away from the source, you can’t hear it. This happens even if you’re still right next to the source. I’m sorry guys, but just because I look away from the TV, doesn’t mean I can’t still hear it. This problem forces you to stay put if you want to hear everything, and was annoying every single time.
The game’s controls are pretty much in line with the first BioShock. You move and aim with the analog sticks, jump with X, crouch with circle, use powers with the left shoulder buttons, and use weapons with the right shoulder buttons. Things aren’t wholly the same though. All vigors (the aforementioned powers) can be used both as an attack and as a trap. To lay a trap, you hold the button down rather than tapping it. Also, there is no potion management in this game. Instead, you have a shield that recharges over time. The only way to regain health and mana is to find it in the level or loot it off of a fallen foe. However, it should be noted that restorative items are fairly plentiful, so it’s usually not that big of a concern. Booker is also only capable of holding two weapons at a time. If you want to pick up a new one, you’ll have to leave one behind. The good news is that any upgrades you buy are kept, even if you drop a weapon.
Money is kind of like experience in this game. While it can certainly be used to buy supplies, you’ll find that most of your expenses come from purchasing upgrades for various weapons and vigors. To this extent, you can sort of take Booker into different directions depending on how you upgrade.
Also, part of the customization aspect is the gear. You can equip one piece of gear each for your head, body, arms, and legs. Each piece of gear gives you some sort of benefit, and you can customize your character by equipping different combinations. A more melee minded player might find it useful to equip a hand gear that gives life upon a successful melee kill, for example. More advanced players not afraid to disrupt the flow of gameplay can even switch out gears to suit the current situation. You don’t have to go to a specific area to switch out gear, like in BioShock.
Elizabeth is a constant presence once you team up with her. For story purposes, you’ll find that she isn’t attacked, nor joins in the gunplay. However, she still ends up being quite useful. For starters, she’ll scrounge about for money, ammo, and restorative items. During combat, she’ll occasionally throw you ammo when you need it most, which helps out in a pinch. She can also open up tears in space and time. Most areas have several tears you can try out. Opening them may give you access to a new area, bring up some cover, summon a mechanical ally, give you a new gun, and a number of other options. In the heat of battle, opening the right tear at the right time can make all the difference.
If you do die, there isn’t much of a penalty. You’ll come back pretty much where you were, with some extra health, mana, and ammo. The cost is that you’ll lose money (which is like losing experience in my book), and enemies will regain health as well. If you play on 1999 mode, then you’ll get a game over should you not have enough money to respawn, which those seeking a challenge will enjoy. One thing that should be noted is that you can’t manually save, and therefore must rely on autosaves. This is troublesome, as they often come far apart. It makes dying in 1999 mode a real pain the butt.
One of the most highlighted features of this game was the sky hook. This device serves as a melee attack, but allows allows you to hook onto rails throughout the city. You can fire weapons from these lines, dive onto enemies, or simply use it to traverse from one section to another. Without a doubt, the most fun you’ll have in the game is when you have a big open area with a skyline to exploit. Some enemies will also use the line to their advantage, which is also neat.
At its core, Infinite is a run and gun type of shooter. You won’t find stealth mechanics or advanced melee options here. While you can use a sniper rifle, staying put long enough to line up a shot is difficult, as enemies will fill you full of bullets. This is a game where you need to keep moving and pretty much never take your finger away from the trigger. That isn’t to say there aren’t any tactical options. Using vigors and different gun sets allows you to play to your style. I would often hide behind a wall and use the undertow vigor to pull an enemy in close so I could blast him with a shotgun without opening myself up to his buddies. I’d use the possession ability to take over a powerful foe, and pick apart the weaklings as they tried to fight him off. If worse came to worse, I might simply use a power to push a foe off of the city and into the sky below. The game works because you can choose how you want to play within the context of the deep mechanics. Some players may be disappointed, but action fans will love it.
Infinite is pretty easy, even by modern standards. On the normal difficulty, most enemies don’t pose a threat, and can only take you down if you leave yourself open for an extended period of time. As I’ve said, there is very little punishment for dying. You don’t have to run and hide every time your life gets low. Ammo and restorative items are pretty much everywhere as long as you don’t barrel past them. While it might be hard to stick with one gun throughout the whole game, you won’t have to switch often for lack of bullets. The 1999 mode you unlock once you’ve beaten the game is a much tougher proposition, due to stronger enemies and a much harsher penalty for death. Players looking for a challenge should play this mode. There’s even a code online you can use to unlock it from the start. I suggest you do so if you’re worried about the game being too easy.
The game is fairly long, and will last well over ten hours to complete the first time. However, the game doesn’t have a particularly good replay value. You can, if you desire, go through on another difficulty, but you’ll still end up on the same incredibly linear path. There’s only one ending as well, so there’s no incentive to go back for that reason. The good news is that you do have a chapter select if you want to go back to a favorite part. I wish more games did that. The game is also guaranteed to have strong DLC support, as evidenced by the season pass you can download already.
The game supports the Move, though I didn’t try it out at all. Also, the PS3 version comes with an on disc version of the first BioShock, which is really neat if you haven’t already played that one.
In the end, Infinite isn’t going to have nearly the impact that its predecessor did, but it is still a remarkable game. In many ways, it is a stark improvement. The setting is somehow even more fleshed out, the characters are definitely more fleshed out, the combat is more visceral, and the skyline is simply fun to play around with. The game is far from perfect, and could have been even better. Still, fans of BioShock and shooters in general should definitely pick this up. It is one of the best games of the year so far, and likely will be come December.
Short Attention Span Summary
BioShock Infinite is a very good game that does many things incredibly well. I can’t think of a game with a more interesting setting, and the game does that setting justice with tons of lore ready for players to uncover. The gameplay is fun and visceral, and breakneck pace helps keeps things moving. Elizabeth is one of the best characters ever, both in terms of story and design. It’s worth playing through the game for her character arc alone. Without hesitation, I can easily recommend this game. It’s certainly going to be up for some awards come the end of the year.