Bioshock: Infinite Review
I have to be honest with you. I beat Irrational Games’ latest installment in the highly-praised Bioshock series several weeks ago. The reason I’m only now getting to this review is not sheer laziness, but because I wanted to be as objective as possible. After seeing the end credits of Infinite I was convinced that the previous 20 hours I put in the game was some of the most engaging I have spent with any medium. Had I wrote the review then, it would have been a gush-fest and I wanted to let it settle on me a bit before posting a review.
That said here we are several weeks after my completion after Bioshock: Infinite and….. honestly not much of my opinion has changed.
The story of Infinite places you as Booker Dewitt, a down-on-his-luck Pinkerton agent in 1912.Booker massive gambling debts has forced him deal with an unknown group who gave him an offer: “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt.”
The girl in question, named Elizabeth, is locked away in a tower in the floating city of Columbia, a religious “utopia” built for the Chicago World Fair of 1893 by a religious fanatic named Comstock. Seen as a prophet by his followers;, Comstock prophesied a day when a false shepherd would take Elizabeth from her tower naturally leading to conflict when you try to waltz in and abscond with her. I don’t want to say anything other than that as I believe the narrative needs to be experienced first-hand without prior knowledge.
I can say that the narrative is as strong as it gets in gaming as the blend of characters, themes and settings make the experience akin to reading a great novel that you cannot put down. Columbia, much like Rapture, is a well realized world that sucks you in, and made me want to explore every inch of it. Irrational Games’ ditches the themes centered on Any Rand’ objectivism that inspired Andrew Ryan’s city for American exceptionalism and conservative religion that is both fascinating and disturbing. This is especially true in how the Columbians’ teach their children racism through propaganda and their view of the atrocities of Wounding Knee as a mighty victory over the Indian horde rather than the massacre it was. Personally I find these kind of insidious thoughts and propaganda as more horrifying than splicers and dark alleyways that were found in Bioshock because we need not look far in history (or even in today’s society) to find examples of people using propaganda to promote hate. The dichonomy between the peaceful façade that Columbia presents and the violent classim and hate that is below makes Columbia one of my favorite game settings.
Yet for all the qualities that Columbia brings to the game, Bioshock: Infinite’s main star isn’t the setting, That honor goes to Elizabeth, who will accompany you through the majority of the story. Everything from her voice-acting, character design and animation work to convey her every emotion to the player and made me care for her more so than any other video game character I can remember. Some of my favorite moments of Infinite are the quite scenes of dialogue between Booker and Elizabeth that exist between the combat sections. These scenes (one with a guitar in particular) made both characters more fleshed-out and went a long way to making me invested in the story.
While I would definitely say that the story, setting and characters were the main draw to Infinite, all those elements would be wasted if it fell apart in the gameplay. Luckily the gameplay, mostly combat, is a blast in Infinite provided you want it to be. Anyone who has played the previous Bioshock games should feel comfortable with the mixture of shooting and vigors (plasmids). There are a variety of vigors at your disposal that cause different effects on your foes. For example the Devil’s Kiss vigor allows you to throw exploding fireball at enemies while the murder of crows sends well… a murder of crows to peck at them.
I found that with each vigor added to my repertoire, a new strategy came with it adding more fun to the combat. The shooting is a more typical fare as you get the usual gambit of pistols, shotguns, explosive weapons and machine guns that other games have. The shooting is pretty tight although I would tell people who solely love the shooting in a FPS that you’ll probably find better examples elsewhere as it does take a backseat to the vigor and story. Also while I don’t mind the two gun limit as it forced me to use guns I normally wouldn’t in a pinch, I found myself missing the ability to change ammo type that was present in the previous Bioshock games. One addition they made that I did enjoy was the gear system. While it’s not complex by any stretch the system allows you to wear different sets of clothing that give your boosts in different areas. While this is purely a gameplay element (it doesn’t change how Booker looks, I assume. I mean it is an FPS so we don’t see him but any reflections do include the gear) I thought that it gave you the choice to play whatever style want.
The most interesting aspects of the gameplay come from the world of Columbia itself. That’s to say that the different parts of the city are connected through skylines that can be used to quickly move about the map via a skyhook received early in the game. This added strategy and a verticality to the combat as I often found myself flying through the air to different parts of the map to set up traps or snipe when surrounded. It gave a sensation that the combat was always moving which I enjoyed.
Also anyone who may be worried that Elizabeth would be a escort the whole time can cast their worries away as she is no Ashley from RE 4. In fact, she helps you by find ammo, health, salt(see Eve from Bioshock) in combat that saved me numerous times. She also can open up tears in the world and bring in other objects like gun turrets and cover that further enhance the combat. Sure it’s a bit off putting that she goes unnoticed by the enemies in the game but that feeling is better than the frustration of taking care of her while in combat. In noncombat situation she can pick locks and crack codes that unlock secret areas that flesh-out Columbia more.
One final note on what I loved about the game is the excellent music that is prevalent through the experience. From the tense orchestral songs that play in dramatic moments to the 1912 covers of modern pieces the music found in the game greatly enhanced my enjoyment of it. I particularly enjoyed the spiritual hymn found in the opening as well as the “gayest quartet” in Columbia rendition of a Beach Boys song.
Bioshock infinite isn’t perfect, nothing is. Some of the combat with the special enemies (one in particular) can get really frustrating. I found myself dying constantly to the point that I didn’t have enough ammo to continue without restarting a save (there is a revival system like the one in Bioshock, yet the enemies recover health). Although these special enemies are tougher and interesting to look at no come close to striking the same horror in your heart that a Big Daddy did in Bioshock 1&2. On that same note, Infinte’s focus on Elizabeth and Booker’s story makes the other characters like Comstock seem a bit less interesting than Andrew Ryan and Sander Cohen were in Rapture. That’s not to say that they are bad, just not as fleshed out as the characters in the previous games.
Finally we get the thing that will be the most divisive of all those who play Infinite: the ending. Like the original game, Infinite throws some shocking twists at the player in the latter half of the game. Yet unlike the original I feel that some are believe the ending to be contrived and purposely convoluted. While I can see where this argument is coming from, I couldn’t disagree more. I found the ending to one of the best endings, both in a pure plot sense and a thematic sense that we’ve seen in any game. I urge all those who may not like the ending from a storyline element examine it from a thematic perspective, where I believe it truly shines. Whether or not the ending is your cup of tea, it will make you thing about the game long after you’re done.
All in all Bioshock: Infinite is an experience that all gamers and even those who may not play game regularly need to experience. Personally I hold this game as one of the best narrative experiences I have ever had that serves as an example of why I love games so much.
5/5 Mind Blowing-orgasmic