BioShock Infinite Review: Great, But Not the Greatest
Ever since the original BioShock back in 2007, players everywhere were captivated by the eerie world of Rapture and the twisted doctrines of Andrew Ryan. Now in 2012, Irrational Games’ latest creation in BioShock Infinite seeks to follos up the original with a new world, new story, and completely new take on the BioShock formula. Does it succeed?
Check out the video review below!
Like its predecessor, the main draw for BioShock Infinite is its story. With twists and turns that can be considered nothing short of mind boggling, Infinite’s story will take you through the many different levels of Columbia and twist your brain around itself multiple times to the point where it hurts to think about. It’s rife with deep story sequences (which I won’t go into here) and will leave you staring blankly at the screen while the final scene draws to a close, befuddled as you try to make sense of what you just witnessed.
And for the most part, it works well. The world of Columbia itself is every bit as unique and breathtaking as Rapture (albeit in a much less horrific way), the game’s characters are fascinating and offer a unique perspective on the world as a whole, and outside of a somewhat slow first third, the game maintains a fair pace that drives the narrative forward, keeping you encouraged to fight through each combat encounter to the next major story beat.
Where it struggles, ironically, is in some of its twists. Being that the game’s ending is so open to speculation and interpretation, I’m struggling to figure out if its open-ended nature is intentional on the part of the creators or the product of many plot holes in the storytelling. While the game’s narrative is incredibly broad and ambitious, not everything tied itself together in the end quite as seamlessly as I would have liked, resulting in some reveals that didn’t resonate with me in quite the same way I felt they were meant to have. Still, there’s something to be said of how powerful its themes and story beats are, confusing as they might be. I definitely recommend multiple playthroughs and extensive internet research in order to understand all of the ins and outs of Infinite’s narrative.
Characters in Infinite are compelling and interesting, from the game’s guilt-ridden protagonist Booker DeWitt to the religious zealot Zachary Comstock. Truly, the game’s star is none other than Elizabeth, Booker’s companion and central character to BioShock Infinite’s story. A woman with strong convictions and a personality one part naive and three parts gusto, Elizabeth is a compelling character that fails to miss a beat throughout the game’s entirety. Some of my favorite moments were the times of dialogue between Booker and Elizabeth, partially for the fact that they both were so well realized and developed.
Of course, BioShock Infinite is a video game, not a movie. As such, there’s the critical element of gameplay that deserves mentioning in this review.
Oddly enough, gameplay in Infinite is both the game’s strength and downfall. There are many things to like about it, but there’s also equally as many things that didn’t necessarily resonate with me in a striking or meaningful way.
The game combines the Plasmid abilities (called Vigors in Infinite) of the original BioShock with a flavor of standard shooter fare and an update to give the game a more traditional FPS control scheme. It works well…to a point. There’s a vast amount of weapons in the game, each with their own distinct strengths and uses. But for all the weapons you’ll be able to find, you’re only ever allowed to carry two in the form of a primary and a secondary weapon. It’s a drastic change from the ability to carry several weapons at once back when we visited Rapture in the series’ original title, and one that felt a little disingenuous.
Furthermore, gunplay in Infinite’s combat felt somewhat lacking in precision. Sure, you can adjust the sensitivity for the camera in the game’s options list, but there’s still something about the shooting that felt like it could have used tighter controls to allow you to engage in large-scale skirmishes in a more satisfying way.
But for all the frustrations gunplay lent to the combat, the game’s Vigors made everything feel unique and fun, building on the ideas of the Plasmids in BioShock.
While you’ll still find Vigors that allow you to shock, burn, and telekinetically control your targets in Infinite, you’ll also find a host of new abilities that allow you to apprach combat with myriad options available to you. Not only can you fire single-shot Vigor bursts, you can also set dangerous traps to catch the most aggressive of enemies, and you’ll even have the option to combine Vigors for maximum damage effect (flaming crows, anyone?). The formula for Plasmids was taken from the original BioShock and built upon in a great way to make Vigors one of the most satisfying aspects of Infinite’s gameplay.
Much like Eve in BioShock, Vigors are limited in use depending on the amount of Salts you have. Thankfully, Salts are scattered generously throughout the world, and Elizabeth will do her best to keep you stocked on them, along with health and ammo, as you engage enemies in combat.
Both guns and Vigors are completely upgradable, which you’ll be able to do by purchasing upgrades from the vending machines scattered throughout the world. Damage boosts, new abilties, and even new Vigor types can all be purchased and added on to your powers to make Booker into an even more infamous foe in battle.
Strangely, while the upgrades are fun, they didn’t seem to serve much purpose for my first playthrough on normal difficulty. In the end, I’d recommend them to players who want to torture themselves with both the Hard difficulty level and the sadistic 1999 mode in order to capitalize on the full potential of your weapons and powers.
Skylines are a new addition to the gameplay of Infinite, which allow players to hook onto rails extending into the sky and navigate the environment. They lend an interesting amount of verticality to the levels themselves, but often move so crazily that they quickly become disorienting and frustrating more than fast-paced and fluid.
Typical enemy encounters took place with Booker fighting other gun-toting characters in the form of revolutionaries and soldiers. Many of the levels felt a bit wave-based to my taste, and there are some challenging battles even on Normal that will leave even shooter-savvy players like myself frustrated for all the wrong reasons.
Irrational tried to mix up the formula in Infinite by introducing the Heavy Hitters, who are essentially more challenging enemies with a variety of strengths and attacks. While they are interesting in their aesthetic and abilities, I couldn’t help but feel like they weren’t much more than tank-like characters who ate a lot of damage and were somewhat repetitive in their attacks. The Handyman and The Motorized Patriot were both aggressive and powerful mechanical marvels, while the Siren and the Boys of Silence were not much more than boss-types with minions to distract you during a battle. Other than being an impressive spectacle, it unfortunately felt a little underwhelming in its execution.
While the gameplay isn’t necessarily the high point of Infinite, it should be noted that a majority of the mechanics are completely well-realized and fun to use. And really, the combat itself isn’t much more than a tool used to justify Booker and Elizabeth’s journey through the narrative.
Of course, I would be remiss to not mention the brilliance that is BioShock Infinite’s art design. With the highly stylized world of Columbia, Irrational has outdone themselves by giving it an incredibly unique and amazing look and feel unique to the game itself. The overall steampunk aesthetic blends well with elements of fantasy to create a cloud world that is both striking and breathtaking to behold from the get go. There’s an amazing amount of detail poured into the overall design of BioShock Infinite’s art design, and it shows in everything from the decoration of the buildings to the character models of NPCs.
For all the flawless design of the art, however, there are a few areas where the game’s textures left me feeling like I was staring at a game from 1997. Some pop-in occurred, and I encountered a frame rate hitch from time to time as well. Sure, they’re somewhat minor complaints that didn’t have much bearing on the overall experience, and it should be noted that this game is pretty system intensive and drove my PS3 to its limits. But what technical issues it had stuck out like a sore thumb in comparison to the amount of detail the rest of the world featured.
Music is an integral part of BioShock Infinite’s design and manages to do so much more than just accentuate intensity or accompany the gameplay. Rather, it’s an important part of the world’s personality and drives home some of the more dramatic moments of the campaign in a way that was meaningful and moving. If there’s any piece of Infinite that was flawless throughout the entirety of its execution, its the soundtrack. For that, composer Garry Schyman should be given a medal.
Overall, BioShock Infinite is a great game, but not the greatest game ever made. It has an amazing story, but struggles with a few areas that plod along and details that don’t necessarily tie together smoothly at the end. Gameplay is fun and frantic, but some lackluster controls made for frustrating moments that could have been a bit more entertaining. And the beauty and uniqueness of the art design had a few awkward moments with textures and frame rate hiccups that stuck out more than they usually would have due to the level of care and detail poured into the world design. But for what issues it does have, it’s still a great experience to be had, and one I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys shooters and games with strong narratives.
Be warned, however…in Columbia, nothing is as it seems.
(Note: BioShock Infinite was reviewed after 15 hours of gameplay on the PlayStation3. It is also available on PC and Xbox 360.)