Bioshock Infinite is a first-person shooter that was developed by Irrational Games and published by 2K Games for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360. Easily one of this year’s most anticipated games, BioShock Infinite seeks to take us from the horror and action of the murky depths in Rapture, and whisk you up into the floating city of Columbia. Despite its vibrant facade, underneath the surface holds dark secrets and menacing plans just as its underwater contemporary did. Bioshock Infinite suffered several delays since being announced in August of 2010. Luckily, that hasn’t stopped Irrational Games from crafting another enormous story-driven journey. However, does Bioshock Infinite live up to all the latest hype and string of perfect scores? Lets dive…no, lets fly into this review and see!
Bioshock Infinite has to feature one of the most elaborate stories to grace a console in this generation. The story not only makes you care for the main characters involved, but really challenges your mind through science and philosophy. Rest assured, this isn’t an undergrad philosophy class but the game does brush onto metaphysics more than once. The gamer’s choices and parallel universes in this game are set in the year 1912. The main character in Bioshock Infinite is Booker DeWitt, a man who has been hired to bring back a girl named Elizabeth, who has special abilities. He is bringing her to New York in order to pay back a debt. The hook is that Elizabeth is currently on the floating city of Columbia and when Mr. DeWitt arrives on this magical city, he soon discovers that it’s not quite what it seems.
Unlike the dark corridors and evil in the city of Rapture from Bioshock 1&2, Columbia is the complete opposite in appearance. As the game progresses further into this mystery, DeWitt discovers that Columbia is a city torn apart by groups and a controlling dictator called the Prophet. The story touches on regret, guilt, oppression and religion. The Prophet’s Columbia is a city founded on the literal adoration of America’s Founding Fathers. Except the Prophet’s vision contains a twisted place, where racist, nationalistic attitudes are legitimized by its leader’s religion and a brutal, industrialized inside keeps the exterior surface serene looking. There is a plethora of mature oriented content that pops up in Infinite. Religious zealots, racism, class warfare, and the American city of Columbia in 1912 are all under the microscope. Some may argue that a lot has changed; while other things have still remained the same in our modern times, and that is what I believe Irrational games was trying to get across to the gamers.
Eventually, Booker is reunited with Elizabeth, and the story of Bioshock Infinite kicks into high gear. The action ramps up but so does the emotional aspect as well. The relationship between Elizabeth and Booker feels real and although she despises him at first due to the men that he killed, this relationship soon changes into something more comforting. It’s this interaction between Elizabeth and Booker which really makes this game so great. The elaborate story takes no shortcuts while exploring societal issues such as religious zealotry, class warfare, fanatical patriotism and awful racial intolerance that make the game even more intriguing to watch.
Bioshock Infinite starts you out with the basics. Explaining who you are, why you’re here, what Columbia is, and how they got to where they are, all within the first ten minutes. The intro is soaked in symbolism and Victorian art styles. The rescue of Elizabeth comes early on, and after that, you’ll soon find out that she’s far from a helpless little girl. Elizabeth has been trapped in Columbia for a very long time, and once outside, all these new interactions can sometimes evoke confusion, astonishment, or just plain horror, but she often finds inner strength and eventually becomes tougher.
Elizabeth’s abilities are a great asset to your adventure as she can do a great many things. It’s clear that Irrational games spent a lot of time and energy working the game to make sure that as a companion, Elizabeth is positioned as prominently as possible. She provides a full range of emotions and assortment of powers that make her a delight to have around, not annoying or burdensome like in certain other games that will remain nameless. Elizabeth can open a space time rift and bring in helpful robots to aid you in battle. She can also change the battlefield in mid-fight, while tossing you supplies such as ammo or health. She will not fight enemies but on the plus side, she also cannot die either during battles. It’s amazing that the entire campaign was created with a buddy AI that was completely not burdensome or poisonous to the momentum of the script. The entire gameplay could have easily gone downhill by mistakes or errors made by the AI of Elizabeth, but instead she was created flawlessly.
The in-game combat is played out just like in previous installments. Gamers will have a wide range of hard hitting weapons. This time around, you’ll be finding and equipping upgradeable “Vigors”. These Vigors are exactly like Plasmids from the original BioShock, a magic liquid spell that grants the body special abilities. Most Vigors are unique mostly because they all have a secondary function as well. Most are useful and enjoyable, but occasionally it’ll take some trial and error to figure out which Vigors do the most destruction to the game’s enemies and bosses. Through all of this, you’ll be rummaging enemy bodies and the environment for ammo, weapons, money, health vials, and Salt (which is used like the original Bioshock’s “Mana” to power your Vigors). Figurine decorated vending machines have been placed throughout the city and function as the place to buy health, ammo and upgrades.
My favorite part of Infinite has to be the sky-rail system. The sky-rails play a big part in both BioShock Infinite’s exploration and combat. There’s an easy interface for using your hook attachment to zoom around on these rails and attack from above when dismounting, but what’s more fascinating is how you can completely change the nature of a firefight with these aerial rail systems. Pop around, behind, and up close to pay a couple of enemy snipers a little personal visit. Or you could fire rockets down on enemies while sliding from the rail itself, and pounce on a powerful enemy that’s near a ledge to dump them off of it in one hit. Not all firefights involve hooking onto rails, but many of the game’s best firefights feature it.
Using the sky-rails, I couldn’t help but feel that I was on some high-speed ride at Disney World zooming past all of the little toy towns and people below, which is exhilarating and nostalgic in its own right. You’ll also find some gruesome and gory deaths with the use of both the Vigors, as well as up close melee attacks and more destructive guns, and you’ll see these especially with some of the little perks that are added with your Gear (simple pieces of clothing that change your combat capabilities). There are four distinctive slots for “Gear”, and these items will give you extra critical damage, stuns, Health steals, and other aids that aren’t locked to a particular gun. However, there are some specific Vigors that can be modified by adding Gear items.
There is one underlying theme here, and it’s something smaller at first but gradually becomes more prevalent as you venture deeper into the game. The friendship that begins to bloom between Booker and Elizabeth is something from yesteryear that you just don’t see that often and I’ll explain. If you’re an old-school gamer and a veteran of first person shooters (pre-Call of Duty days), then you’ll remember how limitless the old games of the pre-2000’s era felt. You are a lone secret agent or super hero who happens to be a typical badass. You’re allowed to run riot on a level full of brutes without any dependents or commanding generals shouting in your ear. Most developers are usually unsuccessful in creating and implementing authentic character interactions, feelings, and dialogue into a hardcore action shooter. Seldom do FPS designers achieve this task, and to quite Andrew Ryan, Irrational Games has “chosen the impossible”. Most of the adventure and action is wild, enormous and open during its inspiring action sequences. Then suddenly, in a masterful stroke, it becomes soft, small, and passionate, all while preserving the view point of your protagonist DeWitt Booker.
The very first thing that you should notice about Bioshock Infinite when booting up your PS3 or 360 is how gorgeous it looks. The attention to detail is stunning and seeing this early 20th century city floating high above the clouds is just beautiful. At times, it feels like Ken Levine and his team actually built this real city brick by brick and wood by wood due to the attention to detail. Whether it’s the puffy white clouds floating around the skyscrapers or softly dipping down as you see buildings slowly moving up and down in the sky, it’s almost angelic like. The game was built on Unreal Engine 3 running on hardware from seven years ago, but is a rather astonishing to see how Irrational packed so much detail into each and every space.
Most environments in the game are nearly spotless, and without contrasting the slight visual differences between the consoles and PC version, almost everybody should be more than enthralled. Unfortunately, some of the game does suffer with some textures of the game being a tad muddy and unpolished up close. Facial animations of enemies and certain objects in the areas become downgraded as you approach them, sometimes. However these are infrequent issues, but it does remind you that the PC version is slightly superior then our rapidly aging home consoles. The frame rate in Bioshock Infinite is reasonably steady. Once or twice during the most intense of battles does the visual engine skirmish to keep up.
Bioshock Infinite truly shines in its art style. The early 1900’s “Americana” representation is present everywhere you gaze. Videos displayed in the Kinetoscope are short silent films similar to old Charlie Chaplin movies. These clips present a variety of news footage on Columbia and its famous citizens. This all contributes to the richness of the experience, and how its history feels authentic. It is amazing how flawlessly the team at Irrational has captured the iconic appearance and sense of the early 20th century. Another praise must be given to the animation department. Elizabeth moves in a natural way, conveying facial reactions I’ve only really seen in titles like the Uncharted. Just the actions of her walking into a shop, leaning on a counter, inquisitively touching random items in the shop, or making intelligent comments on the current environment all make the experience that much more stunning and impactful. Ken Levine wanted to make Elizabeth feel like a real person, and here they succeeded again.
The music is another highpoint for the game. The eerie versions of classic and modern songs can sometimes make you feel like you’re in the “Overlook Hotel” in the movie “The Shinning”. I’ve come to expect nothing less in the voice acting department for a Bioshock game, and here it remains the same, if not better. The voice acting is expertly done. The main protagonist is probably my favorite in the entire franchise. Booker DeWitt is charming, passionate, intelligent, and can also be deadly and aggressive. Voice actor Troy Baker (The Last Of Us, Saints Row 3, Ninja Gaiden 3) conveys all of these emotions so effortlessly that it is a treat to hear him bring Booker to life.
Elizabeth’s voice actor is equally as good, going through dialogue with a certain passion and authenticity not seen too often nowadays. The game is best played on loud and surround sound would be nice, if not some Turtle Beaches, to totally experience the great ambience of this title. Lastly, I must say that I always enjoyed how Irrational Games made the anti-hero rewrite the history of America and as they say, “the victors write the history”, but in this case, the dictator does. Another thing I always loved is how amazing the Bioshock soundtracks are. Not being a fan of today’s popular music, I have fallen in love with older songs because of Bioshock. I am indebted to developers like Irrational, and games like BioShock for showing me to records I wouldn’t have otherwise ever remotely heard of from eras 50+ years past.
Overall Score: 20/20 = 10 out of 10
The original Bioshock released at the beginning of this generation of consoles, and it showed us an FPS with a groundbreaking story and phenomenal setting. The city of Rapture was unlike anything any of us had ever seen before. It became an instant success, grossing millions, two sequels and a rumored movie as well. Every gamer I know who dives into Rapture feels its lasting effect. Bioshock has become part of our culture, including our video game language and music. Fast forward five years and we are now nearing the end of this console generation, yet Bioshock Infinite looks as if it is repeating history. Flying to the sky and providing not just another revolutionary story, but a game that enterprises the entire franchise to new heights.
It goes without saying that Bioshock Infinite is a title that will likely change how game designers make games just as the original Bioshock did years ago. It’s a game that defines why we play and love games and it defines our generation. It’s a title that taunts to dig into alternate realities, and tackle modern patriotism and the dark morality of an uprising. It shows us prejudice in a way I’ve never seen before in a video game. With the quality of Infinite’s art, music, script writing and voice talent all being polished, you’ll understand why you’ve had to wait years for this game. One cannot can’t just throw money and manpower at a title of this magnitude, and still have it turn out like this, it also takes tremendous talent and extensive time.
+ Phenomenal writing from opening to close
+ Visually beautiful
+ Fantastic voice work throughout
+ Captures early Americana perfectly
+ Skyhook combat is an excellent new mechanic, feels like an exciting Disney ride
+ This game screams immersion
– Certain Visual aspects take a hit occasionally
– Why did it have to End
Copy purchased by reviewer for review purposes. Played through on the Xbox 360 console.