Game Review: BioShock Infinite

bioshock-infinite-box-artA little over 5 years a little game called BioShock was released and unless you happened to be in the know, it arrived on release date with little fanfare.  The lack of hustle and bustle didn’t last long until reviews started to pour out praising every aspect of the game, many even going as far as to call it the most revolutionary game to date.  The game went on to become a hit seller and many gamers, myself included, found themselves prone to agree with the high praise of the press.  While delivering some great FPS shooting and a neat super power system and a really great underwater city setting, the game really shined and revolutionized in the narrative department utilizing clever tricks at delivering exposition to transform a Maltese Falcon style story (oh, yeah, spoiler, but if you haven’t played it by this point, your fault) into a deep and attention grabbing sociopolitical commentary.  Whether you just wanted action or something deep to analyze, it delivered on all fronts and created a bar so high it became highly questionable if a sequel could ever come close to reaching the heights that it did.

BioShock 2 saw the return to Rapture, the once utopia under the sea.  Expectations were high and the hype around the development was closely monitored in the press.  While finding itself underdevelopment from much of the original team, a key member was missing, lead designer Ken Levine.  When the game landed it was a hit and a damn fine game that worked well at expanding the first’s universe, but it just lacked that extra pinch of inspiration and love that sent the first over the edge and it could be accredited to the absence of Levine.  Fortunately Mr. Levine wasn’t just passing the reigns of his baby off to someone else while he disappeared, instead he slunk back into hiding and began almost immediately working on the game under the microscope today.  And after 5 years of work and polish and an incredible amount of hype from both fans, press, and Ken Levine and Irrational Games themselves BioShock Infinite is upon us looking to not only reach the bar first set at the start of the series, but surpass it and yet again revolutionize the landscape of gaming as we know it.  So, if you’ve been following the game you’ve probably already heard the unanimous praise by critics and fans and what can I say, they are all spot on.  From this day forward, when you dig up the old Websters-Merriam to look up the word success you will find a picture of BioShock Infinite sitting there in all its glory.

Story

bio-6Moving out of the underwater city of Rapture and into the city of Columbia which resides floating in the sky you’ll quickly notice that besides the graphic style and exposition methods, that Infinite is not connected to the first at all.  And that is true,  Infinite is not a sequel or prequel, it’s its own separate story, world, and city.  And it really separates itself from the other 2 by introducing a much more direct narrative from the get go.  You play as Booker DeWitt, a man with a big debt and a penchant for the bottle.  He’s been given a chance to wipe away his debts by completing a job where he needs to go on a mission and retrieve a girl for an unknown employer.  This leads Booker to find himself in the skyborn city of Columbia.  Enamored with America’s founding fathers George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson you quickly find out that the city has literally crafted a religion around the worship of them and patriotism.  And all seems good as you walk around the streets while parades and festivals take place all around you and the denizens are always chipper and happy.  But amid all brightness of the city, there is a Stepford Wives air to it, something is just not right.

Columbia was founded and is run by a man known as the Prophet Comstock, who, like Andrew Ryan, left the Motherland to be able to create his version of utopia without laws and limits.  Unlike Ryan, Comstock takes the opposite ethos of Laissez-faire and Objectivism while retaining the Exceptionalistic ideological thought process.  In layman’s terms, Columbia and Comstock’s teachings are extreme right-wingers heaven.

It isn’t too long before you meet up with your charge, named Elisabeth, and the rest of the game is more or less an escape from the city back down to America.  And in this escape the real fun begins and not to spoil a thing I will say no more of the story from here.  I will say though, by the time you reach the games conclusion your mind will be blown.  I ended up completely speechless and in awe as I stared blankly at the rolling credits absorbing the adventure I had just been on.  Simply put, best ending in a game ever, hands down, no bullshitting or exaggerating.  This will surely go down to be one of the most discussed and dissected conclusions not only in video games, but all story telling media in general.  And then there’s all the fat of the game’s sociopolitical commentary, which not only attacks the Right, but also the Left and everything in between ranging from race, religion, freedom, jingoism, and more I dare not name as to not give away any of the wonderful plot.  Just do yourself a favor and soak all it in by taking your time with the game and stopping to see all the story not only presented first hand, but also told through the environment.

Gameplay

BioShock_Infinite_13612286505656The shooting and magic power system of the other BioShocks remains in tact and with a few tweaks is as fun as ever to play.  You still get a nice assortment of weapons ranging from pistols to rocket launchers with a couple crazy cool tools of destruction mixed in as well as magic powers, now referred to as Vigors instead of Plasmids.  At its core, that part is largely unchanged, although the only form of disappointment I had with the game was learning that I could no longer shoot bees from my fingertips, though the ability to launch a murder of crows does kinda make up for it.

When the action kicks in it’s always fluid and fast paced requiring both reflexes and brains to succeed.  The one big game changer in the combat here is the introduction of zip tracks.  Originally used for the transport of goods throughout the Columbia, these tracks also serve as a nifty way for you to zip around the battle areas by using a skyhook item you get early on and zoom down the tracks like a roller coaster firing shots from your gun or setting yourself up to pounce on a victim with an aerial takedown.  You can also use them to pull yourself out of a pinch if they are available and find better positioning to lay havoc.  I can think of no other game that matches the adrenaline rush of an intense battle zipping around on the skylines and I found myself replaying certain battles just to experience the exhilarating rush again, perfecting my plan of attack into a nice and fluid execution.

Along with the addition of the skylines the combat dynamic sees a tweak in the amount of guns you can carry at a given moment.  Aiming for something a bit more realistic than a guy who has an entire arsenal strapped to his back, only 2 guns can be carried at any given moment, though when an enemy drops or you stumble upon a gun different from what you are carrying, you can swap it out no problem.  This adds a nice touch sometimes forcing you to experiment with different load outs and see all the weapons offered in the game.  Vigors however are never dropped and any can be used at any time given that you have unlocked it and have enough Salts (magic power) to use it.

One big complaint with the other 2 games was that when you ran out of life you were just transported back a few steps with none of the enemies resetting or regaining heath.  One could die an infinite amount of times and feel no consequence of playing badly.  This concept returns to Infinite, but has been refined a bit.  When you die, you still get sent back a few steps with no reset in enemies defeated, however they regain their health and your wallet takes a hit.  It makes things seem a bit less cheap, but for the most part I didn’t mind as it kept the pacing of the game always moving forward.  If one really wants a challenge, the feature can be turned off, but for the first playthrough I suggest leaving it on as it does have a role to play in the overall story.  Past that, not much else has changed gameplay wise.  Combat is visceral and exploration satisfying.

Graphics and Sound

bioshockinfinite_1fInfinite is a damn good-looking game.  Even switching down to low settings to get a nice and fast frame rate it looks great.  And when jacked up to high you’d be hard pressed to find a better looking game (as far as I know the console versions are about equivalent to the game on medium settings, which is still really damn impressive).  Color pours from everywhere and various effects simply bring the city of Columbia to life.  The best way I can describe the graphic aesthetic is it is very Disney-like, from the steam punk designs to the way the roses look like they were lifted directly from the Queen of Hearts garden everything carries that whimsical air to it that made the Disney animated movies such a feast for the eyes.  The animation too screams of Disney with those long and fluid movements characters make.  Most notably Elisabeth seen both in her animation and also design.

The dev team certainly put a lot of effort into the look of Infinite and not a single pixel goes to waste.  And what would be great graphic design without some terrific sound design to back it up.  Buzzing of bees and hummingbirds pepper the more tranquil moments while satisfying sounds of guns and thuds intensify the action packed ones.  There was no quarter given to any single sound effect that did not work to build the game world deeper or suck your further in.  And then there’s the music, which may be one of the best game soundtracks ever.  The patriotic gospel songs that played in the church areas hit the ambiance on the head while barbershop quartets singing to fair goers add yet another layer of life to your surroundings (pro-tip: pay attention to some of the songs for a nice treat as well as another facet of the story).  And then there’s the dynamic battle music that raises and lowers and reacts to how you’re playing.  If the skylines, guns, and Vigors weren’t enough to suck you into the thrall of battle, the wonderful scores will.  Oooh, and the voice acting, just wow, wow, and wow.  Each actor, whether major or minor, plays their part with such conviction, you could swear the characters in the game are real people as they burst with more emotion than many mainstream film actors out there today.  In the end, the sound design is auditory bliss and playing with some headphones so you don’t miss a note of it.

Conclusion

BioShock Infinite is a must play game, no ifs, ands, or buts.  I don’t care if you don’t like FPS or think games are a kids toy, you must play this game.  It not only is damn fun to play, but also brings where we are in the gaming world a giant step forward at what can be done in the medium.  Putting aside the fact that it is one of the few games with balls big enough to take on some serious social issues in a mature and interesting way, the fact that it can be explored, both on the surface and underneath, from so many different angles is astounding.  A single playthrough (roughly 12 hours if you take your time) will not be enough to fully get everything that there is to offer as the game is just so rich with content, and trust me, the second you finish watching the credits roll you’re gonna want to start it right back up again.  And no other medium I can think of can elicit such exploration and introspection like this game has.  I would not be surprised if a graduate college course looking into the many themes of the game pops up one day and takes more than a single semester to complete.  There really that much to the game.  It is a marvel to look at, to play, to think about, and experience.  Hands down, without a doubt, the best video game I have ever played.

out of 5

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About RiffRaff

Just takin' it easy for all you sinners.

Posted on April 2, 2013, in Videogames and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I waited for this game quite a while. I enjoyed the first Bioshock very much.

    I wanted to play the second one, but have had so much trouble with it that I finally returned it to the store, because I was so bugged out and didn’t want to support this consumer bullying (first copy without a key code, second one with a false key code, then Windows Live wouldn’t work and Live as well as 2kgames only offered a high priced service hotline).

    I will definitely buy Bioshock Infinite, but only if there won’t be the same problems as with the second one. Can you say anything about that? Also I have read that the game is way too easy (what seems to be the common problem of all newer games).

    • Funny you mention that problem with Windows Live. I had a similar problem with them in the past. It was a buggy system with shit security.

      I had no problems at all with my copy. I purchased it on Steam and it’s been all good from a technical standpoint. I’m pretty positive you need a Steam account as that is the chosen DRM whether you buy boxed or digital (boxed will give you a code, make sure the box you buy is sealed. I have yet to have any problems with any Steam activation codes, so I wouldn’t worry too much even though you’ve been burned in the past), but in the 7 years I’ve been using it I’ve never had a bad experience with them, and they’ve helped me more than the actual publishers when problems do arise (I actually prefer Steam DRM because it doesn’t act to control your game licenses, it just does exactly DRM should, Digital Rights Management All my games are nice and organized, I have cloud saves which is nice because I use multiple PCs, I can redownload as much as I want, starting games with friends is simple, the sales are frequent and incredibly priced, and a whole lot more reasons why Steam rocks. So ya, if you’re not on the Steam train yet, you have nothing to fear, excellent service that won’t fuck you over). Windows Live is pretty much dead and nothing uses it anymore (all major publishers except EA have moved over to Steam). I fully understand your reservations on the shady shit publishers do, especially with us PC gamers. Right now, 2K is off my shit list because they made big strides to improve in this department. I still will never buy anything from EA or Activision again though (kinda sucks cause I still want to play Dead Space 3 and Mass Effect 3) purely on principle standpoint.

      The game was a bit on the easy side on normal mode, but for the first playthrough I would suggest doing it so you can soak in the story and narrative (I guess hard mode would be cool too if you’re an fps veteran). You can however enter the classic Konami Code (select=cancel start=accept; where ever you have those keys mapped) on the title screen to unlock a mode called 1999 mode, which is very difficult and what I’m working on now for my 3rd playthrough. It does away with the regenerating shield as well as respawns and makes enemies super tough. I do not recommend this as a first playthrough though as dying does have a place in the narrative. And trust me, you will be playing this more than once, I’ll put money on it.

      I do however agree with you that newer games have gotten much easier, especially the AAA games. Hence another reason why I’ve fallen for the indie scene of games (though a few challenging big name games come out here and there).

      Also, since you know your English very well, make sure to play with the original voices, the actors really did a great job and a lot of the word choice and what not really works to build the world. If anything, I’m pretty sure I saw a subtitle language selection in the options if the slang they use becomes a bit difficult (lot of old timey American words).

      When you finish playing it I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Everyone I know who has played it is American and the themes of the game will resonate differently for someone who grew up in the American culture. I’d really like to hear a take on it from the outside who might see the themes a bit differently than I.

  2. Thanks for the extensive reply. I actually have Steam. Also I’m in general antipathetic towards data gathering and selling programs etc. I have to admit it works very well and is quite comfortable.

    I got into PC-games relatively late in comparison to most of the people of my age. Deus Ex Human Revolution is the last game I played (third one that uses Steam) and I enjoyed the story as well as to sneak through another stealth game (if you want it to be one) after playing the first three Splinter Cell games at least three times each. But one of a view flaws of the game is that it is way too easy. Also I have read that the first Deus Ex is considered to have a better story telling. And I bought a box with the Thief/Dark Project games and I am excited if I like them.

    I like a great story and an interesting world. Also I think Fallout 3 & New Vegas have numerous flaws I liked the setting also it isn’t that intense as BioShock (which is one of their flaws). Furthermore I always hope for reasonable controls without too much different keys (also I’m a lefty). As for the difficulty I like the phrase: “Easy to learn, hard to master”.

    In Germany, especially with people under thirty, there is a relatively broad knowledge about American culture through media. This knowledge is increased where are people who have a certain education in English and American History (without the purpose of sounding dismissive). American movies, TV shows and music are very popular in Germany and thanks to streaming sites there is a possibility to watch your favorites shows with the original voices. You may watch a TV show and come across an allusion or wordplay and want to know what it means… For instance I read another Blog which is written by an American living in Germany for several years. He picks topics of all kinds and explains correlations and also tries to disprove some prejudices, which is entertaining and sometimes quite illuminating.
    http://usaerklaert.wordpress.com/

    Maybe Germany has developed a nearness towards the USA in the postwar period (maybe a bit comparable to Japan) and sucked in the American culture. Not until in 60’s a development towards a more critical view on the USA began. Nowadays a certain permanent criticism of the US politics is kind of a standard thing (at least in certain groups), but many people of my age and my surrounding are simultaneously very attached to American culture through media.

    But before losing track completely: I will buy the game, but will maybe wait for some DLCs and a lower price. 60 € is a bit too much for strained purse.

    • I meant “where people have a certain education”, not like me obviously :-P. Also “Sorry” for being constantly incapable of using the “Reply”-button.

  3. Well, the game is finally in my house and I hope to have time to check it out this weekend and give it a good start. I loved the first one. I discovered that game on a playable demo disc I think I got with Xbox magazine. The demo was ok, but when the final game hit the streets it turned out to be much better. I loved that game and recommended it to everyone I knew who would love that style of gameplay. Bioshock 2 was definitely lacking something, but I still played it and enjoyed it.

    I am glad the developer(s) went with a different approach. I find videogame sequels get really watered down (See my Resident Evil 6 review shortly). Instead of creating new ideas, they overuse old ones. These guys obviously recognized the weakness of Bioshock 2 and revamped it. I would rather wait several years for a good sequel than have an annual run with the same shit.

    Awesome detailed review. I can’t wait to get started!

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