BioShock Infinite – Review

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Platform | Release Date
360, PS3, PC | March 26, 2013
Developed by Irrational Games
Published by 2K Games

The Pitch:

Indebted to the wrong people, with his life on the line, veteran of the U.S. Cavalry and now hired gun, Booker DeWitt has only one opportunity to wipe his slate clean. He must rescue Elizabeth, a mysterious girl imprisoned since childhood and locked up in the flying city of Columbia. Forced to trust one another, Booker and Elizabeth form a powerful bond during their daring escape. Together, they learn to harness an expanding arsenal of weapons and abilities, as they fight on zeppelins in the clouds, along high-speed Sky-Lines, and down in the streets of Columbia, all while surviving the threats of the air-city and uncovering its dark secret.

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You might not be playing Bioshock Infinite, or maybe you haven’t yet, but you really should be. Or have been. Or definitely going to. Do it.

Bioshock Infinite builds a solid world that floats in the clouds. This build up takes a bit of time; unlike Rapture, the city of Columbia is not a ravaged wasteland. Conflict will come, but Infinite‘s introduction takes awhile. It might be too long for some tastes, but the foundation makes the fall more profound. Rapture’s disintegration was a mystery to uncover; Columbia’s is an event to experience. The idyllic scenes presented in the opening hours aren’t going to last in a game where the player’s main ability to interact is shooting things. This experience is made better with fun gameplay hooks, like using a Sky-Line rail transit and super powers.

bioshock-1Infinite offers a rollercoaster of excitement as the player literally rides around on rollercoasters. Like any good ride, it starts with a familiar, slow, upwards climb. Players arrive in Columbia as Booker DeWitt. Much of the beginning of the game takes place in standard first person shooter combat arenas: large rooms or open spaces with variable cover points. The player can strafe in and out of cover, shooting with one of the two carried weapons. Standard enemies in Infinite drop with just a couple of shots. This makes the combat a bit easy in the early goings, but is certainly preferable to Bioshock 1’s zap and bop combat against bullet sponges.

Eventually, combat in Infinite opens way up. The Sky-Line rail system can be attached to simply by pointing at it and jumping. You’ll whisk dozens of feet towards it (magnets!) and then proceed to zip along using a hand-held skyhook (also your melee weapon). Controlling the throttle or traveling in the other direction are single button presses. Booker can score headshots, melee enemy riders, or even dismount onto targeted enemies below, dealing great damage to them. The traditional FPS combat arena size becomes a small piece in a much larger puzzle. Each links together with the Sky-Line, while also interacting with each other. One might provide high ground to another, while another section might give better cover or health recovery items. Meanwhile, enemies will spawn at various points throughout the map, and use the same transit system. This brings an epic scope to each conflict as everything is always in flux. Booker doesn’t just fight through a level, he fights around the entire environment traveling to any *point* at any *time*.

bioshock-2Unfortunately, due to the game’s default medium difficulty being a bit easy, it never forces you to utilize your mobility. You can just wait in a corner, shooting people as they approach. This isn’t nearly as fun, and inexcusable as the skyhook has at most a two minute learning curve. The developers sought to let you play any way you want, but this does not lead to natural experimentation to overcome obstacles. Player motivation must act as the agent to see the difference between “effective” and “holy f@#! did you see what I just did?!” Since the penalty for death is so minimal, the player might as well go gung ho.

My Booker never once cowered in a corner waiting for shields to recharge.

Instead, he was shooting crows from his hands to torment entire squads of enemies. And then he would set those crows on fire.

bioshock-4It’s not all fire crows or possessed automatons with chainguns, however, as Bioshock Infinite delivers a fantastic SciFi journey on the story front. Discovery is a key aspect, so I cannot really say anything. Like Bioshock before it, the fantasy of a city in the clouds is a mystery slowly rationalized with hard SciFi. Almost every aspect of the universe is slowly explained. Like the plasmids and the New Year’s Eve Riots of Bioshock 1, to the Tears and Comstock’s motivations in Infinite, answers will be delivered; at first subtly inferred then fully explained. There are a few open questions I have, from potentially missed audiologs, but the plot has a similar pacing to Bioshock 1. What felt completely mysterious at the beginning is as clear as day by the end. While there is plenty to analyze or discuss, this isn’t an open-ended mess. There won’t be the misinterpretation or confusion as seen with Far Cry 3 or Mass Effect 3. Bioshock Infinite has one of the best endings I’ve seen. I guess that’s what you get when you tell Ken Levine he made a crappy ending; he decides to school the entire industry.

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However, it is best to temper expectations. For every positive thing Bioshock Infinite does, there is a negative criticism I can levy against it. The new two weapon system makes each weapon viable but also disposable. It doesn’t as much matter what you carry into a battle as they all kinda just get the job done. You’ll grow to have a preference, but never a favorite as you’ll have to eventually give it up to get something with more ammo. They don’t grow with personality as you upgrade them. While artistically amazing, technically Infinite isn’t that impressive. It’s nothing compared to the jaw dropping beauty found in Bioshock 1‘s introduction plane crash and submerging to Rapture back in 2007. Also, there is no corollary introduction by an Andrew Ryan to really set the mood. The slow burn beginning scenes serve their purpose well, but Ryan’s speech will forever be burned into my memory and there isn’t anything quite like that here. Bioshock Infinite might be good, but it is not infallible. However, none of its faults hindered a moment of enjoyment. Even at its lowest point (for me, the Hall of Heroes), I was still having a blast. It’s just a damn good video game.

So go play it. Or don’t. I already have, and I probably will again.

About Aaron Phokal

Aaron is a staff writer for Splitkick.
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