BioShock Infinite is a bold and innovative game, drawing all the perfect and memorable elements from its predecessors whilst making some special ones of its own. Merging adaptive combat with a gripping storyline and a rich environment, Irrational Games have developed a truly magnificent game that pushes the franchise forward, develops and adds to the FPS genre and is, above all else, stupidly good fun.
The game opens in a pleasing rehash of the original BioShock opening, welcoming Rapture explorers back with familiar damp arms and exposing new gamers to the way things are done in a BioShock game. Once in the cloud-top city of Columbia you begin to realize the scale of BioShock Infinite. The city is alive with characters and events, fireworks are going off in the distance and an airborne parade is floating by. You wander the streets, soaking up the busy setting, until you come to a crowd and a stage. This is where Infinite really kicks in. After being faced with a moral decision, which hints towards racist and political undertones, you’re plunged into gruesome skyhook-based melee combat against the police of Columbia. This initial bout of combat hits you hard with visceral execution moves not so far from Killzone’s iconic ones, setting the aggressive and dark tone we all want and expect from a BioShock game.
The game continues to impress with the vigors; these are similar to the genetic altering plasmids that made BioShock the stand out franchise it is today. Many of the classic abilities have remained, such as electricity and fire, and are all easily accessible through a sleek cog-design wheel menu. New abilities such as Possession (giving you the ability to control turrets and people) and Return to Sender (Matrix styled bullet stopping) bring whole new dynamics to the combat of the game. Another interesting addition is the ability to turn basically all the vigors into types of traps by charging them for a bit, particularly useful against larger enemies when their movements are more predictable and ammo is low. Unlike Rapture however, where Plasmids were at the core of the storyline, Vigors feel very out of place in Columbia, as their presence is never truly explained.
Something else that feels slightly out of place is the civil war that rages on the streets of Columbia. Both the Vox Populi and The Founders represent very different political ideologies and add a wider meaning to the story of Infinite in terms of tackling cultural issues. As you play as Booker DeWitt, a neutral party in Columbia, you’d expect an opportunity to pick a side would arise. Instead you keeping finding yourself bouncing between missions set by both sides like a proverbial ping-pong ball. This disables you from creating any real emotional attachment to either faction and you end up not really caring about what either of them do. Arguably though this isn’t a bad thing, as it means you focus on Columbia’s crown jewel. Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is the gooey caramel center of Infinite, you’re tasked with retrieving her from Columbia to wipe away some sort of debt, however upon meeting her you start to discover that there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye. She has the ability to open tears in time and space, drawing things through these tears or alternatively putting things in them. This ability is the focal point of Infinite’s narrative and causes all sorts of events, such as the raising of the dead and interdimensional adventures. Her ability to create ‘tears’ also adds another layer of variation to combat, as you’re able to bring things such as gun turrets and ammo to the firefights. As the game progresses you become incredibly familiar with the tears and develop your own methods of using them to your advantage, making combat a really unique and thrilling experience.
Elizabeth also aids you by scavenging Columbia whilst she merrily skips along behind you; the items she finds are subsequently pelted at you with inhuman precision. At first you worry that her aid would be distracting from gunning down the inept members of Columbia PD, however it’s actually really helpful. Elizabeth will intelligently offer you health, salts, ammo and money if she has found any, and if you need it and only then. You can always rudely decline her offer too if you’re more of the lone wolf type as the option disappears after a few seconds. Her intelligent AI doesn’t stop there; Elizabeth will also point out other items of interest such as lock picks and will even hint at points of exploration. She never gets in the way either, she always keeps up and never blocks you in a corner, which is small but vital details for a constant companion. We’ve all reloaded a save once or twice because of corner entrapment thanks to over friendly AI companions. Your incapability to open any kind of locked door is even solved by Elizabeth who, thanks to years of imprisonment, has developed impeccable breaking and entering skills. As if time and space manipulation wasn’t enough.
The writing behind BioShock Infinite really shines when communicating with Elizabeth, as the exchanges between DeWitt and her are incredibly natural and fluid. She develops throughout the game from a timid captive to a powerful young woman, even with a giant mechanical bird stalking her. Songbird is Elizabeth’s protector who gets pretty mad when you rescue her. He’s built much like a flying Big Daddy and follows the same steam suit design, but proves to be much more full on what with piercing screeches and eerie illuminating eyes. Sadly, as awesome as Songbird is, he doesn’t play a particularly large role in gameplay, much like the anticipated Boys of Silence or the Handymen, whom also make only short lived appearances. Other enemies are more prominent and make up the bulk of heavy resistance, such as the Mechanized Patriots, machines armed with mini guns and built to look like previous American Presidents (although sadly no Obamatrons coming through any tears).
Even with the original enemy designs and interesting vigor combinations combat still has its flaws. With so much going on it can often result in incredibly hectic firefights that can be quite frustrating at times, especially when you keep getting killed by a sniper you can’t see. Thankfully the skillful integration of sky-lines saves combat; you’re able to latch on to a Sky-Line and gain a height advantage or escape a losing battle. You can also perform excellent sky-hook kills from a sky-line that helps to pick off the stronger enemies. The sky-lines make Infinite feel much more open than you would expect and you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to tactical options and exploration. Although linear at its heart, you can quite easily get lost in the streets of Columbia.
The aforementioned narrative is strong, but also flawed only by its brilliance. The story has more going on behind the scenes than you would imagine and it’s only after meticulously listening to all of the discovered Voxophones (audio logs) that you see the bigger picture. Much like BioShock, Infinite builds you up to a huge twist that hits you like a freight train, however this time the impact is slightly dampened by confusion. Much of the interdimensional travelling leaves the player at a slight loss, meaning aspects of the ending are incredible whilst others are just incomprehensible. The ending is something that will definitely spark many forum debates and will probably require a few play throughs or weeks of meditation to fully understand and appreciate.
Even with its difficulty with coherence and combat fluidity, Infinite really is the sequel BioShock originally deserved. It’s storyline remains cleverly similar to the original, yet fresh. The mechanics are well developed, character designs are intriguingly original, and the AI for Elizabeth is hugely impressive. Juxtaposing scenarios from playing a guitar in a cellar sing-along to melting an unsuspecting Columbia resident gives you that feeling only something as extraordinary as a BioShock game could ever deliver.
This review was based on a final version of the game provided by 2K Games
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