Published on April 13th, 2013 | by Cameron Woolsey
BioShock Infinite Review
Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: Shooter, action/adventure
Platforms: Xbox 360 [reviewed], PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt.
Have you ever wanted to erase a mistake in your past so much that you would go through hell and back to remove that weight forever from your shoulders? When Booker DeWitt was given the ability to wipe the slate clean, he jumped at the chance. His mysterious client(s) only asked for one thing: “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt.”
In BioShock: Infinite, the year is 1912, and DeWitt finds himself in a place all too familiar to BioShock fans. In the opening act he follows his predecessor’s footsteps as he is transported to a lighthouse amid rough seas. But unlike the hero of Irrational’s original narrative-driven shooter, DeWitt’s destination takes an opposite turn. Instead of the waters of Rapture, DeWitt’s destination is up into the clouds, where the majestic city of Columbia, held aloft by quantum levitation and balloons, awaits.
In some ways, Columbia is the polar opposite of Rapture. Yes, there is that whole “submerged in water” thing. But the differences, at first, are obvious. The citizens of Columbia live their lives in the splendor of the bright sun. The chemical augmentations, called vigors instead of BioShock’s plasmids, have not turned the minds of the populous to ruin. The people, at first, welcome DeWitt with no obvious curiosity, as he seems to be merely a man going about his business. But as all things must go, a marking on DeWitt’s hand pegs him as the “False Shepard,” an evil being of prophecy, and he finds himself at war with Columbian authorities as he sets off on his task.
Columbia’s exterior glows with American exceptionalism, with red, white and blue flags fluttering away in the breeze while marble statues of the country’s founding fathers dot the city. However, there is no presence felt more strongly than that of Zachary Hale Comstock, the leader of the religious group, the Founders, and the architect of Columbia.
To the citizens, Comstock is a prophet with the gift of foresight. Called “Father Comstock” or “the Prophet,” Comstock is the most powerful man in Columbia, and he hinders DeWitt’s progress at every pass. Comstock’s ability to foretell the future is uncanny, and he is seemingly able to predict DeWitt’s actions as well as those who threaten Columbia’s well being. But is his ability to see glimpses of the future a gift from a higher power? DeWitt’s investigations during the course of the campaign begin to reveal that there is something more to Comstock than meets the eye.
After Elizabeth’s rescue it quickly becomes clear to DeWitt that she is not an ordinary woman. Elizabeth can create tears — rips in dimensional time and space — that she and DeWitt utilize during certain moments in the game. The worlds she opens reveal alternate realities. Too many details about tears may spoil the story, but just know that time and space play a heavy role in the story behind BioShock Infinite. DeWitt and Elizabeth travel through different dimensions, and often what they find is darker and more dangerous than what they expect.
Columbia is a massive city built of white stone, high in the sky where it floats among the clouds, and the sight is simply gorgeous. Where BioShock impressed gamers with its manipulation of water, BioShock Infinite is a stunning lesson in how light can impact the way gamers experience a digital world. The lighting engine in Infinite is hands down one of the most spectacular I have witnessed in gaming. Stepping out into the sunlight as it streams through clouds and reflects off the white city walls caused me to pause many times, often forcing myself to resist the urge to squint my eyes. Not everything about the graphics engine is as pure, though Close-ups of ground textures can be an ugly sight, and some character animations could have been more fluid. But if there is any aspect to the graphics that will be remembered, it will definitely be Irrational’s masterful use of light and shadow.
Upgrades come in the form of Gear — articles of clothing with augmentative properties. Gear can be found scattered throughout the game, some of which are hidden behind locked doors that Elizabeth can open. DeWitt can carry wear four pieces of gear at once, covering the head, body, torso and feet. They provide DeWitt with many different abilities such as infusing vigor powers into melee attacks, provide full recovery at death or create a vigor-fused defensive barrier. Another form of upgrade is the Infusion Potion, which allows players to add one point into either health, shields or Salt capacity.
Gameplay in Infinite closely mimics prior titles in the series. The powers granted by vigors allow DeWitt to rain elemental and psychokinetic fire upon enemies. Players should find many of the powers familiar to their BioShock counterparts. For example, Shock Jockey, like Electro Bolt, allows DeWitt to fire a bolt of lightening; Return to Sender absorbs and fires incoming enemy damage similar to Telekinesis; and Murder of Crows unleashes feathery death, instead of a swarm of insects, to anything standing in the way.
Each of the nine total vigors can be leveled once by purchasing an upgrade using the game’s currency, the Silver Eagle, at vending machines throughout the game. Charging the vigor allows DeWitt to utilize its secondary attack. For example, the Devil’s Kiss allows DeWitt to lob volleys of fireballs at enemies, while charging it and releasing it on the ground creates an explosive trap. Hacking has been replaced by the Possession vigor, the first power you receive in the game. Possession can temporarily take control of gun turrets or cause vending machines to spill some cash. The upgraded version of Possession allows DeWitt to take over the mind of a human enemy, who will fight for his side for a time before committing suicide. Vigors have a limited use, signified by a blue meter, but can be replenished by stocking up on Salts (the equivalent of EVE), found either scattered in the environment in vials, bought at vendors or available from replenishing machines.
DeWitt can use vigors simultaneously with regular weaponry. The weapons are your typical stock: shotgun, pistol, machine gun, as well as long-range options such as the carbine and sniper rifles. Vending machines will allow you to upgrade certain aspects of the weapons including damage or accuracy, but the augmentations are not visible, which is disappointing considering the vast and creative steam punk modifications from the original game. Fighting in Infinite is fast and streamlined, and feels more akin to the quick pace of many modern shooters such as Call of Duty.
Pacing isn’t the only thing that makes me draw this conclusion, as DeWitt is only able to carry two weapons at one time, so get used to hot-swapping guns. Another addition is a recharging shield that deflects a small amount of damage before breaking. Beyond that, the AI of the enemies is not that impressive, as most of them seemed to either stand in place during battles or charge straight at DeWitt. On Normal difficulty, the majority of battles will be too easy for veteran shooter fans. I found that most fights that didn’t include a larger, armored enemy to be lacking in much challenge at all.
The challenge only amps up during large-scale battles, or when powerful archetypal enemies become involved. Two such enemies, the Handyman, a large, armored foe with a glowing heart as its weak spot, and the motorized patriot, a machine taking the form of one of America’s founders (usually Washington) and wielding a Pepper-Mill Gatling gun, stand as replacement for the big daddies, but they are not as fun to fight nor do I believe they will become as iconic.
Though the game is essentially one long escort mission after the rescue of Elizabeth, don’t worry, she is far more capable than the “baggage” gamers have personally hefted through some titles (looking your way, Resident Evil). Elizabeth is able to hold her own during fights, and ends up being surprisingly useful. During a battle she will sometimes offer DeWitt fresh ammunition when the gun he is using runs low. Her ability to create tears comes in handy as well, giving DeWitt tactical advantage by warping in weapons, turrets, walls, friendly motorized patriots and more. She can only bring one item at a time into the plane, so strategy is key. Out of combat, Elizabeth will wander about and collect money for DeWitt.
One tool that changes up the often dull battles is the Sky-Hook, which is given to DeWitt early on in the game. Its typical use throughout Columbia is to allow its user to ride the Sky-Line, a series of metal rails used for transportation throughout the city. Hitching a ride on the Sky-Line is one of the many joys of Infinite. Players can speed up or slow down as they fly along the rails, but, man, is it fun to go fast. Combining audio and motion blur, moving quickly along the Sky-Line is akin to riding a roller coaster, something that occasionally caused me to verbally make “woo!” noises as I played.
In some fights, DeWitt can take advantage of an existing Sky-Line to move around the battlefield. Jumping off the line is as easy as indicating where you want DeWitt to land by moving a green circle on the ground. Landing on an enemy will give you either an instant kill if the opponent is weak, or dish out large damage against a stronger foe. Some pieces of gear can, on landing from the Sky-Line, increase the damage dealt, cause a shock wave that knocks enemies to their feet or create a temporary shield.
The Sky-Hook can also be used as a melee weapon. Enemies that have been weakened to near death can be killed with a finishing move, initiated by holding down melee.
The combat may be dull, but remember, this is BioShock, and like its predecessors, Infinite will remembered more for its story narrated by the exceptional characters. The narrative between DeWitt and Elizabeth will end up being a favorite among gamers. An ex-Pinkerton agent, DeWitt has experienced some of the worst that life has to offer. Unlike protagonists of previous games, DeWitt has a voice and he does not shy away from speaking his mind. He is sullen, driven and harbors secrets he doesn’t intend to share. Almost a polar opposite, Elizabeth is naive and curious, but not a fool. She is resourceful and intelligent, and her caring demeanor takes a toll on DeWitt, whose life-hardened armor begins to chip away against Elizabeth’s sense of moral right. The characters work well together and their interactions ending up being among my favorite moments of the game. To me, it is the human touches like the scene where DeWitt plays an acoustic guitar while Elizabeth sings to a frightened orphan boy, earning his trust just enough to offer him food, that shine far more brightly than any deafening action sequence.
Throughout the game, DeWitt and Elizabeth are hunted by the Songbird, the massive winged guardian that has kept Elizabeth a prisoner in her tower all her life. But Songbird’s role has been minimalized from the developer’s initial plan, which was to make it a key figure that was meant to not only drive the story, but influence how Elizabeth treats DeWitt. The Songbird, instead, is only revealed during key plot points, with its most pivotal role played only at the end of the game. This prevents Songbird from being the feared, omnipresent force that was revealed when first details of Infinite began to emerge. While the game ultimately gets along just fine without its intervention, it’s unfortunate to see Songbird’s best performing piece wind up as just the game’s swan song.
Progressing through the story soon reveals that, unsurprisingly, Columbia is not as pristine as it seems. Peeling away the gold leaf reveals the truth: Columbia is a social powder keg, and DeWitt’s arrival and subsequent interference is the catalyst that soon sets it off. I have played games that have featured discrimination against races before — think Dragon’s Age or The Elder Scrolls series. But I have never played a game that embraced social issues as much as BioShock Infinite. Bigotry, classism and institutional racism permeate the deceptively clean city. Yes, even Columbia is not free of segregation and the allusions of white supremacy that existed in that tumultuous time. I expect most gamers to view the issues through an unfiltered lens, but I wonder how they will react in certain moments where morality is tested. The revolutionary group, the Vox Populi (voice of the people), are made up of lower-class citizens who have grown tired of Comstock’s oppression. They play a key role near the end of the game, as DeWitt has no choice but to help them in order to find means of transport out of Columbia. Vox-specific weapons also appear later in the game, such as the repeater, the Vox’s take on the machine gun, and the Heater, which fires a single shot of super heated pellets that can set fire to anyone not killed by the initial shot.
Party like its 1999
There is no multiplayer, and depending on your opinion on BioShock 2‘s take at the game mode, this revelation may not upset you. Instead, completing the game unlocks 1999 Mode, so named for the year in which System Shock 2, a pop culture hit shooter that several members of Irrational Games worked on, was released. The mode amps up the difficulty, requiring players to make permanent specialization decisions, such as proficiency with weapon types. The mode also challenges players to plan ahead in how money is spent, as drawing a zero in your bank account means starting over at the last checkpoint.
While not perfect by any means, BioShock Infinite still stands as one of the year’s finest games, and an easy contender for Game of the Year. The game provides an excellent story, rich with clever narrative and meaningful social devices.
With a game like Infinite, one of the most important topics will be how everything gets wrapped up in the end. Well, without spoiling anything I can say that I did not expect the game to end in the way it did. And yet I loved it. Somehow Irrational Games manages to tie up the entire franchise with one big bow. Yes, there are connections to the original BioShock, but not in ways you will predict. But believe me, it’s good. I feel that the end of the game will no doubt cause many gamers to rush to the forums to read theories as well as provide their own.
BioShock Infinite did not end up as great as I had hoped, but my 16-hour journey through game will not be soon forgotten. Beautiful, engaging and fun, the trip to the flying city of Columbia is well worth the visit.
+ Incredible lighting
+ Great characters
+ Solid story and quality narration
+ Stunning ending that will keep gamers theorizing for a while
+ 1999 Mode gives gamers more reason to play
– Easy, often dull combat