Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Before my review:
I am pigeonholed into a caste of people that love the original BioShock. The telltale signs are there; I prefer atmospheric single player games to multiplayer romps, I like games that feature audio logs, and I consider myself an elitist when it comes to video games. At least a little.
But when BioShock comes up and everyone picks the winning side, I always said “Nay, that games doesn’t tickle my chords.” I played it for a bit and dropped it a little bit after the first encounter with a Big Daddy, thinking I didn’t need to play that one.
As it became evident that BioShock would be a lasting classic, I grew curious and gave the sequel a try. I grew disillusioned once again, not factoring that the original developer wasn’t present for that one.
Then word of Infinite came along and there was an audible ruckus in the gaming world. When it came to their pocketbooks, gamers were planning their purchases (laying down pre-orders even), but there was always a chunk of change set aside for Infinite. Back when GAMElitist was still buzzing with activity, I followed BioShock Infinite and its cast of characters, taking the time to look at recording sessions and picking apart interviews just to scratch a curious itch that never left me from the first game; Was the first game really that good? and Should I give the series a third chance?
The actual review:
Stepping into BioShock Infinite was just as jarring as when I first gave BioShock a go.
A mysterious entrance preluded the experience, questions were unanswered and simultaneously unimportant. The game felt no need for introductions or actual backstory. Here I was, dropped into a world without a narrator to prod me along. My only clue around the world would be the winding path forward and some text announcing what button would open the door or use the object I was facing.
We as gamers think nothing strange when presented with games that don’t explain themselves. We’ll figure it out, as we always do. Gameplay is gameplay. That sort of thing.
BioShock Infinite is a soothing game at first. Before meeting Elizabeth, your journey is straightforward and your world, Columbia, makes sense. Save the girl, repay the debt, beat the game. Without giving anything away, I will say that Infinite does a great job of putting gamers in their place, it taught me a sort of respect that I mostly reserved for books that caught me at the perfect time in my life, except I was fully experiencing it firsthand. The anguish that I felt wasn’t just a character’s in a page or on a screen, it was mine because I thought I knew how the world (Columbia) worked. I thought I was just playing a game for entertainment and nothing more.
The most visually striking thing about Infinite is its use of light shafts. It looks so good that I feel robbed that more games don’t have the same effect in their indoor scenes. The light shafts reveal dust floating around in a room, something that we’re accustomed to seeing in real life but not reproduced in our entertainment. Other than that though, Infinite is fairly modest with its eye candy, impressing the player mostly at key points where a large structure would collapse or a zeppelin would crash. Scale and the destruction of that scale, that’s how BioShock Infinite handles eye-candy.
The sound design was spot on, just as I reckoned it would be. The impurities of past recording technology mixing with the future and infused with pseudo-magic. Haunting, beautiful, whatever it needs to be and whenever it needs to be.
Certainly, there are a lot of audio logs to go through in this game, a welcome trope we’ve come to accept in modern campaign-oriented games. I liked how the audio logs would not play unless instructed, a welcome change from the norm of playing automatically as you pick it up, even if you happen to be in a firefight. Speaking of, the combat music in BioShock Infinite is responsive, sharp sounds and booms will play as you fire shotgun rounds into enemies. It creates a tempo that is rewarding to the player, it’s about as satisfying as getting 100% on a song in Guitar Hero. It’s a part of the game that is immediately amazing.
Now one thing that turned me off from the original BioShock was the sluggishness of combat. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong but I felt like every battle was rudimentary, use the weapon that had the most ammo and use my favorite plasmid every now and then, taking care to pull out the electro plasmid whenever I could exploit water. With the airy environments that Infinite provided as a shooting gallery, I felt free to use most anything at any time to dispatch enemies. Everything was equally valid, save for the occasional need to snipe a far-off assailant. The powers (Vigors this time around) that were afforded to me were exciting, and not just a different element of attack to shoot at people.
I can’t talk about BioShock Infinite without talking about Elizabeth, seemingly the most important character of the game. It’s not secret that she acts as a companion for the 14 or so hours that the game lasts. Elizabeth is also the embodiment of the protagonist’s (and consequently the player’s) understanding of Columbia, the story, and the world at large. Yet as things get clearer, they get fuzzier.
Regardless, Elizabeth keeps the story fluid and moving, she sets the pace for the player. At first she skips around, curious and appreciative of the world around her. She undergoes emotional shifts as events unfold giving real reason for continued play of the game, instead of a paltry need to squeeze the entertainment out of the price tag. Her words are glimmers of encouragements during combat, a bulwark against the rapid advances, bullets and unfair advantages that the enemy employs. Elizabeth evens the odds, acting as a true ally even if she doesn’t actually deal damage herself. Her skill at opening tears (think time-holes that give access to supplies) is addicting to utilize. So much so that when separated from Elizabeth, I felt much more vulnerable, scared even.
I throw around the word ‘experience’ a lot, as a way to say that I lived a game. I will now say that I have never lived a game as much as I lived BioShock Infinite in the 15 or so hours that I played it.
BioShock Infinite is a great game. I feel pretty good in considering it the greatest game. It’s expertly designed and lovingly crafted, where every chink in its presentation is simply imperceptible. Columbia as a whole feels infinite. My one gripe is that Comstock (the game’s antagonist) doesn’t have a clear motivation for his actions. In a sense, he’s just crazy. I don’t feel like he deserves his spot as the big boss.
That aside, I sincerely believe that no modern game collection is complete without a copy of BioShock Infinite. Pick it up if you haven’t already.