Review: BioShock Infinite

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BioShock Infinite is a game I’ve been waiting for since first seeing it on the cover of Game Informer Magazine in October 2010. It’s hard to believe that I first began tracking this game just as I moved to Florida and now, finally, I’ve been able to play it. Having been so excited to play it for so long, waiting through two delays, it’s exciting to finally be able to share this game with other BioShock fans.

Here are my reactions to BioShock Infinite, with a non-spoiler look at the general gameplay and technical aspects of the game on page one, and in-depth spoilers on page 2.

Game Design and Story

Without spoiling anything, I can say that BioShock Infinite is quite different than BioShock and BioShock 2 in regards to story and game design.

The city of Columbia in BioShock Infinite has a very open feel to it, as opposed to the claustrophobia-inducing Rapture in the earlier games. This is achieved in multiple ways. First, the setting is bright and free, floating in the clouds, as opposed to a dark, underwater city.

Second, the world is more open in BioShock Infinite, with a freedom to explore that isn’t as linearly dictated as it was in earlier games. Not to say that you can go anywhere at any time, but it’s less of a structured path through the game. Of course, there are drawbacks to this, as sometimes (often while traveling via Sky-Line) I found myself lost and unsure of where to go next.

While on the topic of getting lost, I missed the Vita-Chambers in earlier incarnations of the franchise. If you died, you knew exactly where you would respawn. In BioShock Infinite you never knew quite where you would respawn. After respawning I was often disoriented, and would end up unknowingly walking straight back into battle unprepared. Or, in one case, I ended up walking in the opposite direction of my goal, which wasted a lot of time.

Third, the characters are presented more openly in BioShock Infinite than they were in earlier games. The player characters in the first two games didn’t speak (with the exception of Jack at the very beginning of the game). In BioShock Infinite, Booker DeWitt talks up a storm, often conversing with himself before meeting up with the chatty Elizabeth.

The story also focuses very much on the characters of Booker, Elizabeth, and others, as opposed to the earlier BioShock games, which were focused on the environment. While there is plenty to “Ooh” and “Aah” about in Columbia, the meat of the story resides in our main characters and their various conflicts.

 

Themes

Without getting too deep into the story, I do need to mention that BioShock Infinite is a disturbing game. Players of the original games won’t be as shocked; after all, they’re classified as survival horror games. However BioShock Infinite doesn’t neatly fit in that category.

The horror of BioShock Infinite doesn’t come from creepy things that jump out at you. Instead, this game horrifies by being absolutely, graphically politically incorrect. With a core of religious zealotry (which is so realistic that it prompted at least one player to demand a refund), this game deals with xenophobia, racism, oppression, and hypocrisy. While early trailers hinted at a story revolving around a political rivalry, the finished product is much darker (sorry, Staltonstall).

staltonstall

Staltonstall was featured in an early trailer for the game. Click for his cameo in the finished game (SPOILER).

This story is going to make you feel icky. That’s the point. It sometimes helps to repeat, “It’s only a game. It’s only a game.”

CREEPY…

Graphics and Audio

The graphics in this game are some of the best I’ve seen. I played BioShock Infinite on a PC, so I can’t really speak to the graphics quality on PS3 or Xbox 360.

BioShock Infinite’s use of the Unreal Engine 3 makes the world incredibly realistic (for a floating city). The environment changes dynamically, which adds to the ambiance of the city in the clouds, but also puts a huge strain on the computer’s CPU. My gaming laptop, able to play anything I’ve thrown at it so far, sometimes struggled with the technical needs of BioShock Infinite during large battles. However, even on a low graphics setting, the game still looked gorgeous.

If you’re looking to play on PC, be warned that you need a very good graphics processor and cooling system. Trust me, the last thing you want during pivotal scenes is for your CPU to overheat and shut the system down. If you have a desktop system you’ll probably fare a bit better than me. (I now have a cooling pad for my laptop and will be playing on a higher graphics setting the next time around.)

I have heard that the audio quality on the PC version of the game is superior to the consoles. If you can, play BioShock Infinite on PC with a good pair of headphones. The audio is crisp, clear, and highly directional. You can tell exactly where another character is when they’re speaking, even if they’re behind you. Hooking up a PC to a TV with surround sound speakers is just as nice.

 

Battle Mechanics

BioShock Infinite is set up much in the same way as the earlier games with Vigors (called Plasmids in earlier games) in the left hand and a weapon in the right. In addition, you can melee with the Skyhook in a way that is totally bloody and terrible. It quickly became my favorite battle method (not because I’m a psychopath, but because I have terrible aim).

The Vigors were very interesting, with each of them being extremely different. There’s a Vigor or two to compliment every game play style. I found myself gravitating towards Undertow (to compliment my melee obsession) and Possession (to make everyone else do my dirty work).

Unfortunately I’m one of those FPS gamers who says, “Guns are guns,” so this next part probably isn’t going to win me any awards for accuracy. Get it? Because I’m a horrible shot.

BioShock Infinite has your usual array of guns: machine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, a grenade launcher, and a bunch of others that are slight variations on those themes. The sniper rifle is a very good friend at certain times throughout the game. When confronted with a crowd of enemies, the ability to hide behind cover and pick them off one by one is essential for survival. You can only carry two weapons at a time, but there are so many discarded weapons in the streets of Columbia that you don’t have to look far to find what you need. There might not be any baby strollers with pistols in them, but it’s not rare to find an RPG in someone’s living room.

Despite earlier trailers for the game, Elizabeth doesn’t augment your Vigors with ones of her own. Instead, she uses her own special abilities (discussed on the spoiler page) to help you out in battle. She actively searches out health packs, salt (to recharge Vigors), and ammo, and will toss them to you. She’s an immense help when you’re almost dead or have run out of ammo. Also, she takes care of herself in battle, so you don’t feel like the game is one long escort mission. I’m not sure how she manages to Matrix herself between bullets, but she’s practically invincible.

I felt as though the center of the game became a bit too battle-heavy. It feels as though the progression of the story suffers as you’re constantly fighting wave after wave of enemies. Perhaps this tactic is being used to make the game take longer so the player feels as though they’re getting more from it. After all, the game is a shooter. However, there can be too much of a good thing, and the constant fighting ended up becoming tedious. (Specific examples on the next page.)

 

Overall, BioShock Infinite has been a phenomenal game. It’s a very likely candidate for 2013 Game of the Year. It is second on my list of favorite games right beneath Batman: Arkham City (AC made me cry. Infinite didn’t.) If you haven’t gotten this game yet and are even the tiniest bit interested, please do so. It’s really that good.

If you’ve already finished the game, go on to page 2 for some in-depth spoiler discussion.

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Mary Knize, Captain Painway, "C-Pain", and formerly Mary Staggs, was Panels on Pages' May 2010 Fangirl of the Month and is a former rollergirl. When she's not busy writing, she's probably playing a video game. She also loves Wikipedia and science.

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Comments (6)

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  1. Arsenal says:

    I have played the game 3 times. Once on normal, once to get all the collectibles and then 1999 mode, and every time I notice new things that add to how amazing the game is. The AI of Elizabeth is fantastic, she pouts, glares and stands with her arms crossed when after a scene where she is mad at you, after another event she stands with shoulders slumped. Her body language was amazing for a computer game. Plus the little things she does, on the beach you can get her to skip stones on the water, and she will cross the arms and give a flower to a corpse in a different part. I was just amazed at the effort they put in to her.

    As for the fight that you talked about giving you trouble, upgraded charge, killed it in 10 seconds per fight on 1999 mode. It helped having gear that made melee hits start people on fire and overkill and blood to salt was just over powered.

    This game I think was better then Arkham City, honestly this game is as close to perfect as most games can get. And the ending I did tear up to a little, but I think being a parent would be a reason why.

    • Ignore the Wade behind the curtain says:

      I’ve never understood the high praise this game gets. It’s a decent game but feels like a standard fps with some bells and whistles thrown in a lot of times. To be fair the little things tossed in did help though. The twins were pretty funny, the modern day music that plays here and there in the world made the ending all the more interesting. In short, it was alright.

      • Arsenal says:

        I think it is the shooting that takes away from it. The combat is more or less standard unless you put the effort into building a vigor using character or really work on being a skyline assassin.

        What made it so great for me is everything outside of the combat.

        • Mary Staggs says:

          This. Like I said, I was pretty frustrated with the combat. That is, until I really started using vigors regularly. For the first half of the game I rarely used them. Once I did, it was more fun. (Except for that terrible fight I talked about.)

          I also agree that it’s the story that makes the game.

          The gear that set people on fire with melee hits was my favorite. I missed blood to salt, so I need to find that the next time through.

          • Arsenal says:

            Blood to salt is a game changer, my 1999 set was

            burning halo
            Overkill
            blood to salt
            brittle skin.

            Then maxed out Charge by the fight that shall not be named (all you need is $2000 before you get to that part) and the fight was over in 10 seconds, upgraded charge added explosions and refilled you shields + invulnerability for a second, it was over powered.

  2. D-Rock says:

    I finally got to finish the game this week. Playing through it, I wasn’t overly amazed by the story. The plot has never really been the strong point of these games. The exchanges between Elizabeth and Booker were fun to watch, but again, nothing mindblowing. With that said, I loved the ending. I silently cheered when we saw the connection to the previous games, and the twists were enjoyable to see play out. I did miss quite a few voice recorders and sights, but I don’t think it’s worth going back through a second time. I got the gist.

    For combat, I mostly used the sniper rifle and switched regularly between inferno and shock depending on the enemy being human or mechanical. The firemen were tough at first until I figured out a good strategy for them, and those damn Handymen! ARRGH!! They were a complete pain in the ass until I discovered the joy of Crows.

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