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.
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).
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.”
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.
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.