So here we are, Bioshock Infinite. My most anticipated game of 2013. A lot has been expected from Infinite since it was being developed by Irrational, the original developers of Bioshock, probably one of the best first person shooters ever. So after completing the game, did it meet the expectations? Not only does it meet the standards and expectations set by the original Bioshock, it is an exceptional first person shooter game, a contender for game of the year and the absolute true sequel to Bioshock. Not Bioshock 2, this game.
So lets get the technical bits out of the way first before we delve into the story and gameplay. The game is absolutely gorgeous to look at and its mixture of cartoon like visual designs and realistic atmosphere gives it a timeless look. Columbia gives the same feeling of environmental immersion that Rapture did with Bioshock. It seems that Irrational really knows how to design a set world very well. I heard that the PC version has the best graphical and technical performance out of the three platforms because it has a more consistent frame rate. I don't know if the PC version has this problem but in the PS3 version, possibly the Xbox 360 version as well, in some instances when your in a combat situation, the game stops and loads for a few seconds then starts again, which ruins the gameplay flow quite considerably but fortunately, it only happened about twice or three times, predominantly on the busier combat levels later in the game.
Just to note, I will be comparing this game constantly with Bioshock by gameplay standards for justification. First we'll look at the multiplayer. Wait, what's that? A first person shooter that doesn't have any obligatory multiplayer and its overall quality is determined by its single player campaign? You have no idea how incredibly refreshing this is. In a gaming industry where most first person shooters must have a multiplayer, this is just a giant breeze of fresh air. Tell me, when was the last time you ever saw a first person shooter that didn't have any multiplayer on it, Co-op or competitive? Deux Ex Human Revolution maybe? Nah, that is more of a first person RPG and looking at its overall gameplay, won't even work as a multiplayer game. Infinite has the potential to be a multiplayer game, hell, even the developers thought of it but because of time constraints, it got axed and instead focused on the single player experience.
To thoroughly explain the gameplay, I need to talk about the story first. The game is set in 1912 in Columbia, a city in the sky controlled by a religious dictatorship and you are Booker DeWitt, a disgraced Pinkerton agent who is tasked to retrieve a girl to pay off his gambling debts. The girl, Elizabeth, has the power to open tears to different universes. That's all I'm going to say about the story because it's a story that deserves to be experienced by yourself and only yourself. Elizabeth will be the artificial intelligence that follows you around for the majority of the game. Her universe tear powers are not only integral to the story but the gameplay as well, particularly in combat. Elizabeth is a very interesting AI as she can hand you ammo, weapons, salts (an item that replenishes your powers) and money (non-combat only) when necessary and it flows with the combat very well. She never obstructs your path since she can appear and disappear in an appropriate area so that you don't get obstructed though it can be a bit strange since it looks ridiculously and hilariously implausible when she's now 10 feet behind you after she moves out of your way in less than a second. She also doesn't need protecting while in combat, which saves the game from being a giant escort mission and I know that no gamer likes that.
Bioshock Infinite's gameplay is at the same time similar and different to Bioshock. It has the same controls, the difference being that you can finally sprint and has the guns and power (called Vigors in this game) combination when in combat, mixing both for strategically taking down enemies. In combat, Infinite is a lot more action orientated, most combat areas having skylines that takes you around the battle ground and universe tears, which Elizabeth can use to accesse turrets, hooks, supply crates and covers from another universe and adds a unique dimension to the usual aim and shoot gameplay in an FPS. For powers, they are mostly used to turn the tide in battle, with powers that can lift enemies up in the air for easy shots or possessing them to turn against their allies. Infinite also has a unique clothing system called gears where different outfits can give different abilities like for example, your melee attacks has a chance of setting the enemy on fire. The overall combat of the game is very exciting and I was sceptical at first with the controls since I have been used to the standard FPS controls of today, the biggest change is that the iron sight button is not R3 anymore but it's an easy learning curve and it's rarely necessary to aim down the sights as it is a lot more exciting coming close and personal to an enemy, using both weapons and powers to defeat them. Skylines and hooks are great mechanics as it gives you flanking opportunities against tougher enemies and also gives a cinematic style of approaching combat situations. It is always awesome when you take down multiple enemies after flanking them by dropping from a skyline.
I do have some gripes with the gameplay itself, usually stemming from what the original Bioshock introduced. The combat can be a bit too easy when catering to the action. Elizabeth is pretty much your health, ammo and salt supply and while she only gives it when necessary, it is pretty much an infinite amount of supply, which does dumb down the tension slightly though it is rectified when pinned down in a gun fight with low health and low ammo and you are desperately hoping that Elizabeth will give you supplies. Some gear items are way too overpowered and convenient, which adds to the easiness of the combat and there is a lot of gears, I mean a lot. That is another problem since you'll only use the most important gears, which are the health enhancing gears and will rarely change gears unless strategy asks for it. While you have many powers at your disposal for strategies of taking enemies down, you only tend to stick to one power and one strategy. My usual strategy is to lift enemies in the air with the Bucking Bronco vigor then pick them off one by one with a shotgun. This is probably because even though there are many different types of enemies, there are two distinctive: those you can lift and those that you can't. The simplified use of powers also simplifies environmental strategies considerably like for example, there are some puddles and other water elements here and there to use the electricity power and shock multiple enemies but unfortunately, the power can be upgraded to shock multiple enemies in one single hit and renders the puddles completely obsolete, Bioshock's version can only hit one enemy at one time, giving puddles a purpose. Granted, Bioshock is set in an underwater city. I played this on normal difficulty so if you want a more visceral experience, I recommend a higher difficulty setting or 1999 mode. It would've been also been better if the powers can be used outside of combat like getting access to different areas, which in Infinite, is only used in one instance. Along with the powers, the weapon system is also quite simplified. Unlike in Bioshock and Bioshock 2 where you can carry many weapons, you can only carry two weapons and each can be swapped with scattered weapons in the environment. They are still customisable but it doesn't feel personal like in Bioshock where you can actually see what the weapon looks like after customising it. I do wished that Infinite kept the different ammo types as that could've added more strategy in taking down different enemies like for example, to kill a Handyman, which is the most difficult enemy in the game, only armour piercing rounds can kill it, making the combat more intense and frantic than usual.
Other than the gameplay gripes that I have with the game which the original Bioshock has a good advantage on, Infinite shines in its well paced, imaginative, morally challenging, mind twisting story and unforgettable characters. Booker DeWitt is one of the few first person characters to having a personality outside of the player's action and Elizabeth is probably one of the best female characters I've ever encountered in a video game, her voice actress is great and her characterisation and importance to the plot is just incredible. The story's themes of religion, politics, fate is endlessly fascinating and its cryptic plot points mixed with the multiverse aspect gives you a motivation to replay the game just to make sense of what is happening. The game doesn't pull any strings when it comes to evoking the racism, nationalism, rebellion and the importance and hypocrisies of religion found under a perfect utopian society. The ending, which I won't even dare spoil here (for spoilers, see side note at the end of the review), is one of the best endings I have ever seen in a game and you have to pay attention to the story to get the best feeling when it comes to the end. My problem, if I had to pick one from this amazing story, is that there are certain points where it gives you chosen decisions. The problem is that they are more cosmetic changes throughout the story and doesn't affect the plot one bit. Maybe its used as symbolism and if that's the case then it's not really a problem at all.
Don't let my complaints of the game discourage you from giving this game a chance, I only did it out of love for this game and the original Bioshock. When looking at the original Bioshock's level of standards and expectations, I expected Bioshock Infinite to be a story driven game with beautiful environments, challenging themes and overall good gameplay and that's what I fully got. From all the comparisons that I've made to the original Bioshock, overall I think Infinite is on the same level of quality in terms of what it was meant to deliver. Bioshock was more of a survival horror with claustrophobic environments and sneaky enemies, back tracking to different areas to gather scarce but useful resources such as ammo types and health, the story being a bit more subtle and open through its use of its environment. Infinite is an action game, meant for you to feel like a one man army going against aggressively open enemies, hitting them as hard as you can, the story being more linear and focused. It ascends from being a typical first person shooter by adding many interesting mechanics that both cater to the story and the gameplay from the skylines, universe tears, vigors and of course, Elizabeth's technically brilliant AI. The overall combat trumps most first person shooters out today and its incredible single player story is another proof that video games can be as engaging narrative mediums as films and books are. I implore you to buy this game at once and experience one of the best games to come out this year.
Challenging, compelling and just down right incredible story.
Elizabeth's characterisation and extremely competent AI.
Exciting, action orientated combat.
Gorgeous graphics and art design.
Imaginatively realised environments.
Could've used some elements from the original Bioshock to make the overall gameplay a bit more deeper.
Spoiler Alert! Read at your own risk
For those who have completed the game, check out this interesting article from Forbes which tries to dissect and understand the ambiguous ending of the game: Link