I was looking forward to Bioshock Infinite since it’s announcement and the début trailer all the way back in 2010. With three years of build-up and hype it wouldn’t be surprising if a lot of people were left disappointed, life and games have a way of doing that to you. This is especially true with Bioshock considering just how good the first two games were (with Bioshock 2 admittedly lacking some of the magic of the first). However, it’s pretty safe to say, judging by the reviews already done of the game, that Infinite has both met and surpassed people’s expectations and I am indeed amongst the ranks of those who absolutely bloody loved the game. It felt new, exciting and awesome and it was still very much Bioshock with all the trappings of gorgeous graphics, intense combat and tense atmosphere that were present in the first.
Set approximately 50 years before the previous Bioshocks, Infinite is set in the flying city of Columbia, a theocratic dictatorship underneath the iron fist of the Prophet Zachary Comstock. You play as one Booker DeWitt, previously a US Cavalryman and Pinkerton, and you are sent to Columbia to retrieve and rescue a girl called Elizabeth to “erase the debt”. If you are unsure what any of this means essentially if he was the sort of man to have business cards (which he ISN’T) they would say: “Booker DeWitt P.I. and Certified BADASS”. I went into the game thinking, like the previous instalments, that as soon as Booker set foot in the flying city he would find it a hazardous dystopian world where everything is broken and everyone is messed up. Instead, after arriving through the clouds you arrive in a surprisingly utopian city in which everything appears wonderful and happy. My second expectation, quickly following from the eradication of the first, was that the first hour or so would be a showcase of the city: a near blissful tour where Irrational Games would get to show off their wondrous creation before having things go wrong. Instead, after a short look around (which was indeed pretty blissful and wondrous) you are suddenly thrown head first into the action as things go from good to awful big-time-stylee. So with two of my predictions smashed right off the bat I would say that Bioshock Infinite was already surprising me.
The first thing which ought to be said is something that ought to be obvious from all the various gameplay trailers which exist for the game. Bioshock Infinite is absolutely gorgeous. As a console man I was playing it on the Xbox 360 and even on the old and cobwebby CPU present in that the game just looked outstanding. On a top of the line PC with the graphics up at maximum it must look just flawless, for all of the few seconds the computer could handle it before exploding.
The gameplay is really excellent too, the combination of “vigors” (aka the plasmids, aka MAGIC) and guns remains fantastic and allows for tactical planning as well as intense combat. It felt quick, punchy and aggressive, where it was always a do or die situation. The gameplay of Bioshock has always been one of it’s strong points and it remains an outstanding shooter. The addition to vigor traps where by holding down the button you could use twice the mana to place a trap of the vigor in question on the ground was actually surprisingly good. When it was introduced to me I remember thinking that it was going to be a “new for the sake of new” thing and I would likely never think about or use the traps. Well I was proved completely wrong and spent a fair portion of the game using a couple of the traps due to their massive strength. The enemies AI actually seems reasonably intelligent (for first person shooter AI at least) and are often fairly challenging. Playing on hard difficulty was, for the most part, never ridiculously difficult and hit that amazing spot where a game is challenging but not frustrating (except for the final boss fight which was just utterly ridiculous). Utilising the sky-rails was great fun too, it has to be said, and was a very nice addition to the game.
It is also far more tactical then it’s predecessors. Unlike the previous protagonists, Booker isn’t a superman and can only carry two of the variety of weapons at any one time. As well as this, money and ammunition are much harder to come by in Infinite. In the previous Bioshocks if you spent enough time off the beaten track and explored every bin and bag (or even just some of them) you could pretty much guarantee always having full ammo for EVERY gun you were carrying and having your money maxed at $500. In Infinite, with only two guns you always fight a losing battle to keep your gun stocked and then you have to quickly find something new. Plus while money isn’t exactly harder to come by, things are more expensive and there is stuff you need to really save for. Upgrading your guns and vigors in Infinite costs money and I mean A LOT of it. Enough so that I am certain that you could never buy every upgrade. This meant that you actually had to plan and think about which guns and which vigors you used the most, which were worth upgrading because you found them the most useful and which upgrades you would just have to forget about, and then you would have to make sure to go out of your way to keep stocked with ammo for those guns you upgraded.
One of the strongest selling points for Infinite (outside of being just generally awesome) was Elizabeth, the girl you have to rescue. With a ridiculously complex and advanced AI combined with amazing writing and voice-acting Elizabeth is one of the most believable characters to have ever been created for a video game. In and out of combat she has her own little gameplay additions, such as lockpicking and scavenging for ammo and supplies (she even likes to keep you stocked with health, mana and ammo during fights somehow) which are fine little additions. Outside of that though she is just excellent, every now and again leaning against a wall or just making a small comment that just builds her character. Even the way she gets around is amazing, predicting where you are going and moving her own way there. I think, throughout the course of the whole game, I only ever got stuck behind her twice and she always quickly moved out of the way. It also helps that she just looks OUT-FUCKING-STANDING! And no, I don’t mean like THAT… keep your dirty thoughts to yourself… Seriously her facial expressions, are just so believable and real that you couldn’t help but feel genuine emotion for the character.
Speaking of emotion, the story was also really fantastic. And not in an “yeah it was good… FOR AN FPS lol” type of way. I mean as in, holy shit that is a good story. Things got a little psychedelic a couple of times, once in the middle and closer to the end, when they start messing around with dimensions and time travel and crossed time-lines which loop back on themselves. I won’t spoil anything, but suffice to say that on a rare occasion it did take a moment or two to work out what exactly was going on. Despite that it was a genuinely good story full of excellent characters and full back-story.
In fact one of the strongest points for Bioshock has always been the fact that it is just so human. True it explores the darker and uglier side of humanity in it’s games, but it is always horrifically believable (you know, outside of the floating sky castles shit). Racism and bigotry leading the good citizens of Colombia to believe themselves better than every other human on the planet and religious zealotry only confirming that belief. It’s not pretty and at times it got pretty disturbing and eerie (much like it’s predecessors) but it was also just absolutely fantastic.
Something which I did feel was lacking from the game was the choice system of the previous games. While it would obviously not make sense to have the same choices it seemed odd that there were no choices at all. Well, that’s not true, there were a couple of choices in the first portion of the game but in reality these had no effect on the rest of the game. In fact I did look into them a little and discovered that their purpose was actually to highlight one of the games overall themes, that choice itself was an illusion. Which didn’t really strike a chord with me and so I felt was simultaneously superfluous and frustrating.
I also felt, while trying not to give anything away, that the actual end (and I mean the very end, the last minute or so) was actually an oddly cheap way to end the game. While the overall ending itself was fairly hard to grasp (my thought process in the last half hour went something along the lines of “The fuck is this? The fuck is that? The fuck are you?”) it was definitely satisfying, but the way the game finishes seemed sort of like the writers just couldn’t come up with a way to properly end it for the characters and so had to come up with some way to actually end the story. In short, the ending overall was good, the VERY finish was anticlimactic and I did not approve.
Another thing, which I would like to mention was that I was pretty surprised by the lack of any sort of security systems or hacking mini-game. While it obviously makes sense to have less technologically advanced things in Columbia (being set 50 years before Rapture) and having the same hacking system would just not make sense, I do sort of feel that it was kind of conspicuous by it’s absence. Nothing major but I have to admit that I enjoyed it in previous Bioshocks.
One final thing about the game I didn’t really approve of was the fact that it is more linear than previous Bioshocks. Now admittedly Bioshock has never been an open-world RPG but, as far as I recall, in previous games you had the options of returning the areas you had previously explored to finish off the Little Sisters and gather up any secrets. Infinite is far more linear and while you do get given a number of “maps” to explore at any one time, once you have left one section of maps you can’t ever return to it.
Essentially Bioshock is drifting from what used to be an RPG FPS to an FPS with weapons customisation. And while it’s nice that you can customise yourself, your weapons, your vigors and adjust your play-style accordingly, it’s definitely lost most of it’s RP elements and that’s just a little disappointing.
On the whole, despite a few disappointments which are inevitable from any game, Bioshock Infinite is an absolutely outstanding game which deserves all the acclaim it is getting and more. It has set the bar massively high for 2013 and indeed has skyrocketed towards near the top of my favourite games of all time. It’s epic, it’s awesome, it’s full of vibrant and wonderful characters, essentially… it’s amazing…