Published on March 30th, 2013 | by Mike sires jr0
Bioshock: Infinite Review
Summary: Bioshock: Infinite is a marvel of storytelling and design that should be played slowly to take in all the wonderful details.
With Bioshock: Infinite we are welcomed back into a thought provoking universe where the story being told in the previous games is only equaled by the beautiful landscape surrounding it. Irrational Games has released Bioshock: Infinite into the wild, but can the third iteration in the Bioshock franchise live up to the lofty heights the previous games set?
Bioshock: Infinite’s story is an entirely unique one. You are Booker DeWitt, a rough and nearly broken man sent by unnamed individuals to retrieve a girl from the flying city of Columbia. Who has her, why they took her, and who the girl is are all unknowns to you. Yet here you are entering a flying city trying to escape the mistakes of your past. The journey to get to Elizabeth is as impressive as it is depressing. By the time you get there you have already witnessed a bastardization of religion where the founding fathers are worshipped as gods. Not to mention complete and outright racism. So when you finally meet Elizabeth, the girl who will be your companion from here on out, she is a ray of hope for the morally questionable Booker. After this, you spend your time trying to escape the dissolute city and return Elizabeth to your employers. But as with all plans, they never seem to go quite right.
You are constantly hounded by the followers of the religious zealot, Prophet Comstock. The man who is worshipped for his self-proclaimed ability to see the future and turning the flying city into his version of Heaven. He has given many of them a better life so they follow his every command, even if that means dying just to stop you from taking his lamb, Elizabeth.
One of the many things that make this tale stand apart from others is the quality of the writing. Bioshock: Infinite’s story is filled with more character development in its first third than most games this generation have by their end. Taking the protagonist and having him be broken yet completely relatable is no small feat. Either is having your companion feel like an actual, living person you care for. She is easily comparable to Alyx Vance in Half-Life 2 as she may have her moments of self doubt and fear, but she is a strong, independent character that is extremely intelligent in both her thoughts and actions. You care about her, even pity her for the way she was held captive, but you aren’t worried about her because she is frail and in constant need of your protection. The constant interaction between the two main characters draws you in like so very few games actually can. The developers bring us from despair to hopeful to genuine longing in a way that almost makes you forget you are playing a game.
The other part of the writing that stands out is the world surrounding the characters. You are quickly shown that the world you are entering is one based on a very different type of religion. One where certain founding fathers are gods while others are considered heretics. A world where not everyone is created equally and that those unfortunate enough to be of a different descent are either shamed or used for manual labor. This could have easily been used for shock value, it wasn’t. While being deplorable, it not only fit extremely well with the time period that the game took place in, but also with the narrative. You could can see things like a “Colored and Irish only” sign on a bathroom hidden on the back of a building while the “Whites only” bathroom is out front. You still have the thoughts of it being terrible, but not to the point that it breaks you out of the immersion of the game. This speaks to how well crafted the world is. The fact that there is a group of followers dressed in white robes, praying to the founding fathers, and telling you that you need to be baptized fits so well that you don’t think that it is some crazy, whacked out mad scientist pulling the strings shows how believable the background characters are. There are little touches all over the city that expand on this and make you feel the history of the city. You are spoon fed the nuggets of information through little film clips and audio logs, called voxophones. They are so interesting that you will want to keep searching for more.
While the story is compelling and beautiful, it wouldn’t be nearly as much without the voice acting to tell it. Troy Baker’s portrayal of Booker DeWitt sells you on the man that is broken to the point of needing to possibly kidnap a girl just to save himself from his own problems. He draws you in and makes you relate to the character during his personal transformation from a man with a haunted past to something more, something better. Courtnee Draper’s take on Elizabeth makes her go from just an intelligent AI partner to a believable person. Someone you are willing to risk your life for. Her character grew on me to the point that I was right there with Booker trying to make sure this girl survived, no matter the cost. You could tell every note of fear or trepidation in her voice. When Elizabeth was lost or angry I wanted to do whatever it took to make things right. This is in large part to the way Courtnee Draper player her.
The combat in Bioshock: Infinite is where the game starts to lack creativity. There isn’t a large selection of guns and the ones there are doesn’t have a distinguishable weight to them. There is very little difference between the pistol and the machine gun other than the rate of fire. There are also some logical inconsistencies when it comes to the larger crank style guns. When zipping around on the skyhook, you use one hand to hang one and two to fire the gun. My other complaint is that the vigors, the super power giving equivalent to plasmids in the first Bioshock, are bland and repetitive. The fire and shock vigors, for instance, are practically interchangeable in how they act. Both attack individuals, both leave them enemies stunned, and both have a secondary attack that is a trap. They are absolutely fun at first, but you can easily stop caring about them a short while after getting them. Elizabeth makes herself quite useful here as she can open tares in the universe and brings object from another parallel universe through. This can be anything from cover, hooks to grapple onto, or weapons and health packs. She also will throw salts and health packs to you occasionally to help keep you alive. When you do inevitably get downed, if she is present, she will revive you and bring you back to a nearby safe location.
Don’t get these, admittedly small, knit picks wrong. Bioshock: Infinite’s combat is smooth and very fluid. You are able to switch between using vigors and weapons easily while using them in combination has devastating effects. The skyhook, which is also used for travelling the rails around the city, is your first and most graphic weapon to use. It’s spinning blades can cut off heads and grind enemies into meat.
Bioshock: Infinite’s combat isn’t just used to break up pieces of the narrative, it fits into it by accentuating the depth the citizens are willing to go to help or fight Prophet Comstock. The Vox Populi fighting for their right to be recognized as people equal to the white upper class. The followers are defending the words of their prophet and the paradise he created. You don’t just fight citizens though, there are also mechanical monstrosities such as the Patriots and Handymen. Patriots are robotic statues of the founding fathers fitted with chain guns that tend to show up mid battle. Handymen are people that have been transformed into Big Daddy like robots that jump and smash their way through battles.
It just wouldn’t be a Bioshock game without an epic location to play in, and Bioshock: Infinite delivers wonderfully on that task. Each area feels and looks different while being filled with subtle touches that make the city feel real and alive. One area has buildings towering up through the sky while the next is a shanty town filled with shacks and crumbling houses. The monuments and zeppelins that fill the distance will have you admiring the scenery during the breaks from combat. There were numerous times I missed my stop while zipping around on the rails because I had gotten lost in wonderful visuals. Instead of turning around, I just did a loop to take it all in. It isn’t just the buildings and monuments that make the city wonderful, there are also tons of little visual elements that make the atmosphere fit with the story. Things like people in a stockade for being traitors or nickelodeon-esque video players showing propaganda clips of the city’s history all help immerse the player into the world of a 1912 flying city.
Bioshock: Infinite is a game that you must experience for yourself. It isn’t without some small faults, but they are not so big as to hinder your enjoyment in the slightest. The incredibly deep story will keep you interested. The city will keep you fascinated with its stunning beauty and subtle details. Then there is Elizabeth, who is almost too good an AI partner. To the point where the rest of the AI in the game, which is very smart and well implemented, seems to be greatly lacking in comparison. Bioshock: Infinite tops Half-Life 2 and TellTale’s The Walking Dead as far as atmosphere and storytelling are concerned. That is not something I say lightly. For me, Bioshock: Infinite lasted around 10 hours, but by the time it was over I missed it. I immediately went back and started 1999 mode, the hardest difficulty, just to continue playing and find out more about the world.
*Editor’s Note: The version of Bioshock: Infinite that was reviewed was on the Xbox 360.