Bioshock Infinite Review

Posted: July 2, 2013 in Game reviews

Introduction

When Irrational Games released the original Bioshock on August 2007, it received unanimous praise and effectively rewrote the rules for the First Person Shooter genre.  Ken Levine’s vision of a distopic utopia, taking place in the picturesque world of Rapture, recalled the influence of novelists George Orwell and William S. Burroughs and Ayn Rand’s alternate vision of perception and reality.  The gameplay’s unique concept of using both conventional weapons and super human powers (referred to as Plasmids) helped separate it from its contemporaries, such as the Call of Duty and the Halo series.  This hybrid would establish the Bioshock franchise as a major force in the coming years.

Coming after a more muted reception to BioShock 2, Irrational Games’ big leap comes in the form of Bioshock Infinite.  Expanding on the dystopian, paranoid vision that encompassed the first two Bioshock games and adding greater density and depth, Bioshock Infinite expands the notion of what the story can be in a video game and is the apex of the Bioshock franchise.

Story

“Bioshock Infinite’s narrative is an aspiring thrill ride that succeeds in being dense, bleak and beautiful. Its success even makes the two previous Bioshock games feel tame by comparison.”

Bioshock Infinite’s narrative is an aspiring thrill ride that succeeds in being dense, bleak and beautiful.  There are very few contemporary games that have both attempted and delivered in developing a story with the scale of ambition that Bioshock Infinite has ultimately reached.  Its success even makes the two previous Bioshock games feel tame by comparison.

Bioshock Infinite takes place in the city of Columbia, a fictional sky-city established in 1893 and set before the first two games.  The game’s protagonist Booker Dewitt is sent to Columbia to find a girl called Elizabeth to “wipe away the debt” and take her to New York with the player at this stage not knowing what the “debt” is and who it is that wants her.  Elizabeth is a young girl who has been held prisoner in Columbia all her life by Zachary Comstock, known to be leader of the right-wing group The Founders, who have strong political presence in Columbia.  Elizabeth is locked away on Monument Island, where she was experimented on by the Founders group, who see her as their saviour.  Comstock is aware of Dewitt’s mission and is intent to stop him and keep Elizabeth in Columbia.

What is fascinating about Bioshock Infinite is how it can draw upon revolutionary events in history and integrates them into Bioshock’s own aesthetic to create something unique.   The atmosphere around Columbia can seem celebratory or tranquil one moment then sinister and forbidding at others.  This best describes the moment at the start when a carnival setting soon turns violent after Booker refuses to kill a coloured couple when instructed by locals.

The story really centres around the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth and its relevance as the player goes deeper into the narrative.   It is interesting to observe the bond that develops between the older, obstinate, self-loathing Dewitt and the young, innocent free-spirited Elizabeth.  It is a relationship very similar to the Big Daddies and Little Sisters in the previous titles.  Voice actors Troy Baker (Booker Dewitt) and Courtnee Draper (Elizabeth) do a marvellous job at bringing their respective characters to life and giving them an iconic presence that is warm and infectious.

The previous Bioshock games have including a wonderful ending and one that concludes the game in grand fashion.  However, nothing can prepare the viewer for the twist that appears at the end of Bioshock Infinite.  Without revealing anything here, its one of the most left field and astonishing sequences I’ve ever experienced.

Visuals

“The series has always included cryptic messages that portray paranoia, but Bioshock Infinite takes this concept further by taking on a more political aesthetic. It hints at a radicalised world of exceptionalism through fascism and World War I like desperation.”

After discarding the city of Rapture and starting fresh with Columbia, it was something of a mystery if it would have the same impact as its predecessor.  Columbia is Rapture’s total antithesis, a city in the sky and one that automatically hints towards a new dawn, but it works just as well.  Combining neoclassical architecture and references to various aspects of American culture (such as the Statue of Liberty and the Whitehouse) while also pointing to the future (eg. Floating City, Skylines), it delivers a totally different experience.

Another aspect that is very interesting is the various propaganda posters and messages that appear throughout.  The series has always included cryptic messages that portray paranoia, but Bioshock Infinite takes this concept further by taking on a more political aesthetic.  It hints at a radicalised world of exceptionalism through fascism and World War I like desperation.  It does much to tell Bioshock Infinite’s narrative and helps add context to it.

Bioshock Infinite’s graphics vary depending on the platform.  The PC version boasts some wonderful high resolution graphics and facial animations, while the console version is a bit of a let down.  It contains some noticeable frame rate problems and disappointing NPC animations, which can be a real detraction at times.

Game Play      

“The most interesting aspect is the significant impact that Elizabeth (controlled by the AI) has on overall game-play. She has the ability to manipulate tears in time and be able to aid the player. With this the player is able to use their resources based how a fight is developing and proves to be very useful in challenging fights against a lot of enemies.”

Bioshock Infinite explores similar territory from its previous games while building upon them.  One of the most dynamic of the new features are the Skylines, which are connecting railway tracks in the sky that the player can use both for transportation and a form of attack.  Because the game takes place in wide open areas,  Skylines give the player the opportunity to get to an area quickly and/or reach an otherwise inaccessible destination.  There also an option to perform a melee execution on an enemy from the skyline, which provides a satisfying experience.

Bioshock Infinite continues the use of Plasmids and Tonics (now called Vigors), which gives the player to use supernatural powers.  The player must collect Salt to power up Vigors in the same way EVE would power up Plasmids previously.  The player gains new abilities by picking up Tonics, which are scattered around Columbia.  As well as old favorites, such as Telekinesis and Incinerate (now called Devil’s Kiss), Bioshock Infinite includes some new Tonics this year including; Murder Crows, which gives the player the ability to command an army of crows and Bucking Bronco which shoots of a wave that temporarily levitates enemies up in the air, for a limited period of time, making them defenceless targets for weapon fire.

The most interesting aspect is the significant impact that Elizabeth (controlled by the AI) has on overall game-play.  She has the ability to manipulate tears in time and be able to aid the player.  The player will be able to choose one of a variety of options including; a turret, a skyline hook and a wall to take cover behind.  With this the player is able to use their resources based how a fight is developing (e.g a player can summon a health pack if he/she is low on health) and proves to be very useful in challenging fights against a lot of enemies.  Elizabeth provides the player with items (Health, Salt, Ammo) when in short supply, which is useful in certain situations but it also has its problems.  With vending machines also returning in Bioshock Infinite and plenty of cash to spent on the same items, I found myself spending money on the Vigor upgrades knowing I would find the more common items on the ground or given by Elizabeth when needed.

It is also intriguing how Elizabeth interacts with the surroundings she’s in.  If she enters an area of curiosity, Elizabeth will go an investigate it and may make a comment.  It may seem an unremarkable element on paper but it adds to the narrative, and more specifically the relationship between Elizabeth and Booker, which is the very heart of Bioshock Infinite. It also shows further development in how the AI companion character can be a more significant presence instead of a just an accessory.

Summary

After being in development for three years and being the subject of large expectation, Bioshock Infinite proves to be a total triumph.  Despite having a few minor issues that can effect the gameplay experience at points, Bioshock Infinite’s whirlwind story, infectious characters and imaginative gameplay put them on the back burner, taking the player on an unforgettable journey and one people will be coming back to in years to come.

Some franchises would be content to merely continue to reproduce the same formula that was so successful in the first Bioshock, but Bioshock Infinite instead attempts and succeeds in reinventing itself.  Adding layers of depth and mystery and utilising a more subtle art style and visual image, Bioshock Infinite ultimately succeeds in creating a world of its own.

Although many fans may have been curious of future direction of the franchise after the relative disappointment of Bioshock 2, Bioshock Infinite has answered these questions emphatically and proves to be another landmark in the First Person Shooter genre and one that could prove to be hugely influential to a variety of audiences.

Rating 9.5/10             

 
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