Video Game Review: Bioshock Infinite

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Let’s face it; we’ve all seen all the promotion videos, trailers, interviews concerning this particular game. Ever since it was first shown back in August of 2010, Bioshock Infinite has been a hotly anticipated game. Before it came out, the developers promised to recapture the magic of the original Bioshock while crafting a story filled with mature themes, a companion that you truly care about and a fresh new world to explore. While it does manage to fulfill many of the promises made before release. It also suffers from some pretty glaring issues that many reviewers and gamers have seemingly chosen to ignore.

The story takes place in the year 1912. You play as former Pinkerton Agent, Booker Dewitt. A man with a dark and violent past who must travel to the floating city of Columbia to find a girl named Elizabeth. He is in debt to some nasty people and by finding Elizabeth and bringing her to New York he has a chance to correct his mistakes. Upon entering the city in traditional Bioshock fashion (through a watchtower in the middle of the ocean) he discovers a city unlike any other on the planet. A city literally floating in the sky under the leadership of a religious zealot known as Zachary Comstock.

At first Columbia is a million times more appealing than Rapture ever was. Rapture always seemed like a goddamn death trap to me and a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. Columbia is also like when you think about it for a minute. But the beautiful architecture, the prospect of exploring a flying city and the beautiful music all immerse you into this fictional world. Like all things however, it has an obvious down side. The residents of Columbia are represented as American archetypes of that time period. They believe America is the greatest thing in the history of man kind, they put god and country above all else and they treat immigrants such as the Irish and African Americans like 3rd rate citizens.

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Irrational easily could have done a period piece game like this while at the same time avoiding the taboo themes. Luckily they don’t and they give a fairly accurate representation of the mentality of the American people of the early 20th century. They do not shy away from showing some genuinely shocking things, having the citizens of Columbia openly mock things like Latin or openly showing their distaste for men like Abraham Lincoln who believed in equality for everyone. Hell they made statue of John Wilkes Booth, the man who killed him and consider him a national hero.

It is commendable that the developers openly deal with themes like this and make them a driving force of the game. But it’s the characters of Booker Dewitt and Elizabeth that truly grab your attention. Booker and his past is one of violence, drinking, gambling and all around tragedy and he’s one of the few FPS protagonists with a genuine personality which is something I personally want to see more of in that genre. Elizabeth is at first an innocent girl who’s been locked away in a massive tower all her life. She never got the chance to interact with other people except for the mechanical flying beast known as the Songbird. At first she’s very innocent and is almost like a child in her personality. As the story line unfolds and things grow progressively worse, she slowly losses her innocence and is willing to do what ever it takes to win her freedom.

The problem lies in the fact that their relationship feels like it just doesn’t go anywhere or amount to anything. Sure they’ll comfort each other and talk about their problems. But you never get the sense that they’ve truly become friends and this makes most of the emotional scenes with Elizabeth feel hollow. It’s a shame when their whole partnership was one of the main selling points of the game and I expected to get something like a ME2 style friendship again with a fictional character but that sadly never happened.

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Another issue is the pacing and it’s truly horrendous at points. The first and third acts are perfect in this respect but the middle portion feels VERY padded out. There are entire sections of the game that easily could have been cut out and replaced with expository dialogue. They don’t feel organic or natural and they’re just there so the game can be a few hours longer. That’s how it feels anyway.

A massive disappointment for me personally was Songbird. Back in 2011 when the game was first being shown at E3. Songbird was a big deal and the developers compared its relationship with Elizabeth to one of a violent relationship. Songbird is the violent dominant person of the relationship and while Elizabeth hates being stuck in it, she is ultimately helpless and has no chance of escaping it. In the final game this is barely touched on and Songbird appears a grand total of 3 times during the 15 hours it takes to beat the game.

Despite these issues, Infinite should be played just for its story alone and its ending will make you want to replay the entire game immediately upon beating it the first time. Its a satisfying conclusion that will make your head spin and make you thinking about it for a good long while before fully comprehending it. But Bioshock Infinite is still a game, so how’s the gameplay? Its definitely a big step up from the previous two games in terms of its shooting mechanics but the design of the enemy encounters stills has a long damn way to go.

The gameplay follows the same style as in the previous Bioshock games. You use a series of fire arms in conjunction with several powers to defeat standard human enemies along with mechanical threats that have special powers of their own. You will constantly have to switch between guns and vigors and combine them to take down the dozens of enemies that will attack you from all sides. Later on you also get access to special skylines. These lines can be grappled on to at any point during combat and you can use them to evade enemies, get to higher ground or even go up in the sky to take down enemy vehicles bombarding you from above.

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Shooting is far superior to the previous games in the series. It feels more refined than ever before and most of the Bioshock 1 chunkiness has been gotten rid of. But the design of the encounters still leaves much to be desired. Early on its fine but as the game progresses you will be faced with so many enemies at once and from so many angles it becomes unbelievably cheap and unfair. To further exacerbate the issue, the developers later mixed the 30 normal enemies with special foes like the Handymen and have them all attack you at once. It becomes infuriating and I cringed any time a firefight started about halfway through the game up until the ending. The last battle in particular is just down right broken and guy who designed it is probably a sadist.

Couple of things would have been able to elevate the frustration of the enemy encounters. Caring more than two guns or being able to buy guns at shops. Unfortunately you can’t do either which means you’ll always need to carry a heavy weapon along with a normal one at all times. Weapons like pistols, rifles and shotguns are useless against special enemies and even when using heavy weaponry they take way too many goddamn hits too take down. A guy in a metal suit shouldn’t be able to survive 15 rockets in the face at point blank range, that’s just bullshit.

Vigors replace plasmids this time around but they function in much the same way. Each vigor gives you a special power however you can purchase and upgrade them using regular money instead of needing special currency like Adam in Bioshock 1. However most of the vigors are useless. The only ones that I actually found useful were the electro shock and possession vigors and only because they ended the tedious late game combat sections a whole lot faster.

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Another gameplay element that’s half assed is the choice system. There are only a handful of them in the entire game but they don’t matter or change the story at all. They’re so arbitrary and out place that it feels like they were left over’s from an old version of the game and the developers simply didn’t have enough time to properly cut them out so they left them in there. They don’t matter at all and it’s just weird that they’re even in the game at all.

Elizabeth however is incredibly useful on a gameplay level. She can open dimensional tears during combat that give you special advantages. Some tears can give you more cover, access to higher positions, ammo, health, weapons that give you advantages in certain enemy encounters. She will also give you ammo, salt or health packs during combat when you’re in danger of running out of them. Needless to say she will save your ass many times and her AI is on a whole different level when compared to most AI in other games. Which generally sucks the big one?

Graphics and audio on the other hand are handled perfectly. The city of Columbia is truly something to behold as its architecture combined with the fantastic level design fully immerses you into this world. Upon entering the city for the fist time I couldn’t help but say damn at its sheer beauty, and I almost never feel that way about a video game or its graphics. The audio is spot on with period piece music tossed in during the quieter moments where you’re just exploring the city and soaking in the atmosphere of the place. Voice Acting is spot on and it’s obvious the actors truly became their respective characters during the recording sessions.

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Bioshock Infinite is a very tough game for me to rate. On a story, graphical and audio level the game is nothing short of spectacular. However the gameplay, while much better than either of the previous Bioshocks still leaves much to be desired. The relationships between Booker & Elizabeth or Elizabeth & Songbird weren’t done as well as I would have liked and many enemy encounters felt very cheap.

However besides the later complaint, there is nothing else fundamentally wrong and the game is something that everyone should at least try out. It’s a single player FPS that feels fresh, has a fantastic story filled with plenty of mature themes and an ending that doesn’t disappoint. If you’re some one like me and you value story over gameplay. Then Bioshock Infinite is easily the best game currently out there in that respect. If you’re looking for an incredibly refined shooter experience on the level of say Halo, then you may want to try it out before purchasing it.


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