BioShock Infinite – Review

Bioshock Infinite Logo

Box art for BioShock Infinite BioShock Infinite

Developer: Irrational Games

Publisher: 2K Games

Platforms: PS3, 360, PC

Released: 03/26/2013

Verdict: A masterful narrative coupled with excellent, albeit mainstream, gameplay.

Score: 10

For an in depth look at gameplay, and the first few hours of BioShock Infinite, see our First Look.

Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt. This is all you’re given at the start of BioShock Infinite. One simple line, and your free. Free to explore the world laid out in front of you in as open a way as possible in a linear gaming experience. Free to experiment with weapons and powers, the likes we’ve never seen before. . . unless you count that time we used them in that other game. Free to take in this beautiful world at your own pace, while waging a one man war against everyone, and everything. Free to experience the story of Booker DeWitt, Elizabeth, Columbia, and it’s people, while simultaneously playing a new entry in Call of Duty. . . with magic. BioShock Infinite is a confused game. One that strives, and succeeds, at being a narrative masterpiece, while also falling into mainstream shooter territory. Still, it is a masterpiece none the less.

BioShock Infinite knows it’s not BioShock. At least, not in terms of gameplay. It’s not slow, tactical, and well thought out. Combat in BioShock Infinite is fast, frantic, and often confusing. Enemies come at you from all sides. They’re relentless in their mission to stop you. The enemies in BioShock Infinite will use any means necessary to thwart Booker and Elizabeth. Except Vigors. Those are off limits to bad guys. Vigors? Oh, those are the special tonics distributed by Fink, MFG. that alter ones genes and give them special abilities. In a land that strives on purity and cleanliness, going so far as to enforce the segregation of blacks and irish from whites, we’re meant to believe gene altering tonics are advertised everywhere, and readily available to all. Yet, they’re used by none. . .

The city of Columbia from BioShock Infinite.

To help the players cope with the change of pace over previous BioShock games, Booker is given a self regenerating shield. This shield becomes the focal point of combat. After taking a few hits, all you have to do is hide for a couple seconds and, voila, Booker is completely unharmed and ready to advance. It almost makes you feel invincible. I found myself throwing ranged weaponry to the wayside in favor of punching people in the face with a skyhook. It just seemed more. . . practical, since all I had to do after punching people and snapping their necks was to hide behind a box and wait for my shield to replenish. While the regenerating shield takes the place of medkits from BioShock, it feels less like a natural progression for the series and more like a step away from the series roots in favor of mainstream gaming appeal.

Despite the combat feeling borrowed, and partly out of place for the franchise, it still feels fresh and rewarding. Because of the frantic and confusing combat every encounter feels meaningful. There’s never a point in the game where Booker feels overly powerful, just more adept at handling the situation. There are always plenty of options on how to handle every different shootout. You can ride the skyrail to a nearby rooftop to grab a sniper rifle and pick every one off one at a time, or you could run in with guns blazing. Throw in Elizabeth’s ability to open tears and make cool things come out of thin air to assist you, and you have a plethora of decisions to make. Don’t forget the incredibly useful, yet unused by anyone else in the game, vigors. Bucking Bronco. ’nuff said. Seriously, the most useful ability, almost to the point of being over powered.

Handyman from BioShock Infinite

Columbia isn’t just filled with people trying to kill Booker and Elizabeth, although most of them are. There are a few areas where you slow down, and take it all in. The sights, the sounds, the people. It’s times like these where BioShock Infinite really shines above it’s predecessors, and most other games out there. The world inhabited by Columbia is beautiful. It’s a living, breathing city. You’ll feel as if you yourself are taking a stroll through the city in the clouds, so long as you don’t stop and admire too long. Many of the best set pieces involve the people of Columbia reacting to the turmoil surrounding them. It’s natural for you to want to sit back and watch as their scene plays out in full. The downside comes when you realize these areas are setup much like an attraction at Disney World. You know the ones that have the animatronic people moving a bit while lip synced to audio of some old movie. The reason all of these attractions are on tracks is generally because these machines run in loops. Sit back far enough and you’ll see the scene end and then immediately restart. It’s unnatural, and ruins the immersion of the attraction. This is sort of the effect found throughout BioShock Infinite. Early in the game, and I mean very very early, you can happen upon a couple hiding behind a trash can. The man is trying to make some advances, and the woman coyly pushes him away. It’s cute, and helps you solidify the “living, breathing” part of Columbia. But don’t stand around listening to their dialogue. After 15 seconds the same animation has played 3 times, and it just keeps looping. It’s moments like these, and the generality of the gun play, that remind you that BioShock Infinite isn’t a living world. It’s a beautifully designed amusement park attraction meant to be moved through, not meant to be admired in any form of longevity. This helps explain the increase in pace for the combat, to help you feel more immersed in the robotic world of Columbia, lest you be disconnected from it’s animatronic repetition.

Motorized Patriot from BioShock Infinite

Don’t let the animatronics fool you, however. The story they tell is one epic tale. A story of a man, a girl, and a city. The story of Booker DeWitt and his quest to save a princess from atop a tower in a city floating among the clouds. Remember, this isn’t BioShock. Don’t expect any massive twists, or big reveals at the mid point of the game. Or at least, none that you didn’t already call earlier. Instead, everything sort of hit’s you big at the end. There are moments where the narrative takes the center stage, and the gameplay sort of moves to the background. Areas like Comstock House, and the incredibly underused Boys of Silence. While these segments are few and far between, their impact an weight are felt throughout the entirety of the experience. In fact, if you pay close enough attention to the narrative you can actually see the ending coming. It’s practically spelled out to you at multiple points throughout, but somewhat difficult to piece together. While the execution of waiting until the final hours to reveal. . . everything is somewhat questionable, it’s this very tactic that helps to solidify BioShock Infinite as a masterpiece in not just video games, but in narrative as a whole. In all seriousness, the ending kept me from sleeping on the evening I completed it. I kept running everything I knew through my head, dissecting the meaning and the potential to come. Theories were bred from theories until I couldn’t bear it. I spent the next 2 days scouring the internet for more theories, and confirmation of my own. Much like Inception, there are multiple ways to view this one. It seems like it’s up to you to decide which you like best.

Elizabeth dancing on the beach in BioShock Infinite

By the time BioShock Infinite ends you’ll wish there was more. You’ll want to encounter another Motorized Patriot. You’ll wish you had encountered more than 3 Handymen throughout the entire game. You’ll wonder why “heavy hitters” were called heavy hitters when the most dangerous enemies in the game were the jerks with the flak cannons! You’ll wish you had more time to talk with Elizabeth. More time to tell her everything is going to be okay. You’ll wonder what the world of Columbia is going to be like after all of this ends. Most importantly, you won’t sleep for the next 3 days while you try to pick your brain up off the floor.

BioShock Infinite is a masterpiece in every way. The gameplay, while seemingly out of place, fits like a shoe. The narrative and it’s characters will be in your thoughts for weeks to come. The incredible performances from voice acting, mocap, design, development, and audio all come together to create one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences in recent history. BioShock Infinite will stand as one of the greatest games of not only this year, but of all time.

Booker and Elizabeth Art from the cover of BioShock Infininte

is not a boss.

You can Email Eric or follow Eric on Twitter @EricSweeten or Facebook

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