It’s been a while since I played the first Bioshock (2 doesn’t count in my books), so when I booted up Bioshock Infinite I was expecting things to slowly sink in as I traversed through this floating city. Instead it felt like I just played Bioshock mere moments beforehand, but only in terms of aesthetics and certain prompts that seemed recognizable. It was that fresh to my mind, however beyond those exceptions the world here felt like something I never really encountered before. Bioshock Infinite is published by 2K Games, and is developed by Irrational Games along with 2K Marin and Human Head Studios (Ken Levine also being the head designer).
The protagonist here is Booker DeWitt, a hard-as-nails agent who is sent by a frankly weird pair of twins to find a specific girl and remove the debt. Of course things take a turn for the fantastical as Booker realizes after entering the lighthouse that where he’s taken to is a secret floating city high above the clouds. A city where faith is strongly practiced, where everyone is having a ‘dandy’ ol’ time, and the main founder himself, Zachary Hale Comstock, is essentially a cult leader. However the best part about Bioshock Infinite is the small to large snippets of information you find around the city (in the forms of vignettes and steam-punk audio recordings), so at this point I’m going to refrain from talking more about the game’s central plot.
Also I know this is a really grandiose way of starting off a review, but let me break the mold by saying ‘holy fuck’ is there some racist and violent shit going on in this game! Even more so than Bioshock, because when starting out in Rapture you only know a good majority of the people there through the recordings, and mainly as horrific freak-accidents. Here you see most of the civilians having a grand time, eating cotton candy, playing carnival games, socializing, but afterward once you peel away the layers, you begin to see an intensely sinister/dark cause for all this. Another thing that also sells the premise is the believable performances behind, not only the main characters, but the random people who you encounter on your journey through Columbia as well.
Aside from playing as Booker, you’ll also be accompanied by Elizabeth at a specific point in the game. Once she tags along, the game becomes mostly about her and her interactions with the world. And surprisingly she doesn’t get in the way, nor is constantly babbling on about unrelated subjects during combat, in fact she finds numerous ways to help you out by throwing health packs, salt, or ammo at your direction. Another way she’ll help out is by utilizing these things called tears, a rip in the fabric of time and space to where she could summon turrets, ammo boxes, or hooks to help out Booker. As a character, she’s very well-developed in the sense that if you were to compare her by the beginning and at the end, she won’t be the same person.
Elizabeth is an individualized spirit, as you’ll see by the way she’ll interact with people and the environment. What’s fascinating here is that her AI seems to be much more evolved than other partner AI I would see in most videogames, to a point where she’ll react based on executions Booker would do with his grappling hook, and examine desks by tilting her head downward. Mind you though that from time to time she will be staring at a blank wall or a tree, but those are just minor moments.
Not much has really drastically changed about the visuals, aside from some character expressions and face models that do look far more advance than in Bioshock (it’s also funny because Elizabeth looks like a Disney princess in comparison to other realistically portrayed civilians). Although crisp graphics are not what Bioshock Infinite is about, it’s that the art style is incredibly strong here. The first level in the game stunningly captures the time period, along with the mannerisms and clothing fashion. The attack animations look great, along with the grappling hook executions which still makes me cringe every time I see it happen.
Now onto the things that, while weren’t terrible, prevented me from calling this game ‘perfect’. And that is the changes made to the combat in this game along with the upgrade system. To be fair, maybe it’s my fault for making constant comparisons between this and Bioshock 1, but in Bioshock 1 what I dug about the weapon layout was how easy it was to access weapons. Another thing that was also great, was how accessible the plasmids were and that every time you upgraded a weapon, the game would highlight what new additions were made to the weapon as well. You also had multiple ways to approach enemies, should I zap them first and then melee attack them, or perhaps hack the combat turret and have it be my bullet sponge while I take this Big Daddy down?
It was moments like those that made Bioshock feel like a pretty open game, where as with Bioshock Infinite the game does feel linear and limited for a good majority of the time. One of the variables for that here is the 2-weapon slot system, to where if you want a new gun, you have to switch it out with another. This leads to either one of the two problems: getting a weapon that has only a few rounds, or getting the wrong weapon at the wrong time. It gets frustrating, and since there seems to be fewer options to take out enemies, it turns into more of a ‘Serious Sam‘ arcade game than an actual ‘Bioshock‘ game. That’s not a bad thing per say, but it does really show just how much the first Bioshock surprisingly got it right.
The vigor selection is also weird, instead of pulling up a wheel of options and selecting which plasmids you want to use at any time, here you only get two slots along with the wheel selection. Except instead of giving you the choice of ‘customizing’ which vigors you want as your set, the game automatically registers that vigor you use once as a ‘favorite’, meaning you have to go back and forth constantly to get it back the set you originally wanted. Some of the vigors are pretty neat though, but personally, they don’t really seem as inventive as the plasmids did in the first game (aside from ‘crows nest’, ‘devils kiss’, and a few others).
Another change that also confused me, is the upgrade and clothing system. The upgrade system pretty much works the same as in the first game, except the difference here is how limited the upgrades are for the vigors. Maybe it was just me, but I really didn’t notice any visual overhauls or actual improvements (the shotgun felt the same just as it did at the beginning, overpowered as fuck). The clothing system pretty much replaced the subsidized plasmids, where you would get specific bonuses (such as incinerating foes while being attacked, or being able to electrify foes while jumping off from a rail). I actually found myself using the gear at the beginning more than the gear I found later on, which is unfortunate.
There are also infusion upgrades that allow you to upgrade your shield, health, or salt bar. The negative part though is that each upgrade only gives you a small boost, and it seemed like if you wanted to get one of them full, you would have to upgrade that bar about 10-15 times.
Not to mention there’s way too many guns, and that wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that some of them felt like mods you would get for the official weapons of the game. In fact some of the weapons you would get later on in the game are enlisted into one of the two factions, Comstock or Vox. This made me think that Irrational Games were planning on doing something with the factions and the weapons for multiplayer, but of course that never happened. At the same time, it really felt like since Irrational Games already developed the weapons, they figured why not force them into the campaign anyway?
Playing it on medium mode, it became clear that the difficulty felt scaled back. Meaning a large majority of the shooting sections were pretty simple and easy. It wasn’t until later on where the game got really challenging due to how many different types of foes were thrown at you. The only enemy that felt like an actual challenge was the ‘Handy Man’, who would jump around certain sections of the game like a goddamn gorilla who lost his banana. A majority of the time, as I said before, it felt like Serious Sam more than it did an actual Bioshock game, mostly because of how easy it became to run up and take out large waves of enemies.
I think the biggest offense here for me, is just how linear the levels are. Also that the sidequests seem to be deduced to one per mission. I didn’t notice any expanded or offtrack areas, until much later on in the game. Even then when exploring these levels, you’re hardly rewarded with anything aside from some coin purses, food, and maybe an infusion upgrade. In fact I found myself scrounging up for more money and supplies, which sounds like a good thing, but it actually just shows how less complex the series has become gameplay wise.
Don’t get me wrong, blasting foes with crows while using the grappling hook to slice off someones head is awesome! It’s just that everything underneath it is kind of stale or generic. To be more exact, this feels more like a backward step than an actual change in gaming mechanics.
So the bigger question is, what does this come down to? Well obviously I already spoiled my feelings at the beginning, but honestly I thought the game was just ‘good’ for a large part of it. Then when the ending hit, it blew my mind away as to how not only well crafted it was, but how clever it was too. It’s not gonna be my favorite game of the year, because of what I just stated, the weapon system, upgrade mechanics, and linear levels definitely detract from this being a well-rounded game. However with how strong the plot, characters, and ending is I have to highly recommend buying this.
Actually I’m currently checking out 1999 mode (which is ridiculously hard by the way), and I’m still noticing more clues as to how certain fragments of the plot piece themselves together at the end. Also spoilers, Booker was a Big Daddy the entire time and you didn’t even know it!