Bioshock Infinite Review
By Paul Hunter
Stepping into Bioshock Infinite, I had sky high expectations. Since the beginning, the Bioshock franchise has aspired to deliver a richer, fuller experience than most other first-person shooters care to offer. Rapture, the immense undersea city of the first two Bioshock games, was incredibly immersive with its distinctive and dark art deco design motif and the characters, such as the genetically mutated Big Daddy and main antagonist Andrew Ryan (“would you kindly”), that will long be remembered as exceptional. With Bioshock Infinite, the team at Irrational Games made a bold decision to introduce a new setting and new characters, taking on the challenge of drawing gamers into a whole new experience.
The setting for Bioshock Infinite is Columbia, an airborne city launched in 1893 by the American government, appearing to be held up by giant balloons, propellers and numerous zeppelins. The city, with its unprecedented advanced technologies, was seen by the American people as a symbolic representation of their unrivalled global power. In many respects, Columbia couldn’t be more opposite than Rapture: the floating city is filled with dazzling hues of blue and gold, districts are wide open and often bustling with citizens, and movement between areas is hyper-fast thanks to the intricate set of high-speed Sky-Line rails that connects the numerous hovering city locales.
In Bioshock Infinite you play as Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent turned private investigator suffering from alcoholism and massive debt from excessive gambling. At some point, he accepts an offer from a mysterious man to enter Columbia and find Elizabeth, a woman imprisoned in the floating city for most of her life. Her captor, the deeply religious “Father” Comstock, rules over Columbia and is zealously worshiped by its inhabitants for his apparent ability to see into the future. In exchange for her safe delivery to New York, the man promises that all of Booker’s debt will be forgiven.
Gameplay begins somewhere off the coast of Maine with Booker sitting in the back seat of a small rowboat during a heavy nighttime downpour. He’s handed a personal chest by an unknown man and woman containing the essential elements of his quest: the passcode to enter Columbia, a loaded pistol, several Silver Eagle Dollars (the city’s currency), a picture of Elizabeth and Monument Island where she’s held captive, and the coordinates of New York. Booker arrives in Columbia during the city’s fair, and through a series of cleverly disguised carnival games that act as the game’s tutorial, players learn essential skills such as firing weapons, aiming down iron sights for more precision, and using Vigors, Bioshock Infinite’s version of Plasmids.
Along with Bioshock Infinite’s entirely new setting, the game revisits – or tweaks – many core gameplay elements from the previous games in the series. Vigors, as previously mentioned, act as the game’s source of super powers, and like Plasmids from past Bioshock games, they alter the user’s DNA which bestows them with extraordinary abilities. There are eight Vigors in total, many of which feel similar to the previous Plasmids, though there are some interesting new powers such as Murder of Crows which sends a flock of frenzied crows to peck your foes to death. Vigors can also be charged up to deploy stationary traps, opening up possibilities of luring enemies into a deadly ambush. An uncharged Devil’s Kiss, for example, sends out a single flaming projectile, whereas its charged version drops a stationary fire trap that explodes with tremendous burning power once sprung. Further, there are quite a few advanced Vigor combinations that are possible, achieved through correctly timing two quick Vigor attacks in a row, such as Murder of Crows + Shock Jockey which electrifies the furiously attacking crows for additional damage.
Gunplay is once again central to gameplay in Bioshock Infinite, with a number of new weapons and old favourites present. Unlike Vigors, which once acquired Booker keeps for the remainder of the game, it’s only possible to possess two weapons at any given time. Thus, weapon management is key to survival in Columbia, particularly when readying for major confrontations. The usual suspects are back, such as the Pistol, Shotgun and Machine Gun, and new weapons such as the Sniper Rifle prove particularly useful given the many long-range combat scenarios that arise. Other, rarer weapons, can be lifesavers when faced with heavy-hitting enemy such as the Firemen, including the grenade-launching Volley Gun which has the side benefit of stunning these larger enemies. Perhaps the most versatile weapon in Booker’s arsenal is his Sky-Hook, a melee weapon acquired very early on. Serving as both a mode of transportation (via Columbia’s Sky-Line rail system) and a melee weapon, the Sky-Hook is capable of delivering the most gruesome attacks of any weapon. Using the deadly rotating blades of the Sky-Hook it’s possible for Booker to snap necks, explode heads or rupture a poor foe’s chest. Given how essential it is to conserve ammo in the higher difficulty levels, and how quickly the crazed citizens of Columbia rush at you, the Sky-Hook is often the go-to weapon of choice .
Like its predecessor, Bioshock Infinite includes a passive upgrade system, this time in form of wearable Gear. Found Gear will be one of four types: hat, shirt, pants or boots, each focusing mainly on a particular type of perk, be it offensive or defensive bonuses, or special perks. Similar to Tonics, once Gear is equipped it provides an enhancement of some sort, such as the Nitro Vest which increases the radius of explosive weapon damage or the Fit As A Fiddle boots that revive Booker with full health. There are over 40 Gear items to collect in total, most of which are hidden off-the-beaten path or locked behind doors.
One of the biggest gameplay changes in Bioshock Infinite is the introduction of a magnetic-repulsive shield which Booker acquires very early in the game. The shield allows Booker to take damage without draining his health, and it recharges if Booker remains in cover or avoids taking damage for a few seconds. While shields have become quite common in first-person shooters these days, this is the first time a Bioshock game has incorporated the game mechanic and it does dramatically alter how the game feels. With the added protection, the action moves much more quickly as there’s less of a penalty for taking damage and a diminished need to hide behind cover. The game designers have also increased the number of attacking enemies, so instead of the methodical, singular enemy encounters found in previous Bioshock games, in Bioshock Infinite enemies often attack in packs and combat is aggressive.
Helping Booker out for the majority of the game is Elizabeth, quite possibly the most helpful AI partner ever in a video game. She’s not one of those helpless damsel in distress types that requires constant supervision, nor does she engage in combat at all. Rather, Elizabeth often remains slightly out of slight and constantly supports Booker by throwing him a bottle of Salts that refill his Vigor power, health kits to restore his life gauge, or valuable Silver Eagle Dollars that can be spent at the many city vending machines to upgrade Vigors, weapons, or purchase supplies. Moreover, Elizabeth possesses the unique ability to open “Tears”, which are portals to alternate realities, and through these she can bring over ammunition supplies, auto-turrets and even create cover for Booker in the midst of combat.
Not only is Elizabeth a helpful companion, her believability as a living, breathing character, creates a bond that grows strong as the story progresses. This sense of attachment feels especially heightened during the times where Elizabeth is not around, as there’s a tangible reactive feeling that something is missing. Protecting Elizabeth from Comstock thus feels purposeful and meaningful, a refreshing change considering how dreadful “escort missions” are in other games.
Bioshock Infinite is an admirable example of how to take an existing franchise and reinvent itself as something even greater. The sky city of Columbia feels steeped in history, made believable by the omnipresent Father Comstock with his barrage of propaganda videos, posters and loudspeaker monologues that progressively reveal the city’s darker side. The evolving relationship between Booker and Elizabeth serves as the narrative’s driving force, drawing us deep into their characters all the way until the story’s unforgettable final twist. While Bioshock Infinite is single-player only, the core experience is so gratifying that it’s easily worth repeat plays, and at about ten hours per run-through, there’s plenty to come back to.
Lasting Appeal/Replayability 4.5/5
[This article originally appeared on the Future Shop Tech Blog]