BioShock Infinite Review
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Genre: First-Person Action/Adventure
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer(s): Irrational Games, 2K Marin, Human Head Studios
Release Date: March 26, 2013
MSRP: $59.99 (standard), $79.99 (Premium Edition), $149.99 (Ultimate Songbird Edition)
This review is based off of gameplay of the PlayStation 3 version.
The road to BioShock Infinite was no doubt one filled with anticipation, delays, and controversy, flooding gaming news outlets since its announcement. Seeing as Irrational Games took the driver seat once again after the very first BioShock lit the gaming world afire with its ambitiousness, storytelling, and atmosphere, it really came as no surprise that Infinite had a lot of hype behind it. Now, I’m not going to lie. I was genuinely concerned about how the game would turn out, seeing as delays don’t always mean a better product in the end. Upon making my ascension into Columbia, however, my fears were put to rest. BioShock Infinite is more than anyone could have ever asked for, setting a new benchmark for the genre in pretty much every regard while defining itself as one of the finest titles of this generation.
BioShock Infinite takes place in 1912, putting you in the shoes of gun-for-hire Booker DeWitt as he heads for Columbia, a city in the sky, in order to find and rescue a young woman by the name of Elizabeth in exchange for his outstanding debt being wiped. However, Columbia has far more going on than Booker anticipates, between a religious extremist named Zachary Hale Comstock proclaiming himself “The Prophet” as he rules over Columbia with his fanatical ideals and a rebellious group called the Vox Populi operating underground as they contest Comstock’s rule. As you can imagine, things won’t be easy for Booker in his task, nor will the job be as cut-and-dry as he believes.
From the get-go, the world of Columbia sucks you in and never lets go. When I first made the ascension at the beginning of the game and watched the clouds clear, with a bright, sprawling city dazzling my eyes with all of its beauty, I was hooked immediately. I landed in the “Welcome Center”, a church of sorts, that highlighted the religious significance on Columbia straight away. Once I emerged from there, I wandered the streets, taking in the patriotism that bombarded my view wherever I turned. As my adventure continued, I constantly anticipated what could possibly be next for me to behold and explore. I was enthralled with Columbia from beginning to end, despite its flaws as a society, which you’ll come to learn when you play. I simply never wanted to leave, and after two playthroughs, I can still say I miss it.
While Columbia is an amazing and unique setting for BioShock Infinite, its inhabitants and happenings are the game’s greatest strengths by far. The story will play with your emotions, surprise you, and serve as a highly thought-provoking experience that will keep you guessing as you progress. Booker and Elizabeth’s relationship is a unique one, as it takes on its highs and lows as things unfold. Their trust in each other is constantly tested as their individual backgrounds are exposed, which the pacing of the story does very well in making sure their backstories get the attention they deserve. Comstock is a fantastic villain, and as you learn more about his ideals and what plans lie up his sleeve, you’ll detest him more and more, but at the same time, raise questions in your mind as to why he does what he does and how he can foresee so much. Comstock’s pet of sorts and overseer of Elizabeth, the Songbird, steals the show every time it pops in, creating tension-filled moments of both excitement and terror as chaos ensues. The entire cast is filled with memorable and interesting characters, all of which are peppered throughout a brilliantly paced narrative that never feels padded nor drags on.
Many of Infinite’s details can be garnered through listening to Voxophones and gazing into Kinetoscopes, which I highly recommend seeking out, as you can learn more about Columbia and its inhabitants than the plot will even let on as some even provide clues to some of the answers you’ll no doubt seek. The stellar voice acting and fantastic script brings every character to life with vivid emotion, creating memorable characters you’ll remember for years to come. The voice acting is especially important for Booker and Elizabeth, as they play off of each other the entire game, creating a relationship that you’ll enjoy watching evolve as you progress. There were moments where I laughed and others where I felt their pain, as the emotion in their voices is defined and appropriate, allowing for me to connect with them on a more personal level. Any time a game can manage to pull this off is an achievement in and of itself.
Infinite also does a fantastic job of capturing the era in which it takes place. Keep in mind that segregation is in full swing around this time, and as such, Columbia is no different than America, even going to more extreme levels than you’d expect. This is no doubt a mature title that tackles very mature themes such as racism and religious fanaticism in raw fashion, so do not expect it to pull any punches in this regard. These themes are here not only for the shock value, but to show the flaws of humanity in a world that is portrayed to be perfect in every regard. Tackling such issues is gutsy, but Irrational Games pulled it off expertly, as I felt the content was appropriate for the image that Irrational Games was trying to convey of Columbia.
The graphical style is highly unique, capturing the era in its architecture while at the same time bringing a bright, vivid color palette and some propaganda and advertisements that capture the art style. As I mentioned earlier, Columbia is going to suck you into its world to the point where, when the credits were rolling, you won’t be ready to leave, just as I was. Despite Columbia’s flaws as a society, the setting is so unique and interesting that I felt fully immersed. The game also manages to mix in music of the era as it plays over phonographs and radios scattered about. Pulse-pounding and dynamic music populates every battle, always punctuating at the very end as the dust settles to signify the end of the chaos. The best original piece has to be “Elizabeth’s Theme”, as its timing in the story and tone is perfect, giving the moment a more emotional impact. Also, keep your ears attentive, as you may hear some surprising tunes throughout your journey that you certainly won’t expect.
She’s the center of the story and will raise your most pressing questions throughout, but as far as gameplay elements go, the most significant addition is Elizabeth. She’s by Booker’s (and thus your) side for most of the game, conversing and interacting with him as you progress. She’s certainly not just a pretty face, though, as she has many uses in battle and out that will benefit you in a pinch. While you’re in combat, she’ll warn you of incoming threats, toss you ammo, health, and salt if you happen to run low, and is able to open Tears, which are holes in space that allow her to pull in walls you can use for cover, freight hooks you can grapple on to in order to get to a better vantage point, and even mechanical allies that will fight by your side. Don’t think that this makes battles too easy, however, as it takes time for her to rummage up supplies you can use, preventing you from relying on her too much. This keeps battles elegantly balanced, making for a challenging experience even on Medium difficulty, as the A.I. is smart, aggressive, and more than capable of getting the drop on you. Elizabeth also stays out of the way and cannot even take damage, so you’ll never have to babysit her. She’s there to support you through and through, and every time she tossed me some ammo in a pinch, I couldn’t help but feel extremely grateful for having her.
When outside of battle, Elizabeth helps you further, allowing you to pick locks (should you have lock picks for her to use) in order to find hidden supplies, Voxophones, Kinetoscopes, Infusions, which upgrade your health, armor, or salts depending on which you choose, and Gear, which you can equip in order to give you certain advantages in battle, such as stunning enemies when using melee attacks and increasing firearm damage while you’re moving on a sky-line. She’ll also find money lying around as well as point out lock picks and other objects of importance. Considering scavenging for supplies, like in previous entries in the franchise, is a significant and rewarding part of the experience, having her around makes things a little easier, but not too much so. You’ll still have to the majority of scavenging yourself, which personally, I wouldn’t have any other way. Perhaps one of her greatest elements is the manner in which she conveys her emotions. The motion capture done on Elizabeth is amazing, as you’ll always know how she feels at any point in the story. She’ll walk around with a carefree look if she’s happy, or will wear a scowl if she’s unhappy, for example, giving her a human element that’s easy to connect to as a player. Elizabeth is a fantastic element of gameplay, and while the feeling of isolation felt in the original BioShock is lost most of the time, having her company proves to be something you’d rather have than not.
As far as Booker’s arsenal goes, he functions largely the same as previous entries did, with the same polished gameplay you’ve come to expect from the series. He wields several different types of weapons, from your standard pistol, shotgun, carbine rifle, and sniper rifle, among others, to some variations, such as the Heater, which operates like a shotgun, but lights enemies on fire with every blast. A personal favorite is the Hand Cannon, which is essentially an extremely powerful revolver that, when fully upgraded, is nothing your enemies want to be on the receiving end of. Speaking of upgrades, vending machines make their return, allowing you to buy supplies and upgrade weapons and Vigors. Vigors are another element of Booker’s arsenal, which aren’t unlike the Plasmids of prior entries in the series. With Vigors, you’ll have the power to wield lighting bolts, send your enemies floating into the air, possess enemies and make them your allies for a limited time, catch incoming fire and send it back to the enemy, and more. They literally give you immense power and variety at your fingertips, and combining them with each other as well as your weapons is not only key to survival, but immensely satisfying, as some of the foes out there will more than give you a run for your money. These include Motorized Patriots, which are essentially large, metal wind-up toys with mini-guns, and Handymen, which are towering part-robot, part-human behemoths that are some of the greatest challenges you’ll face and create some of the most memorable encounters you’ll ever have throughout the game. The enemy variety doesn’t disappoint, as the game finds ways to mix things up and keep you guessing, which will cause you to shift your strategy at a moment’s notice as well as keeping things from getting dull.
The final key element is the Sky Hook, which serves as your transportation around Columbia. This arm-mounted mechanism features three spinning hooks that allow you to hang from rails and hooks, which not only help you get around, but can also be effective in battle by giving you vantage points and making you a moving target. Traveling around on the Sky Hook is exhilarating and novel, bringing something new to the table you’ve likely never seen before. The mechanics works smoothly and also makes for some amusing kills as you can leap off of the sky-line onto enemies. The Sky Hook also operates as a melee weapon in combat. It can make for some very gruesome and entertaining kills as you break necks and rip heads off. Executing enemies in this manner never got old, and I still laugh manically every time I manage to pull one off.
Very much dependent on how much you scavenge, what difficulty you select, and whether you choose to take on some optional tasks will ultimately decide your length. I scavenged heavily and managed to pull off a playthrough that lasted close to the 15 hour mark, though this is an estimate as the game does not track the length of your game, or at least, from what I could find. Once you’re through, you’ll no doubt want to take the journey again, and that’s where 1999 Mode comes in. It can be unlocked by inputting the classic “Konami code” at the main menu whenever you like, or by completing the game once, which I recommend. This mode presents the biggest challenge that BioShock Infinite has to offer. Supplies become pretty scarce and, as a result, I found myself running out of ammo pretty often. Enemies also dish out more pain, so I found myself having to be more conservative in my approach, utilizing a sniper rifle from long range to pick off targets while keeping a shotgun or Hand Cannon at the ready for when things became more close quarters. It presents an admirable challenge, especially against Handymen, but it never manages to feel unfair as any battle can be overcome with the right strategy and loadout. Overcoming each large-scale battle in 1999 Mode felt like a hard-fought victory, as one slip up could easily mean having to respawn, which offloads 100 Silver Eagles (the game’s currency) from your inventory, and running out means you’ll be booted back to the main menu, which actually happened to me once. If you want an added challenge, take on the Trophy/Achievement that restricts you from using Dollar Bill machines, which means you can’t buy any health and salt packs nor any ammo, forcing you to scavenge like your life depends on it. I have the Platinum to show for it, and I can attest that such a playthrough is possible and also very rewarding.
The biggest take away you’ll have from BioShock Infinite, though, will undoubtedly be the ending. I’m pretty sure my jaw was hitting the floor the entire time, and I’m still in awe of what I observed, as it consumed my every thought well after the credits finished rolling. However, I wasn’t finished yet. You see, the world created within is so downright absorbing that I couldn’t help but come back for more. I wanted to see the sights of the Welcome Center and Battleship Bay again, experience the twists and turns of the plot once more, and seek out every Voxophone I could to glean more lore from the world of Columbia. Simply put, I loved every second, to the point where I struggle to find fault in it. Elizabeth’s animations seemed to be jerky on occasion and, this being an Unreal Engine-powered title, some textures would look muddy before they loaded in, but these are minor nitpicks that do nothing to hurt the overall experience. The game is brilliantly paced with engaging characters, an immersive world to explore, and polished gameplay that manages to be both fun and challenging. Perhaps most significant of all, though, is the fact that whenever I thought about the game ending, I would get this sinking feeling in my stomach. This isn’t a feeling I get very often, but when I do, it’s extremely notable. It means I simply love a game so much that I don’t want it to end, as it delivers an experience that I will never, ever forget. I applaud Ken Levine and the team at Irrational Games for the outstanding achievement they have accomplished here. I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that BioShock Infinite is one of the finest titles of this generation, setting the standard by which all first-person titles should be held to from now on. It is nothing short of a masterpiece, is well-deserving of the perfect score it has achieved, and should be experienced by anyone and everyone.