Review by Taenju
"It certainly is Infinite in so many ways."
Synopsis - Bioshock Infinite is the next title in the Bioshock series, although its place is that of a spiritual sequel rather than a literal one. Aside from a reference or two the plot of Infinite stands on its own so prior experience playing the other two Bioshock games isn't necessary to fully enjoy Infinite. If readers do go back to play prior titles first, it will be to observe differences in the style and experience of Irrational Games as a developer rather than any ties between the plot-lines. This review was written with me having played a PS3 copy of the game.
The Story 9/10-
In terms of the quality of the story Ken Levine and his team certainly deliver the deep level of storytelling we continue to expect from them. Going into the game I was expecting it to bank all of its chips on its atmosphere like I felt the original Bioshock did and to the game's credit they actually went a different direction and still managed to exploit the strengths of the story they were telling and the world they were showing. You play as Booker DeWitt, a man who owes debts to the wrong kind of people and must go retrieve a girl, later revealed to be named Elizabeth, from the fantastic city in the sky known as Columbia. Your involvement in the plot isn't immediately obvious, but this actually works towards the game's favor as they walk DeWitt through the same problems and questions the player has. This produces a gaming plot-line that takes advantage of a game's inherently high immersion trait to make you really feel like you ARE Booker DeWitt trying to figure out just what in blazes is going on in this crazy city in the clouds. I personally was engrossed in Booker and Elizabeth's plights and motivations the entire duration of the game, and even found it hard to look away just long enough to record the information I needed for the walkthrough guide I was writing alongside my first play through. Every fact you learn about Booker, Elizabeth, Comstock, Lutece, and even all of the lesser (for lack of a better descriptor) side characters is very important to the progression of the plot and factors in to the plots many twists and turns.
Overall when compared to Irrational Games' last classic in the original Bioshock, the setting of Infinite provides in Columbia is much more alive and thriving than that of desolate Rapture. This change in setting and tone was a dangerous one to take but they pulled it off with flying colors. The only real detriment to the story that has to be mentioned is that very interesting side characters seem like they lose their spotlight far too soon, but when dealing with the character development on as deep a level as that found in Booker and Elizabeth this is understandable. Depending on the player, you will find yourself so engaged that when Elizabeth starts talking to you it might cause you to want to look her directly in the eye, or even look away in shame or thought. I feel the strength that Irrational Games managed to obtain since the release of the original Bioshock was being able to write a story in Infinite that was engaging the entire way through instead of relying on a masterfully crafted atmosphere and a great plot twist although both are still alive and well in this game too. On that note, not to spoil anything, I will simply say that the story's concluding scenes and twist ending is one of the most deep and enthralling things I have ever seen and I think it will be something to analyze deeply for years to come. Story-wise they simply created a better game and have definitely improved since their ventures in Rapture, creating a game that is worth replaying for the story alone outside of the gameplay.
The Presentation 9/10-
After making waves with the release of the original Bioshock and, some would argue, completely mastering the art of creating an atmosphere so thick with immersion that you can't help but be enthralled by world, Irrational Games shows that they are true artists by creating something that was a different atmosphere but no less powerful. Walking through Columbia is an experience in and of itself as you observe the art of the environment and the livelihood of the characters that populate it. Never before did it actually feel so much like you were actually in 1912 in something as fantastic as a city in the sky.
While on a technical level one can look at Bioshock Infinite and place it under serious scrutiny, pointing at things like jagged edges, low polygon counts, and the occasional stiff animation, none of this truly detracts from the experience and are thus moot points. Irrational Games manages to focus its art and sound direction in the places that matter and again uses the older pop culture setting of the 1910's to their advantage in a way that most would instantly forgive any technical shortcomings the presentation may have. Music plays an active role when it sees the opportunity and adds to the scene in a passive role when it needs to. This combined with the variety of charming sound effects and punctuations throughout the gameplay provide an experience that feels alive and more than complete. The art style overall does it's job at a spectacular level without needing to resort to one-upping the competition by doing things such as pushing more polygons than the other guy. It comes to the point where I even loved watching the propaganda of the story's antagonists, not because I agreed with them but because they were so excellently crafted.
In the end, Irrational Games does what I love in video games which is pushing art style over technical performance. Not to say that the game does horribly on the technical side of things, but that it's just not important in the case of Infinite because the art and sound direction is just so well done.
The Gameplay 7/10
For me really the gameplay is Infinite's only real weak point. Although this may come from a simple over saturation of shooters in today's gaming market, Infinite's gun play only seems passable enough to do the job needed to enhance the other aspects of experiencing the game. The weapons are what you would expect from any shooter with your stock inventory of a pistol, sniper, assault rifle, and shotgun with several other staple weapons such as the grenade launcher-type weapon in the Volley Gun and the RPG. Booker can only carry two weapons at the same time but he collects ammo for everything so it is at least convenient if you see one of your enemies drop a weapon you want you can grab it and use your stockpile of ammo for it. The Vigors in this game (Think "Plasmids" for readers who have played the original Bioshock) are interesting enough but out of the 8 total only the first few see great enough utility to use consistently. The only real problem that seems to actually detract from the experience however is that while you can find a favorite set up of weapons, gear, and vigors not all of your offensive options are really viable when pitted against other standards. I found myself sticking with the Carbine/Shotgun weapons and the Shock Jockey/Murder of Crows vigors for almost the entire game. I rarely switched to other setups and really only when fighting certain enemies demanded it, not because I actually found those other weapons useful.
One of the things to say in Bioshock Infinite's favor though that I wish more games would do is the fact that Elizabeth acts like a regulator in battle, most notably throwing ammo, salt phials, and even health packs your way so that you can always keep engaging in a fight without having to break the flow of the battle. This isn't enough to allow you just simply steamroll your way past everything with infinite (intended) resources, but it is enough to make you feel like you never have to stop what your doing to refill on supplies. This carries over outside of battle as well with her tossing you money at regular intervals so you can always have a certain amount to afford the upgrades you want but not everything at once of course. I did appreciate the fact that I had to pick and choose my upgrades instead of going with my usual tendencies of simply going for everything and expecting to be maxed out on all upgrades by the end of the game because that simply doesn't happen, there's even not enough infusions (your base health, salt, and shield upgrade items) to max out stats if you were to collect each and every one. This forces you to find your strengths and bolster them.
All that being said, the downside to all of these systems being in place is that when combined with the fact that you also have four Gear slots that you can collect equipment for throughout the game Bioshock Infinite becomes an exceedingly easy game without player-imposed restrictions. Luckily the combat is fun enough that you can easily bear through it to see the story and presentation bits that are the real meat of the game. Higher difficulty settings unfortunately only amount to numerical changes on the enemies so in the end you just spend a little more time searching out recovery pickups and ammo. Bioshock Infinite does avoid one thing I see games do that I absolutely don't like which is the infinitely respawning enemy hallway or corridor, what you see attacking you is what you have to deal with. Although the game DOES do one other thing that I see games doing that I don't like with is giving certain grunt enemies a ton of armor and really just creating an enemy that's more annoying to deal with more than being challenging to fight. I'd honestly rather you just send more enemies like the Motorized Patriot than just make a weak enemy take forever to kill.
It is a good thing that it's just as much fun gameplay just exploring the world and taking in the atmosphere as much as it is the gun play because, in the end, it's passable enough to serve its purpose as a cool factor without doing anything extremely extraordinary. The using Elizabeth as a regulator quirk though is awesome, not perfect, but I want to see future games master systems that serve that regulator role.
Game Length and Replayability -
The entire campaign will round out about 10-15ish hours depending more on play style than skill. Readers who are apt to search every nook and cranny for collectibles will expect to be on the later half of that estimate. Obviously the game can be finished very quickly by skilled speed runners only hitting the important objectives before moving on, though they will of course be missing a lot of the upgrades possible throughout the game but in terms of the overall difficulty of the game that's not really an issue to the dedicated. Those who have completed the story will definitely be likely to try the game's 1999 mode to experience the game again on a harder difficulty as well as see the game through with a different perspective provided by the plot's twist conclusion, which in and of itself is enough of a reason to replay the game. The achievement hunter in me was not really all that enticed to do anything but collect the obvious collectibles throughout the game (The Kinetoscopes, voxophones, and infusions), so I don't see that as being a major point factoring into replaying the game. Readers who are very experienced in playing shooters may want to either set the game level to Hard or use the cheat code here on GameFaqs to unlock 1999 mode early in order to balance out the challenge of the game even their first time through.
Campaign Play Time: 10+ hours on average, can range between 8-9ish to 15 hours depending on play style
Main Strength: An enthralling plot, masterful work on the atmosphere, and deep character development
Main Weakness: The gameplay, it's not very deep and comes off as easy
Final Score: 9/10
Final Recommendation: Purchase, if you liked Bioshock for its atmosphere and plot twist you will adore Infinite for its story, atmosphere, character development, and mind-blowing conclusion. For readers who have the chance to buy this on the PS3 it is worth mentioning that you also gain the original Bioshock on the same disc, a worthwhile full price game in and of itself and overall a great bargain.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/02/13
Game Release: BioShock Infinite (US, 03/26/13)
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