Review by Ironblade16

Reviewed: 04/02/13

Will the Circle be Unbroken?

Irrational had quite a feat to pull of with this one. The original Bioshock was a revelation upon its release back in 2007, critics and fans adored the atmospheric first person shooter that took you to a whole 'nother world under the Atlantic sea. How do you create a game that lives up to that? Well, Ken Levine and company managed to create a game that not only lives up to its legacy, but one that gives the original a run for its money.

Narratively speaking, it's in a class of its own. You, the player, take on the role of Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent tasked with rescuing a young girl named Elizabeth trapped in a tower in the floating city of Columbia. "Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt." In the first game, your character didn't speak and really had no distinguishable personality. This game is different in that respect. Booker is a real person, with flaws and secrets. While the first game had its own interesting characters (Andrew Ryan, Sander Cohen, etc) this game has far more memorable characters in my opinion. Elizabeth is easily the most interesting, with a curious and peppy attitude that livens up the game considerably. She isn't without her problems, of course. She's been locked up her whole life, in a tower guarded by a mysterious mechanical bird, the Songbird. Her character interactions with you are the best moments of the game, for sure. Then you have the Lutece twins, two mysterious individuals that seem to possess powers outside of reality.

The setting is fantastic. Living up to Rapture's grandiose atmosphere and history was never going to be a walk in the park, but Columbia manages to pull it off. It's a product of American exceptionalism, founded on patriotic goals and the belief that America is a step ahead of everyone else. It has a strict racial view, with the African Americans and other minorities being separated from the white men. The city, just like Rapture, is far from perfect. There is a constant civil war occurring, between the Columbian government, the Founders, and a rag-tag rebellion force known as the Vox Populi. The Founders are led by Zachary Hale Comstock, a religious fanatic who calls himself "The Prophet." On the other side, the Vox are led by an African-American woman known as Daisy Fitzroy. Despite being portrayed in some regards as a hero to the people, she isn't afraid to put others in danger to achieve her goals.

The plot has many twists and turns, as it propels you along this rollercoaster of a tale. It starts off exceedingly strong and continues on like this for a while. However, part of the middle act takes a slight dip in quality. The plot slows down and you feel like you are just running pointless errands. It isn't long before the plot takes hold again and you don't want to put the game down. The game then throws you a fiery curveball of an ending, one that will be remembered by gamers for years to come. It is surely going to be polarizing for fans, but I for one loved it. It took its time and resolved everything quite neatly. Finding voxaphones (pretty much audio diaries from the original) fill in all the holes in the story quite well. The story has some issues and the Songbird was quite under-utilized, but it's still a fantastic tale. One of gaming's best.

The production values are excellent. From what I've heard, this was a very expensive endeavor, so I'm glad to see all that cash wasn't put to waste. The art direction is fantastic, with a brighter, more colorful look than the original game. Of course, this makes sense in the scheme of the setting and sets is apart from the dark, foreboding waters of Rapture. The graphics themselves are fantastic...on PC. With the power of the computer, everything comes to life, with life-like animations, textures, and smooth sailing performance. I played the majority of the game on the Playstation 3, however, and it isn't quite as impressive. The textures are low quality and the faces and animations aren't quite up to par with the PC. Elizabeth's animations, however, look fantastic on all three platforms. It's still a beautiful game, but the aging console hardware brings it down a couple of notches.

The soundtrack is freaking brilliant. The sweeping score accompanies the hero's highs and lows appropriately, and the many songs included throughout feel period appropriate. There are some songs that don't quite fit the period, such as "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys and Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun", but it all makes sense in the scheme of the plot. The former song is performed in extravagant fashion by a Columbian barbershop quartet. My favorite track is performed by Elizabeth (Courtnee Draper) herself. The voice acting is fantastic, with emotion behind their words that feels real. The dialogue is great as well, but you've come to expect that sort of script quality from Irrational. It's a top notch game on the sound and visual fronts, especially on PC. I just wish the console versions were a bit better, but whatcha gonna do?

Of course, a good story and great graphics don't amount to much if the actual gameplay itself isn't up to the standards set by its narrative and production values. The combat works well for this game. You've got your basic guns (pistol, shotgun, machine guns, etc) and then you have your vigors, which function similar to Bioshock's plasmids. There's a total of eight in the game, each granting you a unique power or skill. You have everything from your "Shock Jockey" (an electrical shock ability that can stun enemies) to "Bucking Bronco", which raises enemies helplessly in the air for you to shoot down. With a combination of weapons and vigors, you can push through the slew of enemies and come out victorious.

You also have infusions, which are vials that grant you boosts to three main statistics, health, salts (what powers your vigor abilities), and your shield. There are a limited number in the game, so choose which stat to boost wisely. There's also four gear slots for Booker, which you can fill with various gear that have effects. It's all very helpful to your character. For example, one piece of gear might increase your damage while riding the sky-rails, or another might increase your movement speed after your shield breaks. Then you have the sky-rails, large railings that hang over environments that you can use to zip around. They work in combat and movement situations. Overall, the combat system works fine, though it can be a little bit clunky at times.

The AI in the game isn't all that great, besides Elizabeth, which I'll get to later. Enemies pretty much just bumrush you, and they don't have all that many strategies or tactics programmed. The game isn't all that difficult, in my opinion. I played on Hard my first time through, and had little difficulty except for one boss, which seems overpowered to me. Besides your regular grunts and soldiers, you have a few advanced enemies to deal with. The Motorized Patriot is a minigun toting George Washington robot, and the Handyman is this game's equivalent of a Big Daddy, a lumbering giant of a construction. Handyman fights aren't nearly as hard as the Big Daddy encounters, but I applaud Irrational for attempting to rectify the absence of our favorite lumbering sea giant.

Elizabeth's AI, on the other hand, is fantastic. You might think that since you are escorting her around for a majority of the game, you might have to play her constant protector. Oh no, she can handle herself. She is also incredibly useful to you as well. During combat, she might find a first aid kit, and promptly toss it to you. The same goes for ammunition and salts. She can also open up inter-dimensional tears in space time that can bring in allies for you, such as a motorized patriot or powerful rocket turrets. Like I said, her AI is something else. Outside of combat, during exploration, she will pick locks for you and bring hidden items to your attention.

The game isn't short, but it's not that lengthy either. I completed my first playthrough on Hard, gathering all voxaphones and thoroughly exploring the world in about 15 hours. 1999 Mode adds a lot of replay value however. This mode is designed for gamers who want a real challenge. Enemies are a lot stronger in this mode, as well as more frequent. Booker can't take as many hits, as well. It's not a walk in the park, either. Upon death, you must pay cash to revive. If you find yourself without money, you get brought back to the beginning of whatever chapter you are on. It's fascinating stuff.

Did it live up to my expectations? Yes, yes it did. It's the little moments that got me, such as Elizabeth's song or the barbershop quartet singing "God Only Knows". Those are the moments I will remember the most fondly. It's quite a feat, this game. It kept me interested the entire time, and also introduced me to some of the best characters in gaming.

The Good:
> Great storytelling and narrative
> Imaginative and interesting characters
> Fun combat
> Excellent production values
> Ending that provides closure and takes its time.

The Bad:
> Enemy AI isn't all that great
> Songbird character under-utilized

The Verdict: A powerful sweeping tale of a girl and a city in the sky that you will remember for years to come. 9.5/10

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: BioShock Infinite (US, 03/26/13)

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