Right off the bat, I’ll just go ahead and say that Irrational Games’ Bioshock Infinite is one of the best games I have played in years. The gameplay is fast paced, hectic, but extremely fun. The story is a complexly woven narrative with deep and interesting characters and a handful of crazy to boot. If you haven’t picked up a copy of it, do so now!
With that out of the way, let’s get on with the review!
Bioshock Infinite is set in an alternate universe from the one seen in Bioshock and Bioshock 2 where, in 1912, an enormous flying city called Columbia exists. Originally a traveling world’s fair intended to show off America’s power and ingenuity to the rest of the world, Columbia has long since gone rogue and vanished into the clouds. As former Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt, you are tasked by an unknown employer to travel to the city and recover a mysterious girl named Elizabeth. However, to reach her and get out of Columbia, Booker must go through a civil war between the leader of Columbia, a religious zealot named Comstock bent on punishing the “Sodom Below,” and a blood thirsty group of lower class citizens known as the Vox Populi determined to overthrow Comstock at any cost. If that wasn’t bad enough, Booker has to contend with Elizabeth’s guardian, The Song Bird, a giant mechanical bird creature whom the entire city fears. But a job’s a job, and Booker intends to get it done!
As a game, Bioshock Infinite is tons of fun. With shootouts which allow you to just have fun with the weapons and abilities you’ve picked up as well as providing its own unique spin on things thanks to its skyline mechanic as well as Elizabeth’s ability to open tears to other dimensions. However, there are some minor issues I had with the gameplay that are mostly superficial when looking at everything else the game has to offer. When it comes to story, the game has one of the best plots in the history of gaming that will keep you thinking about it for days after you’ve finished it.
Much like its predecessors, Bioshock Infinite boasts an inventive combat system where you are given control of a number of weapons ranging from sub-machine guns to RPG’s as well as a number of abilities called vigors, Infinite’s version of plasmids. Vigors allow you to fire lightning from your fingertips, throw fiery grenades, summon a swarm of crows, among many other things. In total you’ll find eight vigors in the game, all with their own specific uses and alternative fire modes. However, in most cases you will tend to favor two or three vigors and stick with them throughout the game. I myself favored using the “Bucking Bronco” vigor to suspend enemies in the air and mow them down with my shotgun in most cases. It is ultimately up to you which vigors you prefer as all of them are just as valid as another for combat, however, it is recommended you find a couple you like using and stick with them as upgrading vigors can be ridiculously expensive.
Upgrading your weapons and vigors are important because as you progress through the game the combat segments significantly increase in difficulty. In many cases, the game throws you into a proverbial meat grinder as dozens of enemies open fire on you, some of which are tougher than others. Along with the usual mooks you fight there are a handful of mini-bosses in the form of walking automatons and vigor using enemies to mix things up. With inadequate weapons and vigors, fights can be very challenging, but it never gets truly frustrating. Once you figure out how to approach combat you practically dominate the arena.
Elizabeth herself is a key part of the gameplay in Bioshock Infinite. As Booker’s companion she is practically invaluable the moment she is introduced. During combat she will try to keep you stocked with ammunition and salts to fuel your vigors as well as scrounge for medpacks to keep you alive. This can be the difference between life and death in many occasions and it was always nice to know she would come through for me just as my rifle was running dry. This is especially helpful when it comes to using vigors as you are limited to what you have in your power bar. Unlike the original Bioshock you can’t just inject yourself with more Eve to fill the meter and are forced to scrounge for vials of salts when running low. However, don’t fool yourself into thinking she’ll just throw you ammo and salts every time you run out, she has to scrounge and won’t always come up with what you need. Even then, I found myself heavily relying on Elizabeth’s help during fights. When outside of combat, Elizabeth is always finding money for you and other helpful items, all of which elevate her to the likes of Half-Life 2’s Alyx Vance, and when she wasn’t there I felt like someone had tied one hand behind my back.
The most unique part of the combat in Bioshock Infinite comes from Elizabeth’s ability to open up tears in space-time which allow objects to enter the world. Before and during fights, the screen will light up with potential tears providing Booker with new weapons, cover, automated turrets, salts for vigors, and health when needed. Though she can only keep one tear open at a time you are able to switch between tears at any given time. These additions can be rather helpful, though I usually tended to just have Elizabeth open up one tear for an entire battle, or none at all. This stems from the one, admittedly minor, gripe I had with the game’s mechanics: they felt like they never reached their true potential.
One of this game’s most hyped features was the skylines of Columbia, with its winding rails that are used to transport supplies throughout the city as well as being utilized by people as a form of transportation. Throughout the game Booker comes across these skylines during combat which allows you to race around the arena and reach new locations for better vantage points and hidden goodies. Every time I was able to zip around on the skylines I had a blast. Being on a literal roller coaster while gunning down enemies and dropping on them from above was, by far, the most fun aspect of combat. However, there really aren’t that many places with skylines available and the places there are, are incredibly limited. In most cases, the skylines merely loop around a combat arena instead of providing you with access to different parts of the city. I cite this as an issue not because it’s bad, but because the skyline gameplay is so friggin fun and I wished there were more occasions to use it. If there are any future DLC’s for this game, I would happily purchase them if they provide more occasions for me to ride the skylines.
Going back to Elizabeth’s ability to open tears, I felt like it just wasn’t as awesome a mechanic as it should have been. With, literally, the whole multiverse at her disposal you’d expect a lot more options for Elizabeth to have to help aid in combat. Sure, the ability to summon a mechanized death-bot with the visage of George Washington is great, but apart from that and the handful of things I listed earlier that is pretty much it. There are various instances in the non-combat portions of the game where Elizabeth is capable of summoning trains and marching bands into an area, so why not have that available during combat? It is a minor issue, but again I felt like the game had a great idea but just didn’t run with it, at least not far enough. Plus, I kept wishing Elizabeth would summon a T. Rex to eat my enemies, and if there was any game where it would’ve been possible it was this one. Alas, my dreams of being a dinosaur master remain unrealized.
If there is one thing I genuinely disliked about the game it was the optional objectives. Throughout the game you come across keys, code books, and audio tapes that hint at secret areas and locked treasure chests full of helpful items like vials to help increase your salts capacity and health. However, these optional objectives usually require you to backtrack to the beginning of a level just to unlock them, and I loathe backtracking. During my first playthrough the first optional objective was basically the only one I did because it required me to run back to the beginning of the level, and that was all it took to prevent me from doing the others. Which is sad because those ability upgrades are very useful in later levels.