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Bioshock Infinite: A 360 Review
Not going to lie; there are a lot of racists in BioShock Infinite. There was some racism in the first two games in the series, there is no denying that (an underwater city run by a totalitarian government in the 40's does not exactly bode well for race relations), but that is nothing compared to what you get here. BioShock Infinite takes place in 1912 in the floating city of Columbia. In the universe of BioShock Infinite, the Boxer Rebellion was dealt with when Columbia wiped the city of Peking from the map and, rather than stand down Columbia's leader, Comstock, chooses to secede from the union. Comstock, an alleged hero of Wounded Knee, considers himself a God's prophet and is dedicated to building a society built on racial purity (racial white purity, of course) and secretly planning to destroy the face of the Earth, what he believes to be Sodom. To that end, he's secreted away his daughter, Elizabeth, in a locked tower to nurture her abilities to open tears into other dimensions. Until she's ready to assume her place in his pantheon, however, Comstock is doing everything he can to hold back blacks, Chinese, and Irish. So, yeah, there's a lot of racism in BioShock Infinite.
But that's okay, because I have a magic hat that gives me the power to set people on fire by hitting them with my jagged hook-gauntlet.
BioShock Infinite is the true follow-up to the original. Both games were made by Irrational Games and I'll say this flat-out: the two games are fantastic. BioShock 2 may have been a direct sequel to BioShock, but it was made by a different studio (2K Marin), and in many ways it's a big comedown from the original. The original BioShock was shockingly good, a first person shooter that was genuinely creepy and probably one of the most heart-pounding games I've ever played. One of the best things the original had going for it was that it wasn't a generic shooter; the world-building in BioShock was incredibly in-depth and part of the game's appeal was tracking down every diary to expand upon the back story of the universe. BioShock was about exploring a city on the ocean floor and you never had any clue what was coming next. BioShock 2, although exploring different themes and different characters, didn't have the punch of the original because you weren't exploring a new setting, not really. Now, that isn't to say that BioShock 2 is bad or that I disliked it. BioShock 2 is still enjoyable and I didn't play through it multiple times because I wasn't having fun. Richard Cobett's article about why BioShock 2 was not a waste of time is very well though-out and while I don't agree with all its points, I agree with most of them. It's well worth reading if you are thinking that BioShock 2 is worthless because it wasn't made by Irrational.
Having said that, the 2nd game was a come-down from the first and BioShock Infinite is the true successor. Ken Levine's created an amazing game here. In terms of aesthetics, the floating city of Columbia is nothing like the underwater city of Rapture. Rapture was a dark, ruined city, a gorgeous art deco work of art ripped to pieces by a civil war between a tyrant and a gangster. The enemies you faced were humans driven insane by overdosing on body-altering substances to given them superpowers and you were hunted by gigantic behemoths in diving suits that could royally mess you up if you didn't plan ahead. Columbia has none of that; it starts in a golden city in the clouds in pristine condition and the enemies you face are either normal humans or mechanical constructs that don't do much to inspire terror. Even once you descend into the bowels of Columbia and come across the Shantytown that houses the repressed minorities of society and are faced with a ruined city once war breaks out, it is still nothing compared to Columbia. BioShock was creepy; BioShock Infinite is unsettling only because of its racism and its fanatical zealotry of some of its citizens. But where the aesthetics are different, the themes presented within mesh incredibly well. BioShock Infinite feels like a BioShock game even if it doesn't look like one.
BioShock Infinite uses the same core game play established by the original (and copied by the sequel). All three games are first-person shooters with a heavy overlay of plot. All three games see you exploring their respective cities and different districts of the cities represent different levels. BioShock Infinite features the revisiting of earlier levels more than the original, but even so it's pretty clear to see how the different levels are represented. You are armed with a melee weapon, various firearms, and superpowers that let you throw lightning, possess your enemies, or set them on fire. As you run around killing enemies, you'll find audio-diaries to expand on the back story, come across vending machines to buy upgrades for your weapons/superpowers, and loot garbage cans, desks, and lockers to resupply your arms. The controls are incredibly fluid and I never found myself having issues with the game play; my character always did what I wanted him and I never had any trouble shooting my enemies in the face. Using those core mechanics, however, Infinite introduces several changes to the game play.
For one, there is no map system. I found this off-putting at first, but my adjustment came quickly. You don't need a map here. Even if you do get lost, hitting the up button on the controller gives you a pointer showing you where you need to go. You no longer stock medkits in this game; instead, you get a force-field that absorbs damage and then regenerates. I prefer the old system, but what you're given works well enough for what it is. Probably the biggest change from the original is that no longer can you carry eight weapons at once. You can carry two. Once again, I found this off-putting at first, but it's not as limiting as you would think. You'll want to think about which weapons you are carrying (it's generally best to carry one long-range weapon and one for close-up) and you'll need to get good at working with what you have. You need to conserve your money and not waste it on upgrading guns you aren't planning to use (RPGs, I'm looking at you). On the easiest difficulty setting, I almost never ran out of ammo; on higher difficulties, I frequently did until I learned to adjust my playing style and not fire willy-nilly (a technical term if there ever was one).
In addition to changes, Infinite adds quite a few new mechanics to the series. On a surface level, Infinite adds actual NPCs to the game. In the first two, characters to interact with were far and few between, and nine times out of ten, they were villains. Columbia is a fully populated city and hanging around the NPCs long enough will get dialogue from them. Police wander the city but are not always hostile to you (steal from a cash register or fire your weapon in a neutral area, however, and things change). It's a welcome change; Columbia is a living city, not a ruin, and it feels like that. On a more serious level, you can fly around the city using your Skyhook, a mechanical grapple system that lets you slide along on rails to traverse areas and pick enemies off from up high. And then there's Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is your companion for the majority of the game, interacting with you and developing both her own back story and yours. She also proves to be a boon to you in battle, tossing you health and ammo refills, and her ability to open tears to other dimensions provide you with extra weapons, walls to hide behind, and allies from other worlds to help you out. Although she's your partner, she is never a hindrance, and thank God for that. An entire game that proved to be an escort mission would be near unbearable for me (easily the worst part of Resident Evil 4, for me). Elizabeth cannot be damaged (save for storyline purposes), never gets in your way when you are firing, and overall proves to be the best type of companion. Restarting the game for a second playthrough, I could not wait till I got to the point where she joined me again. she enhances the game play in all the right ways.
Now, BioShock Infinite is better than BioShock 2, but the million dollar question is, do I like it more than the original? I don't. That is not to say I dislike BioShock Infinite (if I haven't impressed upon you how much I love this game, I haven't done my job here). BioShock Infinite does have a few issues. Simply put, BioShock Infinite doesn't have any Big Daddies. In the first two games, Big Daddies were the aforementioned behemoths that make you shit your pants in terror whenever they would show up. They took a lot of planning to deal with, could absorb a ton of damage, and would frequently ruin your day. They added a ton to the game and Infinite has nothing like that. They have a few "Heavy Hitters," enemies that are designed to stop your progress and prove to be a real hindrance, but none of them concerned me much. Take, for instance, the Motorized Patriots, mechanical George Washingtons with chainguns. Ridiculously cool? Yes. Hard to deal with? No. Giant Frankenstein monsters with exposed hearts that shoot lightning. Once again, cool, but they go down quick. Not helping matters is that Big Daddies were an overriding presence in the first two games, in Infinite some of the Heavy Hitters show up a handful of times and go down pretty easy. So far as plot goes, this game's big twist isn't nearly as good as the original, as well, and while I have no issues with the ending, if you aren't paying attention you wouldn't understand what is going on. The lack of multiple endings and any kind of morality system also hurts it a little bit. You can be a progressive-thinking character, fighting for racial equality and sparing people you think deserve a second chance or you can be a Klan member and you're getting the exact same ending. I understand what director Ken Levine was going for here, but I find it hard to believe that certain monstrous actions I took can still lead to that ending.
Once again, my complaints are really minor. It's not as good as the original, but it is in no way a remake of the original like John Teti claims (careful playing of this game actually dismisses some of his complaints) and many of the mechanical complaints he has are not ones I had issue with. BioShock Infinite is a damned fine game and well-worth your time.
- BioShock 2 Retrospective- Eurogamer.net
Why BioShock 2 isn't a bad game.