Bioshock Infinite: A Review
I'm disappointed with the end result of Bioshock, but to begin with I wasn't expecting much. As soon as I saw the title for this game my expectations drilled themselves into the centre of the Earth, let alone 'dropped'. My first impressions though certainly aren't my last, and they won't stop me from writing a positive review, because in case you buy this game with, there is a good game within. It takes a few hours to find it, mind, but it's there.
Before I continue let me lay down a few important notes: First of all, this game does have its flaws, many that other critics seem to forget. If you've already seen other reviews, you've probably got it into your head that what happens with Elizabeth and the gunning and the Vigors happens almost immediately. The thing is, this game isn't like Bioshock 2. It's not even like Bioshock full stop, save for the engine. You probably also believe that the whole sky theme is cool, and that you're gonna be blown away by the breathtaking views. While my opinion is my own and you're free to disagree, I have to say that the other critics were outright wrong. What you get is a forgettable theme that has to forcefully remind you that you're in the sky and there's a long way down. The novelty of having "Bioshock.... but in the sky!" wears off faster than Lynx deodorant.
Irrational Games developed the game, and it's quite evident with some of the radical changes to the combat, character interactions and storytelling. But we still have 2K Games as the driving force, acting as the game's publisher. Ken Levine is also the lead designer, taking over from Paul Hellquist. The game was released in late March 2013, and saw generally positive reviews from major gaming journalists and amateur critics alike. So without further adiex, let's dive head first into the clouds with my Bioshock Review!
Rather than take place in Andrew Ryan's Rapture, we're instead going to 1912's Columbia, the city in the sky! What irks me from the start is that this place is far more technically advanced than Rapture, not to mention there was one of the biggest recessions in all of human history so surely this city couldn't've been built. If you think I'm being too close to reality, I must refer you then to some of the most tense moments in the game including racism and religion, two major themes that have rocked the foundations of gaming, but in all honesty, I like it.
Columbia was built (some how) by a self-acclaimed "Prophet", Zachary Hale Comstock and has led his flock to the city of Columbia to escape the horrors and sin that is the "Sodom Below". For those who don't know what that is exactly, he's referring to America, and his intentions were to make a utopia where all sins would be cleansed and only the righteous would live in his city. Unfortunately Comstock lacks that "oomph" that Andrew Ryan had, and while the former is charismatic and true to his cause, Ryan was much more charming and believable as a villain. Plus the final encounter with him was one of the best I'd ever seen.
You play as Booker DeWitt, voiced by Troy Baker (one of the most commonly found voice actors in this generation of consoles), a disgraced private detective who must be able to clear his debts and get over his drinking habits. DeWitt is given the chance of a lifetime - find a girl in the city of Columbia, and get her out of there unharmed. What bothers me about this is that early on there's no build up to this in the slightest very early on, and the closest you get to see him do an investigation is go toward a lighthouse (a vague attempt to remind me I'm still playing a Bioshock game) before rocketing up to the city in the clouds. Your objective is simple: Find the young girl Elizabeth, and rescue her from the Comstock tyrant who will do everything in his power to stop you. Well, almost anything.
The city of Columbia is a decent concept but these guys were incapable of executing it well. The idea of floating around in the air with nothing below doesn't hold any light to Bioshock's hydrophobic and claustrophobic atmosphere. The idea of the whole place flooding is forever there, and there are times when leaks happen. You're miles below the water with no safety grappling hook to pull you up. You're always seeing the water, always seeing bullets cause leaks in the wall, but here, shooting at the air or zepellins means nothing. It feels as atmospheric as a Ratchet and Clank game.
Nothing makes sense and there's very few reasons to be in the sky. I get that it's supposed to be metaphorical and related to Heaven, and it gets that part right, but once again, the lead designer Ken Levine didn't seem to put enough thought into it, and instead turned it into a British Gas advert.
There's several themes going on, two of which I really like: one being the Christianity theme, the other being racial tensions. The word "Christianity" isn't used, but there's enough references to the religion to shake a stick at - the shepards, the wrath of God, God himself, prophecy, Messiahs, deadly sin... need I go on? Another thing is that this game is the first to openly use racism, and show it as a humiliating and sadistic thing, something no other game has. There's a lot of segregation such as "Coloured and Irish" Washrooms, a scene where you choose to pelt a mixed race couple, and even resistances by the Chinese and African-Americans of the city. Comstock isn't outspoken against racism, but he doesn't exactly believe in it. He gives courage and says the only way they can be equal is if they speak up and demand to be equal, but people who aren't white in Bioshock have become slaves of paradise. It's one of those things that makes you think, and I like that.
"But surely ADAM and EVE would've been better in this game than 'Vigors and Salt'!"
It takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour and a half before you get to gun down soldiers (not splicers, more on this in a bit) with a pistol, though weapons are given out at a steady pace like the previous Bioshock games so you're not overwhelmed and demanding more early on. You also get some practice with the shooting ranges at the carnival, not long before you get the raffle. Should you have no ammo whatsoever you'll be able to use your grappling hook chainsaw thing (used as a grappling hook but can cleave through enemies with rotating hooks) as a melee weapon, a take on the Big Daddy drills of before, but not a very good one. It's still satisfying to see enemies burst into flames when you strike them with it though, provided you have that Gear.
Gear is also another major factor, but not compulsory to play the game. Gear gives you perks such as faster reload speeds, chance on hit to set enemies alight, have increased armour regeneration and so on. As much as I like the idea it just removes the idea of using your own skills, as with this Gear you get it into your head that you have to rely on the "procs" and perks they give. Keep that for the multiplayer crowd, or remove it entirely - it simply hasn't been tested thoroughly enough.
Gunplay is so much more satisfying in this game, as aiming down the iron sights gives much clearer shots unlike before, and makes sure that where you aim has an effect. OK, so shooting someone in the leg doesn't cripple them, nor does a shot to the wrist disarm them, but at least when you shoot the head it actually kills them. To me, that's pretty darned rare in Bioshock. However the combat is so dumbed down I don't know what to say; stealth has completely gone, and laying traps is a joke. It's not the enemy detection but how quickly they spawn and run out of their hiding places, making sure you have little to no time to make an ambush against them. The trap mechanic only exists in Vigors, and like previous games, it's limited. Another thing is that you can only carry two guns at a time, meaning that which weapons you use for which situation will require more thought and also more busywork. Sorry, but I can't be doing with this.
Vigors are almost identical to ADAM from the previous game, where you'd take a swig of this juice (rather than inject it like Rapture), and you'd be able to change your very genetic code to become a biological weapon. Most of the old vigors have got different names (Shock Jockey instead of whatever the lightning one was; Devil's Kiss rather than Incinerate, etc.) but mostly the same effects. My favourite has to be the Murder of Crows, a Houdini trick that summons ravenous birds to prey on their victims, distract them and also increase their damage taken. However these all cost salt. Yes, you read that correctly, salt. Not EVE, salt. I've no comment. But surely ADAM and EVE would've been far better in this game than "Vigors and Salt"!
The enemies you'll face are not like spice-o-maniacs, who are drug-addled buffoons, but instead perfectly sane and incredibly loyal soldiers, which once again removes the fear aspect. But I think at this point that ship has sailed, and the final tension dinghy has sailed with it. The guards and police officers have zero substance and the orders they spurt out have nothing to do with their actions, unlike Rainbow Six or Splinter Cell games. The AI however is intelligent and takes cover far more often than the previous two games, but they have a habit of flanking you with every chance they get. I can't really fault the devs for that, but I can for some of the worst natural cover placement in the game. Later on you'll face thugs and the scum of Columbia, either fighting for what they believe in or simply because they can, though unfortunately they hardly differ from enemies you'll face from the start.
You'll also encounter civilians throughout the game, and in other Bioshock games it was incredibly hard to find a neutral NPC. I liked that though, because it was a sense of achievement; seeing someone give you instructions, and after being alone for so long you'd want to bond with them. However Infinite makes me sick of all the innocents with their curly moustaches, same bowler hats and pressed trousers. That's Columbia and her people right there - sure they look nice and friendly, but they're sickly sweet, and if this game lasts 30 hours, I can't do with that. Plus they rarely have anything interesting to say, or anything at all, but if they discover who you are (the "False Shepard", come to lead the Lamb astray), they'll make sure you and the guards know about it.
One of the most memorable features of this game is having Elizabeth as a companion, and she's far more useful than most. Not only is she a dollface, but she's got great personality; forever wanting to explore because she's been locked in a tower like a damsel in distress; forever wanting to help you out in return for rescuing her as well as being able to interact with my least favourite plotline, time and space. Oh, and she's an expert at picking locks. But outside of these things, Elizabeth doesn't do much but help out in combat and access areas you can't do on your own, and perhaps bring you some medicinal supplies (by that I mean food) and ammunition.
It's unfortunate to see how little she does, because across the internet everybody has made her to be the badass character who shifts the game in a completely different direction. Well she's the complete opposite of that - she's very well spoken and is the only character in this game I like (even the player character I hate), and that's saying a lot because she's one of the few reasons why I played on. Let me tell you now that if you're looking for all the Voxophones (audio recordings which further the story) and easter eggs, it'll take you a good 5-6 hours before you find Elizabeth, so don't get the idea that you find her almost immediately because it happens far later than you'd think.
Visuals and Soundtrack
As said before this entire game is sickly sweet and there are few moments where grim and decrepit scenery is shown. It comes on much later, and shows just how gritty Bioshock can be, or rather, should be. To put it bluntly Bioshock Infinite is too nice. It's too bright, the people too polite and also forgiving of most - if not all - of your actions, and there's very few occasions where deathly religious fanaticism goes on. The world of Columbia isn't portrayed in the same way as Andrew Ryan's Rapture, which was an undersea paradise turned inferno. I get that the developers were trying to go with something new and lush, but they've done it completely wrong here. The soundtrack is unfortunately forgettable, and there's very few tracks which inspired me whilst in combat or in an important dialogue scene. What happened to the thrills, the sorrow, the joy of the original soundtracks? Ken Levine happened, that's what.
There's not much that can be said about Bioshock Infinite without revealing too much of the story, though I feel most of the gameplay is covered. I'm not going to say trust this one and only review if you plan on getting the game but at the same time, don't believe everything you read elsewhere - I'm giving you my experiences and I've no reason or incentive to lie. What I've told you is mostly fact as well as my opinion on the game, all backed by personal experience.
Bioshock is a good game, but it lacks so much kick. There's no tension, no element of fear and some of the worst storytelling I've ever seen in a game. The experience is mostly slow, and the story almost tries to improvise each time it progresses, leaving lots of blank space between important parts of the game. Whenever you're not wandering through crowds of civilians bored to tears (I'm guessing this was to extend the game's length; remove these parts and you'd have a 14 hour long game, if not less), you're going through the same gunfights and vigor-lobbing brawls over and over. There's little strategy involved, but I give the developers credit for at least trying - that's all you can do really, and at least they did.
On the other hand, Bioshock has some great characters, a good setting and several awesome plotlines throughout. Nothing is fully discovered though and not all questions are answered, but that's a good thing if you like this game and want to see more from this series. The gameplay too is surprisingly addictive, but once again, it took 4 hours before anything interesting happened, and all I know is that this isn't Heavy Rain. Given more time and a bit more thought, I reckon Bioshock would've given me a great first impression, and if they'd fixed the bug early on which - when the game freezes, you go back to the beginning - I would've felt much better.
Infinite gets a final score of 7 out of 9 - a great game but let down by lack of advancement in combat, vigors, characters and setting. The whole sky-city theme is lacking despite being everywhere, and there's no characters save for Liz who you can rout for. I wasn't expecting much, but once the game picked things up, I was hooked. I'd only recommend that you rent this, or get it when the price drops from a used games store to £15, unlike me where I got it for £25 - big mistake.
Thanks very much for reading, and have a pleasant day.
Bioshock: Infinite - Pros and Cons
- Great subplots and supporting cast.
- Easy to understand fight mechanics.
- Gorgeous visuals in both the environment and character models.
- Covering major pre-20s themes and executing them very well.
- Repetitive fights and limited weapons can make the game seem more slow than it is.
- Takes too long to get into the meat of the game with finding 'Lizbeth and playing the proper thing.
- Poor storytelling and could've been told so much better; story events are too far and few between.
- Most NPCs aren't important and the ones that supposedly are have very little to say or do.
- Zero tension or strategy involved, removing a lot of what Bioshock relied on to remain fresh.