Bioshock Infinite Group Review
Bev Chen: Bioshock Infinite is an ambitious project to say the least. Set in Columbia, a city high in the sky, it’s fair to say that gamers’ expectations were just as lofty. It’s a fine game for sure, with some great ideas and an interesting story. Protagonist Booker DeWitt’s quest is vague in the beginning, with you as the player only aware that you have to “get the girl”. This soon blossoms into a quest fraught with danger (as you would expect) as Booker and Elizabeth attempt to flee Columbia in the midst of a revolution. Exploring Columbia is a treat and it feels like a real city, although whether you’d want to holiday there is another question.
As per the original Bioshock, the environmental storytelling is fantastic, with audio logs and various objects adding a lot of character to not only areas but the narrative as a whole; I found that I would spend a lot of time combing every nook and cranny to see if I had missed something interesting that would enhance my experience. Worth noting is equipment, which gives Booker various perks, such as temporary invulnerability after consuming a healing item or setting an enemy on fire if they melee you. With pants, shirts, hats and shoes to be equipped, there’s a wide range of options to enhance combat.
Of course, something needs to be said about combat itself. This time around, it’s much more acrobatic, with the game planting skyrails that can be used to zip around an area to your advantage. The variation of vigors is interesting too; rather than just recycle ideas from Bioshock, the vigors in Infinite are quite unique and can be rather fun to use. That said, vigors and tears don’t have quite the same strategic value as plasmid, weapons, ammo combos and environmental tricks did in Bioshock, which accounts for less originality and choice in style of play. Sure, Infinite encourages you to make use of the numerous weapons in your arsenal, except they’re not really ‘in your arsenal’ – the game allows you to carry two at a time, with others being available to pick from corpses or tears during battle, amongst other places. If you’re after a particular type of gun during a battle, chances are you’re going to have to go dashing around the battlefield for it. In addition, the design of the levels and encounters frequently forces a ‘shoot everything’ approach on you rather than allowing you to choose how you would like to tackle the problem. As a result, the tension present in Bioshock isn’t really present.
There are also lulls in the game’s pace which occasionally turns the otherwise excellent narrative into a bit of a plodder. Hearsay is that the game’s story was changed a few months before its release; if this is true, it certainly shows. Without spoiling anything, there are some plot points that aren’t developed very well or are dragged out for too long. The addition of sidequests is also questionable, with their abruptness and backtracking requirements interrupting the flow of the game.
Despite the lack of overall coherence when compared to the original Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite is an excellent game. Whether you enjoyed Rapture or not, it’s worth taking the journey to Columbia to experience the dark heart of man yourself.
Jarrod Mawson: To my delight, Infinite for me managed to steer Irrational’s ship towards tighter, more focused game design, improving tremendously on a number of its predecessor’s faults. Bioshock‘s unsatisfying combat design, poorly concieved plasmids, and overly forgiving economy are nowhere to be found. Better envisioned enemy variety, and an emphasis on smarter, ‘gamey’ weapon and tonic balance results in a video game that is simply much more fun to play. Core mechanics are not playing second fiddle to atmosphere and narrative, but instead stand alongside them, resulting in thrilling, challenging, and most importantly satisfying encounters and level progression that push players to both plan and play intelligently.
Irrational’s pedigree in a cohesive virtual world vision, backed by among the best artists in the medium, is on full display with Booker and Elizabeth’s adventure through early 1900’s Columbia. The opening couple of hours alone are likely to stick with gamers for years to come, as all the pieces of game craft come together for a simply unforgettable and alluring introduction to a Disney wonderland with a dark secret. Elizabeth’s simple yet smart AI makes her a likable and welcome companion, one avoiding the NPC tedium of babysitting. Perhaps most significantly, Irrational managed to avoid the trappings of Bioshock‘s weak third act, delivering with Infinite a complete narrative that opens plenty of room for thought once finished.
I don’t believe in truly “perfect” games, instead those that manage to obscure blemishes and negatate their impact with consistently impressive design elsewhere. And though Infinite managed to continually impress me, it sadly does not fit this catagory. Infinite is indeed flawed, but the issue is how these flaws detract from the overall experience.
Abysmal checkpointing does a horrific job of communicating Infinite‘s automated save system. On a couple of occasions I was unsure where I’d last saved, and upon my next load realised I’d lost a good chunk of game time. The poor checkpointing instills a sensation of worry, as every time you quit and load you’re never quite sure if the game is keeping up.
And for a game so adament on narrative, Infinite doesn’t quite keep the story telling consistent. A middle stretch of the story sees the pacing take a dive, recycling fetch quest hooks focused on lesser characters and themes just to drive you through new locations. Elizabeth herself, while a lovely companion, does very little over what Valve accomplishes several years ago with Alyx Vance. You’ll be trapped in an elevator, or another obvious data loading sequence, and have her launch into a torrent of narrative exposition irrespective of context to the given situation. It’s hardly anything I’d call bad, but it can be jarring, and does no favours to the medium in terms of moving interactive story telling further.
Coupled with shield/health damage stacking, half-arsed side quest design, ocassioanlly glitchy Elizabeth animations, and other oddities, Infinite ensures there’s always some frustrating element nipping at your heels. It’s not hard to get lost in Infinite‘s excellent game design and gorgeous world, but it’s also not hard to see where it’s begging for improvement.
Jahanzeb Khan: Bioshock Infinite offers a truly imaginative setting that can appear quite uplifting and magical even with so many dark and disturbing elements. The visuals are all about bright colours, and this time you traverse a fully realized and breathing city which floats in the sky. The setting to me was amazing, just as unforgettable and believable as something like Hyrule, one that invokes a profound feeling of you being part of a vast fantasy world.
The game progression feels just right, I loved how the first couple of hours really allowed you to take in the atmosphere and just really sink into the game world. I took my time interacting with the locals, watching short films detailing the city and its rich history, and getting a nice insight into the culture and traditions. The attention to detail is amazing here, and all the little things come together to create one of the most incredible worlds you will ever explore in a video game. Even when the pace of the game changes drastically and you find yourself in the heat of many battles, you are still always made aware that you’re part of a special world. You always want to learn more of it and observe all the little things.
The combat in Bioshock Infinite is exciting, and while the combat design may not be intuitive or clever, it does offer plenty of freedom in terms of how you want to approach it. The gameplay is largely just about combat, and at times I felt that they could have done some really intuitive things with the level design by offering puzzles built around Vigors. Speaking of which, I felt that while there were plenty of cool Vigors to play around with, the game could have encouraged compelling use for each as I felt some of them took a major backseat. One thing I did enjoy about the game design was the simple but very refreshing skyline mechanic, which really complemented the unique setting of the game.
One of the main stars of the game, Elizabeth, is perhaps one of the vital elements that distinguishes Bioshock Infinite. She is a likeable character and her presence felt valuable in terms of character development, narration, and even the game-play design. Her abilities added a unique strategic element to the combat, and the best part is that you are not obligated to protect her. Instead the game allows you to get to know her as a character and witness her compelling emotional development.
Bioshock Infinite is a game that is far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s one of those experiences that as a whole, leaves an incredible lasting impression despite some noticeable objective shortcomings. The original Bioshock, all things considered, is still an essential gaming experience of this console generation. While lightning did not strike twice with Bioshock 2, Bioshock Infinite on the other hand offers a fresh new experience while recapturing the magic of the first Bioshock.
Michael Kontoudis: The biggest compliment that I can pay Bioshock: Infinite is that I want to live in its world. Perhaps not literally, as the floating city of Columbia is far from the skyward Eden that it first appears, but at least within the parameters of the fantastical, detailed world that Irrational Games has crafted. Stepping out into Columbia for the first time, seeing the grandiose buildings bobbing and swaying in the sapphire sky, and exploring the sinisterly idealized surrounds is an absolute highlight, and shall surely be one of my fondest gaming memories.
It’s a minor shame, then, that after a sustained opening hour thick with mystery, atmosphere, and the natural joy of exploration, Infinite settles into a more obvious groove, shuttling players across a fairly linear sequence of locales and forcing them to engage in the familiar loop of shooting enemies and looting your surrounds before progressing into the next area to do much the same. While a world so carefully considered as gorgeously rendered as Columbia may have been supported and leveraged more effectively by a more leisurely pace (or indeed, a Metroid-like emphasis on exploration and traversal), Infinite still offers up one of the best combat playgrounds of any shooter I’ve ever played – and make no mistake, much moreso than its 2007 predecessor, Infinite is a shooter first and foremost, dropping all role-playing pretenses in favour of bombast and action.
Fortunately, two things save Infinite from taking on the humdrum monotony of a poor corridor shooter. First, the combat on offer is exponentially more effective and engaging than in other entries in the franchise. Guns feel appropriately weighty, and enemy animations are satisfying enough to give heft to the combat. Even better, the game’s vigors are more easily integrated into regular combat and are balanced well enough that any one of them represents a viable option in the thick of combat, notwithstanding that players will inevitably have their favourites (Murder of Crows and Shock Jockey were mine). The ebb and flow of Infinite’s combat sequences, which are legion, is very satisfying, and while the game may lean on combat too heavily and too often to the detriment of its pacing and story, such issues are ameliorated by its quality and potential for experimentation.
Second, and significantly, context means everything in Infinite, such that even during the game’s saggy middle and its more prolonged shooting sequences, you’re always aware of where you are going and why, and even when the loopy machinations of Ken Levine and company’s script conspire to confuse you, your central goal, the rescue of Elizabeth, remains at the forefront of the experience. Above all else, it is the emotional core of Infinite that differentiates it from its competitors, and key to this facet of the game is the writing, acting and technical prowess that has been invested in Elizabeth. The player cares, and is compelled to go on, even in the face of minor frustrations. The story itself is a head-wringing science fiction tale that perhaps loses sight of itself at points, and I would question whether it is to the game’s benefit that it promptly drops the sociopolitical themes and conflicts it so artfully establishes early on in favour of more abstract concepts, but by Infinite’s thoughtful, bittersweet finale, there can be no doubt that it is the work of master storytellers and world builders, whose potential is being held back only by generic confines.
One can only imagine what Irrational Games may be capable of if permitted to shy away from combat and embrace the simply joys of exploration, but in the meantime, gamers are blessed with a rich and fascinating shooter without peer… which is a fine consolation prize, all things considered.
Adam Shurey: Bioshock Infinite is a game that many are calling a true sequel to the original Bioshock, and it’s not hard to see why. Although I enjoyed returning to Rapture in Bioshock 2, Bioshock Infinite marks the return to the series of the development team behind the original game. We’re introduced to a new protagonist, Booker DeWitt, a man who has been given an unusual ultimatum. Get us the girl, and wipe away your debt. Infinite’s opening is one that will stick with me for some time, as Booker makes his way towards a towering, gloomy lighthouse out at sea. The first hour or so marks Booker’s gradual introduction into the amazing floating city of Columbia, and it’s hard to resist exploring every nook and cranny. It really feels like a living, breathing world, with various NPCs to interact with, glorious scenery, people singing, and just generally going about their daily lives. The visuals are bring and sharp, but although the people who run it would have you believe that it’s a floating utopia, the city’s sinister underbelly soon becomes apparent. Like any good Bioshock game, there’s heaps of items to loot, a range of different, heavily armed enemies, and a small selection of super powers (called Vigors) to collect and use to your advantage.
These powers range from offensive skills, such as throwing fireballs, to a temporary shield that can save you in the heat of battle. Using these skills strategically is a key part of the game, especially since Booker is limited to carrying only two weapons at a time. Ammo conservation is a serious factor, and so clever use of your powers will not only save bullets, but prove to be an effective way to lay traps for unsuspecting enemies. Combat isn’t limited to the ground only, though. Columbia is a floating city, and Irrational Games have made good use of the setting by introducing skyrails. Booker can latch onto these at any time by using a handy wrist-mounted gadget, and they allow him to glide around the environment at great speed. Players can pick off enemies who are stuck on the ground, as well as perform a powerful melee attack, but enemies will sometimes pursue you. This can lead to some interesting high speed Skyrail combat, and it’s touches like these that really liven the game up.
So, Bioshock Infinite features a fascinating world, and the gameplay is pretty cool, as far as first person shooters go. How about the all important story? Well, it’s both the game’s strongest and weakest point. Just like the original Bioshock, the story is delivered in chunks. There’s what you see happening on-screen as Booker explores, and then there’s also collectible audio diaries scattered all over the place. These audio diaries, which can be listened to as you play, provide a heap of backstory for the characters and the city of Columbia. They contain all sorts of interesting insights into the world, working well as a subtle commentary. Booker soon realises that there’s far more to this city, and the girl that he has been sent to find, than meets the eye. The story unfolds at an enjoyably brisk pace at first, but unfortunately it sags in a few places. Booker visits a couple of areas which unfortunately feel more like detours than anything else, the seemingly endless swarms of enemies can start to become tiresome, and the story itself demands a leap of logic or two in order for players to follow what happens next. Some things are only hinted at, or are barely explained, but the good news is that it all comes together really well in the end. And what an ending Bioshock Infinite has! If nothing else, the game will definitely be remembered by many for that, and it’s more than worth making the journey through the game in order to see it.
Tim Norman: If I were the sole reviewer for Bioshock Infinite, then the Rocket Chainsaw score for it would be 10 out of 10. Others will argue that the game has flaws, like some of the drawn-out shooting sequences, or the linearity of some of the early areas, but to suggest these detract from the game’s greatest achievement is like criticising a painting for being made of paint.
You shouldn’t play Bioshock Infinite because it offers some hot new way to point guns at people, or because it has clever, intricate level design. You should play it because it tells one of the greatest stories in video gaming. Layered with meaning and substance, the game is one of a very few modern single player action games who’s story stands up after multiple play-throughs.
Your role in the game is that of Booker DeWitt, sent to Columbia by nebulous benefactors in order to find Elizabeth, a young girl with a little secret. This setup might sound conventional, but the game puts a strong conviction behind it, leading you through the early areas and up to the meeting with Elizabeth. From there, the game pulls out all the stops and delivers an incredible, compelling journey through the city of Columbia, through the old concepts of American Exceptionalism and late 19th Century history, and even through the idea of video game storytelling itself. You end up at what is the most thought-provoking ending to a video game since Earthbound.
Of course, if Bioshock Infinite only had its story to fall back on, it would be an interesting, but perhaps unexceptional game (somewhat like last year’s Spec Ops: The Line). Luckily, the regular video game stuff that Bioshock Infinite does is pretty fantastic. Visually, the city of Columbia is exquisite; capturing the American Exceptionalism ideal perfectly, before ripping the heart out of it in gory, spectacular fashion. As a shooter, the game is solid, with a good range of useful weaponry, and some really fun mechanics, such as the skyrail hooks that let you ride around the city and deliver painful killing blows to those that stand in your way.
Bioshock Infinite is not a regular video game, however. It is a genuine masterpiece; the kind of game that stands as a point of reference for everything that comes after. You’ll play through its blistering action scenes and deliberately paced story moments, coming across side-stories and references that fill out the world, always wanting to see what’s up ahead. Then, a certain moment happens, and literally everything you experienced will be changed, and you’ll be thrown headlong into the game’s stunning climax. At that moment you’ll understand. You’ll be in on the secret, and you’ll feel a better, wiser person for it.
Play this game. No excuses.
Thanks to Liam Mills for the fantastic art of the Motorised Patriot! Fancy it as your wallpaper? You can download a 1920×1080 version of it here.