Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: Bioshock Infinite

Will the Circle be Unbroken?

With August around the corner, the annual flood of awesome video games is coming upon us. Whether it's the lovable niche Pikmin 3, or the massive event that is Grand Theft Auto V, we can all agree that 2013 is going to be one hell of a year for video games. Before the levee breaks, however, I'd like to kick off my blog with a review of Bioshock Infinite, a game which despite already being out on the market for four months, deserves another look in my opinion. Will Bioshock Infinite soar above to Game of the Year status, or will it crash to the ground like a faulty Zeppelin? (You probably know the answer to that by now.)


In Bioshock Infinite, you play as Booker DeWitt, a former Wounded Knee veteran-turned-Private Investigator who is tasked by a mysterious man to travel to the floating city of Columbia and rescue a woman named Elizabeth, hoping to "wipe away the debt" as the game states early on in the story. Elizabeth is the daughter of Zachary Comstock, a self-proclaimed prophet who founded Columbia in 1893 in cooperation with the United States Government as a symbol of American political and religious ideals. Due to its interference in The Boxer Rebellion, however, Columbia was annexed by the U.S. Government in 1901, continuing to float off into the clouds. 

Booker is a man with a dark and muddled past. Having taken part in The Battle of Wounded Knee, he has seen humanity in its darkest moments. It's apparent that in his mind, Booker feels that doing something as absurd as going to a floating city and rescuing a girl is plausible and can wipe away his mysterious "debt". Throughout the course of the adventure, Booker will cross paths several times with the peculiar Lutece twins, Rosalind and Robert, who always find a way to mysteriously appear at the right times.

Now, the bulk of the story mainly revolves around Elizabeth, seeing as how she has been prominently featured in almost every piece of concept art and trailer since the game's announcement. Despite Booker being the main protagonist, Elizabeth is where you will find the bulk of the personality throughout the story. Her awestruck responses to the people and the things around her harken back to the days of childhood, where even the smallest things like candy or a new toy can seem so amazing. Although Elizabeth's reactions to the environment are great, it's her relationship with Booker that really makes Bioshock Infinite one of this year's must-play games. It is absolutely astounding how lifelike these characters are when they interact with each other. Whether it may be mindless banter between them or important story sequences, I actually felt like Booker and Elizabeth were real, breathing human beings, albeit animated human beings, but still just as lifelike regardless.

While the exposition and climactic parts of the story are all fine and dandy (the middle feels a bit drawn out), the ending is definitely something that you'll want to re-watch and analyze. I won't spoil it here, but let me just say that the ending of Bioshock Infinite is one that will definitely be talked about between gamers for a long time (and has been talked about for the last 4 months).     

The things he'll do for Elizabeth


If there is one aspect of Bioshock Infinite that shines the brightest, it is by far the presentation. Columbia is an absolutely breathtaking spectacle of science and wonder at work. Its streets are brimming with statues, shrubbery, shops, and ecstatic city-goers. The locals are, for the most part, very friendly and talkative. Their conversations range from "Something something Father Comstock something something" to... well, that actually sums up their usual banter in a nutshell. The citizens in Bioshock Infinite are more of a quantity versus quality sort of thing. There are lots of them, but they don't seem to have much personality, until the middle to ending parts of the game, but that's for the player to experience. Columbia is, in a sense, almost the polar opposite of Rapture from the previous games. 

Now, just because Columbia seems like a happy, exciting place to be on the outside doesn't mean that it's not without its share of problems. While the original Bioshock had themes of free market and capitalism, Bioshock Infinite features issues involving religious cultism and racism, and it is VERY apparent throughout the game. With segregated sectors of the city, politically incorrect dialogue between NPCs, and the eerie religious fanatics in white robes awaiting the player at the city's entrance, Columbia doesn't hide its true nature to the player.

Graphics wise,  Bioshock Infinite is nothing short of drop dead gorgeous. The cotton candy clouds, the bright colors of the buildings, and the overall animated art style really help this game become one of the most gorgeous titles of this generation. 

Like always, the PC version of Infinite is graphically superior to the console versions. Textures and some landscapes on the Xbox and PS3 versions are not quite up to par with top of the line computer graphics, which is to be expected.

Don't get on the Handyman's bad side


If I had to choose one sentence to describe Bioshock Infinite's gameplay, it would have to be "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Combat and interactions with the environment are, for the most part, incredibly similar to the original Bioshock. That's not to say that the gameplay is boring and repetitive. It is still just as fun and engrossing as it was 6 years ago. This time around, however, Irrational Games has introduced some cool new features to help the gameplay still feel fresh and enticing.

Replacing Plasmids this time around are potions called Vigors. While their origins aren't exactly explained in the story, they are still a great addition to the combat. Plasmids such as Electro Bolt and Incinerate have now been re-skinned and renamed to Shock Jockey and Devil's Kiss. My point is that Vigors for the most part are identical to Plasmids. I personally found Vigors to be a lot more useful during combat, however, as they can also be used to set traps in the environment to really screw up enemies.

Probably the coolest new addition in gameplay is the Skyhook. It serves as your main method of melee combat, but also as a way of getting around Columbia. The Skyhook is magnetic, which allows Booker to grapple onto rails across the different parts of the city. This allows for absolutely crazy combat when trying to handle shooting enemies and direct Booker across the rails at the same time.

Replacing the Big Daddies from Bioshock 1 are a multitude of enemies. There are a lot more mini-boss style baddies this time around, such as the Hot-headed Fireman, and the Shaquille O'Neal sized Handyman. The Handymen are by far the biggest threat you'll face during points in the story. They definitely do not go down easily.

Every game has its share of collectibles, and Bioshock Infinite is no different. Throughout the main story, Booker will come across devices called Voxophones, which contain audio logs from various citizens of Columbia. These are optional, and only serve as a way to flesh out the story into more detail, and to give completionists a reason to come back to the game.

After completing Bioshock Infinite's main story, the player will unlock 1999 mode, named after the year which System Shock 2 (a spiritual prequel to Bioshock) was released. It truly lives up to its name. With  limited ammo drops, harder enemies, and no auto-aim, 1999 mode makes Bioshock Infinite feel just as brutally challenging as the 90's shooters of old.

"Cinematic Trailer? I don't know what you're talking about."


Bioshock Infinite doesn't exactly have a soundtrack. What I mean by this is that, for the most part, I didn't exactly hear too many notable tracks throughout my adventure. Yes there was the usual dramatic track when a large enemy appeared, or a somber one when Elizabeth shows her true emotions about her situation, but nothing really memorable came out of the soundtrack for me.

Seeing as how Bioshock Infinite takes place in 1912, it is quite fitting to include songs from the era. Radios throughout Columbia either have some form of propaganda news program blaring from them, or the jovial tunes of old lightening up the mood. It is sort of odd to hear bright and cheery quartets singing while a Fireman is trying to burn my face to a crisp, but it really adds to the atmosphere. 

Despite having actual tunes from the turn-of-the-century, the crafty Ken Levine has also managed to sneak in some modern tracks redone as various 1900s styles throughout the game. I was totally caught off guard the first time I heard some of these tracks during my adventure, wondering why Girls Just Wanna Have Fun was playing in an arcade, or why a little girl was singing Fortunate Son on a Finkton street corner. They're definitely a cool addition to the game, and going back to try and find all of the modern songs is yet another reason to replay the main story.

Final Thoughts

In short, Bioshock Infinite is an absolutely spectacular game. It is the perfect example of what a fun, story driven, and emotional game can possibly be. Even if the gameplay may not be your thing, the game is totally worth playing just for Booker and Elizabeth alone. Their relationship and chemistry in the game is the definitive example of how far video games have come in terms of storytelling and character development. This game is one of the few must-play games of 2013, and will definitely be in the running for Game of the Year. If you haven't already, get Bioshock Infinite. Now. 

Final Score


Seth Boester is currently a Sophomore in high school. You can follow him on Twitter @cheesewombat and listen to him to rant about the Green Bay Packers' mediocre defense after every Sunday's game.

1 comment:

Thanks for posting!