After a ten hour campaign, a breathtaking introduction, and a brain tickling ending, BioShock Infinite is the game that should make Ken Levine a household name like George Lucas, Ridley Scott, or James Cameron. Time and time again, Levine has helped create some of the best games while weaving some of the most creative science fiction stories on this side of Hollywood.
In BioShock Infinite, you play as Booker DeWitt out to rescue the mysterious Elizabeth from the beautiful and sometimes awesomely frightening airborne city of Columbia. Columbia, while modeled after the 1893 World’s Fair, is a place where ideologies are stretched to their extremes, and its denizens see only in blacks and whites. The rescue, of course, does not go as planned, and therein many of the Columbia’s ugly truths are revealed.
Through most of Infinite, Elizabeth is by your side as you escort her off the floating paradox of Columbia. She is not a useless captive. She is a helpful partner, tossing you extra ammunition, money, and pointing out the location of important items she finds in the environment. Thankfully, players don’t need to worry about Elizabeth’s well being during a firefight, as she fends for herself by hiding and taking cover. Within certain circumstances, the player can request Elizabeth to use her magical abilities to manifest cover, health, weapons, or defense systems in predetermined locations on the battlefield.
To say much more about the plot would spoil the experience, but know that the plot is one of Infinite’s strong suits. Fans of the original BioShock will not be disappointed. From here, we need to bite our tongue and simply stop talking before we accidentally ruin it for anyone who has not had a chance to give Infinite a try.
The gameplay is very similar to the original BioShock, mixing plasmids, the BioShock name for magic, which are called vigors in Columbia, and firearms. Players can melee their enemies with their skyhook–a grappling device primarily meant for on-rail travel–if they get too close, or, if you’re using the game’s new rail system, you can intentionally dive bomb them and crush them with a blow from above. If enemies are dangerously low on health, the melee ability can be used for a brutal finisher.
The action is much more intense in Infinite than in BioShocks 1 and 2. Players will no doubt rely more heavily on their firearms this time around. There is less emphasis on trap placement, though the option to lay traps with all plasmid types is available.
New vigors are automatically obtained as the story progresses. By the end of the game, the player will have all vigors available to them no matter how much money they stowed away during their playthrough. The weapon upgrades have also seen a drastic dumbing down. This is incredibly unfortunate as it almost completely ditches the RPG elements that were much beloved of the original Bioshock, and badly damages some of the game’s replayability, causing the game to skate dangerously close to the “just another shooter” territory. But that’s not to say the game isn’t replayable or that it is “just another shooter.” For a first person shooter, there are plenty of reasons to soar back into the clouds and visit Columbia again and again, but those mostly being for the story and the design.
Aiming and shooting takes a few moments to get used to in Infinite. For starters, the initial mouse layout for aiming is set the same as the original BioShock. We recommend mapping aiming to the right mouse button and your plasmids to a side mouse button instead. And all of us on staff who had the opportunity to play Infinite noted how incredibly sensitive the mouse movement was, whether or not mouse acceleration was enabled or if we dialed up the sensitivity. Nearly all of us had to dial it way down.
While sliding across the many rails that take the player from one floating platform to the next, players often engage enemies in combat. Shooting from BioShock‘s rails in the sky is handled perfectly, and more brazen gamers will take to the skies and use them often. They give the game a much needed element of verticality that is often lost in modern shooters.
Like Rapture before it, Columbia needs to be seen to be believed. Thankfully, Bioshock Infinite doesn’t fall back on the almost standard drab brown palette of most shooters. Instead, it is a celebration of color and contrast. More importantly, it’s one of the best visually designed worlds this generation, which puts it high in the ranking for best designed world ever for a video game. The lighting effects are wonderful. The graphic design is miles ahead of the competition. The only point of weakness in Infinite’s design is the character design. There are far too few citizen models resulting in a huge number of clone sightings even in the smallest of spaces.
The environment and its denizens are a point of fascination. From first glimpse, it appears almost angelic, proudly putting all of humanity’s achievements on a pedestal in this science fiction alternate history. But digging only a few inches under the surface by reading the writing on the walls, eavesdropping on NPC conversations, and listening to audiologs, reveals the gritty side of Columbia and helps players immerse in the dystopian world. It shows how power corrupts people from all walks of life and takes white flight to an almost literal degree. The overall plot and the smaller stories of its citizens and factions within could be analyzed for years to come and subject for much healthy socio-economic discussion and debate.
Oddly, the game doesn’t support multiple save games, something we found to be frustrating considering there are multiple gamers in our households. But aside from that, we found few other sources of frustration with the mechanical side of Infinite. It gives PC gamers plenty of options to tinker with, but shouldn’t require a beast of a machine to run. With everything on the highest settings, we were still seeing an average of about 100 frames per second.
Bioshock Infinite is a fantastic game. There’s no other way to slice it. It’s not one of those AAA titles that you regret purchasing at full price because it drops to 50% off or more a few months after its release. It’s the rare exception to the shooter rule, pushing the genre back into a direction it should have been going for 5 years now. It’s a title worth every penny, no matter what price you pay.
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Title: BioShock Infinite
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Rating: 5 out of 5 ”Worth Buying”