Title: BioShock Infinite
System(s): PS3 (Also available on Xbox 360 and PC)
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Publisher (Developer): 2K Games (Irrational Games)
ESRB Rating: “Mature”for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Mild Sexual Themes and Use of Alcohol and Tobacco
BioShock Infinite is not a typical game. It accomplishes so much from a narrative and atmospheric perspective. This is one of the only first-person shooters I’ve ever played where combat was a means to an end. BioShock Infinite could have been a point-and-click adventure and I would have loved it all the same. That’s something I want to get across in this review. Don’t let the game’s box art throw you. This isn’t Battlefield. This isn’t just a shoot-em-up with gnarly powers and things that blow up. BioShock Infinite is driven by its story. Combat plays second fiddle. If you don’t want to hear a lot of talking or do a lot of critical thinking about what’s going on, then skip this game. But if you’re looking for something highly original, extremely compelling and something to have an intelligent conversation about, this is your game.
BioShock Infinite takes place in the floating city of Columbia in 1912. Columbia rests high above the clouds and away from the rest of civilization. You could say Columbia is like a Super America in terms of its ideals. The ideals within this city resonates a lot of the norms that were taking place in America down below. Columbia is a “pure” city where nicely groomed and economically stable white people can live in manufactured bliss. Anything that’s considered undesirable such as minorities and the poor is tucked away in the bowels of the city so not to get in the way of its magnificent artificial beaches, majestic airships and entertaining carnivals. Stepping onto Columbia for the first time was a surreal and creepy experience. Everything was a bit too perfect. It was as if everyone was holding on to a terrible secret that they all agreed to never acknowledge. None of that mattered to Booker DeWitt. The man behind the gun was only in Columbia to rescue a girl named Elizabeth and bring her back to New York. Much like how Columbia was built, completing that task is not that straightforward.
The Girl That Makes the Game
Elizabeth is the girl that needs rescuing in BioShock Infinite. Once you reach her, she tags along for the majority of the game. Fortunately things don’t dissolve into one big escort mission. Elizabeth can’t get hurt or kidnapped from under your nose. When combat starts, you won’t even know where she is half the time. She only makes herself known in combat by giving you health packs or salts (used to restore Vigor). Contrary to what some early footage of the game suggested, Elizabeth doesn’t actually provide any offensive attacks. She’s merely a supporter in fights, but she’s so much more in the grand scheme of things.
I’m not going to enter spoiler territory, but just know Elizabeth’s character is not only there to give Booker something to do. Her involvement with Columbia and the game’s overall brain-melting plot is very deep. You will watch her mature in this game at a rapid pace. Imagine watching someone’s maturity fast forward 10 years in about four hours. That’s what you can expect.
Even though you always have a clear objective and a path to push the story along, BioShock Infinite never forces it on you. Unlike the city of Rapture in the original BioShock, Columbia encourages exploration because not everyone is trying to kill you. This is the kind of setting where I wanted to look around, eavesdrop on every conversation, find every voxaphone recording and take in every note of music that somberly emitted from random radios. I wanted to go off the beaten path as often as I could. Even Elizabeth understood my urge to take everything in. She didn’t spend all her time attached to Booker’s leg. When I decided to look at some machines, she’d sit down in between a couple people and just wait. There were other times when she rested against a wall. She even waited for me outside the bathroom. I was free to take my time and appreciate the world around me. That says something about the confidence Irrational Games had when making BioShock Infinite. It didn’t have to restrict the game by putting in too many invisible walls. It wasn’t afraid of inserting a bunch of references that could only be found if you took the time to look and listen. BioShock Infinite exhumes the confidence of the people that made it.
Who Needs the Electric Company?
As story driven as BioShock Infinite is, combat is a big part of the game. If you’ve played either BioShock, you’re already familiar with the formula. One hand holds your gun and the other houses powers. These powers are called Vigors. Together, Vigors and firearms deliver a one-two punch to enemies. For example, you could use Bucking Bronco to suspend enemies in the air while finishing them off with a couple shotgun blasts. That’s just one possible combat scenario. You’ll get other Vigors with elemental properties such as fire, electricity and water. There are others, but it’s best if you discover them for yourself. What I will say is even the most difficult situations can be made a lot easier if you remember to use all the Vigors at your disposal. Don’t forget about chaining Vigor combos as well.
In the days after its release, I’ve heard talk about how the level of violence in BioShock Infinite is too much for its own good. There are times when an enemy’s head will explode. There are times when you break someone’s neck with your Skyhook. I can understand why that’s a bit grotesque to some people. For all BioShock Infinite achieves by focusing on an intellectual story, seeing so much blood and gore can be seen as dumbing things down. I personally didn’t mind the level of violence, and I don’t think it detracts from the experience. By the time you view the excellent ending, you won’t be thinking much about the trail of blood you created to get there.
Now let’s go over some of the things I wasn’t so happy about. Fortunately, none of these things have to do with the story. My first gripe is with your shield. Your health can only take damage once your shield is depleted. I found the shield to be weak even after upgrading it three or four times. I also didn’t think the upgrades extended the shield bar as much as I felt it should have. I also would have liked to be able to carry replenishment items with me. You run into so much food and salts when you’re not in combat, but you can’t take any of it with you. If I were able to bring back my health and salts level at will, the combat pacing would have been more fluid.
Just Buy It
Is BioShock Infinite perfect? No, but’s its darn close. Even with my hangups about some of the combat oriented stuff, I can’t recommend this game enough. This is a thinking person’s game. It’s for those of us who want to get transported into a game’s fiction and stay there long after the credits roll. I avoided talking about story beats in this review because I genuinely believe the best way to play this game is by going in blind. Trust me when I BioShock Infinite has done the video game industry proud.
Full disclosure: Staples provided the video game for this review. However, the words and opinions expressed in this review are strictly the views of the TechnologyTell writer. Click here to see Staples’ full line of gaming equipment.
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