Published on March 30th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor6
Review: Bioshock Infinite
You know that feeling when you open the door of the house, kick off your shoes, grab a tasty beverage from the fridge and fumble your way out of your pants; before collapsing into the chair, having a good old scratch and casually, yet satisfyingly, breaking wind… Only for the horrifying realisation to dawn upon you that, actually, this isn’t even your house. That’s what’s happening right now and let me tell you… Old Phranchize is regretting the decision to go Commando today.
There’s a few things we need to clear up before inevitably getting to the review, the actual reason you’re all here. Number 1, this is my inaugural post here and I’d like to thank all the guys here for (foolishly) having the faith in me to write this review. If you’re unaware of my work, they call me ‘Mr Triple-U’, Unscripted, Unpolished and Unprofessional… And by ‘they’… I mean me… And my Mam. If you’re expecting some sort of structure to this review, I can’t promise I’ll deliver. Number 2, since investing in a FlipCam, me flexing my literary muscles/ above average command of the Queens is about as rare as Rocking Horse shit; so I may be a tad rusty. Finally, Number 3, I have a certain propensity for talking about myself that can often get in the way of delivering actual information; but I’m reasonably sure I can manage one little review without heading off, at high speed, down any available tangent. Right, now we’ve cleared that up… Lets get on with the review shall we?
As a general rule, I don’t really ‘remember’ a great deal. I see my mind as a sort of a Flash Memory set up, constantly having to forget things to make room for take-away orders, song lyrics or the controls to a new game. There are but a few exceptions, a few memories that will always stay with me, never to be deleted to make way for new, lesser important things like my wedding day, or the birth of my first child… The 2008 title ‘Bioshock’ is is one of those exceptions. We should clear this up now, if you’re one of the 4 people who didn’t play the 2008 Game Of The Year, nay, Game Of The Decade, you’re doing life wrong. Everything about Irrational’s first foray into the Bioshock Universe was flawless. The Utopian, ravaged underwater city of rapture, dripping in Art Deco and that 1960’s period feel; the constant challenging of your own morality; the downright phenomenal story with all of its ‘I didn’t see that coming’ twists and turns… Even by today’s standards, few games have managed to achieve what Bioshock has as far as story telling goes.
2010 saw the inevitable release of the sequel, Bioshock 2. However enjoyable the title was, in my opinion it failed to capture the magic and wonderment of it’s predecessor. Sure, it sharpened up the graphics somewhat and tagged on a heavily pointless mulitplayer suite; but even putting you in the shoes of the iconic ‘Big Daddy’ from the first game wasn’t enough to compete with the first. In all honesty, it was the failings of the Bioshock 2 that fuelled the fires of apprehension that burned within me when Bioshock Infinite was first announced. Don’t get me wrong, the initial trailers and teasers looked tantalising, but how many of us have been burned by these teasers in the past? Aliens Colonial Marines anyone?
Thankfully, I sit here on HonestGamesReviews couch, wearing no pants, drinking their beer… And I can open up this review (eventually) with one simple word… YES!
Talk about a welcome return to form! What Irrational have achieved with Infinite is nothing short of amazing. Allow me to elaborate… Set in 1912, you find yourself in the shoes of Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton with a debt to clear. In a stroke of genius, that’s all the information you’re given when the game opens up. No back story, no flash backs of of his gun toting Pinkerton days, no sexy love interest with a penchant for shoes who managed to get old Booker into the aforementioned debt in the first place… nothing! At this point, I’m sitting here chewing away at my finger nails, trying to quash the worry that despite the impressive marketing machine, improved aesthetic and new setting, Infinite will be nothing more than another title that didn’t quite live up to its name. A feeling my father is familiar with I’m sure.
As the game opens up you find yourself looking out over a choppy sea, two bizarre characters escorting you to your destination, which just so happens to be a lighthouse. They couldn’t have opened it better. In a not so subtle nod to it’s routes, Bioshock Infinite opens up strong and goes no where but up… Literally. The new setting of Colombia, the great floating city is every bit as enticing and beautiful as Rapture, helped by the incredible graphics thanks to the the ever popular Unreal Engine. You can’t help but stop dead in your tracks and take in the breath taking panoramic views. The period buildings gently bob around, their foundations seemingly hidden in a sea of cloud, barges float by as crates pass overhead on an intricate system of skylines. The only thing more beautiful than the city itself are the inhabitants within. There wasn’t a single moment during my time with Bioshock Infinite when I wasn’t overwhelmed by just how ‘alive’ the city feels. Stunning character models baring that signature Bioshock style get about their daily business, unperturbed by your presence, just constant hustle and bustle. At certain points during the story I found myself dumbstruck by how many character models actually fit into a single area, without detracting from the quality of the environment, or each other.
One thing I did notice about Colombia’s inhabitants is that it has it’s fair share of the old Lothario’s! You can’t walk past a corner without witnessing some fair haired Romeo, romancing some young dame out of her corset. The only thing more alarming than the Lothario problem is the amount of Colombians… Is that what we’re calling them? Colombians?… Is the amount of people who have opted for storing their currency, Silver eagles if you’re interested, in any old bin they come across. Although I suppose in this day and age, in these times of economic frailty, the bin is as good a place as any to keep your cash.
As you romp your way through Colombia’s streets and rollercoaster-esque Skyline’s, this deep, rich story line seamlessly unfolds before you, drawing you in from the word go. Now I’m not one for spoilers so all you’ll get from Old Phranchize is a brief plot synopsis. Mr DeWitt is sent to Colombia to clear a debt. The task at hand involves, well, essentially kidnapping a girl for this unknown debtor. The girl in question is a pretty young thing named Elizabeth and she’s locked away in a tower, not unlike Rapunzel, without ridiculously high maintenance hair. She does however, have a… gift, shall we say? But more on that as this review unfurls my friends!
While you’re losing yourself in the story line, and you will, you find yourself gunning people down and brutally murdering them with some sort of bizarre tool, built for helping you traverse the aforementioned skylines; you can’t help but notice how fluid it all feels. The controls have been tweaked to perfection. The only qualm I had was the damn left trigger! I’m not going to lie, it had been a while since I’d sat down with some Bioshock. It would seem other modern day FPS’s have engrained in me that the LT looks down the barrel. I spent a good half an hour littering the streets with random fire grenade traps, because the new ‘Vigors’ are mapped to the LT. ‘Vigors’ are basically ‘Plasmids’, a mainstay of the Bioshock series and quite simply one of the most imaginative and fantastic mechanics of a game in recent memory. I couldn’t help but notice that despite the array of Vigors you are eventually privy to, I only really used a couple religiously. A part of me wished for more of the good old days, like Bioshock’s Telekinesis or Incinerate, but I still had a lot of fun with Bucking Bronco and Murder of Crows.
Bioshock was one of those games that got under your skin. The urge to murder things was often overpowered by the need to loot everything in sight! A bin, a desk, a fresh corpse… Everything was lootable. Thankfully this aspect has returned and will most likely add another 3 hours to your playthrough time while you scavenge ammo, food, salts and money from the most unlikely of places. Running out of ammo? Check the desk in the post office! Health running a bit low? I’m sure that corpse over there inexplicably has a hotdog in his pocket…. Is that a hotdog in your pocket or are you just pleased to… Oh wait.. It is a hotdog.
Another classic Bioshock-ism has returned in the form of Voxaphones; miniature record players left carelessly strewn around the world, containing the innermost thoughts of some of the key characters in the game, be it the primary antagonist ‘The Prophet’ Zachery Comstock or the leader of the oppressed Ultranationalist rebels, Daisy Fitzroy. Although not wholly relevant to the main story arch, they do compliment it incredibly well and before long you’ll be seeking them out like some sort of hound, hungry for more character development and the sweet, scratchy inferior sound quality of the recordings. It did strike me as odd that despite this technology, I didn’t find a single mix tape or demo..Baffling, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Sound plays a pivotal role in the game, helping immerse you in Colombia. From the industrial noises of production, to the phonographs and radios belting out ‘Now That’s What I Call Music 1912’, to a certain delightful Barbershop Quartet that I can’t seem to get out of my head, no matter how hard I try. For the keen-eared among you, there’s a couple of nice sound based easter-eggs of sorts scattered around the game that will no doubt make you smile. You remember the vending machines from the first two games? “…the circus of VALUES”… The same voice is back in the plethora of vending machines situated around Colombia and I, for one, am thankful for that. For those of you lucky enough to have purchased the ‘Songbird Edition’, you’ll have yourself a copy of soundtrack, and this is no way, makes me jealous…. *twitches*
As Booker DeWitt, the games’ protagonist, you’ll have all sorts of dangerous, imaginative weaponry at your disposal, not forgetting the previously mentioned Vigors; but your most valuable asset by far is your young companion, whom the story centres around, Elizabeth. Now as I’ve previously stated, I’m not one for spoilers so won’t go into great detail as to her involvement, but as an NPC, you could ask for no more in a partner. When the bullets start flying she keeps her head down, meaning that’s one less health bar to worry about. During combat she’ll keep you supplied with ammo and health too which is a nice touch. The one thing I didn’t really understand about young Elizabeth was the fact that when not in combat, she’ll dig around with you, looting her face off, often managing to find Silver Eagles. She’ll then pick up these Silver Eagles, garner your attention and present you with said currency. So why, my dear Elizabeth, when I know you can collect things, do you annoy me with your… “Hey look, there’s a lockpick over there.”… Really Elizabeth? Well why don’t you go PICK IT UP?! You’re the only one who uses them anyway! Your pockets too full of money by any chance?! Jesus Elizabeth… If you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly… In for a penny, in for a pound and all that… Either pick it all up, or nothing… Trust a woman to be only interested in money, wink wink.
In Elizabeth’s defence, her supernatural ability of being able to pluck things out of other parallel universes via ‘tears’ does come in quite handy from time to time. I had many a hairy moment during combat when her ability to simply make cover appear of out thin air saved my bacon. There did seem to be a recurring theme of what she could pull through these tears though… Medical supplies, guns, cover, a freight hook… I couldn’t help but think… Any chance you could pull a tank through one of these tears? Maybe a Zeppelin? Although I suppose the game would have been a tad to easy if that was the case… It’s not Scribblenauts, after all.
The campaign itself is both engaging and emotional, although not really capitalising on the morality system employed by its predecessors which would have been so easy to do given the dark undertones of racial segregation and xenophobia engineered into the very core of the story… True story by the way, as a boy I actually believed xenophobia was the fear of Xenomorphs… Fancy that. Yes, the beautiful city of Colombia soon shows its sickening underbelly when you start stumbling upon the separate bathrooms for the blacks and the Irish and the slums full of ‘negros’ who the upper class folk speak of rather unceremoniously. To my recollection (you remember about my flash memory thing, yeah), there was only time I was forced to make a decision which called my morals into question. It’s quite early on in the game but despite your choice, it has no real impact on the game whatsoever.
Fortunately, even without the morality system the story does not disappoint. I will say this though… Now it could have been due to the fact I’d just put a good 5 hour session in, and it was around 3am, and one of my eyes had pretty much turned off by this point… But the ending left me a little… Errrmmm…. Ponderous? Yes, that’s a good word… Ponderous. Again, I’m not going to spoil anything, but if all of the stellar excuses for a second playthrough I’ve already listed weren’t enough, I’ll be playing through the campaign for a second, maybe even a third time just to see that ending again. It’s a thinker, that’s for sure! Maybe I’m just being an imbecile and over thinking it, or maybe it takes a greater mind than mine to fully grasp the ending… But when was the last time I played a game that left me thinking so much, post-ending?
For those of you who thrive on adversity and enjoy a challenge, maybe one of your playthroughs can be spent in the 1999 mode, a homage to Irrational Games ‘System Shock 2’ and the year of its release. I’m not going to lie, my first playthrough was on ‘normal’ so I could totally immerse myself in the game and it’s story, to the point where if you wanted my attention in the ‘real’ world, you had to address me as Booker, or preferably, Mr DeWitt… But for my second playthrough, I’m going to tackle the 1999 mode. The mode promises to be more challenging, making you specialise in certain weapons etc which may make certain parts of the game more difficult if you’ve chosen to specialise in a weapon you’ve ran out of ammo for, or a weapon that is particularly weak against certain enemies.
All in all, your playthrough should take you on average, around the 12-15 hour mark, depending on how addicted you become to hunting out Voxaphones and looting bins. The pacing of the story is fantastic and manages to balance plot development and combat set pieces perfectly. During your time in Colombia you’ll come across your fair share of enemies during combat, from your basic grunt to the mechanical menace ‘The Patriot’, and everything in between. Bioshock as a series certainly has an impeccable record of creating iconic characters in its universe. Splicers, Big Daddy’s, Little Sisters… Well you can add another to list… The oft-unseen, ever present threat that is Songbird, or, if you’re from the Northeast of England, Songbord. That’s a colloquialism joke… Enjoy that, won’t you.
Thankfully, Irrational did away with the multiplayer suite this time around, hopefully learning from the mistakes of Bioshock 2; but that doesn’t detract from the experience at all. Bioshock Infinite is one of those games that needs to be enjoyed for what it is, a well written, perfectly executed and truly engrossing story that will get it’s hooks in quickly and keep you coming back for that second and third playthrough…. A bit like heroin, but with less chance of killing you… Although I’d imagine a heroin addict would do his/her fair share of bin raking. Add to that the addition of forthcoming DLC and I predict Bioshock Infinite will be gracing my disk tray well into 2013.
In closing, Bioshock Infinite is a fine return to form and succeeds because it doesn’t try to replicate the success of the first in the series by simply returning to it. Infinite borrows from its predecessors, taking the iconic elements as a skeleton and fleshing out a whole new beast! The aesthetics are as pleasing to the eye as you’re going to get on the current gen, the soundtrack is exceptional and the gameplay flawless. If nothing else, the game would be worthy of a purchase based on these elements alone; add to the mix one of the most interesting, compelling stories of the past few years and you’ve got a definite GOTY contender on your hands. Yet again, Irrational proves that they deserve their position as one of the best studios in the industry.
Summary: A fine return to form for Irrational games and the Bioshock series. An exceptionally immersive experience marred only by its over ambitious plot at times. All in all, an affable little ditty and sure fire award winner that has enough about it to warrant those multiple playthroughs; that a lot of today's games simply just can't deliver,