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Irrational Games may have developed the godsend of games if recent reviews from well-read gaming magazines are anything to go by. Bioshock Infinite is a big jump from the underwater city of Rapture, in more ways than one. The world may have changed, but the side of Bioshock we have come to love is still present.
As Booker sits on a small boat with two odd yellow coat escorts, you notice the lighthouse, the familiar and daunting portal to the start of your story. As Booker ascends to the clouds, you are reminded of the early beauty Irrational puts into the cities they make, not only is Columbia one of the most beautiful worlds developed for video gaming, it is film worthy.
Creating a City in the Sky
A city in the sky is an ambitious move by Irrational, who could have stuck with their underwater spliced paradise. However, they have provided a new setting, new characters, new experiences and reached new heights with the Bioshock series, and they may have created the game everyone loves.
The start of the adventure is a pretty piece of setting the mood, instead of meeting a splicer trying to rip your bathysphere apart or a big sister tearing apart the city of Rapture, you walk around a normal day in Columbia. From the start you can tell a lot of work has been done to say “hey, look at this” – there is a brilliant movie like feel about the start of the game, and it is brilliant to walkthrough.
As you progress through the city, as Booker tries to find the girl, and wipe away the debt, you notice these beautiful scenes and areas repeatedly. Everything has been done in the game so remarkably perfect and well designed to the smallest nook and cranny you are left bewildered in the amazement of Columbia.
Flying across the world in the skyline is an enjoyable experience and it creates a new way to fight all your enemies. Instead of battling head on against hordes of Vox Populi or Comstock’s finest, the skyline provides a way to flee, revive and gun enemies down from a distance. The element of surprise is yours to master, and the skyline gives Booker unique weapons and places to loot.
Columbia is a very religious, 1900’s style city. The Founding Fathers are demi-gods, and Comstock, “the prophet”, controls his city with an iron fist. However, as Booker walks around the roads of Columbia, you see the other side of the world, one filled with hate for the leader of Columbia.
The start of the game is full of fresh, clean, morally good citizens in Columbia doing there day to day activities, which includes standing in the same place all day. This is a refreshing turn around, however Irrational has not put much thought into the design of the smaller nameless characters in the game.
Almost all NPCs who are not major characters have little to no difference in visual looks, in fact, the carnival at the start plays host to seven identical males and throughout your journey you will see doubles, triples and quadruples everywhere. Assassins Creed, Fallout and Fable suffer the same problem; they add a ton of nameless characters with no name and no design.
Those fine citizens are also non-responsive, and the only thing you will get out of them is a small sentence, either a “howdy”, “how you doing?” or something else simple to input. Simply, Irrational wanted you to get past these scenes quickly, and not ponder around looking for conversation.
Changing the Names
As we said before, Bioshock Infinite is still Bioshock, and Irrational has “borrowed” many features from Bioshock and redesigned them to do a similar thing. The world may be fresh and new, but the sticky underbelly of Bioshock is the same old experience.
It seems Rapture was not the only scientifically sound population to develop mutating plasmids. Instead of Adam and Eve, we get Vigors and Salt. The Vigors include many of the traditional ones, fire, electric, possession and then you have some new ones, including crows, bronco and charge.
Vigors need juice to fuel, and salts become your eve. With the salts, Booker can cast an angry set of crows on your opponents, or throw them mid-air for a few seconds.
Vigors are more defined than plasmids, although the opportunity to use them is a little more scattered. In Bioshock 2, protecting the little sisters was the mission to get Adam from them. On Bioshock Infinite, laying traps is not necessary and salts run out in quick succession after a few throws.
Tonics were a small part of Rapture, but when stumbling across one, you knew all hell was about to break loose to try to grab it.
Gear is rewarded not through battling greedy splicers but through exploration, for the most part. One may be sitting at the end of a big handyman battle as a gift, which is a nice reward.
Tonics were mostly all irrelevant, except for the odd couple that made exceptional difference. Gear, on the other hand, gives good power ups to Booker and they are random, not all blocked into a similar category, finding them is very rewarding and they actually benefit in combat.
Every major character has depth
Almost every main character in this game is given the Bioshock depth that is a few voxophones giving basic backbone to the character then a section with the character going face to face with Booker.
This is the usual for Slate, Fink, Fitzroy and a host of other characters. Unlike the previous Bioshock games, where you were contacted through some radio transmission, enemies rarely converse with you over radio, and instead through radio towers or face-to-face conversation.
Again, this is done very well and gives more antidote to the visuals of Bioshock. Instead of getting all your missions and all your conversations through some radio network, you get them through radio towers and through seeing the situated first person.
Your companion, your chatty, confident but at the same time confused partner on the road through Columbia. Elizabeth is more than just another character in the ocean of Bioshock, she is where all the depth of the story lies, she is where all the helpful tears come from and she is the main reason the game works so well.
Elizabeth is an immersive character in more ways than one and is completely connected with the story. Before you meet, the story feels almost absent, and the game is designed with a companion in mind.
As you move further along the story, you notice the changes in Elizabeth. From the shocked intelligent girl who wants no harm done to other people, she becomes, like Booker, willing to do anything to finish the task.
The story would not work without Elizabeth, but it does not feed off her. It does not make her the most necessary character. Booker, throughout the game, maintains that aspect of dominance. He is always number one, but Elizabeth is the most decisive and powerful companion any game has ever had.
The Prophet of Columbia, who was sent by God to create the city in the clouds. Comstock is a fascinating character and developed a fascinating city in the sky. As the main antagonist, he is always in the picture, always plotting and moving. Like Vaas in Far Cry 3, you cannot help but wonder where he is while you explore the city.
Inside everything, he is a character with brilliant strength; he is a character so formidable, crafty, cunning and well-designed it is hard not to admire the world he has created. Bioshock has always had the crazy likeable sense to its villains, with Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine being two of the most well designed characters in video game history.
The other side of the battle, the Vox Populi, the murderous scum who are trying to effect change on the wonderful Columbia, or at least, that is what the civilized residents of Columbia believe.
The Vox Populi bring up an exciting and controversial issue in the time of Columbia, 1912. Racism and segregation is still very much in fashion in Columbia, with Comstock’s powerful movement to stop the black people from having the same privileges as the white.
Cleverly, Irrational has designed the Vox Populi to not be without fault, and to actually be counter-destructive. The Vox are not good, they are not the leaders of the new empire, and after ten minutes, you start to notice the problems Comstock and others raised with the Vox Populi.
What about the mechanics?
Now it is time to get a little controversial, instead of populating the Bioshock Infinite review with details on how excellent everything is the game does have problems, in mechanics and in gameplay, which we discuss now.
Comparing weapons with Bioshock 2 shows how Infinite does not win in every aspect. Remember the drill, the rivet gun, the different ammo types, having all the guns on your arm and not having to pick and choose between two?
This is all gone in Bioshock Infinite. Infinite does get the skyhook, which Booker can use to batter enemies faces, but compared to the huge drill it feels almost weak. The problem is Infinite doesn’t have any really exciting weapons, apart from the Crank Gun, which doesn’t have ammo slots available at stores.
Weapon upgrades are pretty boring as well, and unlike Bioshock 2 the cool yellow animation showing the part being added to the gun disappears in Infinite. Infinite also only has one ammo type, although this may be in part due to the lack of real differentiation enemies. There will only be five handymen in the full game, so keeping a chest full of heart piercing bullets may be worthless.
Enemies have quite typical AI, ‘shoot first, ask later’, it is pretty dull and doesn’t do much to progress the gameplay to work with the story. Remember in the trailer where Booker tells the Vox Populi member to leave him alone? Yep, that never happens in the real game, ever.
When Booker is on the field and hits an opponent on low health, they will keep shooting. This is not like Bioshock where the splicer would run to a health bar to grab some extra health; the game suffers many little mishaps because it tries to celebrate the beautiful story and amazing characters. Many reviewers seem to overlook these little nooks and crannies, but to a big Bioshock fan, these issues are quite detrimental to the overall experience of fights.
The weapons and enemies in the game have not progressed, in our view. The handymen are too overpowered and Booker can do too little damage to really evade and stand ground against them; the Patriots are fun and humorous but there is little to do but keep shooting their backs. The crow and fireman are both good new additions because they create assurgency and tactics, they make you stand back and think about what to do.
The Twisted Story
Some say Ken Levine and his team should have made a movie, instead of a game, because the best parts in Bioshock Infinite are the cut scenes and places where Booker is not free to roam about Columbia.
The truth is, Columbia, Elizabeth, Booker, Comstock, the skyline and all the rest of the world is so beautifully crafted and so well designed it is like something you want to treasure, not tarnish. The gameplay, which features a lot of bloody violence, can sometimes underwhelm the true beauty the game offers.
In a world of different sciences, the same strange outcomes occur, but instead of the populace, you and Elizabeth experiment in these different scientific outbreaks and find incredible results.
The game will not divide gamers, simply because the upside is much stronger than the downside. We could rattle on about how mediocre the gameplay is, but in truth Bioshock Infinite offers an incredible ride, and the gameplay is not tattered or bad, in truth it is really fun and challenging on harder difficulty.
Overall – it is a marvelous game. One of the best this year and possibly one to show off this decade of video gaming.