Lets think back to 2007 for a moment. That one time you somehow survived a plane crash, finding a deserted lighthouse and using the submersible within to be wowed and slack-jawed to the underwater city of Rapture, only to be almost killed the minute you docked by a splicer. Bioshock: Infinite has been released and much of the same feelings of curiosity, bewilderment, and impending demise are still intact, albeit in a radically different setting. Does this new story live up to the 2007 classic?
Click for the full review after the jump!
Welcome to a whole new world, where George Washington is worshiped as a God and Lincoln is the equivalent of Satan. Taking place in 1912, Bioshock: Infinite follows the tale of Booker DeWitt, a drunkard and gambling man who worked up an impressive amount of debt. Hopeless, he comes across a deal of a lifetime and an opportunity to get his life back. All he had to do was go to a place called Columbia and acquire a girl being held hostage there. Considering he is a detective in New York, it sounded like an easy job.
The game opens with DeWitt on a rowboat on the way to a lighthouse with 2 other individuals rowing him there who are not interested in conversation. DeWitt is handheld a box, which contained some notes, a picture of the girl needing the rescue, named Elizabeth, and a gun. He is dropped off and left alone, leaving his only option to ascend at the lighthouse. Through a concerning and awe inspiring chain of events, he is transported to the city of Columbia, a city situated in the sky, and his journey to find Elizabeth begins.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
As DeWitt explores the city, he begins to learn about its culture, including its devout praise to the founding fathers of old, in addition to their prophetic leader, known as Zachary Comstock. Little does he know, that he stumbles upon the fact that he is, by affirmations of prophecy, a “false shepherd” who will lead the city of Columbia to ruin. Once the populous becomes aware of your “evil presence,” the guns are drawn and the game truly begins.
Eventually, DeWitt comes across Elizabeth, who was held captive by Comstock, her entire life. Now free, she is curious to find out what the world that she missed growing up in has to offer, while DeWitt is only concerned about getting her back to New York and out of his life. The player will be able to connect with these two characters on an emotional level, and their relationship will begin to grow as the game progresses.
In the middle of the adventure, you are introduced to the Vox Populi, a rebel group seeking to overthrow Comstock and assume control over Columbia. While the group’s merits are reasonable, they really don’t have much of a place in the lore outside of a plot device and as such, are not really memorable. It would be nice to get more time with the Vox in terms of understanding its members more on a personal level, but we are just left with a run of the mill rebel group seeking the dethroning of a tyrant, a story which has been told several times before.
The story is paced well to the point where you can easily become invested enough to finish the game in one sitting, as well as being able to put the controller down after a level switch. As with Bioshock, there is a large twist in the plot, but unlike its predecessor, Infinite will keep you guessing and you will not have a full grasp of the narrative until about 20 seconds before the credits start rolling, rather than the middle of the game. This allows you to become more invested in the world and its characters.
The formula of Bioshock is still intact from its 2007 roots, although much more defined.
Bioshock was known for its interesting sets of enemies and your plasmids, super powers acquired by drinking a strange liquid. You’ll be happy to know that everything makes a dramatic return here. Plasmids are now known as Vigors, and they function in the same way. There are 8 in total, and all can be upgraded to become even more powerful. There are also an abundance of weapons that can be upgraded in the same way. All upgrades are acquired by cash; there isn’t another currency you have to collect this time around. All upgrades for your weapons and Vigors can be located at multiple upgrade stations throughout the game. None of them are one time uses like they were in the original Bioshock either.
Enemy wise, instead of your traditional Big Daddies, you now have an abundance of dangerous unique enemies, such as the flame throwing fireman, or the hulking Handyman, to the “Why does George Washington have a gatling gun” Patriot. Each will require a different strategy to kill and usually come with large groups of normal enemies.
Fortunately, Elizabeth can handle herself in a fight, as in she stays out of the way and never gets hurt. However, she will scavenge for ammo and health and randomly throw them to you when you desperately need them. She really comes in handy during large battles when you do not have ample supplies.
Unfortunately, she makes the game a tad too easy, even on normal. If you are a Bioshock veteran, it is very wise to start on hard on your first play through to get a real challenge. Beating the game once unlocks “1999 Mode” which adds a new layer of challenge for those looking to go back to the golden age of gaming where no one holds your hand and you learn things the hard way, by dying, a lot.
One of the biggest things they changed is the way you travel. Early in the game, you acquire the “Skyhook” which will allow you to access the transportation rails in the game, which were previously reserved for gondolas and trams. You will be able to zip along the air easily along these and even perform a landing strike on some poor, unsuspecting victim. Couple that with hooks you can connect to on top of buildings, which lead to secret areas, and there is a lot to explore in Columbia if you take the time to look.
This is where the game truly shines. The city of Columbia emits an old world colonial vibe, mixed with a sort of steampunk flavor. While walking through the city, you’ll begin to start exploring naturally outside of your main objectives, trying to find every nook and cranny and the game rewards you for it. Sometimes it’s an audio log of a citizen, other times it’s a small cutscene that deepens the relationship between DeWitt and Elizabeth. It’s something truly unique and has to be experienced in order to be appreciated and it’s guaranteed you will miss things your first play through. It’s wise to take your time and see all that you can see.
The game does have a couple of minor faults within it. The most glaring is the use of backtracking. You will be running back and forth through areas a few times to complete objectives. While the way that it’s done in Infinite changes the encounters up nicely, it’s still backtracking and it would have been nicer if we had some new areas developed instead.
Another annoying point, especially in the PC version, is a lack of a quick save or any real manual save feature for that matter. The game AutoSaves for you and if you want, you can go back to your last 5 auto saves in your playthrough. In a way, this makes your decisions count and mistakes you make early in the game will hurt you, but it would be nice to have the option on the normal difficulty settings and leave the pain and misery for 1999 Mode.
Irrational Games have successfully taken the original Bioshock formula and polished it to a mirror shine. While there are still some issues with the game, it does not detract nearly enough from the amazing experience that you will find very hard to put down. This game is worth your attention and is definitely an early nominee for game of the year.
~ Final Score: 9/10 ~
Review copy purchased by reviewer for PS3.