BioShock Infinite Review
To say that Bioshock Infinite had high expectations is quite an understatement. After all, the original Bioshock is one of the highest-rated shooters of all time and this sequel sees the return of series creator Ken Levine. In addition, the game suffered several delays which in turn gave room for an extensive marketing campaign complete with exclusives, trailers, and high praise from industry insiders. With this much hype, however, comes the fear that it may all be exaggerated. Some, myself included, began to worry that the game would be just a rehash of the original Bioshock but placed in the sky as opposed to deep in the ocean. Having beaten the game some time ago and stopping to think about it whether the game is the shooter revolution that people were hoping for or just another lackluster sequel, I can safely say that it’s a bit of both.
Like its predecessor, Bioshock Infinite begins in the ocean near an imposing lighthouse. You play as Booker Dewitt, a tough man who has fallen on tough times. Having found himself in gambling debt to some very bad people, Booker is given an alternative method of payment; if he can infiltrate the floating city of Columbia and retrieve a young woman with mysterious powers named Elizabeth, his debt will be wiped clean. His mission won’t be a stroll through the clouds though. While originally built as a testament to American might, the city seceded from the union and formed its own state. Led by the “prophet” Zachary Hale Comstock, the city is more or less a cult that elevates the founding fathers of America to godlike status and treats foreigners as animals. The lighthouse serves as the gateway into Columbia, and armed with just a pistol and a picture of his target, Booker makes his way up the lighthouse and into the city itself.
Just as in the first Bioshock, there is more than meets the eye in regards to Columbia and the main characters. I won’t get into any spoilers, but the game begins throwing hints at you very early on and you’ll find yourself questioning everything within a few short hours. However, the final explanation isn’t given until the very end of the game and seems a bit rushed. It’s a great ending, but the writers push a large amount of information on the player in just a few minutes and I didn’t decide on a final opinion regarding the conclusion until I took some time to process everything. I ultimately decided that I liked it, but it didn’t blow me away as the original’s twist did.
The gameplay is probably the most divisive aspect that keeps Infinite tied to the first game a bit too much. The gunplay is fairly standard for the genre, and while the plasmids of Bioshock 1 were new and fresh, the vigors of Infinite come across as direct copies or cheap reskins of previous powers. You’ll shoot lightning, fire, and swarms of bee… I mean, murders of crows. There are some nice variations such as an upgrade for the murder of crows that cause any enemies killed by the power to explode into additional crows, but they were never enough to shake the been-there-done-that feeling that I had while using the vigors and weaponry. There is one new power that I enjoyed called “Return to Sender” that absorbs bullets and launches them back at foes, but it’s just one stand-out vigor when I was hoping for many more.
The best new feature to the game and the shooter genre as a whole comes from the skyhook and skyrails. The skyrails are rollercoaster-like tracks that snake their way around buildings that are primarily used to transport freight. However, the citizens have begun using them for personal use thanks to magnetic devices called skyhooks, and Booker comes to own one very early in the game. This allows him to zip around the battlefields at high speeds, launch himself from the rails onto unsuspecting enemies, and avoid gunfire. In fact, the skyrails are sometimes more effective for avoiding incoming fire than traditional cover is. Unfortunately, the skyrails aren’t used enough; they make some early apperances then disappear completely until the later stages. It’s a shame since they figured so heavily into the advertising and were made to seem like such an important part of the game. They easily could have been, but are simply used too sparingly to truly shine.
Bioshock Infinite stands out as one of those games that make up for less-than stellar graphics with an enjoyable art style and layout. Columbia is simply a joy to explore thanks to its bright color palette and incredibly well-thought out level design. I’ve even heard some people compare it to exploring a Disney movie, and I can’t say I disagree. Everything seems blissfully innocent at first, which makes discovering the city’s darker side and watching it tear the place apart all the more impactful. I found myself exploring every nook and cranny not just because I needed more ammo and money but because I simply wanted to see as much of the city as I could, even after things begin to go south.
I wish I could say that the citizens of Columbia received the same amount of attention as the city itself, but sadly this is not the case. The NPCs of Columbia seemed very stiff, and they all seemed to have the same four or five faces. You might not notice this at first, but rest assured you will once Elizabeth joins you. She is incredibly detailed; her clothing flows as she runs or walks, her facial animations match her voice perfectly and convey her emotions, and her movements feel very natural. When she interacts with another character, however, it’s like night and day. Perhaps it was done intentionally, to convey the notion that Elizabeth simply didn’t belong in Columbia alongside her captors, but it felt more like the developers spent so much time on Elizabeth that they couldn’t muster up the energy to give the other characters the same treatment.
I don’t normally get excited over a game’s sound quality outside of a catchy track or two of music, but this is possibly my favorite aspect of Bioshock Infinite. The sound effects are competently done, but what truly stood out is the soundtrack. What at first sounds like typical era-appropriate music turns out to be renditions of more modern songs, such as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper from the 1980s. I managed to pick out at least four alternate versions of recognizable songs and I’m sure I missed a few.
The other standout factor is the terrific voice acting. Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper steal the show as Booker and Elizabeth, but there wasn’t a single character or line delivered that made me roll my eyes. There is one moment regarding Booker and Elizabeth that seemed poorly done, but it’s soon revealed that it was purposefully bad. Even the random citizens of Columbia, despite being visually lackluster, were audibly superb. Listening in on their banter or finding their recordings was another reason to spend as much time with them in the clouds as possible.
Bioshock Infinite is easily one of the better games to be released within the last year. The story, presentation, and sheer amount of imagination behind the game are enough to warrant the $60 dollar purchase. However, for everything that makes the game soar, there is something that brings it back down to Earth and outside of the realm of gaming nirvana. The gunfighting is simply nothing new, the vigors never felt different from what we’ve seen before in other Bioshock games, and the skyrails weren’t used enough to make a huge impact on the flow of gameplay. It’s a great experience that everyone should enjoy, but it never reaches it’s sky-high potential.
Written by Guest Reviewer: JGGiant