Review: BioShock Infinite
I couldn't move. I had finished BioShock Infinite and as the credits rolled, I was still soaking up everything. The goosebumps didn't want to end. As I stood up to get a glass of water, I stepped outside and attempted to make sense of everything that had happened from start to end. Not only was this an amazing game, it has one of the best narratives I have ever experienced in a video game for a long time. This game is special. From the gameplay, the glorious setting, to the memorable characters, this is definitely a good example of a masterpiece.
You play as Booker Dewitt, a former agent of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The game starts off with two people bringing Booker to the lighthouse via boat, tasked to go to Columbia and bring back a girl named Elizabeth. “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt”. This phrase is his driving force and will be hovering over your experience in BioShock Infinite all throughout. Don’t worry, I will try to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, since the biggest asset of Infinite is its narrative. You have to be open to the story they are trying to tell because it’s definitely worth experiencing.
The beauty of Columbia, the floating city
As you first set foot on Columbia, you get the opportunity to soak up this floating city during its prime when everybody is happy and cheerful. As you roam the streets, you get an idea on how life is here, with people smiling and enjoying themselves. Everything around you has a piece of history or information about Columbia that will definitely tap your curiosity. From their religious views, their history, all the way down to the people that made this utopia possible, this is a world that I enjoyed exploring every nook and cranny. I literally left no trashcan unchecked. Just like the previous BioShock city, Columbia is filled with mystery. Be warned, though. The story does tackle very touchy subjects, like religion and racism, that might offend some people. But again, give it a chance. You will realize that Irrational Games is not trying to attack any sort of belief or culture, but rather use it as a bridge to tell this unforgettable story.
After a good hour or two of running through the streets as it gets a bit dicey, you finally meet the girl in the tower named Elizabeth, who you must retrieve from this floating city and bring back to New York. She is the center of everything. She’s protected by a mechanic bird called Songbird that prevents you from taking her away from Columbia. The bond between the girl and the machine may be interesting, but the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth takes the prize. As soon as they start talking to each other, you begin to appreciate these two characters individually. Their personalities come alive thanks to the amazing script and voice acting, and the bond between the two really pulls you even further into this jaw dropping story. As you move forward, you can sense the effect certain events have toward Elizabeth. Since she has been secluded from the world, everything outside the tower is new to her, and it was such a joy to see her witness everything for the first time. Whether good events, or bad, you can really sense her feelings towards them based on her reactions, making Elizabeth one of the most well-crafted characters in gaming.
The genius doesn’t stop there. Elizabeth also shines as a great AI companion gameplay-wise. She’s always right beside the players and interacts with the environment like a curious child. Elizabeth is a leap forward into companion AI since she felt like a natural part of the game. On idle, she goes off on her own looking at certain objects or even sits down or leans on a wall to take a breather. She even gets mad if you point a gun at her and even moves away. As you sprint, you see her sprint right beside you, and if you’re lost, she will occasionally lead you to the right direction. She talks to Booker for small banter every now and then, and occasionally points you to hidden items that you might have not seen without her help. During combat, she stays away from danger, so you don’t need to babysit her; she can take care of herself. She may not carry a gun, but she still tries to help the player by throwing health packs, money, salts, or ammo when you are in dire need of it. She also can pick locks for Booker with the right amount of lockpicks to give you access to great loot and upgrades. She’s definitely an asset every time and it just feels wrong if you don’t have her by your side. Thanks to Elizabeth, the experience really works from the perspectives of both gameplay and narrative. It’s hard to imagine this game without her.
The combat never gets old
The combat is the traditional First Person Shooter, but with the BioShock twist. Just like in previous games, the player will earn supernatural powers (this time called Vigor), which give you the ability to hurl explosive fireballs, send ravenous crows at your foes to distract them, or posses enemies to fight for you. These powers are fuelled by Salts, which can be replenished by salt potions found in the game. Each Vigor has an alternate effect; simply pressing the Vigor button fires the power, while holding it, then releasing triggers a different version of the ability like apply a trap version of the Vigor. As for your guns, you have a wide variety of weapons to choose from with their own set of play styles. Shotguns, pistols, machine guns, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, there’s a good amount of weapons to cater to different kinds of players. With the console version of the game, the player can only equip two Vigors and two guns at the same time, and you can swap them with the press of a button. Vigors can be quickly switched by holding a button to change your setup. Having only two slots for your guns actually makes things interesting since you are left with the decision on what to bring or what suits you best. The combat can get really intense and it never gets dull; it even gets more interesting as you upgrade your weapons and Vigors with the money you pick up from all the looting.
What makes the combat great is that it always breaks any form of repetitiveness as you progress. Every so often, you are introduced to a new type of enemy that requires a different set of Vigors and weapons to be effective, forcing the player to really switch it up. Enemies such as the HandyMan or The Patriot really change the mood once they show up and you will find yourself forced to change everything you have planned to react against them joining the fight. Another cool way to keep the combat intense are the sky-line rails that you get to ride thanks to the Skyhook (which also serves as your melee weapon). The rails are one means of transportation in Columbia and have a rollercoaster feel to them. Sometimes during combat, you will find yourself sky-lining from one platform to another to either avoid enemies, eliminate them with a skyline take-down, or reach hard-to-get places. The mixture of the shooting and the skyline felt smooth and I never had an issue with it.
The combat gets a bit more versatile thanks to Elizabeth too, making her the ultimate sidekick. She has the ability to open tears, windows to another dimension, and thanks to this mysterious ability, you can instruct her to rip certain tears in the environment to bring objects from another world into yours. These include crates filled with medkits, mechanical turrets, cover, decoys, and many more that can change the tide of battle to your favour if used correctly. You can only have one tear open at any given time, so picking the right one you need at that exact moment can be exhilarating. The shooting is great and each weapon brings something different for the player. I never once felt bored by the combat, but I did curse a lot when I faced a HandyMan; I just hate them so much.
There’s also a sense of customization in the game with Booker. Infusions are scattered across the game that give you the choice to permanently improve either your health, salt, or shields with each potion found. There’s also clothing gear with four slots; hat, vest, pants, and boots. You find different gear in the game with different passive abilities, or perks if you will, like 50% more critical damage, the ability to gain more speed when on skyrails, or improve shield recharge delay. Clothing gears can be removed anytime in the menu to suit a certain situation. With the many guns and Vigors in the game, the clothing provides great combinations like having the ability to burn combatants when you melee them, then gain life when they die to it, or once you overkill an enemy (your damage going way past their remaining life), stunning nearby foes. It’s fun to try different combinations, especially with Vigors, which by the way, can be combined with certain Vigors if done at the right time. Electric crows, anyone?
Exploring will happen one way or another, and you ‘ll enjoy it
Exploration is also encouraged. If you look hard enough, you will find certain ciphers from books that can be deciphered by Elizabeth, or keys that unlock a door or chest. These simple side objectives provide backtracking since I’ve experienced most of them in places I’ve already been. But figuring them out and finding them is quite rewarding, making it worth the detour. Also, if you get really curious about the world of Columbia, there are tons of audio (Voxophones) and video recordings (Kinectascopes) scattered all around for you to interact with, giving you a piece of history, or messages or personal journals of characters in the game. Lock picks found in the world are yet another incentive to scavenge and look around. With Elizabeth having the ability to open locks with the right amount of lockpicks, you are thrilled to find a lock pick under a desk because they can only be found, not bought, and the safes and locked doors that require these lock picks always have worthwhile cash and upgrades.
Detail is just amazing in this game. It felt like they took into account every portion of an area that the player might visit, and made sure it was covered with something the player can experience. From simple conversations to small details on the wall, I explored every corner of the game and I didn’t see any inconsistency or bug that breaks you from the experience. You even get to stumble on Easter eggs catered for those music junkies out there.
Oh, the soundtrack of this game. It’s very hard to not get lost thanks to the sound score and music in Columbia. Some are performed so well that it blends perfectly into this world. Like during the very start of the game, as you walk around Columbia for the first time, there’s a quartet performance that just made me sit there and enjoy it. It’s a very small part in the game that you might miss, but it shows their commitment to detail and I appreciate every small addition like these that really bring this world to life for the player, and believe me, there is a good amount of them if you keep your eyes peeled. Oh, if you do play BioShock Infinite and recognize the song performed by this quartet at the start, props to you because it took a while for me to notice what song they were playing.
This game never loses steam. Be it the story or gameplay, you are always at the edge of your seat to see what happens next. You visit everything there is to see in Columbia. You get to witness the good side and the bad side of the city. The rich folks and the poor. From the corrupt and the ones that go against the city’s beliefs, you see Columbia from every angle, and it all ties in perfectly to the narrative.
BioShock Infinite is a game that someone will not simply forget in just a few days. It’s a game that will be forever embedded in your mind thanks to its world and story. Combat is satisfying from start to finish, and characters such as Elizabeth, Booker Dewitt, and even Comstock have so much personality that you have no choice but to love or hate them. The story and how it concluded in the end was just jaw-dropping. Bombshell after bombshell, I felt the impact of the ending and how they concluded it all felt just right. Despite a narrative that could be confusing if seen from afar, it’s actually made so well that playing it again for the second time is refreshing and fun, because the small bits that were considered irrelevant before have now become relevant to you on your second visit to Columbia.
You’ll see hints that you didn't catch before. It’s amazing how the story was so well-written that playing it again gives you a better grip of everything as a whole. The narrative gives this game a very strong replay value, because you see things in a different light. Not many games can pull that off. This is easily one of the best games I’ve ever played in this generation and while I don’t want to call this the game of the year just yet because it’s only March, it’s definitely a contender. I bow to Ken Levine and Irrational Games’ five year commitment to this project. It really shows all their hard work and wanting this game to be the best it could be, and I strongly believe they did just that.
- Satisfying combat
- Rich and well detailed world
- Elizabeth is one of the best character from a video game
- An amazing story that will be discussed for months after you finish the game
- It eventually ends
Note: The reviewer played the Xbox 360 version of the game. The PS3 and 360 versions are said to be very similar while the PC version is said to be far superior in terms of visuals. BioShock Infinite is exclusively distributed by X-Play here in the Philippines.