I still remember how engrossing it was the first time I stepped into Rapture. The world drew me into its lore, showcased its history and told a million tales purely with excellent design. The world of Columbia recaptures this magic, and once again displays why the team at Irrational Games demand respect as developers. Jumping into BioShock Infinite I wasn’t sure how it could possibly capture me the same way the original game did. Then, once I finished the campaign I sat back with grin on my face, realizing that once again, I had been captivated by an amazing narrative within a video game; something I can’t claim often enough.
Jumping into the world of Columbia is both familiar and refreshing. The idea of a city in the clouds feels on the same level as a city under the sea, and the similarities don’t stop there. The city and its inhabitants all believe in this world in the clouds, which in turn forces players to do the same. Discovering the wonders of Columbia is an act of enjoyment in Infinite, not a chore.
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The adventure begins introducing the protagonist, Booker Dewitt. He is a mysterious character, clearly on a mission, and easy to dismiss. The game slowly reveals Booker’s past, giving him more meaning, but the real star of BioShock Infinite is Elizabeth. Bearing a striking resemblance to a particular Disney princess, this companion character is anything but. Her presence is iconic in both the marketing, and the entire narrative. In fact, I would go as far as to say she is actually the star of the story. Without her, Infinite loses purpose, as well as what makes the narrative special from beginning to end.
There is a lot to take in throughout the world of Columbia, and as I said, it all begs to be discovered. Controversial themes and subtle nuances deliver so much about the world. The return of audio diaries and new black and white films tell the history of the city. It is all rich and interesting. Exploring every facet of areas becomes a want. A directional arrow points to the main objective, but I found myself using it more for knowing where to explore, rather than where to progress. This speaks volumes about the design, as well as the history behind it.
Purely as a game, Infinite is very much the same as the original BioShock on many levels. This is a first-person shooter where the left trigger handles special attacks known as Vigors, and the right doles out bullets from firearms. This is identical to the original title, only replacing Plasmids with Vigors. The effects of the Vigors are also familiar. There is an electric one, crows replace the bees and of course fire and water make an appearance. These can be combined with each other, as well as firearms for unique results, but the combat rarely graduated past shock, block and fire for me.
Skyhooks make a rather large impact on both combat and traversal. Early on I gained access to a hook on my arm. This allows travel via the silver railways running throughout the city as well as serving as a visceral melee instrument. These railways make moving from points around much faster, and more vibrant. They also help in combat allowing possible escape from groups of enemies, as well as vantage points to pounce on them with special attacks. The traversal system works well outside of not being able to properly navigate all the time. There were several instances where I passed my destination, only to circle back around for another pass, but for the most part it works.
Elizabeth will also aid in combat in a variety of ways. Early on she will find and point out items in the environment such as health and ammo. She will even toss them to Booker during firefights, which can be very helpful. Later on, she can open sections on the battlefield to uncover turrets and ammo boxes, of which I will not explain how. Just trust me, it is really handy in the heat of combat. It is also worth noting that this is not one giant escort mission. Elizabeth never needs tended to during combat, instead allowing focus to remain on the enemies. This can be jarring at first seeing them run directly past her, but it can be overlooked.
This quickly became one of my biggest issues. The combat, while satisfying at first, it ultimately wore thin quickly. The entire process consists of combat arenas, kill all the enemies, an invisible wall unlocks, and move on. It might not have been so frustrating if it ever felt like it evolved, but as it stands, the large portion of the mechanics fall flat. There are upgrades to purchase for both weapons and Vigors. These upgrades do remedy the tedium a little by making things easier, but without much penalty for death, I never cared much about simply running into battle, guns blazing, and taking whatever was thrown at me.
Another set of issues I had with involved the collection aspect. I loved the audio diaries and films, but the digging through boxes and barrels for ammo and health also returns. I found this mechanic completely archaic and useless. There are multiple types of food and items that restore health and salts (what powers Vigors), and yet none of them really matter after a few hours. The process became redundant. Enter room, tap the X button twice on every searchable item, rinse and repeat. Outside of lock picks, there was never anything in these barrels or boxes that needed to be sorted. The fact that there was an option astounded me, much like seeing individual coins on the floor. It is neat at first, and annoying ten hours into the grind.
Checkpoints also became an issue playing on PC without a proper save anywhere feature. It decides when progress should be saved, and if I quit out before hitting the save point, I was forced to repeat that section. Most of the time it wasn’t an issue, but being someone who frequently needs to step away from the experience to tend to other duties, I found myself fairly aware of the issue, especially since the game knows about it as well. Trying to quit to the menu brings up a warning stating when my last save occurred, which sometimes was up to 30 minutes prior.
It is a testament that even with these issues I can proclaim Infinite a must-play for everyone. The narrative and conclusion to this experience was simply mind-boggling even days after completing it. I have not felt this satisfied with an ending in years, and it is something I am sure gamers will be discussing for months on end.
Visually Infinite is spectacular on PC. Running on Ultra settings, the world of Columbia is truly breathtaking. Locales pop off the screen, and the pure design of the city really stands out. I will note that I did experience the annoying stuttering issue discovered by some PC players, but even with that nagging for the first half of the game, it never detracted from the pure visual bliss Infinite delivers. If I had one gripe about that portion it would be compared to Elizabeth, other NPCs simply looked pale by comparison, but again this is a minor quibble.
Audio is equally impressive with some outstanding voice work. Booker nails it on every line, and Elizabeth is fantastic. The twins that dominate a large portion of the story are spectacular as well. The effects are also gut-wrenching at times. It has just enough familiarity from previous games for it to deliver some nostalgia. The soundtrack pops the perfect amount of flavor from the era, while retaining enough originality to make it, its own. All of that blasting through a proper setup only defines the experience even more in the world of Columbia.
It is a strange confession to admit that a lot of what makes Infinite a game really rubbed me the wrong way at times, and yet I still cannot recommend it enough. The combat wore thin, the collection aspect is archaic, yet the narrative payoff is worth every hindrance. That speaks volumes to the construction of the story Ken Levine and his team at Irrational Games have achieved here. I cannot recommend BioShock Infinite enough for anyone who enjoys the our gaming hobby. It is a prime example of the mixture of great storytelling in an interactive experience. Don’t let anyone spoil it for you, just play it as soon as you can.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.
- Motherboard: ASUS P8Z77I Deluxe
- Liquid Cooling: Origin Frostbyte 120 Liquid Cooling
- Processor: Intel i7 3770K with Professional Origin PC Overclocking
- Memory: Corsair 8GB 1600 Mghz Vengeance
- Graphics Card: EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670