BioShock Infinite Review (PC)

 

intro

 

It has been a long time since Irrational Games last regaled us with their venerable, timeless classic, BioShock. Within the last six years since first plunging into the depths of the sea to visit the doomed city of Rapture, BioShock fans yearning for more from the prolific studio have had to endure numerous teasers involving a mysterious young woman named Elizabeth, who lives amidst the clouds in a floating city called Columbia. After a few noticeable aesthetic and subject matter changes during its long development, BioShock Infinite has finally been made available on digital download services and retail shelves. Although not the leap forward as Irrational’s previous inimitable effort, BioShock Infinte is a reaffirmation of the unimpeachable quality of the studio’s talent, who continues to generate interesting ideas in converging believable A.I., game design, and narrative.

 

welcome

 

In a homage to the original BioShock, the game’s journey begins in 1912 with a brief excursion to an insular lighthouse, the inextricable symbol of BioShock lore, located in the middle of the sea. Assuming control of the tears1character, Booker Dewitt, from here players are rocketed into the clouds, landing on the heavenly and idyllic floating city of Columbia. With the promise of being able to pay off old debts, Booker is hired by an enigmatic client to locate a young woman named Elizabeth, and to bring her back safely to New York City. Upon arrival, Booker is greeted by a congregation of religious acolytes who proclaim fealty to their prophet, Zachary Comstock, the founder of both Columbia and its theocratic society where citizens seemingly worship the founding fathers of the U.S.A. Once Booker gains entry into the city, players bear witness to one of the most sublimely beautiful video game worlds, resplendent with vivid color and a peaceful charm, a virtual vestige and period piece of early 1900s American civilization. Filled with life and bustling activity, Booker arrives in Columbia during a day of rejoicing and celebration, as revelers attend the local fair where the bizarre begins to become apparent. Here is where the player and Booker begins to see through the opacity of Columbia’s beauty which belies the city’s true nature. Columbia is a veritable oppressive dystopia, rife with hateful racial bigotry, violent jingoism, and civil war. After being branded the “False Shepard” by the locals, Booker’s objective becomes all the more urgent as the action begins. The early hours of BioShock Infinite are deliberately slow paced, as the developers seemingly want players to become immersed in their new virtual toy box as they lay the foundation for the narrative leading up to the pivotal introduction of Elizabeth. It is upon meeting her that the game truly begins.

 

elizabeth1

 

It becomes abundantly clear as the game progresses that Elizabeth is BioShock Infinite, both as a game mechanic and in narrative, encapsulated by fine physical and vocal performances. Elizabeth is not just a simple A.I. partner who sometimes gets in your way or occasionally needs rescuing. Rather, she is the player’s inventory system, a compass for hidden and valuable items, and a provider of useful implements in combat. From the narrative perspective, Elizabeth is the game’s main expositional tool, providing players motivation to participate in the game’s evolving story. During exploration, Elizabeth actively finds money, upgrades for Booker, and lock picks, which she can use to unlock secret areas and safes which yield useful loot. Also, Elizabeth is an exceptional girl, bestowed upon with the power to open tears in time and space, allowing her to bring objects from other dimensions into her own. During the game’s first-person shooting combat, battle areas are filled with these tears which appear as visual static. Players can order Elizabeth to summon any one of these inter-dimensional objects at a time, which manifest as useful implements such as turrets, ammo or health stashes, and walls to take cover behind. Elizabeth also throws Booker ammo when he is low, health items when he is hurt, and Salts to replenish his Vigor abilities, BioShock Infinite’s version of magic powers, which Booker emits from his left hand. Elizabeth is constantly engaging the player through Booker by aiding him in combat and exploration, and sharing her feelings and her dreams. She is a delightful and believable character to experience, brought to life by the combination of evocative and expressive motion-capture with the the prodigious vocal talents of the two principal actors. Representing a step forward in A.I. design, Elizabeth is expertly and systemically woven into the fabric of BioShock Infinite’s intricate mechanics, without which the game’s very cohesiveness would unravel.

 

combat1From the game play perspective, BioShock Infinite takes a bit of a lateral step. It has a more streamlined combat experience than the one found in the original BioShock in exchange for more fluid and precise first-person shooting. The aforementioned Vigor abilities serve as an aid to the shooting mechanics in combat rather than the focus, giving Booker an advantage over his enemies. For example, Booker can shoot lightning or summon a murder of crows from his hand directed at enemies, either electrocuting them or distracting them, respectively. By holding and charging these Vigors, Booker can lay traps in the ground which are then triggered when hapless enemies wander into them, affecting larger groups at a time. Finishing enemies almost always involves good old-fashioned shooting with a firearm since Vigors typically aren’t powerful enough to kill enemies by themselves until late in the game. BioShock Infinite does a good job forcing a balance between gun play and Vigor power usage with the environmental implements manifested through spatial tears. Because of these tears, battle areas feel more like toy boxes instead of sand boxes, since the decision to open a tear is usually situational rather than strategic. For example, in the original BioShock, players could meticulously and strategically set traps using a combination of powers, various weapons, and environmental objects such as hacked turrets. In BioShock Infinite, it doesn’t matter which tear is open as long as it serves to distract enemies or buy Booker some time. Since weapon type tears disappear after a short period, players simply need only to open up a new one to keep enemies distracted. Perhaps the most novel game play element is the Sky-Line, a network of roller-coaster like railing which connects the various floating platforms that Columbia is comprised of. Using the powerfully magnetic Sky-Hook acquired early in the game, Booker can attach to and ride these rails, giving him the ability to score an instant kill by attacking foes by jumping on them from above, or allowing him to evade being overwhelmed by finding safer ground. Enemy variety feels limited as well, since the most salient distinctive feature for common enemy types is the weapon they are using. Most enemies can be easily vanquished by using the same Vigor power and weapon combination throughout the game, eliminating any real need to change your combat strategy. The most memorable encounters involve the Handyman, a powerful, mechanical cyborg, and the Patriots, robotic effigies of historical American icons. These occasional encounters require players to rotate their powers and use different strategies, adding some variety to the game play experience. Overall, BioShock Infinite provides players with a unique combat experience characterized by solid and fun first-person shooting combined with helpful powers and environmental implements.

 

combat2Exploration is a very important, yet repetitive, aspect of the game. Money is the most valuable resource since it is used to purchase new Vigors and Vigor upgrades, weapon upgrades and ammo, health items and Salts, all of which can be found in vending machines which are generously located throughout the environment. Money can be found practically everywhere, in trashcans, crates and boxes, and on dead bodies. Health and Vigor replenishment and varieties of ammo can also be found in the same places, and large sums of cash are usually withdrawn from lock picked safes hidden in different locations. Light character customization is made possible by finding equippable Gear which confer upon Booker defensive or offensive perks, or by finding beakers called Infusions which enable players to extend either Booker’s rechargeable protective shield, his health bar, or his Vigor bar. These rare and valuable items are usually found behind lock picked doors and inside secret rooms. Lastly, Voxophones, which contain primitive recordings of spoken monologues, and penny arcade style animated picture machines, are strewn about Columbia and help give depth to the game’s story. Columbia is a city which demonstrates an interesting duplicity; it is both richly beautiful and violently horrific, an inviting locale for gamers to explore. However, the city’s personality is easily outshone by the effervescence of Elizabeth, who will demand your attention for the length of the game. As a result of her company, exploration loses a sense of tension and isolation since the player’s focus frequently diverts back to her. Because of this, combined with a limited variety of loot types, exploration becomes relegated to a mundane resource hunt.

 

sky lineRunning on a PC with maxed setting, BioShock Infinite is undeniably beautiful. Effusively vibrant and colorful, and meticulously detailed, Columbia stands as one of the most successfully realized video game worlds to date, filled with life, violence, and a palpable sense of history. The impressive lighting engine and use of shadows embellish the picturesque vistas and add an ethereal quality to the impeccable art design. Columbia looks like a painting come to life, a virtual museum tour chronicling early 20th century American style and architecture. Audio design adds further weight to the believability of the world, with period specific sound effects such as the scratchy music playback of phonographs and the technologically primitive audio recordings contained within Voxophones, all of which are rounded out by a very talented voice cast. Although BioShock Infinite’s art and visual design is of the highest quality, a few minor gripes exist. Some textures still look muddy and lack detail, specifically plants and flowers which appear as pixelated cardboard cutouts when viewed up close. Character models appear doll-like and stiff, except for Elizabeth, where focused effort was made to ensure organic and natural animation. Lastly, real-time shadows sometimes look rough and distracting. This may be due to a driver issue when using Radeon video cards and hopefully will be resolved soon. All nitpicks aside, BioShock Infinite stands as a testament to the talent of the artists at Irrational Games who resoundingly delivered despite current technological limitations.

 

elizabeth2

 

Irrational Games has succeeded once again to create a brilliant and novel video game experience, expertly weaving together fun game play with narrative and A.I., homogenizing these components to the extent that they become proportionately equal in importance. BioShock Infinite culminates with a memorable and sentimentally evocative conclusion which will resonate with players long after they have completed the game. Although not a revolutionary step forward like the original game, BioShock Infinite represents an evolution of A.I. crossed with game play design, and aptly stands in compliment along side its older franchise brethren. Irrational Games has given the gaming world a product which contains the sensibility and ambition of a next generation game while having begun its life on older, current generation tech. Fans can only shudder in giddy anticipation to think of what the talented studio can accomplish if given the benefits of a full development cycle and unfettered access to next-generation video game technology.

 

Story

9

Gameplay

8.5

Presentation

9.2

Lasting Appeal

9

Overall

9

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