Bioshock Infinite is a very ambitious game, and how could it not be, as it is the sequel to the second greatest first-person shooter of all-time, Bioshock. Sadly, with all the ambitious potential, the game fumbles quite a bit with trying to pack in all these wonderfully diverse ideas, and by the time it’s over, most of it doesn’t really matter anyway. For what it’s worth, even with all of the squandered plot points, and interesting characters that go by fairly unused, what’s done well, narrative-wise, is done exceptionally well, and is undeniably epic, with great atmosphere, though it never comes close to the atmospheric heights of the original.
“Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt.” Booker DeWitt, a man with a troubled past, and many a gambling debt to his name, is given these instructions, before he is escorted by two people, a man and a woman, to a seemingly far-off lighthouse. From there, he is abandoned, and instructed to enter the sky, and bring back an important person. The lighthouse is his way into the sky, the wonderful floating city of Columbia, just as the sky was the start of Jack’s (unwanted) entrance to Rapture.
Columbia is ruled by racist, religious fatherland-man, Zachary Hale Comstock, who wants to keep the girl for his own devious schemes. This is during the midst of a war against the poverty-stricken rebels known as Vox Populi, consisting of black and Irish, led by Daisy Fitzroy; in an attempt to put a stop to Comstock’s supremacist mentality. She does this by doing horribly unspeakable acts, all in the name of making their world, and hellish lives “a better place”.
You must rescue the strange girl, Elizabeth, who just happens to harbor a “special gift”, one that may come in handy of evading the rioting guards and armed citizens, damning you as “The False Prophet”, and a monstrous bird-like guardian, all in an attempt to catch that damn airship, and get out of there.
As you can see, there are many wonderful, interesting ideas aloof here, but rarely are these ideas ever utilized to their full potential, giving off the jarring feeling that parts of the narrative were rushed, even though this game had a very long, delayed development. By the final fifth of the game, you, along with Booker and Elizabeth, couldn’t care less about this civil war, as they just want to get the hell out of there. Most of these plot points culminate into sections that feel somewhat forced, narrative-wise, and mostly come off feeling like filler. It would have been nice to have more plot points developed that weren’t about Booker, Comstock, and Elizabeth.
Booker is a much different kind of protagonist than Jack, namely in that he’s an actual character, instead of just a vessel in which you play the game through. He has his own agenda, personal history, and well-developed personality. Even with all this characterization, he’s still more of a satellite character, compared to Elizabeth, who is the star.
While Bioshock had more strategic, unique gameplay, with all your hoarding and whatnot, Bioshock Infinite eschews all of that for more standard FPS, run-n-gun action, with an allowance of only two weapons at a time, ala Call of Duty and Halo, although not quite as smooth and meaty. The gameplay, in general, feels very off and more run-of-the-mill compared to the rest of the game, though the gameplay is still good, and has many strategic elements, such as the skyline, a magnetic…. skyline, that in combination with your main melee weapon, the skyhook (much gore ensues), can be used to zoom around the arena, popping off enemies, one by one.
Another main gameplay mechanic is the use of vigors. Vigors are the spiritual successor to plasmids, but unfortunately don’t pack the kick that the plasmids, and as a result, are not very fun to use. For example, the fire vigor, Devil’s Kiss, is more grenade-like than the flamethrower-y Incinerate!, and doesn’t quite pack that punch that made the plasmids so much fun to use; I usually just stuck to my guns.
Some unfortunate exclusions include the revered hacking minigame, which I personally enjoyed very much, as well as tonics, and Big Daddies (the Handymen take their place, but sadly only show up a handful of times; the Motorized Patriots are a more common BD-like enemy); of course, these things wouldn’t really fit into game’s style, plot, or time period.
To allow for a more enjoyable experience, be sure to pick up all of the vox recordings, which give you insight and info about much of the game’s plot points, and help you understand the story. If you make it to the end, and you have nary an idea of what’s going on, it’s because you skipped all of the vox recordings. Also be sure to check out the humorous propaganda viewers, which “explain” the origin of Columbia, as well as who the enemy is (blacks, Irish), the telescopes, and the infusions, to upgrade your health, armor, and salt capacity (salt is to vigors as eve was to plasmids).
Throughout the game, many a gun and item vendor is spread, which you can use to buy ammo, upgrade guns, buy new versions/upgrades for vigors, and buy health and salt (it’s only of use when you first buy it, since you can no longer carry first-aid and eve, er… salt).
Of course, if you’re gunning for all of the trophies/achievements, you aren’t allowed to purchase items from non-gun/vigor-related vendors while on 1999 Mode. Not exactly hard, but very frustrating and time-consuming, as enemies rip holes in you, soak up more bullets, and you lose more money when you die; lose all of your money, and back to the main menu for you. Best tactic is to thundergun it, and when you can’t run through, and you have to fight, be patient, and find some cover. Pop out every so often, utilize melee, and your Possession vigor (the first vigor of the game), and you should be finished in no time.
The game sports some amazing-looking fluid animations, and the artstyle is magnificently sublime, complementing the amazingly atmospheric Columbia, and giving the whole game the aesthetic of a gorgeous water color painting, though many textures (such as the apples) look like badly out-of-place stickers. That’s more of a nitpick, than anything, really. One thing that isn’t a nitpick is how dead and plastic all of the unimportant NPC citizens that accompany the area around you most of the time feel; very lifeless compared to the game’s maps.
The sound design is simply astounding. Troy Baker is noble as the war-torn hero Booker Dewitt, and Courtnee Draper is outstanding as Elizabeth. The other characters are voiced very well, but its Baker and Draper that steal the show. The soundtrack is flawlessly fantastic to listen to, and is a great example of the developers messing with your mind every step of the way.
Bioshock Infinite is not the masterpiece that we expected from the man who brought us the eternal Bioshock, and that’s okay. Along with many wonderful plot points that, unfortunately, never go anywhere, there are disappointing and underutilized characters, horrible NPCs unrelated to the plot, and a (sometimes) disjointed narrative. But what is done well is done very well, and the narrative remains relatively good–even epic at times despite obvious flaws. Also, there are a handful of memorable characters, including Booker and Elizabeth, who have become two of my favorite video game protagonists. In addition, the gameplay is fun and strategic, though slightly off-kilter at times, and an amazing diverse gamespace that, sadly, never seems to reach its full potential.
That being said, Bioshock Infinite is a flawed, but amazing experience, that never comes close to the excellence of the magnificent Bioshock, but is still my favorite game of the year, so far. It’s definitely worth the $40 new it’s going for now, especially the PS3 version, which comes with O.G. Bioshock, for free.
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