Bioshock Infinite Review

 

Trying to figure out what Bioshock: Infinite’s best feature is feels like standing at a banquet table full of great food and trying to decide what to eat first. But what stands out for me, more than anything, is the game’s story. Bioshock is a first person shooter that manages to tell an engaging story far better than any FPS I can remember. Better than Half Life 2 and even better than the original Bioshock, which itself had an incredible story to tell. Like the original Bioshock, the story deals with touchy subjects like racism, religion and other topics you wouldn’t discuss at dinner. However Infinite differentiates itself by telling a much more personal and complex story, rather than the broad strokes of the original.

It’s difficult to say too much about the story without spoilers, so I won’t spend much more time on this element. Sufficed to say, the writers have managed to use the FPS genre to tell a tale that makes bold choices, doesn’t talk down to its audience and leaves you with much to think about. And, to its credit, it has probably the best ending of any game I’ve played in recent memory.

The story, while incredible, would be less than it is were it not for your AI companion, Elizabeth. She is the heart and soul of this game, more so than your own character, and I found myself starting to care for her in much the same way as Booker (your character) did. The designers of the game have clearly put a tonne of effort into making Elizabeth as fully realised a character an AI companion can be, and it pays off. When she’s happy, you’re happy. When she’s angry, you get why. And it’s ably assisted not only by some incredible animation, but by flawless voice acting from Elizabeth’s voice actress, Courtnee Draper.

Indeed, voice acting throughout the game is pretty much perfect. This helps sell the story and draws you in. Compare this to Far Cry 2, which had some of the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard in a game, and which helped to turn me off the game quicker than you can say “Meh.”

The soundtrack is also impressive, blending religious praise songs from various parts of the 20th century, barbershop quartet and even modern music to help set the mood for many of the action sequences.

Graphically the game is beautiful. When you first enter the city of Columbia, the sun is shining and the city bustles with life. The sky is blue and the turn of the century architecture impresses you so much that you feel compelled to just sit and stare at it. As the chaos your presence brings to the city starts to take hold, the sun disappears and things get progressively darker. It’s a great visual cue that fits in perfectly with the story. While it might not look as pretty as, say, Crysis 3Infinitemanages to hold its own while still presenting an impressive level of detail. Indeed, my brand new gaming rig handled it well on the highest detail settings and only slowed down once, and that was during a particularly frenetic action sequence taking place in a huge arena at breakneck speed.

The gameplay is generally great for a first person shooter. I played on PC using an XBox 360 controller. I tried using a mouse and keyboard at first but found the sensitivity for the mouse to be too high (resulting in some wicked motion sickness) and some of the keyboard bindings to be a bit awkward. I could have changed these in the settings, to be fair, but tried the 360 controller on a whim and liked that so much I didn’t bother to fiddle with the other settings.

In addition to the usual assortment of guns, Infinite takes a cue from the originalBioshock by giving you supernatural powers. In the original Bioshock, these were called Plasmids. In Infinite they’re called Vigors. No matter what they’re called, they’re cool. Being able to shoot a flock of crows from your hand to attack your enemies, or a wall of water to push your enemies back is pure fun. Shooting lightning from your hand makes you feel like a Jedi. And they’re more than just window dressing. Using your Vigors in a fight with multiple enemies can turn the tide of battle in your favor quicker than just using your guns alone.

However, this is where the game has one of its few flaws. The fuel for your Vigors, called “Salt”, is in ready supply throughout Columbia. You can find it on sale in vending machines or lying around on the beach. Yet no one in Columbia seems to use Vigors. In a game where the storytelling is so tight, this apparent plot hole drew me out of this fictional world just a little. It’s clear the writers had to include Vigors, given Plasmids played such a large role in the original Bioshock, but were unable to reconcile this requirement with the world they were creating.

Some of the other flaws surround the combat system. I’m used to modern FPS games having a decent cover system. Run to a wall, press a button and you’re covered, allowing you to shoot around a corner as needed. Infinite has a decidedly “old school” cover system… meaning you run and hide behind a wall and strafe left or right as needed (or crouch/stand up) to protect yourself and kill enemies. Again, not a huge deal, but it feels decidedly retro for a big budget title released in 2013.

There were also a few times where it wasn’t clear to me what my objective was. While the game implements a great way point system, allowing you to press a button which shows an arrow to guide you where you need to go, sometimes this system doesn’t work as well or at all. For instance, at one point in the game I was meant to follow “ghostly footprints” to complete an objective. But I couldn’t see any ghostly footprints and the arrow system wasn’t on, probably because the designers felt the footprints (which I couldn’t see) were acting in its place. After some running around I finally found them, but I felt frustrated rather than relieved.

At another point in the game I had just had a long gun fight with multiple enemies in a large level. It seemed I had killed them all, so I went to unlock a door I knew I had to unlock to progress to the next objective. Problem was, the door wouldn’t unlock. Why? After a minute or two I worked out that the game thought the battle was still on (Elizabeth was taking cover and the “action” music was still playing). But I couldn’t see any enemies to kill and no one was shooting at me. After exploring the level for about five minutes I found one enemy hiding on a rooftop. I killed him and the battle was over. This was annoying when really, opening that door shouldn’t have been a problem given there was no way that enemy could have hurt me from where he was.

A similar situation happened later in the game, but my previous experience told me what was happening. This time I could hear the lone enemy AI baying for my blood. But I couldn’t find him. After another five minutes or so I did eventually find him… stuck in a wall with minimal health. At some point I  had probably used the “Bucking Bronco” Vigor to fling him away from me, enough to force him into a wall but not enough to kill him. After putting him out of his misery, I moved on but couldn’t help think of this classic scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The final nit pick I have with Infinite is, ironically, Elizabeth herself. Yes, I know I heaped praise on her earlier, but hear me out. Although the developers have managed to create one of the most sophisticated AI companions I’ve ever seen in a game, they’ve also made Elizabeth invulnerable to damage. As the game tells you when you first meet her, she can look after herself, but that’s only because it seems she’s got the god mode cheat permanently enabled. Perhaps this was because coding in some self-protection routines to ensure she survives would have been too difficult (I don’t know, I’m not a programmer), but when the central premise for Infinite is “Bring us the girl unharmed and wipe away the debt”, you feel this really is more of a cheat than anything else.

These are all minor quibbles and most are probably easily fixable with a patch. Ultimately though, Bioshock Infinite manages to present itself as one of the best games you’ll ever play and a strong contender for game of the year.

Final Brisbane Gamer Score: 9.5

 

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