- Some unforgettable moments and experiences
- Story is rich, complex and befitting of a BioShock game…when it picks up
- Very tight gunplay
- Blasting people with Vigors never gets old
- Very combat heavy at the expense of exploration
- Middle section of the game is highly repetitive
- No manual saving option is a bizarre oversight
- Mechanical AI of citizens can take you out of the experience somewhat
It can’t be easy being Irrational Games. After creating the original BioShock – one of the most highly revered games of its generation, it would be a bit of an understatement to say that BioShock Infinite has been eagerly anticipated.
BioShock Infinite sees you going back to 1912 and filling the shoes of Booker Dewitt, a mysterious New Yorker who after getting into debt with the wrong people finds himself being roped in to locating a girl named Elizabeth. After a brief introduction you are transported to the airbourne city of Columbia – and initially it truly is breathtaking. In Rapture there was an eerie sense of discovering the past as you explored a ruined society, finding hints of a once great nation – with Columbia you are transported to the city right within its prime. Your first experience of Columbia is full of colour, light and most importantly activity, with bustling town folk wandering the streets and interacting with each other.
This is a far cry from the quiet and menacing corridors of Rapture, and during this opening segment it is a joy to walk through shops and see a city bursting with life. As this is a BioShock game however, the initial impression of Columbia as a wholesome religious utopia quickly reveals itself to be very, very wrong. After getting a glimpse of Columbia’s true colours and seeing its twisted patriotism and vehement racism first hand, the busy city seems to almost transform before your eyes – and sadly so does the exploration and open ended gameplay.
Suddenly the world becomes much more restrictive, and after an amazing opening segment filled with the ability to explore the different streets of Columbia at will, the next few hours become incredibly linear. Luckily, your trusty new Sky-Hook is here to make these sections more interesting. The Sky-Hook lets you clobber enemies in incredibly brutal ways, but more importantly lets you attach to sky rails and use them as a quick tool to traverse around from platform to platform. Traveling using this glorfied pirate hook is initially a blast, and the ability to shoot while Sky-Hooking and to perform an aerial strike on unsuspecting foes is incredibly satisfying. Sadly the sky hook doesn’t seem to be used to it’s full potential. Sky rail journeys are often short and feel like a missed opportunity until big battles fully utilize them later on in the game.
Much of Infinite’s lofty ambitions lie in the addition of an AI partner – Elizabeth, who has the much-touted ability to create tears into other worlds. Unfortunately you don’t get the benefit of her abilities initially, and when you are still searching for Elizabeth the game tends to play very similarly to the previous games in the series. You can hold two weapons at any one time and also equip two vigors – Columbia’s equivalent of the plasmids we all know and love and you get access to a total of a somewhat stingy eight vigors throughout the game (don’t worry -I won’t spoil them by listing them). Aside from a vigor giving you the ability to rain down murderous crows from the sky, the pre Elizabeth segments of the game offer more than a little sense of déjà-vu.
Once you do eventually meet Elizabeth, you still have to wait a few more hours before you get the chance to utilize her tear ability. Initially Elizabeth cowers in the corner during combat, dealing no damage and occasionally throwing you some much needed health, ammo or vigor powering salts. When the tear mechanic is finally introduced it gives you the ability to call on Elizabeth to create everything from barrels of weapons, walls of cover, allies to fight for you, crates of health packs or even the tactical advantage of sky hook panels. Using tears properly in combat quickly becomes essential to survival and feels very natural – you often find yourself relying on areas having useful tears for you to open and a last minute health pack from Elizabeth to get you through some of the more intense battles.
Outside of combat, Elizabeth has the ability to pick locks. Locked doors range from providing access to essential parts of the main game to rooms containing extra loot and even much sought after player items such as gear and infusions. In order to unlock the non-essential locks you need (you guessed it) lock picks, so make sure you keep an eye out for them if you don’t want to miss out on extra items or some additional story via collectable voxaphones – or to BioShock veterans audiologs. Infusions can be used to upgrade your overall capacity of either your health, shield or salts, and finding them makes life a lot easier near the end of the game. In Infinite you can also find various items of clothing called ‘gear’ hidden away in locked rooms, safes or even sometimes not so subtly hidden on tables or around corners. These equip-able items can provide everything from decreased reload times, to brief invulnerability after consuming a health pack and are scattered all over Columbia for the player to collect.
Having a companion constantly following you around somewhat takes away from the series trademark sense of isolation but on the other hand plays a vital part in making your connection to Elizabeth tangible and real – and the surprisingly competent AI used to bring her to life definitely helps. Elizabeth could have suffered from the same traps as most other NPC partners, but instead shows a stunning level of AI. Rather than just sticking behind you and occasionally delivering a line of dialogue, you’ll often find her running past you as if predicting your movements, and small touches like her stopping to inspect something on a beach or stepping warily around a men’s toilet entrance just give Elizabeth that extra level of believability. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about a lot of Columbia’s inhabitants. Some NPCs – particularly in the vastly populated areas like the beach can often feel highly mechanical and seem to remain still, often doing a stiff animation repeatedly until you walk past them in time for them to say their lines right on cue. Often what they say is highly interesting, and the dialogue always adds to the overall atmosphere and feel of Columbia’s dark and racially oppressive society, but their mechanical presence can be off-putting and often take you out of the experience somewhat.
As well as your reliance on Elizabeth’s tears in combat, you start to rely on their presence increasingly for the narrative in the game, and as the connection between Booker and Elizabeth grows so does her ability to create tears – and they give way to some incredibly interesting moments later on in the game. The story in Infinite is far from straight forward and takes a while to pick up momentum, but when it does the story slowly unfolds into a compelling and loveably bizarre tale of revolution, revenge and the severity of consequences.
The story and atmosphere have always been key to BioShock, and sadly the middle section of the game becomes overly combat focused and almost repetitive. Although the game becomes less linear later on in the game, overall the focus on combat seems to come at the cost of exploration – and the “metroidvania” aspect of being able to backtrack and run around most of Rapture in the original is sadly lacking in Columbia. Luckily, Irrational Games have significantly improved the shooting in the game and the guns feel great, making the over reliance on combat less of a chore than it otherwise could have been. The lack of any real challenging enemy type doesn’t help the repetitive nature of some of the combat either. Although the Patriots and Handymen are pretty cool, they don’t quite have the same iconic feel as the Big Daddies did in the original game – and due to overuse quickly descend into becoming more cannon fodder rather than the deadly adversaries they could have been.
Once the game opens up a bit more in the second half it is possible to get lost – and whoever decided to scrap the archaic compass system from the original deserves a hearty slap on the back. Now whenever you find yourself completely clueless as to where to go you can press up on the D-pad and a temporary arrow will appear and guide you in the right direction…most of the time. The vast majority of the time this arrow would work flawlessly, but on several occasions it would frustratingly take me in the wrong direction all together and I would have to ignore it and run around aimlessly until I stumbled upon the right area. This arrow comes in handy when traversing the area for those precariously placed gears and infusions.
Although ultimately Irrational seem to have improved the majority of mechanics from the original, they have bizarrely decided to omit the manual saving system from the original and instead have implemented a checkpoint system. This means that until you get to the next section and see the auto save icon whizzing away in the top right corner it isn’t safe to quit the game. A man is not entitled to manually save it seems.
Little niggles and flaws are definitely present here, but what you will mainly remember from the 15+ hour campaign are the bits that Irrational got right.
Infinite is an incredibly ambitious title and when it delivers upon its promises it truly soars – but with this unparalleled sense of ambition come the inevitable misfires. I think many gamers will find it hard not to feel at least a little disappointed initially when playing through BioShock Infinite, with its mid section feeling overly repetitive and the story taking awhile to truly come into its own – but when it does all will be forgiven.
While it may not quite reach the dizzying heights of its predecessor, Irrational have once again managed to create a gorgeous and unforgettable world. Although the rest of the game may not quite live up to its astounding opening section, the final half of Infinite delivers its fair share of great moments and an incredibly memorable ending –it just might not quite deliver the stunning gameplay innovation that you had hoped for.