BioShock Infinite Review (PS3)

I hate it when I’m supposed to be reviewing a game and it makes me cry at the end (both that it’s over and just, well, generally). I completely forget any issues I had while playing and it makes me want to slap the highest award I can give on it. It’s called “Walking Dead syndrome” I think, but it might as well be called “Bioshock Infinite syndrome”. I’ve just finished it. And I’ll be buying the soundtrack now, thank you. No spoilers follow... but you know what’s coming, in this review at least. Expect a very high score indeed, if I can wipe the tears away enough to see the ‘1’ and ‘0’ keys. Speaking of Tears...

Not going too deep into the plot, the year is 1912 and you play as Booker DeWitt, a shady ex-military man who is tasked with going to the wondrous floating city of Columbia to find and bring back a girl named Elizabeth to wipe away some unspoken debt. Upon arriving you find Columbia ruled by a religious fanatic called Comstock, the city divided into Haves and Have-Nots, an uprising in the works, mysterious rips called Tears are showing glimpses into other times and places, and everything is not as it seems.

Elizabeth is the star of the show

While I’m not going to spoil moments or plot it does not spoil things to say that you can expect major twists in the game, not only because after Bioshock’s amazing “would you kindly” gamers are expecting it from Irrational but also because Bioshock Infinite basically tells you right at the very beginning that twists will come. You may want to play “guess the twist” during the game (they’re all clones! He’s his own brother! Everyone’s a ghost!) and undoubtedly some people will get some, but how the dots are connected and how messed up things get only Ken Levine and possibly Christopher Nolan could think up.

Unlike the rest of the Shock Series (System Shock, Bioshock) Bioshock Infinite does not take place in the aftermath of some great disaster, instead you get to play through the downfall of Columbia and be instrumental in those events. Consequently you get the chance to explore Columbia as a normal city at certain moments, visiting fairs, shops, museums, factories and beaches, and getting a grasp of people’s attitudes – which are usually horrifying, especially towards racial issues. It’s an early disappointment to find that Infinite isn’t quite as free-roaming or open-world as the much-advertised Skylines may have suggested, but while Booker’s path through the game is definitely linear there is a lot of scope for exploration. This is what a few extra years of development time gets you, as no matter what corner you head to odds-are there will be something of value to find. I’d always head in the opposite direction to the Dead Space-style objective pointer and would frequently get rewarded for doing so.

The Skylines are therefore more used for travel over a short contained area during shootouts using Booker’s hand-mounted Skyhook to attach to them, and this is just one part of what makes Infinite’s combat so on-the-fly tactical and fun. It’s all change from Bioshock with Irrational bringing in modern FPS tropes such as a two weapon limit and a rechargeable shield, although the traditional health bar is still present – but Irrational have ditched carry-able medkits and so now we’re back to Doom-style health pack-hunting, weirdly. The same goes for the special powers formerly known as Plasmids, now known as Vigors.

Vigors are picked up throughout the game and can be equipped two at a time, although are easily changed out through a dial menu. With the exception of Electro-Bolt/Shock Jockey there are no carry-overs from Bioshock, and some are only useful in certain situations. ‘Undertow’ for example blasts enemies backwards with a jet of water, which is useless indoors but outside near a railing it can be devastating. Vigors can also be combined, like water with electricity, although the results are often so brief it’s hardly worth it. These powers can be totally optional and are rarely used for environmental puzzles or to fight certain enemies, which is a bit of a shame but they add to the fun of combat if you play with them. Vigors use ‘Salts’ to recharge, and once again unlike EVE hypos from Bioshock they cannot be carried with you. This is a bit of a step-back as I mentioned with health packs above, but it’s obviously meant to enhance the usefulness of Elizabeth.

The biggest change to the Shock formula is the inclusion of a regular AI partner in the form of Elizabeth, which could have gone disastrously wrong but fortunately Irrational has utterly nailed it (I’m glad I said “it” and not “her” there, since that would sound very wrong). Elizabeth never gets attacked by enemies so you never have to worry about getting her out of trouble, instead she finds you health, Salts (negating the need to carry either), money and ammo, points out significant enemies or items, and can open Tears on your command. These Tears can take the form of useful items, points to grapple on to with the Skyhook, automated turrets, cover, and even loyal Motorized Patriots. Elizabeth really is extraordinarily useful, and is much missed when not by your side. She’s perfect, and more on her in a moment.

This mysterious duo follow you throughout the game. Who are they and what do they want?

The combination of Vigors, Skylines, Tears, and assorted weaponry elevates Bioshock Infinite’s combat to something truly unique and exciting in the FPS genre. There’s a ridiculous amount of choice given to the player in every combat encounter, and with the additions of gun and Vigor upgrades plus ‘Gear’ for Booker to equip (granting bonuses like fiery attacks or extra damage) those choices only increase. Use a ‘Possession’ Vigor on a Motorized Patriot, get Elizabeth to open a Tear for a floating Mosquito Turret, then while enemies fight both of them jump on a Skyline and launch Booker into their ranks with a fiery explosion (from those boots I equipped earlier) then finish them off with water spouts and shotgun blasts… and that’s just one possible moment from the 20 or so hours I spent playing the game. Experimenting is the key to fun combat, and Bioshock Infinite offers the very best in FPS experimentation. Yes, the very best, and I’ve played a lot of FPS' so I should know. Only Half-Life 2 approaches the same level of excitement and wild experimentation in its shootouts, and that was mostly down to the ability to fire toilets at people.

Yet combat comes second in my opinion to just exploring the incredible world of Columbia. Irrational have said that instead of just doing Rapture again, which players know, they wanted to instead inspire the same sense of wonder that gamers felt when they played Bioshock for the first time with a new city. Columbia does that. The floating city in the clouds inspires delight when you first enter it and shock when it starts to burn, with visits and shootouts in banks, fairs, museums, dirigibles, and shantytowns. Like all games in the Shock series it’s the exploration of the setting that provides the most joy, and while if I’m being brutally honest I kind of feel Rapture felt more like an actual city, Columbia has an astonishing degree of attention to detail – with secrets at every turn and a “what’s over there” curiosity value equal to open-world games like Skyrim, despite Infinite’s linearity. For example I went over Infinite with a fine-tooth comb with a lot of backtracking and I still didn’t find all the Voxophones (audio logs). I’ll be playing again for sure.

Elizabeth though is really the hook that knocks Bioshock Infinite into maximum score territory. Booker’s connection with her is the heart and soul of the game, and she is so useful and welcome in and out of combat that the game feels wrong when she’s not there. She is a truly phenomenal combination of coding, voice acting, mo-cap, design, and writing, the likes of which gaming has never truly seen to this degree before – the closest recently is possibly Clementine from last year’s The Walking Dead in terms of emotional bonding but not in gameplay usefulness. She’s a fully formed character, a real person near enough, and you want to both keep her safe and find out everything about her. Elizabeth is an absolute triumph, and now that the game’s over I’ve found I’m actually missing her.

If I had one major criticism it wouldn’t be about the game itself, but of 2K’s marketing. If you’ve been paying attention to the videos released you’ve had a great deal spoiled for you – the ‘Heavy Hitters’ series they released for example basically catalogues every single enemy in the game, including a few that only turn up right at the end of the game for a single level or boss fight. The Motorized Patriots are built up to be a big surprise, but they’ve been in every trailer. Hell, one screenshot we were given to run alongside this review was actually taken from the final battle! Seriously people, if you’re interested in a game read news, previews and reviews and don’t check out any marketing material or videos for that game whatsoever, you’ll only spoil things for yourself.

My only other real criticism is one of checkpointing. Dying is never a problem due to Infinite’s version of Vita Chambers (often just Elizabeth reviving you in a safe place), but turning the game off or it crashing, as has been the case for some PC owners? More problematic, since checkpoints are inexplicably really far apart and you can’t save anywhere anymore. At one point in the game you can spend over an hour exploring a part of Columbia without a single checkpoint, which is ridiculous. Like I said, it doesn’t really affect the game, but it will if you’re planning on turning it off at any point (like if your significant other is demanding you spend some time with her because you’ve spent every evening for a week reviewing that stupid game, for a purely theoretical example).

The fearsome Motorized Patriot... turn one to your side however and the tide can turn in your favour

I debated a long time what score to give Bioshock Infinite. It’s clearly a fantastic, classic title that everyone should experience, with amazing combat that encourages wild experimentation, wondrous level design that will make you want to explore every nook and cranny of Columbia, perfect music and sound design that makes the world come to life, and some tremendous writing with dozens of mind-bending twists. What pushed it over into “perfect” 10.0 territory were three factors: firstly, I couldn’t really think of anything wrong with it that truly hurt my amazing experience. Secondly, I am utterly in love with Elizabeth and I’m sure you will be too, as her companionship drives the entire experience. Thirdly, you may have your mind completely blown or you might even be disappointed by the astonishing ending, but no game ever has kept me awake thinking about it for three nights straight. I feel bad that I’m not playing it again right now.

When a game inspires debate, conjecture, sleepless nights, floods of emotion, and the desperate desire to play it all the way through again immediately after watching all of the sizeable end credits you know you’ve got something special. Bioshock Infinite is a game that deserves to be played, and then played again straight afterwards. It’s one of those games that you finish and just feel sad because you know you won’t be playing another game that good for a long time to come. If it’s not my Game of the Year come December then I’ll eat my Big Daddy statue. Visit Columbia today, just don’t set fire to anything.

Top Game Moment: Go in the bar in Shantytown. Go downstairs. Use guitar. Game of the Year.

Platform Played: Xbox 360