Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Review: Bioshock Infinite (Steam PC)

Lighthouses have probably taken on a new significance for recent generations, not because of their usefulness in allowing crews of ships to see the shoreline in bad weather, no it's because of the possibility of what lies beneath them or above them.

Bioshock took us to the watery depths of Rapture a super city of wealth, luxury, happiness, addiction, violence and conservative values held dear by the rich and influential of the 1950's and 60's.  Yes Andrew Ryan's attempt at making himself a god amongst men all ended in failure and his eventual death at the hands of his own son years later as the city once hailed as a pinnacle of social values and architectural engineering succumb to the madness created by ADAM and revolution.

Bioshock Infinite on the other hand sends us far away from the pitch black sea below to the city in the sky, Colombia to be exact.  Set a few decades before Rapture ever existed this city seems even more ridiculous than the first when you consider the level of technology in 1912, but you have to put that aside as every part of Infinite is purposefully designed to work as part of a whole and convey a story driven by two characters, Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth.

Colombia is a marvel to behold
The story which I will not spoil for anyone here starts off much like Bioshock as Booker makes his way to a lighthouse off the coast of Maine.  His two mysterious rowers speak in riddles and leave Booker to his business.  His task is to find the girl and wipe away the debt.  This debt and the girl in particular play a huge part in this game, although it is a while before they make any sense.  After a brief spell of lighthouse exploration Booker finally reaches the city in the clouds and begins his journey to find this girl and clear his debt.

Colombia is a beauty to behold in game from it's perfect gardens, pleasant populace and grand structures.  Everything in the city could be mistaken for a version of heaven had it been colonised by Americans in the 1900's.  Religion plays a big part in game as the populace deify a man known as Comstock who holds the founding fathers in the highest regard indirectly deifying them also despite the fact that these men wanted church separated from state.

Comstock is the games villain and he is a multi layered man with each layer being more and more despicable as you go.  Colombia you see is the white man's version of paradise and not any white man, but the rich American white man.  Anyone who is black, Irish, Jewish, Asian, Native American, Indian etc. is seen as the worthless dregs of humanity, only fit for working in sweat shops or as house staff.  The racial and class divide becomes obvious early on and the sinister vibe of Colombia comes rushing through as you play with more and more levels to this rotten city being shown to you as you go.  The surface looks flawless, but chip away at it a little and the horrible interior can be seen easily.

These elements of racism, jingoism, social class divides and religion all go into making Colombia a living, breathing entity in it's own right.  Every sign is carefully placed to further emphasise the true nature of the city and it's inhabitants.  Where the early stages you may feel some regret in killing police officers, by the time you reach the station to see signs that read "keep your race pure" you know these bastards deserve everything they get.  Much like Rapture with it's different sections each designed to further tell the story of the city and it's slow descent into chaos, Colombia does much the same.  By games end you will see a much darker and crueler place than when you first arrived.

Gunplay is generic and not really memorable but it is functional
The gameplay is something many might find quite flat.  It doesn't break any moulds here or add new layers of depth to the first person shooter experience, if anything it feels like playing Bioshock with some new toys and a few old ones in new costumes.  Like Bioshock before it the player can use both vigors (which replace plasmids) and ranged weapons at the same time.  Guns come in the form of pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, rockets, shotguns and rifles.  The lineup is pretty standard and once you find two guns you like to play with your inventory will rarely change unless combat dictates otherwise.

Vigors come in a variety of forms with a few classics thrown in.  The older abilities will be instantly recognisable and their application simple in combat, others though require a little more skill.  Return to sender from instance allows you to generate a shield against projectiles or even absorb them before throwing back at foes.  Bucking Bronco can levitate enemies in the air for easy kills while undertow allows you to manipulate water as a means to force enemies back tremendous pressure or pull them to you with a tendril of water.

Most of the time though you will use at best 2 vigors which compliment your play style.  Personally I used Possession simply because it made enemies turn on each other with the other vigor being murder of crows which essentially acted like the bee's from Bioshock.  The process of switching between vigors is clunky in game and when you have to pause the action to change them it breaks the flow and the immersion frankly.  Guns could have done with being more varied and interesting like Bioshock's weapons also as they lack any secondary fire and all feel very generic.

Vigors all have rather painful activation effects
All weapons and vigors can be upgraded but again the changes are minimal here.  Guns no longer show the upgrades visually so you never really feel like the weapon is becoming any more powerful, while the vigors have very little change from their upgrades aside from costing less salts to cast or having very specific effects once an enemy is dead etc.  I just feel that from a gameplay perspective Irrational really got lazy with this area of the game.  It's not to say they are bad or don't work well it's just very underwhelming when compared to it's predecessor.

Earlier I mentioned two characters, Booker DeWitt who is the player character and another named Elizabeth.  Elizabeth is the girl Booker is sent to find and she spends a majority of the game at Bookers side.  Elizabeth isn't a character you need to worry about in a fight as she is ignored by all enemies and is invulnerable to damage regardless, her main task in combat is to support the player in a few ways.  Firstly she can resupply Booker with health and ammunition in combat, often throwing you a gun or salts when you run low.  Outside of combat she can spot important items such as lockpicks, money and the like while also throwing you the odd bit of spare change as you explore.  Her most unique ability is opening tears in reality, a ability unique to her.  With this she can spawn cover, allow you access to higher locations, pull in friendly turrets and other bonuses.

The interplay between Elizabeth's abilities and Booker's combat skills is what keeps the game fresh as you enter each arena.  Different tears in each zone open up new ways to fight, while you experiment with vigor and weapon combinations to fit your needs.  But Elizabeth isn't some 2D sidekick with no personality, in fact she is the heart of this game.  You will feel genuinely sympathetic to her cause all the while actively trying to help her in her journey.  The fact that you have a character capable of speech this time round helps as Booker and Elizabeth have many memorable moments together further enhancing the games characterisation and need to continue playing to it's epic conclusion.

Elizabeth and Comstock are somehow related
The game can be easy for veteran players but if you are interested more in the journey and where it takes you then don't worry about it as an unlockable difficulty mode is waiting for those who prefer a real challenge.  The most important part about Bioshock Infinite is the way it gets you thinking, the ending in particular is one of the best in singleplayer first person gaming.  Very few titles ever manage to make a player sit back and think about everything they just did and contemplate the meaning and message of Infinite.  There are many interpretations and really that is the point as you will see when you finish the game.

Graphically Infinite isn't going to win awards here, it looks like a heavily modified Bioshock engine and it feels like it.  That isn't to say it's bad though, but don't expect to be playing a game with visuals akin to that of Crysis is all I am saying here.  The game aesthetic works well and it still looks amazing with all the bells and whistles on.  Really it's the scope of the setting that impresses the most as the many views offered by Colombia are breathtaking as well as shocking.  Characters animate well although death animations can look a little awkward at times, almost as if a puppeteer has simply dropped the strings and gone for a break, but otherwise it's a good package overall with no real errors or notable screen tearing to be seen on my playthrough.

The sounds of Bioshock are probably some of the more memorable parts of the game.  The game features a rather unusual soundtrack with tracks dating across the decades right into the mid 1980's featuring tracks such as "everybody wants to rule the world" and "Girls just want to have fun".  The voice talent are all perfect for their parts with Booker and Elizabeth being standout examples of such.  The sounds of the intimidating Songbird are something under much debate at the moment, but fit perfectly for this dangerous yet unfortunate creature.

Overall Bioshock Infinite is a great game that deserves all of the accolades and praise it has been receiving.  I personally enjoyed the story, characters and setting but found the combat to be somewhat rinse and repeat, but I wouldn't say it's a reason to avoid picking up this awesome game.

SCORE: 8.8/10


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