Quick Look: BioShock Infinite

Despite established pro-Lincoln leanings, Jeff and Ryan seem pretty keen on all Columbia has to offer.

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BioShock Infinite Review

5
  • PC

Infinite keeps the soul of BioShock at its core, but it isn't afraid to strike out in some very exciting new directions.

How do you surprise someone that's expecting a surprise? I went into BioShock Infinite wondering if Irrational was content to simply fall back on formula, swapping out city beneath the sea for a city above the clouds, the Big Daddy for Songbird, and so on. Instead, Infinite cleverly preys on those expectations right out of the gate. It feeds you just enough familiar material and gameplay to make it all fit into what you think the word "BioShock" implies, but it strikes out in some really exciting directions, too. The combat is nicely varied and the story moves along at a pace that gives you plenty of things to piece together on your own as you get closer and closer to discover what's really going on in Columbia.

Columbia is a floating city ruled by a man named Comstock, more commonly known as "the Prophet," and its intended inhabitants worship America's founding fathers as if they were gods themselves. The game opens in 1912 with the player controlling a man named Booker DeWitt--a man with debts and regrets who agrees to hunt down a girl who happens to live in this mysterious city. One rough ride in the sky later and DeWitt is loose in Comstock's decaying utopia on the hunt for Elizabeth.

Though you're not certain why you're trying to find her, it quickly becomes clear that she's a central figure in many of the strange things happening around Columbia. These things take the form of tears in reality, small openings to... something, sometime, or somewhere else. Most of the more meaningful tears are utilized to further the game's linear story in some fairly mindbending ways. This is one of the ways that Infinite distinguished itself from its predecessor. Rather than waiting for one big moment to twist and pull the rug out from underneath you, this game starts showing you things that make you immediately start to question what you're seeing, how it is being shown to you, and what it all means. A mysterious male-female duo shows up along the way, seemingly to help you connect a few of the dots, but they also provide an effective bit of comic relief. They ended up being my favorite characters in a game filled with interesting, properly-motivated individuals and a world that draws you in until you're practically begging to know more about it.

Alongside your extraction mission, Columbia is falling into utter chaos and is on the brink of a full-on race and/or class war. Some factions of the city preach in favor of maintaining racial purity, and one of the game's most powerful sequences is an early scene depicting a mixed-race relationship--something the powers in control of the city most definitely frown upon. But this doesn't boil down to the typical good guys/bad guys scenario. Due to the nature of the world and the way it changes over time, you'll also see that Vox Populi's rebel forces are capable of just as much cruelty as the forces they seek to overthrow. The changing relationships between factions and the way the main characters fit into that puzzle make Infinite far more complex than the average video game story, and it's exciting to see heavier themes like these on display.

I really could go on and on about how absorbing the world, story, and characters of BioShock Infinite are, but at some point it'd start to get into subjects and concepts that are best left until you're experiencing them for yourself. It was an impactful 12 hours that answered nearly all of the questions I had about the universe, but left one or two glaring ones that I wish I knew more about. And it wraps up with a striking sequence that adds a lot of context to everything leading up to it without simply repeating the same sort of tricks found in BioShock.

There is a proper game pinning this thought-provoking story together, and like the story, Infinite's gameplay pulls together just enough of the original BioShock's concepts and combat to make it feel familiar while also maintaining its individuality. Like BioShock, Infinite is a first-person shooter with spell-casting, though you'll use "vigors" and work with a "salt" meter instead of firing off "plasmids" and keeping an eye on your "eve" reserves. You can hold two weapons in your inventory and easily swap between them. Similarly, you can equip two different vigors and toggle between them by tapping a button. Weapons include a pistol, a rocket launcher, a shotgun, a machine gun, a carbine, a sniper rifle, and other fairly basic fare, though a variety of weapon upgrades can be purchased to expand their usefulness a bit. Vigors let you do things like shoot electricity, lob fire grenades, pull enemies in towards you, charge in for a pumped-up melee attack, launch a murder of crows that distract and damage enemies, and so on. There are also trap versions of most abilities that you can place by holding down, rather than simply tapping the vigor button. I never much cared for the trap abilities in BioShock and they're not my thing here, either, but the abilities are about as useful as they were in the original BioShock.

Though there are optional treasures and audio logs to find in various corners and hallways, Infinite is a linear game, and you can tap up on the D pad at any time to make an arrow appear and guide you in the right direction. The game's great about pacing its combat sequences and spreading things out, giving you plenty of time to explore your well-detailed surroundings between gunfights. I found myself mostly relying on the electricity power to stun a chain of enemies long enough to shoot them all in the head with a carbine or machine gun.

Elizabeth is with you for much of the game, but an on-screen bit of text makes it pretty clear that Infinite isn't one big escort mission and that she can "take care of herself." That's only partially true, really. She'll still run into trouble, but only when the story demands it. The rest of the time, enemies just seem to ignore her completely. During combat, she'll occasionally shout out to let you know that she's found some salts, health, or ammo. You can tap a button to get her to toss the goods over. Out of combat, she'll occasionally find and toss you some money. The way the AI appears to be blind to Elizabeth's presence is one of the game's few disconnects, though at least you don't have to constantly rescue her from trouble.

Infinite's audio is outstanding. The voice cast has turned in a remarkable set of performances, and the dialogue they're reading is well-written and believable. The music is also a top-notch collection of material performed in a period-appropriate way. Hearing a barbershop quartet performance of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" also served as one of the early clues that Columbia is a strange place, indeed. There's a lot to like about the way Infinite looks, especially on the PC, but I'll sum it up by saying that the emotional points of this story would fall completely flat if Elizabeth's face hadn't been as animated as it is. Those animations do more to sell the story than anything else.

You'll see a lot of BioShock in Infinite, but even if you try to make direct comparisons between the two, it's clear that Infinite is a far better game than its predecessor. It moves at a better pace, with more meaningful and more playable big encounters than BioShock. But it still carries that sense of exploration and the feeling of dread that comes with knowing that everything is just continuing to unravel before your very eyes. Watching Columbia fall while attempting to take Elizabeth away from the floating city is a fantastic way to spend a few days.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
319 Comments
Posted by Hector

Can't freaking wait! I'm headed to GameStop later to pick it up at midnight.

Posted by mracoon

You know, I never really played that much of the original BioShock. I missed out on the game's zeitgeist and by the time I did get round to it, I'd heard people discuss it ad nauseum that I was burnt out before I started. (It didn't help that I knew the ending, either.) Not going to make the same mistake with Infinite, though. I've undergone a media blackout on the game and hopefully my copy arrives tomorrow morning so I can enjoy it fresh. It's nice being able to play a game when it's new and everyone's taking about it.

Moderator
Edited by kerse

This is the first game I've seen such unanimous praise for in a long while, I'm even more excited to play it now. If I didn't have a test tomorrow I'd skip college and play it tomorrow lol.

Edited by PillClinton

Whew! Glad this turned out as hoped for.

Posted by GreggD

@ink said:

What happened to the 1-5 star reviewer artwork? I want to see stars coming out of Gerstman's eyes!

That shit is gone, son.

Posted by beatnik11

Oh shit, Jeff 5 stars

IT'S HAPPENING

Edited by Ghost_of_Perdition

UPS needs to hurry up with that delivery.

Edited by Dan_CiTi

Ah god gonna have to go buy this tomorrow morning.

Posted by leem101

already unlocked in uk, game is quite sweet so far

Posted by digitaldiatribe

The review I was waiting for. Just purchased it from Steam. Thanks Jeff.

Posted by Nadafinga

Hey Jeff, how does the Move support work? Wait, where are you going? Come back! Stop throwing tomatoes at me!

Edited by onyxghost

Stoked

Edited by Iodine

@brighty said:

@ch3burashka said:

@brighty said:

Got goosebumps reading this. I guess you could say this review bioshook me to the core.

No, you can't.

I have a gold ribbon next to my name, I can make all the awful puns I want to you plebeian.

Yeah, you tell him. GOLD POWER!

Gold Master Race

Posted by briansanderson

God I can't wait to start playing this come tomorrow.

Edited by NTM

"You'll see a lot of BioShock in Infinite, but even if you try to make direct comparisons between the two, it's clear that Infinite is a far better game than its predecessor."

That's a lot of praise just to say it's better than the original, well if you were me. Bioshock (I believe) is one of the greatest games ever made, and it holds a special place in my heart when compared to other favorites of mine; hopefully this'll be the same.

Posted by Viking_Funeral

Man, this game is getting some love right now. I was expecting some praise, but not this much. Can't wait to play it.

Edited by Tru3_Blu3

Is the wrench and the shock power the only useful thing in the game?

If so, I'm not buying it.

Edited by EnduranceFun

You can throw objects at a mixed-race couple. GOTYAY.

Edited by Brighty

@brighty said:

Got goosebumps reading this. I guess you could say this review bioshook me to the core.

Please leave and never return.

What's wrong, too meta for you?

Posted by Patman99

@iodine said:

@mordeaniischaos said:

@brighty said:

@ch3burashka said:

@brighty said:

Got goosebumps reading this. I guess you could say this review bioshook me to the core.

No, you can't.

I have a gold ribbon next to my name, I can make all the awful puns I want to you plebeian.

Yeah, you tell him. GOLD POWER!

Gold Master Race

You could really say that the Gold Master Race has Infinite power...

Posted by MeatSim

*runs to Internet to buy it*

I will go play Minerva's Den while I wait for it to come in the mail.

Posted by BatmanBatman

Yay!!

Posted by Brighty

You can throw objects at a mixed-race couple. GOTYAY.

oh my god my jim bean and keyboard

Posted by Sanity

Looks amazing, but i just bought a Eo-Tech.... so i'll pick it up at a later date.

Posted by Pocky4Th3Win

The Game is awesome, been playing it for an hour. Love that you can use VPNs to unlock games early! ^_^

Posted by GaspoweR

Now I'd have to contemplate buying ths in Steam... :/

GETTING XCOM FOR FREE IS TOTAL BONKERS. Also I already own Xcom and will be getting Bioshock anyway... On the 360. :/

Posted by Schmollian

Great to see this block buster not fall flat after the disappointments that were Dead Space 3 and Sim City. And from the sounds of it, this could be an early goty contender. Guess I'm putting in that steam pre-order after all!

Posted by ink
Posted by ink

@ink said:

What happened to the 1-5 star reviewer artwork? I want to see stars coming out of Gerstman's eyes!

Those dont exist anymore post-redesign. Also, stars from the eyes was Ryan's graphic. Jeff's was his head being blown open with a large mushroom cloud, i know, i have it on a t-shirt.

Save that shirt in a safe, cool, dry place. One day our grandchildren will want to know what happened pre-re-design.

Edited by Deckard42

Nice review Jeff, now I just have to wait until payday.

Edited by Brighty

Great review Jeff I agree with everything you said Booker kills Dumbledore

Posted by Shaanyboi

Good to know Irrational put the 6-year dev cycle to good use.

Posted by Vitor

You can hold two weapons in your inventory and easily swap between them.

I'm greatly anticipating this game and I'm not going to let a puny little complaint like this stop me from enjoying it...

...but god-fucking-damn the two-weapon limit. It works well in Halo and Modern Warfare, but I thoroughly enjoy being able to hold all of the guns in a game. It's never stopped me from enjoying a game, but holding all of the guns, or at least more than two, has always been a nice treat to me and I wish more games would do that, and I was expecting this one to.

You're gonna love the recharging shield mechanic.

Seriously, it took me by such surprise considering the fact that no-one's mentioned it in any o the prior coverage/the reviews I've seen so far.

I mean, it totally works and I don't mind it but, from the two weapon limit to the 'click left stick to aim' control set-up, it sure does feel a lot more like Halo than I was expecting.

Edited by FoxMulder

Skipped out on 2 because I knew better than to fall for a sequel that Ken didn't have much to do with! Can't wait to jump in to this game!

Posted by Kiri90

I'm excited to play Infinite, whenever that happens to be in the next couple of weeks. I can't remember the last time I could feel Jeff's enthusiasm and appreciation in a review like this.

Great review, Jeff!

Edited by Carlos1408

I will have to give this game a shot! About time I got a new game, this sounds like the perfect one to play! Looking forward to the compelling story. :D

Posted by Hawkerace

ITS OVER VIDEO GAMES ARE FINI- oh its good, neato. I also got X-com with it, what a treat.

Posted by spazmaster666

I started playing this game at around 8 am this morning (VPN :P) and couldn't put it down for a good 6 hours before I had to stop and do other things. Definitely the first game this year that has pulled me in this much (Tomb Raider comes a close second). Can't wait to finish it.

Posted by DrDarkStryfe

I very nice read, and I agree with what Jeff said for the most part. I had more fun with traps than he did from the sounds of it, but other than that I just nodded my head as I read it.

That last hour, god damned.

Edited by gaftra

@iodine: This is a class war I can get behind! Cause I'm on the gold side! Whoooo!

We

Are

Probably like 20%

Posted by StingingVelvet

Using a gamepad for an FPS on PC makes me cringe but otherwise good review. Praises the game without sounding too crazy about it. Just over an hour and Steam will let me find out for myself...

Posted by Lausebub

Playing it right now (Steam, Europe) and this game, people. THIS GAME!

Posted by NTM

I can't wait to hear Jeff and the rest talk about it on a podcast. It's one thing to read something, and another to hear ones enthusiasm.

Edited by snarekick

I wanna play this but I think I'll wait for a price drop.

Posted by ripelivejam

FUCK YOU JEFF

FUCK YOU

THIS GAME IS WAITING FOR ME

I CAN'T PLAY IT FOR ANOTHER FIVE HOURS

FUCK YOU

Online
Edited by scaramoosh

Don't care for the combat, at least it wasn't a complete waste of money, there is still the free copy of Xcom I got with it to play.

Posted by Stimpack

Wow! Such a high score!

Posted by Flappy

Dammit! Now I have to buy this thing. Nice review, Jeff.

Posted by ripelivejam

anyone preordering in a rush before it unlocks thanks to this review really should check out the greenmangaming deal. 3 free games (bioshock, xcom, and a 3rd game from a selection) and either $14 cash back or $15 credit.

can't say i'm 100% sure it's still going, but their site seems to be dying horribly atm so it might be. good luck getting in!

Online
Posted by Bourbon_Warrior

Any word on the graphics/frame rate on the 360, If there is much of a difference I will get it on PC but if its just a small difference like Tomb Raider I'll grab it on 360