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+
320 Comments
Posted by durden77

Need....money...

Awesome review Jeff.

Edited by gaminghooligan

wish GMG would send me a key that worked :( guess I'll play Bioshock 1 until they do

Edited by SadisticWOlf

I just can't get over the generic and uninteresting box art. Especially when the stock image you see everywhere (the background for the game's wiki entry) conveys basically the same themes but in a more interesting composition and without generic shooter dude #489732 taking up the whole screen.

The game seems awesome and can't wait to play it, but I felt compelled to throw that out there.

Posted by KlUMZeE

WHOOOO! Can't wait, already got it preloaded and am just waiting for midnight

Edited by ripelivejam

I just can't get over the generic and uninteresting box art. Especially when the stock image you see everywhere (the background for the game's wiki entry) conveys basically the same themes but in a more interesting composition and without generic shooter dude #489732 taking up the whole screen.

The game seems awesome and can't wait to play it, but I felt compelled to throw that out there.

flip the insert :)

Posted by fiberpay

I don't really care for the art style in this game, think I will wait for a price drop.

Edited by Embryonic

Been playing the game for about an hour now (game's already unlocked in the UK) and that whole introduction, from the lighthouse to "number 77" just blew me away. I haven't been drawn in by a game's world like this for a while.

Posted by Hobbies

@sadisticwolf: It's all about marketing. "Generic shooter dude #489732" will sell better to people who know nothing about the game.

As for Jeff's review, I think it's a bold statement to say so assertively that Infinite is better than the original, but it just makes me want this game even more. The original Bioshock was, in my opinion, one of the best games of the past decade, so I certainly hope Infinite can live up to that as well.

Edited by ripelivejam

i'm hoping like sleepy dawgz the high-res pack on infinite keeps up a good framerate on my aging junk computer. being modified unreal 3 it should be fine, but i am a touch worried. :(

Posted by xxDrAiNxx

Level Up !

Edited by mancopter

Yessss. I had a feeling this might warrant 5 stars. I am now chomping at the bit, waiting for my preloaded version to unlock.

Posted by bombedyermom

I'm doing everything I can not to look at the clock. But it's useless. 34 minutes.

Edited by DSale

Wait wait wait... Jeff Gerstmann actually LIKED a game?

Posted by TehJedicake

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...

I completely know what you mean. Even just "using a gamepad for an fps makes me cringe" would work, but I don't want to press my luck haha xD

Edited by rjayb89

HOW MUCH DIET COKE DID KEN LEVINE GIVE YOU TO GET THOSE FIVE STARS, JEFF!?

Posted by bluefish

So I think I was waiting to see what GB said about Bioshock to officially be over-the-moon excited. I really think their 4/5 Halo 4 review cemented the cite as THE reviewers to be trusted, as much as I love Halo 4.

Posted by ShadowConqueror

This game looks awesome. I can't wait.

Online
Posted by ripelivejam

next two hours of work and trip home are going to be agonizing.

Edited by Nikoran

Played a good couple of hours there, it's fucking amazing. The amount of attention to detail that went into this game is astounding. They have really upped their game for this, the gameplay also deserves perfect marks, it just feels so right.

Edited by CapnThrash

super dope.

Posted by AllanIceman

I AM EXCITE!

Edited by deerokus

Been playing it tonight here in UK-land. The opening up to the first proper firefight - which is probably only half an hour but took me 90 minutes as I was stopping and exploring and gawping everywhere - is absolutely sensational. So atmospheric and intriguing and immersive, they capture the feel of being in an unfamiliar city really well. Stunning to look at on my mediocre PC, too.

And the combat already feels more satisfying than in Bioshock 1/2.

Edited by SaturdayNightSpecials

I'm not getting a great impression of how this game's combat matches up to the original (or 2, for that matter). It doesn't sound like there was a huge upward shift in quality, but then I'm not sure how low Jeff's opinion of Bioshock's combat was. He says playing Bioshock was the weakest part of the game, but when you're talking about a game that ultimately got 9.0, that maybe isn't saying much.

Posted by Luck702

I would much rather the enemies ignore Elizabeth than make the whole game an escort mission.

Edited by Jace

How does a game with one of the worst endings in recent years get 5 stars? Must've been those damn roofies again.

This game literally retcons the entire Bioshock franchise. What a huge fucking cop out.

Posted by Sidewalkchalk

I'm not getting a great impression of how this game's combat matches up to the original (or 2, for that matter). It doesn't sound like there was a huge upward shift in quality.

Well, that's odd, considering how everything I've read and played screams "HOLY FUCKING SHIT THE SHOOTING IS SO MUCH BETTER."

Edited by SaturdayNightSpecials

@contrarygravitas said:

@saturdaynightspecials said:

I'm not getting a great impression of how this game's combat matches up to the original (or 2, for that matter). It doesn't sound like there was a huge upward shift in quality.

Well, that's odd, considering how everything I've read and played screams "HOLY FUCKING SHIT THE SHOOTING IS SO MUCH BETTER."

Yes, it is odd if the shooting is much better and yet Jeff doesn't really commit to saying straight-out "It's much better".

I'm sure it will be more clear on the podcast.

Edited by jsnyder82

The game finally unlocks on Steam, and it's taking about a million years to "Unpack". Come ooooooooooon, I'm gettin' the shakes!

Edited by Mezmero

I've avoided all spoilers, forums, and trailers in order to enjoy this game fresh. This makes me feel like a piece of shit for not having a good PC though I guess I deserve it. Can't help it if I was born into poverty. :(

Posted by SpoogeMcduck

I played 5 minutes of the first Bioshock, never got into it, maybe someday :/

Posted by DeXterminator

@rjayb89:

5 starz does not make it a perfect game. 5 starz simply means that it is highly recommended.

Edited by JJWeatherman

Jeff, you've convinced me to buy the game. Nice review.

Posted by BD_Mr_Bubbles

Great review Jeff, if you can't tell by my name I'm psyched for this.

Edited by Fram

I'm buying this game seven times. Total media blackout begins now.

Posted by peterpasinili007

#5 stars #PC #sold

Posted by Brake

Goddammit. I wish I had ANY money right now.

Edited by ripelivejam

#5 stars #PC #sold

#yololololololololololololololololololololololololo

Edited by IshimuraD

Download faster, Steam! So excited to play this.

Posted by Allison

So how close would you say we are to Bioshock 5: On the Moon?

Edited by mlarrabee

Dangit, I'm going to have to skip this week in my podcast subscriptions...

Posted by JermainJuniorMartinez

Wish i had a pc that could run this, i guess ps3 will have to do.

Posted by BoG

Everything I read about this game has convinced me that Ken Levine made this with me in mind. Ken, I'm... I'm flattered...

Edited by Kosayn

A game this big, and in spring on a console switch year - I've decided to wait and attempt to dodge spoilers. At least for two weeks to see if any well-argued complaints or enthusiast accolades can sway me either way.

Hopefully the true believers are enjoying it. I would pretty much need it to have advertised a return to System Shock 2 levels of inventory management to make me buy it on day one.

Edited by Roger778

That was a great review, Jeff.

But man, I wish I wasn't on a tight budget. I do want to play this game, but I also want to play Tomb Raider, and I'm only able to buy one game every month. I can't decide which one deserves my attention more.

Regardless, I'm excited. Bioshock Infinite already sounds like a classic.

Edited by fngrLCKNgood

Good read, however the conclusion of the paragraph to the right of the last screenshot seems strangely out of place...

Posted by John1912

Man they kinda throw tonics at you. Makes them feel a little cheap.

Edited by bybeach

Thankyou for the review! The graphics on PC are amazing. The combat is Bioshock 2 + (thank gawd). I'm having some trouble/adjustment with the mouse. Also some other minor complaints, but this game if it mantains it's pace, really seems great. I do not believe any game is 5/5 or 100 (a lot of those at Meta-C!). But I would give it a 90 right now numerically, and I know that is actually in the range doing 5 stars.. so maybe I should re-think that. Hurts though.

Always interested in the written review, especially from this site.

Edited by Sooty

PC version is pretty bad, lots of stuttering for people across the board. Mouse is either way too sensitive or way restrictive, for some reason the in-game mouse options are already set to the lowest and increasing them makes it unplayable.

Apparently tweaking a .ini fixes the stuttering, gonna try it later. Looks nice otherwise and runs smooth, except for the weird stuttering.

edit: yep, ini tweak fixed the stuttering.

Posted by Shakeyhands

Buying it tomorrow.