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 SkullcrusherMountain

@roger778: Having played both for a few hours, Bioshock. Not even a CLOSE call.

Posted by Y2Ken

Very excited to finally get my hands on this. Glad to hear it getting so much positive feedback.

Posted by Hew7

Nice review, five stars! If I could teleport I would be standing in a game store right now, game and money in hand. Shall have to wait for tomorrow though :)

Posted by Trusty_Spoon

Great review Jeff. It's not much of a surprise that this game is great but playing a good 6 hours last night I can see what you mean about the strangeness of Columbia. And how Elizabeth's expressions really bring you into the world and make it a believable place. And you know when your dreaming about the shit you see in a game show just how impact full it can be.

Edited by Vexxan

Never played a Bioshock game but I just might give this one a go.

Edited by GetEveryone

@vitor said:

@believer258 said:

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.

That's probably one of the reasons I enjoyed Resistance 3 so much. It almost felt like a throw-back, in that it totally embraced its 'gameyness'.

8 weapons? Fuck it, play with them all.

Low health in the middle of an enormous firefight? Better find a health pack.

That game just smashed together some of the best of old and new and it totally worked.

OT: Can't fucking wait to play this tonight. Got a long-ass day at work first, with a hangover to boot.

Edited by BBQBram

My Songbird Edition arrives in a few hours...hold me.

Posted by ktdclb

Awesome!

Posted by dr_mantas

I feel that because of previous Bioshock experience, and all their trailers, I'm expecting so much from the game. Even from the intro in the boat my mind was filled with concepts of Nietzsche's Eternal Return or possibly the ideas in I don't know, Timmy, being God is a big responsibility

I can't wait to play more of it...

Edited by leebmx

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

It seems to be OK so far. It has an option in the menus to 'lock framerate' where you can lower the graphical quality for better framerate, something I have never seen in a console game before. I have it unlocked and its been fine so far.

Posted by Sanj

How much of this game refers to Bioshock 1 & 2 in terms of its narrative? Should I play the previous Bioshock games before playing this one?

Edited by Bourbon_Warrior

@leebmx said:

@bourbon_warrior said:

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

It seems to be OK so far. It has an option in the menus to 'lock framerate' where you can lower the graphical quality for better framerate, something I have never seen in a console game before. I have it unlocked and its been fine so far.

Thanks for the response, the 1st Bioshock did that, kind of hoped it would catch on with other games.

Glad to see they brought that option back.

Edited by bunnymud

Can't wait to play it, but "Race War" you say? Let me guess...everyone against the "Whites"?

Edited by Bourbon_Warrior

@tehjedicake said:

@stingingvelvet said:

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

Why would that make you cringe, gamepads are great especially the 360 game pad, I don't see why you need "easy aim" controls for a single player game? There is no weight to your character when using a mouse, I use mouse for RTS and online FPS, but have never felt the need for a single player game. It just takes away the "cinematic" feel, kind of like when I watch someone play Mass Effect with 60FPS it just doesn't look right.

But I have learnt how to use both input devices well over the years, so I don't get the bad aiming thing, it's more of a challenge sure but mouse aiming is just so easy it takes away the challenge in alot of games for me, my character shouldn't be able to head shot everything on a dime.

Posted by Bourbon_Warrior

@jace said:

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.

Why the fuck would you post that in the review...

Posted by Brodehouse

It's nice to read a review that appears to still be in the plane of sanity. I get really weirded out when people start to talk prophetically about some game they just played. Like so...

"So, when will gaming have its Citizen Kane moment? Forget that. When will anything else have its BioShock Infinite moment?"

"I don't know how else to tell you that this is the game videogames were made for. It’s the game every other designer wishes they could make. It’s a watershed moment for our industry, and I’d be hard pressed to tell you that anything that came before is better. More so, however, I can’t imagine that anything else, in my lifetime, will top this. All bold statements, I know, but this is it and I’m reviewing it. BioShock Infinite is the sort of game we dream of reviewing. It’s the Ocarina of Time of this generation (only infinitely better), and will be talked about and analysed for years to come."

Edited by ripelivejam

I LOVE THE SKYHOOK

I LOVE THE SKYHOOK

I FUCKING LOVE THE SKYHOOK

Online
Posted by George_Hukas

Co-signed.

Posted by Neurotic

Ugh, I'm away from my PS3 for three weeks. I want to play this game!

Edited by posh

is it still worth playing if I only played bioshock 2 and thought it was pretty good? not sure if I'll ever play bioshock 1 at this point. I don't think i'm invested in or care about the story either

Posted by ripelivejam

@posh said:

is it still worth playing if I only played bioshock 2 and thought it was pretty good? not sure if I'll ever play bioshock 1 at this point. I don't think i'm invested in or care about the story either

it shares/alludes to many of the elements in previous games, but you don't need to play them to play this one or understand the story at all (at least approx. 2 hours in. but everything i've heard makes it to be its own beast entirely).

DID I MENTION I FUCKING LOVE THE SKYHOOK?

ok guess i need to sleep for a bit I SUPPOSE.

Online
Posted by Yummylee

@vitor said:

@believer258 said:

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.

That's probably one of the reasons I enjoyed Resistance 3 so much. It almost felt like a throw-back, in that it totally embraced its 'gameyness'.

8 weapons? Fuck it, play with them all.

Low health in the middle of an enormous firefight? Better find a health pack.

That game just smashed together some of the best of old and new and it totally worked.

OT: Can't fucking wait to play this tonight. Got a long-ass day at work first, with a hangover to boot.

Not to mention the first two BioShock games at that. Though I agree on both fronts, in that I'm disappointed to hear you're restricted to a two-weapon limit, but at the same time I'm still revving to go for BioShock Infinite. When I can afford it that is. I just hope I won't accidentally stumble upon some spoilers until then...

Posted by Will_M

I want to read this review so bad but I'll wait. I dont think I could resist a quicklook though

Edited by Porkellain

Doesn't work for me, saddest of all the sad pandas :(

Edited by probablytuna

Installing now, can't decide whether to work on my assignment or play this game!

Posted by Zevvion

I'm not reading this review. Going out to buy the game right now. I've managed to keep dark on this pretty well. I barely even know what the deal is with Elizabeth. I've only heard that name and saw the character model and that's about it. I know there's skyhooks or railing hooks or whatever they are called and there are guns. Also, flying city.

That's pretty much all I know. I love going into games dark. Well, at least games I know I like. There is something to be said for having nothing, not even meaningless things spoiled.

There are only a few games where I dare to take that bet though. This is one of them.

Edited by BasketSnake

Bioshock of Honor / Bioshock Aftermath / Bioshock Vengeance / Bioshock of Darkness - guess the next title. I'll go first - Bioshock Rising.

Posted by bmccann42

Agh, Amazon won't deliver my copy till tomorrow!

Did anyone do all of the pre-order game levels? Is it worth going back and doing?

Posted by NoisyToster

What was your favorite part about the game?

Mine, when I got to beat the interracial couple. then, I had the ability to destroy the evil white men. kill those oppressors! Feels good to pay $60 for propaganda.

Posted by Zereta

@brighty said:

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

And I leave Giant Bomb forever

Posted by PhilipDuck

Awesome

Posted by Glottery

Ohhhh maaaaaannn...all this praising is too much! I think I'll have to push God of War - Ascension aside (which I don't feel too bad about, unfortunate for a GoW game...) and start playing this the moment I get my hands on it, that hopefully being in about two hours...whilst also twiddlin' with my new keychain!

Edited by iragequit
@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.

This comment appears relevant to the Infinite material. :)

Edited by SmithCommaJohn

I only played about 20 minutes of this game last night, and I'm already completely hooked. All I'll be able to think about at work today is playing it tonight.,

Edited by danieljm41

Picking up my copy today. Then I will be part of the "zeitgeist" patrick klepek term. Oh btw: I saw him in that episode of Archer. You guys are BLOWING UP! Exploding, you might say, like...a giant...bomb...[user has been banned]

Edited by Zurv

clearly the PC is the way to go. videos from the consoles make me sad on what ppl are missing :(

hopefully they do a version 2.0 for the new systems so they can see the higher rez and better frame rate.

Edited by skelington_

@jeff First paragraph, last sentence: shouldn't that be "discovering"? Great review, otherwise. Thank you for the insightful commentary. Your review is all I was planning on being exposed to prior to purchase, so consider my appetite sufficiently whetted.

Edit: I guess the use of an infinitive or present participle is personal preference in this instance to be honest.

Posted by blacklab

A look that is quick?

Posted by jimmyfenix

@zurv said:

clearly the PC is the way to go. videos from the consoles make me sad on what ppl are missing :(

hopefully they do a version 2.0 for the new systems so they can see the higher rez and better frame rate.

dude im enjoying the heck out of it on the ps3 and have no plans to go to the pc cause of money limitations :/

Posted by Wampa1

@brodehouse: Ok, that second quote is a joke right? that's the kind of overblown nonsense you write to make fun of that kind of hyperbolic nonsense.

Posted by year199X

I only played about 20 minutes of this game last night, and I'm already completely hooked. All I'll be able to think about at work today is playing it tonight.,

I'm in the exact same boat. This is going to be a long day.

Edited by Vasper_Knight

Good review i had to stop reading so that i could savor the rest, thanks Jeff!

Posted by Brodehouse

@Wampa1 It's right there on metacritic. One of the many 100s. I think it's AusGamers.

... Which now makes me concerned because I know an Australian games journalist... Oh no.

Posted by squidraid

This game has classic written all over it. And good god, it looks absolutely gorgeous on my machine, too. To all the people who think their PC can't run it, you might be surprised. I'm scared to think that I almost bought the 360 version. I have a pretty modest gaming rig I put together for about $700 all told -- AMD FX 4100, quad core 3.6GHZ with a Radeon HD 7850 video card on 8 gigs of RAM, to anyone curious -- that runs the game at a rolling 60 frames a second on HIGH settings without so much as a twitch. Since when do I get to run ANYTHING that isn't a Blizzard game at 60 fps?

My work day can't end soon enough. :(

Posted by mrsmiley

I'm about two hours into this game and loving every bit of it's "Bioshocky goodness". However, there is one thing that is continuously bugging me: there appear to be like three total character models for men and women in this game, and only one each for female and male children. When you're first walking through the city, almost every single person looks exactly the same, with a couple sporting a mustache or hat. Repeating character models in a game with this kind of budget and quality dev team behind it really disappoints me. :/ Also, the character animation has so far left something to be desired, as it's pretty clunky.

Edited by sagebirt

This is probably my favourite game of this generation, bearing in mind that this is coming from a tired, burnt out gamer like myself.

Posted by HerbieBug

Whoa nelly! O___O

Posted by DarthB

Got it on PC. I can only run it at 720p with everything set to super fucking low. Still looks pretty great anyways. Look forward to seeing it through to the end. Oh ya, good review too I guess, although I look forward to hearing more about it on the podcast. Maybe do a spoilercast at the end of an episode in the next few weeks??