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
Edited by IcarusFoundYou

Two weapon limit? Pfft. Best I can give is 4.9/5

Posted by ripelivejam

wish i didn't have to work today. :(

also i know it's probably hyperbole but it's really great to see people genuinely excited for a game for once, with little negativity in general. i think it's something the hobby needs, and it's infectious. :)

so far game is absolutely captivating. no real experience with half-life 2 but i'm actually digging elizabeth as a companion, even though i haven't seen her fight yet. skyhook is awesome. dying a hell of a lot as i chose to go Hard difficulty (my fault for sucking so badly).

not sure if i want to take my time with it or just burn through as fast as possible (and maybe run through it again sometime if i feel encouraged enough).

Online
Posted by porjos
Edited by Spongetwan

I am soooo excited to see that this got 5 stars!!! I started playing last night and thought the game was amazing so far. Happy to see I am not alone!

Posted by squidraid

Two weapon limit? Pfft. Best I can give is 4.9/5

Yeah I'm not sure this was necessary. Still fun, though.

Unrelated: Jeff made a nod to this, but I have to emphasize this. The sheer expressiveness of Elizabeth's facial animations and body language is stupidly, insanely, out of this world good. I thought L.A. Noire was way ahead of its time in that department, but what Irrational has done even manages to blow the Euphoria engine out of the water. Call it creepy, but I swear I could just watch Elizabeth for hours. I suspect Infinite is going to be the gold standard by which all facial animations are judged for a long time to come.

Posted by superkebabi

I can't read anything on this website without thinking about breast milk

Edited by Darkhollow

I'm not surprised this game did so well, I mean look at Bioshock 1 people! :P

I already finished it and I can say that you guys really need to experience the ending of this game, it had me with my jaw on the floor for a couple of minutes and I barely got some sleep because I was thinking and analysing over what I saw.

This game (to me at least) is really a masterpiece like it's predecessor (Bioshock 1 because 2 wasn't made by the same team) and will be talked to years to come, specially the ending.

Posted by Alekss

to infinity and beyond?

Posted by KenLevineIsCool

Just finished it... it's the most amazing story in any video game, the ending was incredible.

Posted by tastyhouse

Far better than the original Bioshock...but yet almost identical scores across the board. Makes sense.

Posted by ripelivejam

without giving away anything, how much more deeply does te game go into the meta-narrative of the game's philosophy and politics? i get the feeling like bioshock there'll be the conventional plot overlaid with the more far-reaching and weightier themes. i'd just like to see more of the fascinating minutae of the whole comstock/vox populi conflict and the issues entwined in it.

Online
Edited by DeathByWaffle

@tastyhouse: The original has a 96 on Metacritic. There are only 4 more points in the 100 point scale, what do you want from reviewers?

Posted by tastyhouse

@deathbywaffle: Just an odd statement to say that this game is far better than the original (what jeff says in the review) yet rate it identically.

I'm not sure exactly what bothers me about it, but something about that logic doesn't sit right with me.

Posted by ripelivejam

maybe people's expectations werent that high.

Online
Posted by tastyhouse

maybe people's expectations werent that high.

could be, but Bioshock was pretty amazing, to say Infinite is far better seems like hyperbole.

Posted by JackG100

I'd give this game a 4* review, 5 stars should be for games that improve the genre in any way. And everything done in Bioshock Infinite has been done before, and in most cases better. Presentation is excellent of course, and I will have to play it more to make up my mind about the story. But other than that it's kinda same-same.

Posted by DeathByWaffle

@tastyhouse: Well I think what you have to realize is that standards for games have changed since 2007. So, if in general shooters have gotten better and we have a higher standard for gameplay, graphics and story now, a 96 in 2013 could still be representative of a better game than a 96 in 2007. I don't know if that is how Jeff or anyone else sees reviews, but that is my logic on it.

Posted by Gamer_152

I'm so happy that this game sounds as good as I was hoping it would be. I want it!

Moderator
Posted by stoner_logic

I'm sorry but this game is subpar as best, when it comes to the Bioshock franchise it is all about "style over substance" 3/5 at least.

Edited by thomblweed

I've been downloading this game for 24 hours on Steam and only at 51% :(

Edited by jimmyfenix

@stoner_logic: judging from your user name i will wait till you come down

Edited by dagas

My best friend who is a huge Bioshcok fan was dissapointed in the game. I guess you can't please everyone. He has played the first game several times and it is one of his favorite games. This he has so far not liked much. I'll try it eventually.

Posted by CaLe

Some tit in the comments from the trailer spoiled the ending for me... so yeah, obviously didn't get to fully enjoy that myself. That said, I loved everything about it except for the part where I had to constantly loot shit from everything. Always felt I had barely enough ammo and it took me out of just enjoying the game world. The skyhook stuff worked really well. Solid 85.

Posted by fisk0

@dagas said:

My best friend who is a huge Bioshcok fan was dissapointed in the game. I guess you can't please everyone. He has played the first game several times and it is one of his favorite games. This he has so far not liked much. I'll try it eventually.

I think quite a few System Shock 2 fans where disappointed with how Bioshock 1 turned out as well, major changes in setting, or when games try to appeal to a different demographic by making changes to the gameplay or structure they often turn some people off, I guess that's just one thing that you can never really avoid.

Posted by ripelivejam

I'm sorry but this game is subpar as best, when it comes to the Bioshock franchise it is all about "style over substance" 3/5 at least.

AND SO BEGINS THE GREAT BACKLASH!!!

Online
Edited by RamboJordan

This review is spot-on.

Posted by patrick

@jackg100 said:

I'd give this game a 4* review, 5 stars should be for games that improve the genre in any way. And everything done in Bioshock Infinite has been done before, and in most cases better. Presentation is excellent of course, and I will have to play it more to make up my mind about the story. But other than that it's kinda same-same.

I too am tired of either games set on floating, industrial revolution era cities or that address the topic of secession and American exceptionalism. Where have all the WW2 bro aliens gone? The lack of waist high walls made of loot? Video games have lost their way this generation.

Posted by adri4n

can't wait to play this

Posted by gamefreak9

This game was fantastic! Finished it 12 hours after the unlock on steam :P. The story is numbingly good, better than any other story in game or movie or book I have ever read. Might sound extreme but its not, everything about this, its not even that they had a great story and just executed it, every step had so much thought and soul poured into it.

On the gameplay side, things are a little less exciting but it was great nonetheless, and I don't know what people are complaining about I thought Innovations in this game were very interesting. The Catherine passing stuff to you as alternatives to reloading was a nice touch. The skyhook stuff was also innovative, the tears catherine does where you have to choose one thing at a time were also quite well executed.

I thought the powers were cool but a little underwhelming but maybe that's just me. By the time the fire bounces hits my shots would have killed at least 2 guys. The charm thing was consistently useful but it its more of an instant kill since those guys never get too many shots off. The crow and lightning abilities were interchangeable but lightning is just better since it works against automatons.

Also I finished it on hard so I don't know if this is the case with all difficulties but I found that the difficulty spiked rapidly in the presence of handymen. I could not even find a real weakness for them, sure they take more damage to the heart but they barely get staggered, are almost impossible to dodge and two shot you.

Posted by JackG100

@patrick: Nice sarcasm. As I said, presentationwise it's stellar, and the game looks great. But mechanically this game doesn't do anything differently or particularly better than say Quake 1. Bioshock one was one of the most overrated games of modern time, and judging from the reviews Infinite is going to give it a race for the money.

Posted by patrick

@jackg100 said:

@patrick: Nice sarcasm. As I said, presentationwise it's stellar, and the game looks great. But mechanically this game doesn't do anything differently or particularly better than say Quake 1. Bioshock one was one of the most overrated games of modern time, and judging from the reviews Infinite is going to give it a race for the money.

Please name me a game that has advanced the shooter genre so I can tell you that you're incorrect. Either way, if you're going to equivocate presentation and setting,, then maybe video games may as well stop having cutscenes or voice acting.

Edited by theimmortalbum

So I bought this as a carrot to finish up a website/inventory system I'm working on..

I loved the original BioShock, but don't do horror that well, and parts of that game just became too much (with the tension re: Big Daddies, overall creepiness of splicers, etc). Is there still that creepy factor in Infinite?

Posted by ripelivejam

lmao at image change

(too soon?)

Online
Edited by AuthenticM

So does this game have multiplayer or not ?

Edited by ripelivejam

@authenticm: no, pure single player goodness.

so the quick looks are getting attached to the reviews now? don't know if the QL changing the header image was intentional.

Online
Posted by LackingSaint

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!

For the record, 2 is still a superb game and in my opinion better than the 1st in basically every aspect. More personal, touching story, more interesting locations, much-improved combat and an ending that isn't complete arse.

Online
Posted by honkyjesus

I was waiting for the Gerstmann review, thanks. Is there a difference between PS3 and PC as far as anything besides graphical fidelity and performance?

Edited by Wizzleteats

<p>Bastards took my baseball away before I could chuck it into that chick's face. What the hell?

Posted by ripelivejam

Bastards took my baseball away before I could chuck into that chick's face.

fuck da popo

Online
Posted by Cykke

I tend to think that the reason they don't attack her is because they obviously just don't want to kill her. She's the lamb and she's so like..sacred? I'm leaning towards they just don't want to harm her because they just want to get her back from Booker.

Posted by mellotronrules

lmao at image change

(too soon?)

little known fact- lincoln didn't wear a hat. they added the hat to the costume in order to hide daniel day-lewis' horns.

Posted by safeacti0n

I'm only three hours into this game and..wow! What an amazing work of art. I have yet to find something wrong with it. Irrational Games has done a great job with this latest piece.

Posted by WMoyer83

Had to choose between this and walking dead survival instinct, and I chose this. Am I a winner?

Posted by VarkhanMB

Fuck finals, I'm playing this shit!

Edited by Boopie

my bro said he likes tomb raider better he says this game feels old he has two master degrees and makes bank he loved bioshock

Posted by ripelivejam

@boopie said:

my bro said he likes tomb raider better he says this game feels old he has two master degrees and makes bank he loved bioshock

sounds legit.

Online
Edited by louiedog

Spoiler if you haven't met Elizabeth but safe for any who have.

I was not expecting Tears for Fears and I'm a guy who is always expecting Tears for Fears. Interested to see where this goes.

I assume this game is selling well based on both my 360 and Steam friends lists.

Posted by deerokus

@icarusfoundyou said:

Two weapon limit? Pfft. Best I can give is 4.9/5

Yeah I'm not sure this was necessary. Still fun, though.

Unrelated: Jeff made a nod to this, but I have to emphasize this. The sheer expressiveness of Elizabeth's facial animations and body language is stupidly, insanely, out of this world good. I thought L.A. Noire was way ahead of its time in that department, but what Irrational has done even manages to blow the Euphoria engine out of the water. Call it creepy, but I swear I could just watch Elizabeth for hours. I suspect Infinite is going to be the gold standard by which all facial animations are judged for a long time to come.

Yes, this. And unlike LA Noire it's all animated rather than performance capture - it reminds me of Disney's heyday, it's that good.