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
Edited by Bobafeet

Can't wait for this to unlock on Steam! As always, great review sir!

Posted by fsmended

Horay, time to see what Jeff thought!

Posted by RadixNegative2

Man, I really can't wait to play this!!!

Posted by Duffyside

YO JEFF IS THIS GAME GOOD I NEED OT KNOW

Posted by pancakehumper

2 hours...2 more hours....

Edited by Brighty

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

Posted by CoruptAI125

Getting Premium edition tomorrow.

Posted by Doskias

I didn't want to care about this game. But I guess I'm gonna buy it.

Edited by ch3burashka

@brighty said:

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

No, you can't.

Edited by doe3879

I dont enjoy playing games from the 1st person perspective. Tried the 1st game demo on the PS3 and couldn't get into, mostly due to it being fps.

I got a new pc, should I give this game a shot? will there be demo?

Posted by Ashuttle
Posted by honeycut1

Amazon needs to hurry up and send my game. I very much want to play this game.

Edited by brocool

Topping off a stellar month for games! Can't wait

Posted by AMyggen

Fuck this vacation I'm on, I won't be able to play this game for over a week. I've been excited for this game for a long time, glad it by all accounts looks great!

Posted by MooseyMcMan

I should probably play this game.

Online
Posted by Brighty

@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.

Posted by ComradeCrash

I want this game now!

Posted by CrazyBagMan

About 3-4 hours into it myself and wow. I figured it would be good, but it's excellent so far.

Edited by Driadon

Pre-loaded and ready to go. :D

Posted by Jumbs

Already out here in Australia, and I'm stuck at work :(

Posted by FesteringNeon

alright, now I have a reason to check it out..

Posted by ILikePopCans

@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.

Come on, don't be a dick brighty.

Edited by Brighty

@ilikepopcans 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.

Come on, don't be a dick brighty.

I can't help it, I'm a proud Columbian.

Posted by ink

Waiting for Steam to unlock it... T minus 2 hours and counting now.

Edited by ink

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

Posted by KingRingtail85

Pre-loading now! Everything I am reading about it is pointing to it being an amazing experience. It's really good to see something with so much hype (out-of-this-world kind of hype) actually deliver.

Posted by nickux

I feel bad not watching any trailers or reading any reviews but I want to go in as clean as possible. Looking forward to reading this after I play it.

Posted by JayEH

Surprised this got put up today. Good review btw!

Posted by Phatmac

Is the Song Bird a non factor in this game? Haven't heard much about his role in the game.

Posted by JoelTGM

Finally a game I'm interested in.

Edited by ink
Posted by Mandrewgora

Nice review Jeff

Edited by Triumvir

Sorry, @jeff, but I'm only looking at the score for now. I'll read your review properly after I finish the game. Normally, I wouldn't do that but, well, you know.

Come on Steam unlock!

Posted by TheManWithNoPlan

It's just too bad it came out around such a big juggernaut like Walking Dead Survival Instinct.

I can't wait to play it!

Edited by Fjordson

Nice review, Jeff. Have a 360 copy sitting next to me, can't wait to play it tonight.

Posted by courage_wolf

Time for some launch evening speculation. Elizabeth is a psycher who attracts small warp rifts around her. The man who will one day become the Emperor has set in motion events that send Booker to Columbia to retrieve Elizabeth in order to bring her under his influence and contain her abilities.

Posted by KittyVonDoom

But is it a 'worthwhile experience'...

Edited by Phished0ne

@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.

Posted by VirtualE

This is great news!! But where's the Quick Look??!!!! I can't wait.... Oh right, can't show it until the release date!!

Posted by believer258

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.

Edited by vegetashonor

Steam is definitely the way to go with this one. Looks gorgeous on PC!!!

Posted by laserbolts

@brighty said:

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

Please leave and never return. Cant wait to pick this game up.

Posted by marbleCmoney

High praise. I'm excited to get my hands on this one.

Edited by NTM

This is great to see. It's so often that you expect and hope that a game you're looking forward to gets praise, and this is one of those rare games (for me at least) that actually makes full of its promises. I know others opinions on a game isn't really what matters, but it's just not to see anyways.

Edited by MordeaniisChaos

@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!