• Narrative
  • Gameplay
  • Artistic Direction
  • Audio Design
  • Longetivity

In 2007, Irrational Games unleashed BioShock on the gaming world. Widely considered to be a masterpiece of videogame storytelling, it combined an interesting cast of characters, a beautiful and terrible setting, an expertly written story of betrayal and deception, and backed it up with a fun and fully realized set of mechanics through which the player could interact with this world. Now, Irrational Games follows this stellar effort up by looking skywards. The only question: can the warm and welcoming yet dangerous and extremist land of Columbia compete with the murky depths that Rapture sunk to?

Yes and no.

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BioShock Infinite: PC (reviewed) Xbox 360, Playstation 3

Developer: Irrational Games

Publisher: 2K Games

PC Specs: AMD FX 6100, 8gb RAM, 2x ATI Radeon HD6970 (Crossfire)

Like BioShock, BioShock Infinite drops you in at the deep end, thrusting you headfirst into the apparently utopian setting of Columbia; a city which literally flies through the sky, spreading its message of faith and American patriotism and values to any who fall under its shadow. However, walking the streets of the bustling and colourful market district, you soon discover the true nature of this city: it is a city full of discrimination, misogyny, religious extremism and indoctrination delivered under the guise of the teachings of the city’s “prophet” Father Comstock, an antagonist who can be considered this universe’s Andrew Ryan. Fundamentally, the plot is a thinly disguised parallel of Rapture, and those familiar with the previous game will spot deliberate and glaring similarities.

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Players take on the guise of Booker DeWitt, a man conveyed to be down on his luck, in debt to the wrong kind of people, who must travel to Columbia to retrieve a young woman named Elizabeth. The first hour or so is a great introduction to this new universe, as DeWitt begins to see the obvious flaws in this horrifically prejudiced society when he makes his way to his target. It doesn’t take long for the city to turn on him, which is when the real fun begins.

Like BioShock, BioShock Infinite mixes traditional shooting mechanics with steampunk-esque variations of period weaponry and the superhuman powers given to the player by Vigors, a new variation on the first game’s Plasmids. Straight off the bat, the new powers are much more devious and interesting than the original game’s Plasmids, with the ability to turn any enemy (living or mechanical) to your side and fight with you until death, or a shockwave which blasts enemies into the air and suspends them, leaving them vulnerable to conventional attack. Whilst there is less variety in Vigors than their were Plasmids, the ability to upgrade them crossed with the sheer diversity of the powers themselves on offer makes these new powers a sure winner if comparing. Shooting mechanics are also very solid, allowing seasoned first-person shooter players to implement their skills, as well as allowing newer, less skilled players to exercise power in their own way, with favourable results however you go about your business. An interesting addition to your abilities includes the ability to use Columbia’s cargo rails as a means of transport using your skyhook. Players can jump up and slide around the level, utilising this newfound speed and agility to get the advantage in situations where they might otherwise be underpowered and outgunned. Whilst these rails are limited in their appearance towards the beginning of the game, I actually felt they occurred too liberally later on, as artistic design within the levels gave way to the necessity to include this feature more frequently, with a heavy dose of skyhook-able rails becoming eyesores against the grandeur of Columbia’s archaeology. As a gameplay device, the skyhook is most welcome; I am always a big fan of  any innovative and fun way to move within a videogame, and the additional combat ferocity it allows.

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Another gameplay mechanic that will likely dominate focus is that of Elizabeth, who is hands down the greatest AI character in gaming to this day. Think Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and you’re a quarter of the way there. Communication between DeWitt (who, by the way, is fully voiced, ditching the silent protagonist motif of previous BioShock games) and Elizabeth brings an added dimension to the game’s plot, as the two characters openly voice their feelings, their woes, and their concerns to  each other throughout the level. Elizabeth will also scavenge supplies to you, which she will throw to you in even the most hair-raising combat situations, and will point out articles of interest or new pickups in the calmer sections of the game. Additionally, and without wanting to spoil the game’s plot, Elizabeth also has the ability to phase-in objects, such as friendly turrets or supplies, out of thin air, giving an extra element to the game’s already varied and chaotic battles. For these reasons, no game before BioShock Infinite can boast a more fully utilised and effective AI partner than Elizabeth.

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Visually, BioShock Infinite is a near masterpiece. Through a technically outstanding engine, BioShock Infinite delivers a colourful setting that reeks doom and gloom just as well as it does hope and prosperity. Vast structures and sculptures dominate the skyline, and individual streets and buildings offer more attention to detail on show than most examples one could find elsewhere… at least, for a while.

Another issue with this game is that it does suffer from, for want of a better phrase, filler sections. The closer I got to the conclusion, the more repetitive the environments became. It was an issue I also noticed my first time through BioShock in 2007, but it  became glaringly obvious a bit quicker this time round. The wide open and colourful streets will give way to corridors, bland brown/grey industrial settings, and eventually, damaged and flaming wreckage. Whilst the game still does an admirable job of sprucing up these areas from time to time, there is an undeniable lull by the time the third act rolls round.

 

Additionally, enemy types are limited to around four or five. To be fair, they boast great artificial intelligence and use their environment and skill sets with great conviction, and the variety in tactics required for each type add an additional challenge to the larger scale encounters. However, I can’t help but feel that more could have been done to introduce even more elements through a more varied enemy roster, as once you have an enemy type sussed, you’re fairly sure to not have too much of a problem with them later on. I would also go on record as saying that, compared to the splicers and Big Daddys of Rapture, the guards, Vox Populi and the Handymen just don’t quite offer that mixture of being hauntingly creepy and genuinely dangerous and terrifying.

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In short, BioShock Infinite is a fantastic ten hour experience plagued only by its similarities and occasional flaws when compared to its nearly six-year old predecessor. With a fully voiced and well written protagonist, his exemplary AI partner (whom many should consider the main character), its colourful, threatening and unpleasant setting and a fantastic range of gameplay mechanics, BioShock Infinite is a sure winner. Will we still be speaking as highly of it in years to come as we did with BioShock? I don’t think so, as BioShock Infinite will always live in its revolutionary predecessor’s shadow due to a lack of an interesting antagonist and an occasional lull in atmosphere, with the potential for any love of the game to be tainted by memories of your first steps into an underwater dystopia.