Bioshock Infinite Review
Review by Shawn Denney
For those of you who haven’t played the game yet, there will be HEAVY SPOILERS throughout the entire review. I will go through both the good and the bad of this game over the course of my review. I do encourage conversation but lets be civil about this. No personal attacks please.
Columbia is a brilliantly realized visual experience. The character animations are smooth and the art style is great. The blood effects looked more like paint than blood to me, especially during the melee kills but that very well could just be my expectations. One exceptional touch to the game was that each of the floating islands was on its own unique lift pattern. If firing from one to another you had to factor in the sway in order to hit. It reminded me a lot of the shipyard in Uncharted 3 in that particular manner. The sound work in the game is very well done. The voice acting is top notch, and the music was engaging. The sound of the guns and ambient noises was spot on. If their is one complaint though, it was the way the music ended when you had killed the final enemy. This was clearly a conscious decision on the developers part and it is common practice in games to have music rise and fall with battle. The difference here is the music and the atmosphere gave a pretty good sense of tension yet when the music ended I knew I was safe. That heightened state of anxiety, of not knowing whether I was safe or whether their were still more enemies just waiting to shoot my face could have enhanced the game if the music was not scripted to just the encounters.
The Skyrails and the skyhook are awesome. The way it integrated traversal, legitimized the society as a way of convincing me goods could actually travel the whole city, and was woven seamlessly into combat were brilliant. One thing that stood out a bit odd to me though was if I jumped from too high I got hurt but if I hurled myself off of a Skyrail then I would land without getting hurt. A tiny lapse in logic. A bit like how in Just Cause 2 if you jumped off a jet and hit the ground you would take damage but if you used your grappling gun to pull yourself even faster towards the ground you wouldn’t. I understand they do this for gameplay reasons but it still stands out.
One thing that has to be talked about is Elizabeth. This is one of the most real representations of a character I have ever seen. The subtle way her eyes move to the way she leans against objects in the world to her back and forth quips with Booker. She is an exceptional character even if on occasion the writing gets a bit inconsistent with her. I would be remiss not to talk about her lockpicking ability. She is literally the greatest lockpick to ever be created. It takes her less than 1 second to pick a lock.
Combat in Bioshock Infinite was functional. The guns all behave differently and cater to your specific play style. Only having two weapons available at anytime would have presented a much bigger challenge if not for Elizabeth. This women throws health, salts, money, and ammo at you constantly. For the last probably 1/3rd of the game I didn’t even bother looting people because I had upgraded the weapons I use fully and she kept me stocked on ammo. Then their are her Tears in battle which can be exploited but are also a great addition. They can be exploited because if you say bring a turret through the tear and it gets destroyed you can swap to another tear, wait about 5 seconds and bring the turret back good as new. They are a great addition because they allow you to fit your play style better. Health, guns, barricades, and all manner of tears exist in the game and even better is they fit the story the exact same way that Plasmids fit the story in Bioshock 1.
If Bioshock Infinite does one thing better than any other, it is the paper trail. A paper trail is when something is introduced early on and then comes full circle to be an important point to the story later without it overtly telling you so. An example of a film doing this is Batman Begins. Towards the very beginning Bruce is asked to pick a blue flower and carry it up the mountain. At the time, it seems like the blue flower was just an unimportant item that really could have been anything. The goal was to get Bruce to follow an order (discipline) in the face of hardship. Then at the end the Blue Flower is used to make the fear compound which will be used to destroy Gotham. That is a paper trial. Bioshock Infinite does this through many subtle and not quite as subtle instances. One prime example is the Lighthouse. At the beginning it seems like just a nod to Bioshock 1, how you get to the city; Rapture or Columbia. However it comes full circle as the physical representation of the entrance to all worlds at the end. It becomes an integral part of the narrative. Another example is when fairly early in the game Elizabeth asks how they knew the “false shepard” would have the AD on his hand. Booker replies with “Either their is a prophet on their side or them that hired me wrote the signs”. Comes back later to play into Comstock’s identity but also the role that Lutece played in it.
And now it is time to move onto my complaints of which there are many. First up is massive plot holes. At more than one point in the story, Elizabeth opens tears to completely different locations on earth. Not Columbia; on earth. Her primary motivation for a good portion of the game is escapism by means of Paris. You literally spend over half the game trying to get on an airship that will take you to Paris. She could have walked through any one of these rifts, been out of Columbia and on her merry way. The next item on the docket, “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt”. Well, he initially goes to Columbia in hopes of doing just that, clearing his massive gambling debt. I do understand that it is a play on words with more than one meaning but Booker doesn’t know that until pretty much the very end. Throughout the course of the game before the Elizabeth becomes truly hellbent on Comstock, Booker makes tons upon tons upon tons of money. You really think that 50,000 Silver pieces wouldn’t be enough to wipe away his debt in 1910 or whenever the exact date is? I understand Booker is a “man of his word” type individual that becomes attached to the idea of getting Elizabeth out but along with the above mentioned Tears leading Elizabeth out of Columbia had she just walked through then he could have gone on his merry way and paid the debt. Yes, I understand that defeats the purpose of the game but for a story heavy experience these plot holes detract from the overall quality. Earlier I mentioned her beyond godlike lockpicking ability, yet she couldn’t pick the lock in her tower? I don’t believe that in the slightest.
Speaking of the tears, with the exception of the very end, you never meet another pair of Booker and Elizabeth. Sure when you travel through one rift Booker is already dead but what about Elizabeth. Is she still trapped in the tower? Did she die? Conveniently ignored for plot reasons but still, that is something that should have had a pretty big impact on the game world.
Next up is on the gameplay front; Vigors. Vigors were drastically underpowered this time around. They have their use but it was so limited compared to Bioshock 1 & 2 where the special abilities were so integral to the experience. I found them to be less useful than simply using the guns and the skyhook and because I rarely used the vigors a stupid message kept appearing reminding me to use them. Speaking of Vigors, they seem completely out of place in the game world. A video by the Extra Credits crew (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IU_AG5MXohs) explains the situation quite well. The Vigors are in their because Plasmids were in the previous Bioshock games, yet Plasmids were integral to the story and setting. Columbia is a thriving (albeit misguided and racist) city where people are still normal. They don’t ever seem to use the Vigors (besides the flaming suicide guys and the crow people) and really don’t fit in to the game world.
I want to talk about the racism but to do that I also need to talk about the ending. Booker DeWitt is Comstock but in a different life. Okay, fair enough. He seeks redemption from his past sins which drives him to be the prophet of Columbia. All good. But where the hell does his racism come from? He REGRETS what he did at Wounded Knee. Booker shows no specific hostility towards the blacks or the Chinese. Comstock works better as a villain when you understand where he is coming from. The world below ordered him to do these terrible things in his past and he found enlightenment in the sky. That is why he seeks to burn the earth and wash it clean. To remove the horrid nature of man. Yet still he stands as a bigot to even those in Columbia that aren’t white.
Also, why the hell is everyone instantly aware that Booker is “the one they should kill”? Seriously, all they ever say is “the false prophet” who can be recognized by the AD on the back of his hand. He wears a makeshift bandage over that hand almost the ENTIRE GAME! Its not like they had a broadcasting system to display his image. PLOT HOLE! Yes, they have posters around but Booker is only in Columbia for a very short period of time. Through the tears it is possible that the posters were made and that time has jumped (as occasionally happens such as with the Martyr of the Revolution poster) but that only explains it from partway through the game.
Songbird. Oh the Songbird. Maybe it was explained in the game and I missed it but this enigma bothered me the entire time. What is the Songbird. Its Elizabeth’s guardian/prison keeper. No, I mean what IS the Songbird? I truly don’t know. A man? A Machine? Some seemingly indestructible (minus water) beast that tears through metal and brick as though it were paper and is controlled by a few notes. In Bioshock, you learn what the big daddies actually are and why they exist. You learn of their purpose and how they interact with the world. In Songbirds case, you get the purpose (mostly) and somewhat of how it interacts (what is it doing when its not in the tower with Elizabeth?) but that’s it. If anyone has an explanation on this one I would love to hear it.
Even with all of my complaints, Bioshock Infinite is still a good game. The story even with its faults is still interesting and the shooting mechanics work well. If you are looking for a good FPS single player experience then this is a fine choice but know that there are better ones available. I rate this game an: