REVIEW: BIOSHOCK INFINITE (SPOILER FREE)

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Played on: PS3
Time spent with the game: About 12 hours to finish the campaign, aiming to explore as much as possible and collect all the goodies. Ended up with 45% of the trophies.

Every now and then a game comes along that is a “must buy” and I know we, as gamers, all have expectations that we’d like to be met when purchasing AAA titles. Was Bioshock Infinite worth the 4 year wait, $100 million budget and various delays? How is it different? How does it play? In all honesty, Bioshock was one of the most defining moments in gaming history for me and one of the strongest arguments for videogames as an art form, so my expectations were set pretty high. After sitting down with Infinite, I can now say that it will be a very, very long time until I ever play a game as complete, enjoyable and perfect again in my adult life. To me, Bioshock Infinite is the absolute greatest game I have ever played in 25 years as an avid gamer. Some may not agree, but reviews are just opinions after all. Here is mine.

The tricky part here is to avoid reading or listening to anyone’s review before writing mine, just to avoid swaying my verdict or second guessing myself. We all play games for ourselves, right, not because some review tells us a game is good or bad? We’re all human beings able to make our own decisions on what we like and dislike, what we’re going to spend our money on and what we’re going to watch grow stagnant in the bargain bin. So I won’t beg you to play Bioshock Infinite, I’ll just request that you take 8-10 hours of your life to give it a chance.

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The original Bioshock was one of those rare titles where the world itself is just as much a pivotal part of the experience as the characters themselves or the story presented to you. It never spoon-fed you story elements and rewarded your exploration of such an amazing environment by breadcrumbing bits and pieces of the history of Rapture and your reason for being there until BAM! Plot twist! Then Bioshock 2 was released, written by a different team, and the entire plot was given away so early on that any motivation for discovering the unknown was chopped down to such a different, forced experience where the only similarities were the environments and the combat. Sure, you could now use weapons and plasmids at the same time, and let’s not forget about the tacked on multiplayer, but a big part of what made Bioshock Bioshock was missing.

When Ken Levine announced that he was coming back to write Bioshock Infinite, I knew we were going to end up with something special, but I had absolutely no idea what I was in for with the finished product. Year after year, many big name sequels are released like clockwork, but rarely are we treated to such a complete package that, in the end, makes us feel like the purchases were justified. In the last 12 months, I know I’ve spent $60 on new releases that I’ve either beaten in 5 hours with no motivation to give it another go, were riddled with glitches or never fulfilled my need for the perfect combination of action and story.

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What I’m getting at is that I’ve beaten a hell of a lot of games in my time, but until this point I have only felt that two of them were perfect – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and the original Bioshock. I’ve played plenty of games where, in the end, I sit back and say to myself “Wow, that was a great game.. but I wish they’d done this differently..”, and I could still justify giving them an A or an A-. For the sake of this being a video game review, I feel the need to dig deep and find something wrong with Bioshock Infinite. I could sit here and nitpick about the unnecessary violence of Skyhook kills, the somewhat cliche parallel universe storyline, the limited appearance of the Songbird or the open racism, but none of that took away from the overall experience. The visuals, the sounds, the storytelling, the emotions, the world itself and the gameplay is flawless. Never once did I encounter a dip in framerate, lag, a texture tear or pop-in, even while flying across Columbia with the Sky Hook or being relentlessly pursued by waves and waves of enemies. These are the same problems that plagued major releases in 2012, namely Assassin’s Creed 3 and Mass Effect 3, so avoiding them altogether? That’s unheard of nowadays.

Much like Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Bioshock Infinite does an amazing job in preventing your counterpart from feeling like a one-dimensional cardboard cutout. Elizabeth has a complex past that comes to light over the course of the game and her relationship with Booker is a roller coaster ride that culminates in the most satisfying ending in gaming history. Early on in the game, Elizabeth showcases her unique ability to access “tears” in the universe to bring through something as simple as a flower, but you can request her assistance in combat by pulling through walls for cover, weapons, health packs and allies to help draw away some enemy fire. She’s also an ace with a lock pick and can decipher codes found scattered around Columbia to find hidden rooms with new weapons or upgrades for health, shields and salt (formerly Eve). Considering most AI partners are dumber than bricks, having Elizabeth around to help with combat, exploration and even tossing me money, ammo and restoratives was a godsend – the fact that she wasn’t dumbed down as some sort of eye candy to insult my intelligence was just icing on the cake. To me, Elizabeth made Bioshock Infinite.

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Columbia is very much alive and thriving as you arrive during the 1912 Fair & Raffle, and at first glance you might be turned away by the rampant amount of open racism. Hopefully you consider that this is 1912 America and it’s very much par for the course. Our history isn’t all candy and nuts, and I know racism isn’t easy for most people to swallow, but consider the time frame that Infinite takes place and understand that this is a pretty close representation of the way things were. Don’t sit around and call the game racist, call early American history racist and be happy that we’ve come a long way. I’m not saying I condone racism in any way or that I’m okay with it being displayed at all in this medium that I enjoy, but it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of early 1900’s America. Getting upset about it is basically ignoring the problem rather than understanding how awful a concept it is and learning from our mistakes.

Jumping back to gameplay, Vigors (formerly Plasmids) are a familiar concept with some being changed (a swarm of bees to a murder of crows) and some being brand new, but all Vigors now have secondary abilities that can be used by charging the L1 button. Devil’s Kiss, for instance, hurls explosive balls of fire but can be charged to place a sort of landmine to lure enemies in to a danger zone. Undertow is another interesting Vigor that launches a blast of water to knock enemies back, but charging the vigor hurls a watery tentacle at distant enemies to whip them back in to melee range for a brutal Sky Hook kill. You can even combine two Vigors together for explosive results – sending out a Murder of Crows and then sparking them with Shock Jockey electrifies their attacks and significantly increases their damage. I had a lot more fun with vigors than I did with plasmids in the earlier games, mostly due in part to their variety and the ability to combine them as a new tactic.

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With such a huge emphasis on the story, I’m doing everything in my power to keep this review going without spoiling anything. The gameplay remains largely the same as the original, mixing gunplay with spellcasting, but the addition of the Sky Hook — a magnetic claw-like contraption used to both ride along the rails of Columbia and gruesomely eliminate enemies at low health — is innovative and adds a lot more excitement to exploration and combat. Traversing the floating city by gliding around on sky rails, leaping across gaps to enemy zeppelins and decapitating them all with the Sky Hook is something that added a bit of finesse to the tired formula of modern first-person shooters, but labeling Infinite as just a “first-person shooter” would be doing it a disservice.

The Verdict – A+

Overall, Bioshock Infinite is a flawless experience that explores a very mature subject matter with a complex story that doesn’t insult the intelligence of the adult gamer. It’s a familiar formula in the series that adds a few new tricks to flare up the action and exploration with the innovative Sky Hook and some new Vigors to play around with. It’s one of those games that come along and make everything else that you’ve played up until that point pale in comparison, and I haven’t felt this passionate about playing through something since the original Bioshock and Ocarina of Time long before that. There was never a moment in this game where I didn’t want to slow down, explore and soak everything in. The floating city of Columbia is a welcome departure from the underwater city of Rapture, although comparisons to both can easily be made after completing Infinite. With such an emphasis on the Songbird creature, I wish they would have delved a lot more in to that concept, but the story was full enough that it didn’t sway my opinion of the game at all. I know not everyone is going to be excited about the parallel universe concept surrounding Bioshock Infinite, but I enjoyed the entire experience immensely and would gladly wait 4 more years for another entry to, what I feel, is the greatest series in modern gaming.

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