For me, 2013 has been a rather dull year in video gaming, as there has yet to be enough games that pique my interest. While there are certainly some franchises that focus on capitalizing on popular demand more than the gamers’ experience, Bioshock, in its two previous games, seems more intent to captivate the player’s attention and imagination with more than just gimmicks. With a rocky road to release for Bioshock: Infinite, one begins to wonder if it will affect the overall quality of the product.
Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Windows PC, Mac OS X
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Release: (INT) March 26th 2013
In Infinite, we play as Booker DeWitt who is tasked with the responsibility of rescuing a mysterious girl named Elizabeth from the flying city of Columbia, in return for a clean slate. As expected, the further into his quest, Booker slowly begins to unveil the mysteries that Columbia and its glorious cult leader, Father Comstock, may be hiding. For some, the story itself might come across as a glorious metaphor for the harms of religion, whereas for me, it felt more like it was reaching too hard to find something that may not actually be there. There is sufficient mystery throughout the game to keep you interested but once I got to the end, I felt as though I had just been tricked into playing Infinite for the last 10 hours, but it wasn’t necessarily all bad.
The first two Bioshock games were quite similar in overall gameplay style, with a focus on utilizing your firearms together with a selection of powerful plasmids. Infinite sticks to the same formula in that you have your main firearm and a vigor, which offers supernatural powers ranging from shooting fireballs; to shock bolts at the cost of some “salts”. The added element to vigor is there is now the option of charging the vigor, which usually deploys the vigor as a trap, triggered when an enemy is nearby. There are many possibilities you are able to experiment in conjunction with your firearm but there is no particular incentive as shooting enemies in the head usually nets the same result.
While in Bioshock 2 changes were made to incorporate new types of ammunition to combat different types of enemies, Infinite has even further limitation on weapon choice as now you are only able to carry two firearms at any given time. For me, this felt like a lazy design as the difficulty of the enemies would dictate whether you should consider changing your trusty revolver or shotgun, whereas in Infinite your choice is limited to what enemies in that area decide to drop.
In the previous two games, your powers could only be upgraded if you managed to harvest enough Adam, the currency for upgrades from the little sister, and weapons could only be upgraded if you found a specific vending machine. The upgrades are still handled by vending machines but the cost is now reduced to coins that are scattered throughout the entire world. This move away from different currencies is a lackadaisical design choice and finding coins to upgrade became a chore as opposed to the challenge posed by the previous games. I feel this approach languished in execution because of the lack of consequences. In the first two games, your decision to either harvest children for more Adam or absorb the Adam and save the child reaped different rewards or burdens, whereas in Infinite not only do you not have such choices, but the few choices you are given all lead down the same road, which renders the purpose of having choices pointless.
An intriguing addition to the gameplay is the skyhook, a multipurpose hook on your left arm which allows you to execute enemies in a most gruesome manner or traverse the skyrail system. The melee component of the skyhook really does not do much other than add a confronting execution of downed enemies. Where the skyhook had a lot of potential was in combat but your opportunities are limited to certain outdoor set pieces which are few and far between. On the plus side though, when the opportunity does arise for zipping around on skylines, it was extremely fun flying around to gain a tactical advantage on groups of enemies that you cannot achieve on the ground.
The one element of combat that I didn’t particular like was Elizabeth’s role in the game. While I initially thought that after meeting Elizabeth, I would be led on a long escort mission, it did not turn out this way but more as a working relationship. Whenever you run low on any of the essentials, such as health, ammunition, salts or money, she would magically manage to find some on the battlefield and call you to ‘catch’. This mechanic felt as though the game wanted to hold your hand to make up for your inability to find ammo or stay on top of enemies. It was also slightly hypocritical of Elizabeth to actively seek out ammunition when all she would do is express disgust whenever you did execute an enemy. However, on the plus side, Elizabeth does not become a burden in battle as even when enemies are right in front of her, they will prefer firing on you instead of her which is a welcome reprieve.
Other than constantly nagging, Elizabeth is actually of some use with her ability to open “tears”, which are portals into different times for specific areas, which can offer assistance in the form of extra health, guns or even allies. The problem with the tears, much like the skyhooks, is that when you do encounter them, a headshot often serves as a more efficient manner of dispatching the enemy.
The best part of the game is the visual presentation. As you would expect from a game in 2013, not only are the visuals polished but everything in the game makes you feel as though you really are on a flying city. You really get the sense that you are in 1912, albeit a few hundred kilometres in the sky, as the posters, propaganda machines and exhibits you come across manage to convey to the player the sentiments echoed to coloured folk in those times. This also includes scenes in the game which may be confronting such as the public disgracing of an inter-racial couple and segregated bathrooms. Overall, it is commendable, no matter the ulterior motive one might think there is, in this climate of political correctness and public image for the game to include something that could cause a significant backlash. That being said, there are some incredibly beautiful scenes both on the inside and outside which makes it easy to play through the game, but these only act as bandaids to the inherent flaws in the game design.
In terms of audio, there is nothing spectacular in Infinite. The soundtrack fits well as background music but there are no memorable pieces that define the game. The actors/actresses all provide great voice acting performances and it does enough to ensure that it is not a liability.
With the amount of praise being heaped upon it, Infinite does not live up to the hype. For me, Infinite had the potential to be amazing but too often I felt myself comparing it to how it failed to recreate the enjoyment I gained from Dishonored, which I thought had taken a lot of lesson from Bioshock. Ultimately, it is a game that is worth the play but doesn’t make a lasting impression.
7.0 – Good. Entertaining but is held back by a couple of flaws. It will certainly capture its intended audience but it won’t appeal to everyone.