Release Date: March 26th 2013
Developer: Irrational Games, 2K Marin, and Human Head Studios
Publisher: 2K Games
Rating: M for Mature
Retail: 59.99$ for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3
Platform Reviewed On: PC (but was forced to use an Xbox 360 controller due to keyboard complications).
Reviewer played and beat BioShock Infinite twice before starting this review. Once on 1999 Mode–via the Konami code unlock–and a second time on Easy and is now going through a third time on Normal.
I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, but there’s certain parts of the story I plan to touch on that will contain them. Consider yourself warned.
BioShock Infinite is a fantastic game, but it isn’t without some very serious issues. Let me try and answer the question I assume most anyone reading a review wants to know; in this case: Is BioShock Infinite worth your time and money? Yes to the former and I must say that I strongly believe that “no” is the correct answer to the latter. Now I shall do my best to explain why I believe these two things to be true.
Instead of jumping to the game’s flaws I’ll start with some praise. BioShock Infinite is a gorgeous game. Both the visuals and audio stand out as shining examples of how good a video game can look and sound. There’s hardly a dull moment in BioShock Infinite for your eyes or ears. Garry Schyman has done wonders with his musical talents. I found the game’s score to be just as good–maybe even better–than the what is heard in the original BioShock. Early in the game–before the shooting begins–you pass a floating barge with a male quartet singing an A Cappella version of ‘God Only Knows‘ (I’ll get to why a song written in 1966 is being sung in 1912). It sounded so bloody stellar that I couldn’t help but stop and listen for a spell.
Aside from floating some thousands of feet in the sky the city of Columbia feels like it could easily exist. From the random conversations you’ll overhear, to the many shops, to the previously mentioned singers it’s easy to see that a lot of work, time, and love went into creating Columbia. The opening sequence is on par with some of the very best of any entertainment medium. The awe I felt punching through the clouds and seeing Columbia for the first time is something I’ve not experienced in a game for a good while. The first fifteen minutes of BioShock Infinite are its best fifteen.
Around the time you get your first Vigor (BioShock Infinite’s version of Plasmids) is when things stop making much sense. Not counting a couple enemy types, Booker–who you play as–is the only person to use Vigors, besides one other single character in the whole game. In the first BioShock Plasmids were a very large part of the story. They were directly connected to EVE and ADAM. In BioShock Infinite Vigors seem to exist for only one reason: Because you’re playing a BioShock game. Apparently that means you need supernatural powers. While you do see billboards and signs talking about Vigors, nobody within the story seems to use them besides the two characters I mentioned.
Video games allow for one thing better than any other entertainment medium ever will: Choice. Every action you make results in a particular outcome. If you die in a game there are multiple ways you can complete your objective without getting the same–unwanted–result. Many games focus on this aspect and some are even hailed as tent-poles of the medium because of how well they go about it.
Choice is at the heart of BioShock Infinite’s tale and yet the few choices you’re forced to make have little to no impact on… well, anything. The above picture is the very first moment you’re presented with a prompt to decide something that seems as though it could carry serious weight. Booker has just picked up a baseball with a number painted on it for a raffle. He wins said raffle. His prize? One hard toss at the couple tied up on stage in front of him. Now is when Booker must decide if he wants to make his throw at the couple or the MC Mr. Fink. Only it doesn’t matter what you chose, the outcome is the same. You’re stopped mid throw and killing ensues.
At the center of the story is Elizabeth, the reason Booker goes to Columbia in the first place. She has the ability to open ‘tears’ in reality that lead to others. As Booker climbs the tower in which Elizabeth is held captive you watch as she opens one of these tears. On the other side is Paris, France and a marquee for the Return of The Jedi (this is how people in 1912 would know of a song written more than fifty years later). Why Elizabeth never used one of these tears to simply leave Columbia is something I do not grasp. Nor does Elizabeth’s motivation behind supplying you with ammo while chiding you for killing make a lick of sense. Elizabeth even tells Booker she sees what she does–opening the tears–as a form of “wish fulfillment”, and we know she wanted to leave the tower. It is in these moments that we see just how lazy BioShock Infinite’s story really is: None of these things needs to make sense, because anything we question can be waved off as taking place in one of an infinite number of possible universes.
Elizabeth’s ability to open these rifts in time and space are not simply a story element, they serve a role in combat as well. Scattered throughout Columbia you’ll see shifting black and white glimpses of various objects. These represent items and objects that exist in one of an infinite number possible versions of Columbia. Focus on one such object (a box of med kits, for example) and you can have Elizabeth bring that into your world.
The reason you don’t see tears all over the place and concerning every possible thing is explained well enough. Elizabeth’s power is being drained, the tower she’s held in before you save her has been siphoning off her ability for years. What she used to be able to do, at will, as a child she can only do in certain places at certain times–it just so happens that all those times and places are when you’d need them. You never see a vending machine, Voxophone, or other such object in the world. Every tear that Elizabeth opens related to playing the game is combat related: Automated turrets, guns, health, hooks to latch onto for a better vantage point, etc.
I said that choice is at the heart of BioShock Infinite’s story and that’s true, but what the game’s title refers to is that the consequences of your actions and choices leads to an infinite number of possibilities and worlds. This story element is as worthless and lazy as the ‘it was all a dream’ type of structure that the TV series Lost used. I see two possible reasons for Irrational Games going this route: The first is that they didn’t feel they had a strong enough story without this element or; the second idea I have is far worse than lazy or poor writing and I don’t even like mentioning it. I fear Irrational may have done what they did with BioShock Infinite’s story as an excuse to turn the BioShock franchise into a yearly release. I pray that I’m wrong.
Look, sound, and story aside how does BioShock Infinite feel when you’re playing it? Good. Quite good, indeed. While the same story could have worked in a fair few genres, but I think going with an FPS was one of the better choices. While Vigors make zero sense in the world or story they’re certainly fun to use. When I’d use the Bucking Bronco Vigor to launch a wave of Vox–the rebellion uprising folk–into the air only to pop each one in turn with my carbine rifle I’d think, ‘Ok, that’s pretty cool.’ The biggest change between the first two BioShock games and Infinite is the addition of space, and a lot of it. The first two games took place in pretty cramped quarters and hallways. Many of the shootouts I got into in BioShock Infinite were outside in very large spaces.
To move about these areas with speed and ease you’ll use what’s called a Sky-Hook, a tool that doubles as your melee weapon. Point your view at a rail (seen in the top left of the above picture), jump, and Booker will sail through the air to latch onto the sky-way line. Unlike Vigors the Sky-Hook system never felt as though it was added… ‘just because’. It makes sense within the setting of the game. Columbia is a city of floating sections. People move between these on various gondolas and flying barges. Early on you encounter a couple of police talking about how they’ve been issued Sky-Hooks as a means to ride the rails and rid Columbia of the Vox. The Sky-Hook is one of the very few things in BioShock Infinite that works and makes sense.
My only other complaint is that BioShock Infinite’s save system (at least on the PC) is completely auotmated and based around check-points. There is no manual save in the PC version (and I assume the same to be true for the console versions too). While this makes sense on 1999 Mode (it’d be far too easy if you could simply reload after anytime you died thereby removing the consequence of money depletion upon revive). Yet for Easy, Normal, and Hard I can see no reason for a lack of manual save.
Ask anyone if they think there’s a possibility of an infinite number of universes all with versions a lot like–but not quite the same as–ours, and I think many would agree that, yes, it’s certainly possible. My issue with the heart of BioShock Infinite’s story is that Irrational Games used an element that didn’t help it one bit. I believe they could have told a more compelling tale about Comstock, Booker, Elizabeth, the Lutece’s, and the city Columbia without ‘The Big Twist’. It isn’t that I found the story hard to follow or bad. I simply don’t think that going ‘infinite possibilities’ route made it a better story than it could have been were it to be set in one, single, universe.
I began this review by saying I think BioShock Infinite is worth your time, but not your money. I stand by that. Watch a Let’s Play of it, borrow a copy from a friend and give it a play if you like shooters, but please don’t pay a cent for it. I do not feel that Irrational or 2K should be funded to make another game as lazily written as BioShock Infinite was and the only way to get that message across is by not supporting such titles. Is BioShock Infinite a bad game? No. Is it a good game? Yes, it’s quite good. Is it the game of the decade, an unmissable absolute must play, and a genre and medium defining experience that so many seem to be hailing it as? Absolutely not.