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Bioshock Infinite

By on May 28, 2015

Better late than never, right? Absolutely.
I’ve no idea why I took so long to play 2013’s Bioshock Infinite. Given the dearth of immersive stories in games recently I saw this on my coffee table and decided it was time to sort my life out.

Bioshock Infinite certainly has big shoes to fill, the original Bioshock is one of the most memorable games I’ve played, a perfect storm of story, artistry, gameplay and technical accomplishment. Luckily Bioshock Infinite wasn’t rushed out in a year or two, and that immediately shows. Make no mistake, if you’re looking for that same hit of excellence, here it be.

You play as Booker DeWitt, a down on his luck hired muscle type, blackmailed into carrying out one cryptic task – “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt”. As the flashback ends you’re on a boat headed towards a very familiar looking lighthouse in the middle of the ocean. Although only two minutes into the game your mind is already swimming in questions. The only certainty (especially if you’ve played Bioshock) is that Booker’s arrival at an ominous looking lighthouse isn’t good news.

I was hooked straight away, and the customary city reveal, this time of the floating city Columbia as you ascend through the clouds only locks the door behind me. Sometimes it’s nice to play games that don’t plug into my brain, allowing me to play casually, I can put the controller down as suits. Bioshock Infinite is not one of those games. I thought about it the next day, I lost track of time when playing it. Perhaps this is why I delayed starting it.

Once you’ve landed in Columbia the search for “the girl” is on. Elizabeth is the daughter of Columbia’s leader Mr Comstock. Spoiler warning, but once you liberate Elizabeth, she’s your ally throughout the game.

Bioshock Infinite - Elizabeth

Elizabeth. She’s awesome.

Elizabeth will point things out during exploration, she’s curious about items of interest, sometimes even if they’re nothing to do with the advancement of the story, looking into boxes, holding her nose in a smelly environment – or being bored and leaning against a wall waiting for you to move on. She’s also pretty useful in combat, supplying health & ammo on occasion, and allowing you to open tears to bring in different items into each battleground; allies, supplies, guns etc. Overall, as an AI companion, she’s great, she doesn’t get in the way (sounds simple, but so rarely achieved), is genuinely useful during combat and her behaviour is believable for her character.

Bioshock Infinite - Columbia

Columbia, it’s beautiful

Visually Infinite is beautiful, and they hold up well even into 2015. I was waiting for a remastered edition, and although that would undoubtedly look sweet-ass, there’s not really any need.

Bioshock Infinite, unsurprisingly, features excellent sound design. Creepy noises from around the next corner, foreboding screams or conversations you can eaves drop on. It’s lighter in tone than the submerged corridors of Rapture (Bioshock), and it’s denizens less sinister and mutated. Use of battle music to tell you when a round of enemies is finished is a retro touch that I enjoyed.

The games’ original music as well as 20s cover versions of modern classics, including a great rendition Tears For Fears’ classic “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” are great too.

I found that that controls can take some time to grasp if you’re familiar to ADS convention most modern shooters now employ. Booker has the ability to equip any gun he finds, as well as using powerful Vigors (shouldn’t it be Vigours?) which are essentially like Bioshock’s Plasmids – magical abilities that allow you to set traps, control enemies as well as an assortment of destructive powers. Between the gunplay, the vigors and the enemy AI, there’s more than enough chaos to ensure that each encounter will play out differently.

The shooting sections are lots of fun, the AI isn’t going to give you any problems on normal mode, but in comparison to the original game the Vigors lacked something; they weren’t as easy to combo or to set traps, and that meant the game played closer to a standard fps than maybe it should have.

One of the major additions to battle is the sky hook. These are dotted around the main arenas, and while there are all sorts of challenges for kills involving the sky hook, in practice it’s a little too much work to execute with the ease you’d like, save for the odd moment where it blows your mind.

Infinite has a decent selection of weapons, vigors and gear (equipable clothes with passive abilities), with weapon and vigors having a few simple upgrade power upgrades to spend on your favourites as you progress.

The one gripe I’d mention (and it feels a little pointless in doing so) is the constant opening of desks and containers that’s a curious mix of addictive and annoying. On the one hand, it’s probably the only aspect of the game I’d change, as there’s bloody loads of it; but I’m not sure how it would affect a player’s need to keep exploring. It’s probably a balancing act that was tested time and time again, so I’ll let it slide. Generally though, playing the game on normal difficulty, I very rarely *needed* to search for ammo or supplies as it was everywhere.

Irrational Games are nothing short of masters at world building through a variety of different methods. Incidental conversations as you explore, tapes, propaganda posters, video & loudspeaker announcements, statues/exhibits, newspapers, the list goes on. Playing Bioshock Infinite I found myself taking my time to explore every nook & cranny of the map to make sure I got it all; something I’ve been training myself to avoid doing in games in the last few years due to cynical trends of repetitive filler content that artificially drags play lengths to fullfill some nonsensical notion of value-for-money. It doesn’t matter how long Bioshock Infinite is (and it’s plenty long) , it’s a fucking amazing experience, simple as that.

Bioshock Infinite - Columbia at Night

Columbia at night

One of the greatest achievements in the game is that you’re always transitioning between exploration, combat or story segments. You’re never left doing one thing for too long, and I found that’s a mix that kept my interest levels throughout.

The pacing is a joy to experience; Perhaps pre informed by playing the original Bioshock – but I had immediate confidence that the mysteries would unfold in due course, and you’re in the dark just as much as Booker. You’re along for the ride. Discovery of plot points and twists are delivered so seamlessly without breaking the narrative experience, with barely any ingame cutscenes or fucking QTEs – that most other modern games seem totally incapable of replicating, that it’s immersive in the best way possible.

The only game series I’d say even comes close to this level of world building is Deus Ex, but even then DE lacks the sheer imagination and creativity on offer here. DE games tend to be more open ended in structure, offering more player agency (one of few games you can beat as a pacifist, for example), but I’d imagine it’s demonstrative as the other side of the coin to something as focused as Bioshock Infinite’s delivery.

The story is packed with revelations and twists, lurches into sci-fi realms you likely wouldn’t have expected and keeps you interested throughout. (SPOILER WARNING) I read that some Christian groups felt the need to register their offence that Booker’s post-war guilt and trauma influenced baptism caused him to go full fundamentalist and essentially cause all of the games’ suffering. Ha!! Booo-hoo. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a game brave enough to write a topic like this into the story, which in fairness doesn’t attribute Comstock’s megalomania solely to finding religion, but also racism, libertarianism, sterility and plain old delusion. People offended by the game’s cloudy implication should probably take a look at Wikipedia and settle in for a long night’s difficult reading about real world suffering religion has caused, then realise that their shrieking outrage at a work of fiction is somewhat pointless. Anyway.

I certainly didn’t see the ending coming, even though it’s one that dawns on you in stages. Suffice to say, I’m interested to play the Burial at sea DLC now, to see how it all links together.

So, in conclusion, if you haven’t played this game yet, get on it immediately. Bioshock Infinite is a fantastically excellent experience with a mysterious and mature story that makes it probably one of the best games in years (which still holds up into 2015).

9/10

About Mr Vandelay

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