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Bioshock: Infinite Review

Bioshock: Infinite is the third game released in the Bioshock franchise. It features shooting guns, questing around a flying city, shooting guns, riding roller-coasters, shooting guns, a well-characterized npc as a partner, and shooting guns. It was a fun romp through the skies, but by no means was it a showcase of perfect game design. There was some good, there was some bad, but mostly there was a lot of mediocre. Let’s see if I can’t adequately explain my thoughts without referring too much to the previous games.

The Good:

The atmosphere is amazing and well designed. Most of the game takes place on a flying city named “Columbia”. The world is bright and colorful; the people are interesting; the tragedy more poignant when it eventually all falls apart. While it could be pointed out that half the game is portrayed indoors, a lot of attention was given to the small details, such as the cloud-layer outside of the windows. Even though they might not be shoving the whole “in the sky” bit directly into your face, your brain can still tell.

To get around such a fantastical place, the player is provided with a “Sky-Hook”. Aside from being used as a melee weapon, its main use is to allow travel on nearby Sky-Lines. This is one of the cooler designs of the game, giving you both the feeling of flying through the sky and also controlling a roller-coaster. Obviously you have to endure awkwardly placed sky-lines in place only for set-pieces and the like, but sometimes you’ll just get a skyline around a battlefield for some fast-paced fighting.

After a short while into the story, you receive an AI partner, named Elizabeth. This tiny girl who wears a choke-collar brings special abilities to most battle-fields by creating cover or summoning up some ammo as well as many other situational things. She also has the distinction of being the driving-element of the whole plot. Good thing, then, that they didn’t screw up her character. She’s got a decent mind, a strong personality, and tends to behave like any normal person would in such a strange situation: irrationally. My only complaint would be how her whole importance to you, as a player, is during combat.

The Mediocre:

Guns. I’ll say it again: GUNS! If there is one thing you’re going to be doing a lot, it’s shooting guns. Infinite features thirteen guns over-all but almost half of them is just an alternate of the other half. To be fair, even the clones are somewhat different then their originals and they present a different color for some variety. The terrible decision, though, was to only allow the player to carry only two at a time. They give you so many choices and then limit you in your options. Even the upgrades that you can buy are specifically only for that variant, with some variants not even available until late into the game.

Back from the previous games is your ability to cast magical spells like lightning and fire. In BS: I, these abilities are called Vigors, and you drink them in like booze can give you super-powers. Don’t think you can use them as the end-all be-all of combat though. The only real damaging vigors are an exploding grenade you can lob and the ability to lunge forward as if you’re a big daddy. Mostly, the vigors are used to augment your shooting of guns. You have a power to stun, or to distract, or to hold someone in place. It’s hard to describe this one without comparisons to the other Bioshocks, but with that in mind, I’d have to say, comparatively, these powers lack the same kind of impact.

Of course, there wouldn’t be need to shoot guns in the first place if there weren’t people trying desperately to kill you. The enemies in this game are woefully uninspired; some being straight lifts from the previous games. There’s the zealot who can teleport, the big machinery guy who smashes you in the face, and mostly there’s the guy who wants to shoot you with a gun. All of them are suicidal cultists who want to fight you to the death no matter what happens. You can take out all of their buddies in a massive show of power matched only by the Death Star and the one remaining guy who survived with a tiny slip of life will still zealously shoot his tiny pistol at your cover.

True to a game with RPG elements, it has a difficulty curve. In order to deal with more difficult combats you’ll be getting into, you can find or buy several upgrades to your powers or guns. Unfortunately, the upgrades you can buy take a lot of resources and the upgrades you can find are random. They also don’t do a very good job at explaining how the upgrades work. You can find random clothing lying around that do magical things like make you invincible if you gain some health, but where they came from or why they exist at all are questions Infinite outright ignores. It also fails to adequately point out the clothing, so you could end up missing your first chance to get one. Incidentally, these are also the key to actually beating the 1999 mode without purchasing from the Dollar Bill vending machines (for all you achievement junkies out there).

Unfortunately, gone is the inventory that was included in the previous games. You’ll no longer be able to heal in the middle of battle unless you specifically drop what you’re doing and go rummage in the nearest trashcan for some candy bars. Instead, you’ll be given a regenerative shield, Halo-style, that forces you to take cover every few shots. You can increase the amount of that shield with some infusions, which can be found with the ever-loved process of backtracking. The shields, however, aren’t much use against melee damage, so you can choose to use those infusions to instead raise your total health, or how much of your magic ability you have.

The Bad:

I’m going to just come out and say this: the interactivity is terrible. They removed the hacking elements all together, instead focusing on a temporary vigor thing. They removed the choices, instead focusing on walking the player down a narrow corridor. They took away the silent protagonist thing. They did everything they possibly could have to remove the player from being involved. Even the three “choices” you’re presented with drive home the fact that you, as the player, are really insignificant. You’re just piloting some asshat through one horrible decision after another. Even when you choose NOT to participate, the game will just force you into the single event anyway. If you’re expecting to have any influence at all over anything, prepare to be disappointed.

Spoiler alert: I’m not going to give this game a nine or a ten. A lot of reviewers have, citing the story specifically as a masterful stroke of genius. It’s not very genius… it’s not even very coherent. This story is going to confuse you, because it will confuse anybody and everybody. Even meta-physicists will scratch their heads and have unanswered questions. I’m not going to spoil anything here, but it all comes off as the developers “trying too hard”. The ending, especially, is just awful. They spend the last fifteen minutes walking you through exposition. And I don’t mean in a cutscene, they actually have you walking at a slow pace while listening to plot-twist after plot-twist. Kudos to anyone who catches all the important pieces of information right off the bat, but it still wasn’t presented very well.

Finally, the replayability just isn’t worth your time. I’m a sucker for achievements, so I completed 1999 mode without purchasing ammo or health. So I know what I’m talking about when I say “DON’T DO IT!” Not because it’s hard, which it certainly is, but because there is absolutely no difference in how you play. The designers went on and on about how 1999 mode was supposed to be more like System Shock 2 and the decisions you make early on might damn you into the pit of eternal failure. But they lied. I’m going to get into this more deeply in a different article, but the simplest way to put this is that they don’t give you many choices until half-way into the game. You’re going to have your weapons that you picked up and the small amount of vigors you’ve found… just like in the easier versions. It’s not clever, it’s just harder. There really is no reason to play this over again unless you’re trying to get all the achievements.

Overall, it was a pretty bland game presented in a very nice way. I’d recommend renting as opposed to owning. Set aside your Saturday, shoot your way through the twelve hours of story and then spend the next six months arguing about the ending on forums.

Final Score: 7/10

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