Also On: PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Irrational Games, 2K Marin, Human Head Studios
Publisher: 2K Games
Rating: 18 (PEGI) / M (ESRB)
Bioshock Infinite is the next game of the franchise and also created by Irrational, the team behind the first Bioshock game. Set as far from the the underwater constraints of Rapture as possible, Infinite takes you to Colombia – an expansive, floating utopia in the sky. Having taken my time in Colombia I’m ready to tell you what I think.
This will contain spoilers. If you have not played Infinite, do so now. It’s a bloody outstanding game and well worth your money, praise and firstborn offspring.
I’m not quite sure if going into this expecting another Bioshock would have led to disappointment or not. Of course it’s rather unfair to immediately jump into comparing the two. While they are linked through franchise and story both are excellent stand-alone games with a number of similarities, but still different beasts at the core.
The reaction to Bioshock is what I believe to be the core factor behind the main change of Infinite being very story focused. Everybody who played it remembers the twist in the middle and then the massive slide into the abyss after that. This is actually what made it all the more brilliant, there wasn’t a massive amount of foreshadowing and winks towards the pivotal moment. It’s just a shame that then it had nothing to keep the fire burning after that and the interesting story had played itself out. Now we have this.
Infinite is all about the story. I would very much argue that ninety-percent of everything shown, heard or even smelled is linked to the story and the development of it. This absolute focus is, at the end, a bit of a detractor because there are a few too many hints towards what would and could, which spoiled the twist. It indulged itself a little too much, opting away from subtle. This isn’t to say that there weren’t some excellent moments that were links forward and intelligently made. Take this song for example:
While full of small moments of beauty, and packed full of symbolism in so many shapes and forms, often able to bring out multiple, and conflicting, meanings, these are only there to complement the whole experience
The issue with the experience is that the core plot device of Infinite is the ability to travel through multiple universes, and even time itself. This both brings up a lot of questions and also results in a convenient get-out-of-jail-free card for a number of things. While possible to overlook when invested in the overall arch of Booker and Elizabeth. A retrospective look makes it easy to pick at small areas like the fleas on a dogs back. Though this is possible in anything that indulges in such – I haven’t encountered time travel yet that doesn’t create a load of unanswered questions.
To its credit, Infinite juggles a number of different themes and links them into each other seamlessly. Starting with a simple save the girl it drops into a tale of redemption, with a number of side stories running concurrently. I dont want to spoil the end so all I will say is that Bookers story is wrapped up, although not in the way I would have liked. The previous subtleties and the need to use your brain take a sledgehammer to the face due to the mystical power of time travel plot convenience and everything is bluntly force fed to you.
Thankfully questions about a number of other things aren’t force fed to you and leave you to work them out on your own, or they are most likely being saved for future DLC. This keeps you thinking after the fact, going back and looking for more details you may have missed on the first time through and all the time keeping you invested in the characters.
It’s easy to like Elizabeth and Booker. Booker is quite the nonentity early on, tasked with the objective of rescuing Liz to pay off his debts but as his story goes on, it’s both easy to like him and be happy to be him, but also there are moments where being Booker is being a reprehensible cretin, and it makes it hard. Elizabeth on the other hand is completely relatable until the end. She has a perfect growth of character. Starting with a sheltered, unloved growth, to being rescued and then finding more out about herself. She has a very human growth to her and this is also represented in appearance, even having what can only be described as a ‘loss of innocence’ moment. Her appearance isn’t only remarkable in the clothing design and alterations, but also in the expressions shown and reactions to events. Everything is exceptionally well done and makes her one of the most likable and relatable characters I’ve ever had the joy to encounter.
This joy does actually distract from other aspects of what is a brilliantly fleshed out universe. Like Rapture before it, Colombia is a character upon itself. However, the actions and focus on Elizabeth does cast a shadow on Colombia. The same goes for the excellently designed Songbird who even now I’m not quite sure about, either through missing a key voxophone (Audiolog) or just outright being an inattentive git.
Colombia as a character is a more lively one than that of Rapture, though it lacks personality at the end. I have mixed feelings about the inclusion of NPC’s in Infinite because while it gives you a show of what Colombia was like – and that is a downright horrible place for some, a den of inequality – it also leaves a strange niggling in the back of your head when the citizens just don’t seem to care what you’re doing early on. That is unless the script dictates that they care.Other than that you will only get the odd word or two out of them even if you’re jumping at their face like a crazed, rabid Chimp.
When I saw the citizens in action, or even just generally how they were, It was hard not to want to punch the whole lot of them to try to make them see sense. Racism is a key part of that society, although at the time it was just that throughout the US. Black and White toilets separated, with the ones for black people effectively being a broken down pot in a dingy hole. The way they are meant to talk to white people, how they are forced to act. I can’t imagine that Black people were allowed into Colombia the normal way, but brought in through slave trade.
This also expands to the lower class of white people so even racism isn’t the major negative. Lowly workers are forced to undercut each other in a work-auction for terribly limited jobs. I watched an auction through to the finish and all I could think was that I’m happy I live in a world I don’t have to underbid others, and myself, to perform menial labour tasks. When finally reaching the Bank of Colombia later and the rules set in place It’s a wonder more of the population didn’t rise in rebellion.
At the same time there were some beautiful shots. From the start where you learn the ropes of the game through a family funfair which made an excellent introduction, and added weight to Colombia being a real place. You can also see A capella bands performing, see people having breakfast or out on a date. After the first lump of pacey action you are also dropped bleary eyed into Battleship Bay, an absolutely stunning beach with people relaxing and getting a tan and simply having a family day.
This makes Colombia all the more strange because while the citizens have both reprehensible and also virtuous values, the true duality of humans, the city itself starts to show itself for how impersonal it really is. Simply put, it is a beautiful place with outstanding places to look at, excellent things to pick up on and explore as you go around, but it’s completely void of personality. Rapture was the overly oppressing menace constantly at your back, waiting to pounce on any one of your missteps. Colombia doesn’t really care either way. I understand this isn’t meant to recreate the horror found before, but sadly the horror is replaced by first awe at the beautiful scenery, then a bit of sadness that everything you see isn’t explorable, it’s a facade placed above the still-large shooting galleries.
This is inevitably the problem i had and probably the only real negative aspect of the game. The combat was boring and repetitive. Harping on a broken record, the setting of Rapture added a little more tactical inclination towards combat as you had to be careful around certain levels and real worry was added if you encountered a Big Daddy at the wrong time. Here in Infinite the only slightly concerning foe is the Handyman, only encountered a few times which does add to it’s feeling of menace. Aside from that none of the enemies really posed a threat.
Blaming it for being a First Person Shooter would be unfair because I went into this expecting it to be one. But I also expected it to be a little more difficult. I haven’t played 1999 mode, which is meant to be the truly difficult one, but having sampled the others I only really noticed an increase in the enemies health and damage. All this leads me to believe is that instead of taking two clips, three clips will be needed to take down a standard foe. Tactical finesse is lost in even boss fights, turning into slogs of time and fortitude. On that note, I think the final boss is the biggest letdown of all, being quite literally a shooting gallery where larger numbers, and sizes, come at you for all sizes in the games one, and thankfully only, protect the person/item/location objective.
Attempts are made at making the combat a bit more interesting through the use of the Y axis and skylines as a mode of transport. This certainly adds a feeling of depth and size to the battlegrounds, but it’s hard to overcome the feeling that it’s all the same. Primarily I think this is because of the higher technology found in Colombia. Everybody has guns and they are annoyingly accurate with them. Getting close is fraught with danger, unless you manage to distract them with Vigors so inevitably you’ll be doing the same as them, shooting.
Some of the Vigors are very impressive to view, and others excellent to use and can even make the fights seem a little more tactical. My favorite Vigor was Murder of Crows where, after an upgrade, my grows would what I assume plant eggs in an enemy while attacking him and when dead, more would burst out of his fresh corpse creating a new nest. An extremely violent power when I think about it. Possession was also very useful in distracting the hordes of enemies into attacking one of their own for a while, letting me find a good vantage point to take the rest of them out with my considerably overpowered Sniper Rifle.
Like the guns though, Vigors for all they looked like they were doing, weren’t doing much. One of them when upgraded effectively created an Invisible mini-volcano that still barely touched a quarter of a normal foes health. It comes to the point when using a Vigor against the mechanical creatures like Mecha-Washington and the aforementioned Handymen is more of a hindrance than help, unless they have a specific weakness to one in particular – which Mecha-Washington does and makes him incredibly easy to defeat.
My biggest regret is that I never got to go toe-to-wing with the Songbird. From the trailers, promotional material, and more, I expected Songbird to be an incredible threat on your back ready to swoop down if you ever lapse in your judgement. It turns out that it barely features at all. When the songbird actually features in a battle it is actually your ally, to call on for assistance when the timer allows it so. Although It’s hard not to come to like Songbird and have empathy for it. Clearly designed to both imprison and protect Elizabeth, it has conflicts of it’s own represented well in it’s sometimes wrenching screams. This makes the inevitable demise all the more sad, and I did actually feel a little sorrow for the poor thing when it finally happened.
My biggest praise is aimed towards the art style. Adding both beauty and increasing the sense of unreal to Colombia, and making Elizabeth possibly the best designed character I have ever encountered. Everything is so very colourful. This makes it stand out against the dull slog that is modern trend, and also enhancing everything you look at. At the same time this visual splendor makes it impossible to take in everything on your first time through unless, like me, you quite literally stay in a location for up to ten minutes just looking at every nook and cranny. What you will notice though, even from brief glances, is that it all fits into place. You would believe that you are in a early 1900′s city. Albeit not a flying one. The brilliant architecture design fits the setting perfectly and even with the fantastical flying city setting, it becomes easy to respect and even believe it considering the world of magic and retro-futuristic – yes, I know that makes no sense! – technology.
Looking at everything so close will reveal some of the less well done textures but it’s impossible to hold it against Irrational when what they have created is a massive location in such amazing detail, adding small things here and there and even the wallpaper in the background has a sense of life – watching ships and islands fly by before the conflict kicks off, life going on as usual. Then when everything is in full flow, fires in locations you haven’t and never will visit give an appearance that a war really is happening.
This design adds, along with the effects of the vigor, to the feel of combat having more impact than it does. When you kill somebody they can either fall down in a heap, burn to a crisp, have their body thrown around in multiple directions at the same time leaving a spray of blood more akin to being seen in a Tarantino flick.
Infinite is a spectacle in every regard. From the violence of the combat, to the splendid backdrop to the design of the main characters and enemies. As I’ve already stated, you will miss things even on your second run through, I’m now on a third run on the very easiest difficulty on the strict rule of “Look at everything”. It’s well worth it and, once completed, I expect everybody to do the same thing.
Emotions. Awe. Shock. Confusion. These and much more will be felt during the experience that is Bioshock Infinite. I would argue that this is why even high budget games can, indeed, be art. While not in the same league as Bioshock for combat and possibly even player investment in the controlled character, this is still something I am extremely happy to have experienced.