BioShock is one of those game series’ that you really must play, you might not like every aspect of the game, but there is always something about them worth having a look at. The latest title is set in Columbia, the city in the clouds. There has been some very valid criticisms of the title, Leigh Alexander’s piece being a must read while I for one really quite enjoyed it despite the issues. After the break you can read the thoughts of a few of us here from The Reticule.
As I wrote in my Verdict, despite there being some very stark issues with Infinite concerning the AI, I really enjoyed the whole experience and found it very worthy of a lot of the praise it has received. I had fun pretty much all the way through, especially after coming across Elizabeth who I feel is the star of the game. I can see why some people might have some strong criticisms of the game, but overall I found it to be a very rewarding and enjoyable experience.
Having let things sink in a little bit more since I completed the game and wrote my Verdict, I’ll be honest that I don’t think I will jump back into it quite as readily as I did with a game like Dishonored. That doesn’t detract from the fact that I think that it is a game that really must be played, and it is safe to say that I enjoyed my time with the game much more than I did with this years other big title, Tomb Raider.
Part of me thinks that the original title is probably the stronger game (at least until the last third where things take a bit of a dive), but there is something about the setting of Columbia which really grabbed my attention. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t play Infinite, it is definitely worth playing.
One last thing, I think I took more screenshots during my playthrough of Infinite than in any other game I have played recently. They weren’t just screenshots taken to show off the game mechanics, most of them were grabs of wonderful vistas, or images of the art and propaganda found in Columbia. I think my favourite image from the game is the one of the lighthouse man dead in the chair. When you see that scene at first you wonder about the importance of it. Once you have finished the game, its importance falls into place.
BioShock Infinite is a game of three distinct parts as far as I’m concerned. The first part is discovery of the beautiful world Irrational have created. The initial character interactions, the stunning surroundings, new weapons, the sky rail and the new enemies all lend their part to making the initial hour or so of the game very enjoyable, if a little slow paced.
The second part is how quickly all this discovery soon turns to very generic gameplay. I’m talking about the bland action mainly, which feels as if it’s now very gun focused and has had a lot of the character stripped from it compared to the original BioShock. Vigors take a back seat to sniper rifles and RPG’s, with enemies who are quite happy to sit back and take a bullet to the head meaning I didn’t use my powers quite as much as I would have liked to. I’m also talking about NPC character interactions, which considering the brilliance of the main story line, add little to the game for the most part. The sky rail is also one of the only features that really shows off the fact that you’re floating thousands of meters up in the sky and in my opinion isn’t used to its full potential throughout the game.
The third part is the previously mentioned brilliant story, which for me is Infinite‘s saving grace. Obviously I won’t give away any spoilers but the way it delivers is like no other game I have experienced. For the final thirty minutes or so I watched as the seeds of the previous few hours play exploded into a thought provoking and emotional conclusion. It’s fair to say that my jaw hit the ground a few times as the ends were tied together in front of me. I can understand why it would not be to everyone’s liking as the final chapter of discovery is more like an interactive movie than a game, but it’s stunning none the less.
Infinite ends so well that I would be happy to say that I take back all the bad feelings I had about this game initially. The combat was far too easy for me but picked up towards the end both in difficulty and in regards to the lack of character I talked about when I first started. The Boy of Silence enemies are menacing, provide great challenge and don’t allow for you to sit on a ledge and snipe. I just wish there was more of that in the whole game. After completing the game you unlock 1999 mode which sounds more like my kind of style. I don’t usually go for a second playthrough of a game straight away, but I think BioShock Infinite has earned that rite.
BioShock Infinite was something interesting. A sequel to a game I freely admit not being keen on, I certainly wasn’t expecting much – Ken Levine’s design philosophy always felt rooted in a bygone era of traditional first-person shooters being glazed with semi-RPG depth and non-linear (but tightly moderated) progression. The original BioShock felt exactly that, and I was not a fan of either the combat nor the constant need to shoot everyone I met. However, the city – Rapture – drew me in, pampered my eyes and my imagination, and kept me hooked until the very end.
This new foray, swapping the sea for the sky, had me interested from the first few moments. Another stormy sea, another lighthouse, another mysterious city. Swapping dark philosophy for a kind of puritan madness, Columbia took almost no time at all before burning its way into my eyes and leaving me in a kind of teary wonder. Shortly after, things got dark, racist and deeply disturbing. Even as red, white and blue balloons decorated the parade-blue skies, the menace was palpable.
Then the shooting started, and never really stopped. I knew it was coming, but… the drive to just explore and find out more about this insane, broken world made every armed gunman more of an irritation than something to savour. Despite the fact that the combat in Infinite felt a lot tighter than its predecessor – a note of consternation, I know, but I thought it was a massive improvement – it still managed to be the unwelcome commas in BioShock Infinite’s beautifully crafted sentences.
None of this matters though, in all honesty. There is far more evidence to justify just how great this game is, but I don’t want to spoil anything. If you have any love whatsoever for the original BioShock, you must play this. And if you don’t – give it a go anyway. It’s bloody good.
BioShock Infinite exists as a paradox; it’s an amazing sequel, yet suffers in comparison to its predecessor. In terms of being a sequel, Infinite does what all great sequels should and continues the same thematic and narrative approach of first game without attempting to retread the same ground. It creates a world and a story distinct from the first BioShock while retaining a sense of familiarity that is difficult to define.
While this immediately increases the connection between people who played BioShock with Infinite, it also exposes Infinite‘s weaknesses. Columbia is truly a marvel to behold, the floating city is so visually rich and unique that it’s difficult not to fall in love with. Yet it pales in comparison to the darkly atmospheric Rapture. Seeing the streets of Columbia bustling with people, whether they be enemy or friend doesn’t carry the same gravitas as stalking a splicer through a dankly lit corridor. It’s just not as engaging facing off against waves of disenfranchised humans as it is facing but one dehumanised husk.
This isn’t the biggest issue with BioShock Infinite though. Irrational Games have created a stunning world with Columbia, in which it’s easy to feel a real sense of presence. But this is destroyed by the gameplay. The game is riddled with collectables such as videos and tapes which are needed to understand the story and flesh out the world. These are hidden in the most obtuse of places though and finding them becomes a challenge in itself. Instead of being able to enjoy the world for what it is, you begin to focus on scouring the environments for hidden tapes.
You begin to see environments only as potential hiding places and it is when you begin to view Columbia like this that you begin to realise it for the façade it is; too often doors lead only to restrooms, too regularly battles play out in front of the same dual staircase layout and too many opportunities are missed. The core shooting gameplay quickly becomes monotonous, with the repeating environments and uninteresting enemies. Sure, Infinite offers many ways to take enemies down, but given the vigors’ strength compared to the weak guns and restrictive usage of tears, there is only ever really one option. Largely the gameplay is just a means to an end, a way of getting from one plot point to the next.
This could be excused if the story was compelling enough. And… it might be? There are a lot of interesting components thrown into the narrative. Infinite touches on themes such as religious zealousness, American elitism and racism amongst others. It has big ideas and accomplishes them with varying degrees of success. It’s sometimes hard not to be taken in by the grandiose rhetoric. But, in the end Infinite suffers from attempting to do too much. Sci-fi elements are introduced later in the game and serve only to muddle the plot into an incoherent mess. These sci-fi elements don’t have any clearly defined rules and as such feel cheap and lack impact. This leads to a superficially intense ending, that will impress even the most jaded cynic. But sadly, one that does not live up to scrutiny.
Infinite’s major redeeming factor is Elizabeth, who stands alongside Alyx Vance as the best supporting character in video games. She is what sets Infinite apart from its predecessors; the first Bioshock had Rapture, Infinite has Elizabeth. It may not be the greatest game ever but if you can get invested in Elizabeth’s story then, despite all the game’s faults, you are in for one of the most engaging games of this generation.