GAME NAME: Bioshock Infinite
DEVELOPER(S): Irrational Games
PUBLISHER(S): 2K Games
PLATFORM(S): PC, Xbox 360, PS3
GENRE(S): First person shooter
RELEASE DATE(S): Tuesday 26th March 2013
Bioshock was one of the most important games of this generation. Irrational Games embraced storytelling and we were richer as a result. With Bioshock Infinite expectations have been sky high, and I’m happy to report that Ken Levine and Irrational Games have delivered in style. Infinite is a seminal title, combining a fantastic narrative with slick, varied combat. Shall we get to the gushing?
The year is 1912, and you control Booker DeWitt a former Pinkerton who now owes money to the wrong people. In an effort to work off his substantial debt, DeWitt is sent to the futuristic sky city Columbia to retrieve/rescue/extract a young woman called Elizabeth. Columbia is ruled by Comstock, otherwise known as The Prophet, who has watched his floating Utopia decay and fall apart to some extent, to the point where the city is on the brink of civil war. Themes such as racism and class divides are explored in depth during the twelve hours or so of the story, heady stuff for the medium and most welcome.
However, the focus is always Elizabeth. The mysterious young woman certainly has a story of her own with a series of odd events centred around her and her abilities. Tears in reality are popping up across Columbia. Each tear seems to be an opening to another place, and even another time. These tears serve to move the story along it’s linear path, albeit in some truly unique ways that will challenge how you think about storytelling in video games. While it’s predecessor Bioshock relied on it’s twist to shock and challenge, relying on a “long con”, Infinite toys with our mind from the very start and I loved every minute of it.
Another narrative high point is the various shades of grey that exist. Too often in games we see only black and white, evil and good but in the conflict aboard Columbia DeWitt watches as both sides of the conflict reveal themselves to be equally capable of both compassion and extreme cruelty in pursuit of their goals. This mix of shifting sympathies challenges preconceptions many will have about the characters and how both Booker and Elizabeth fit into the world as it falls apart around them. I’d love to talk in depth about the story and the specific themes but to do so risks spoilers and this is a game that everyone must experience free of as many spoilers as possible. The narrative is engaging, the characters are well constructed and motivated, and the world they inhabit is absorbing. Put simply, Bioshock Infinite is one of the best examples of storytelling this medium has to offer. However, narrative is never the be all and end all in video games.
Luckily then, the gameplay on offer is also spot on. Seasoned Bioshock players will recognise many aspects of Infinite, especially when it comes to the slick combat. Whereas Bioshock had both gunplay and “plasmid” special abilities to give the player an edge in combat, Infinite boasts “vigors” that serve the same role. The ability to hurl fire grenades, toss lightning or send a swarm of animals to pester your foes, crows this time around, compliments Booker’s ability with a selection of familiar firearms. Where in Rapture we had to monitor our eve levels to continue using plasmids, here it’s salt that powers your vigor abilities. New abilities are unlocked at a fairly steady rate with more powerful abilities and weapons, through the use of modifications, attainable as you work your way through the story.
Elizabeth is alongside Booker for much of the campaign, but unfortunately this was the one place that Bioshock Infinite fell a little flat for me. No, don’t worry, she’s not incompetent. It’s also not a constant slog of dragging her through each level, constantly reviving her as she stands there allowing herself to be injured time and again. In an effort to avoid any AI issues with your co-op partner Irrational opted to simply have enemies largely ignore Elizabeth, unless the story demands that she be in danger. This can prove to be quite jarring at times, especially when you are engaged in a heavy gunfight with a group of enemies only to spot them ignoring Elizabeth as inconsequential, despite the fact she’s helping you locate ammo and salts to aid in your decimation of enemy forces. She also has those aforementioned abilities of her own which she will occasionally utilise in combat, although again those instances do seem to be more when the story requires it.
Bioshock fans will also be pleased to learn that while the story in Infinite is linear, exploration is not completely ruled out, thanks in part to the return of audio logs and other little snippets of life aboard Columbia that help flesh out the world that Booker and Elizabeth find themselves drawn into, explaining motivations for characters and aspects of the conflict that the story only briefly touches on. This granular approach is fantastic, and by games end leaves you with very few questions, adding to the enormous sense of satisfaction you’ll feel by the time the story wraps in fantastic style.
Talking of style, the visual and audio presentation here is stunning. On production values alone, Bioshock Infinite may be the best game I’ve ever played. The art style employed, especially when viewed through the lens of character faces, is too beautiful to easily put into words. Emotions are conveyed so easily yet so naturally, something the medium has struggled massively with this generation. Flying around a skycity via a giant hook on thin lines of wire has never looked so good either, especially on PC. It’s not a hugely demanding game either with my home rig, that’s powered by a modest-ish 7950, easily handling the game cranked up to ultra. Everything has such a glorious steampunk, dystopian feel to it, you simply won’t want to leave. In the interests of being thorough, I’ve now played through the title twice, once on 360 and then on PC and while the visual differences are obvious, it’s very playable on console. Sure the eye candy won’t be as nice, but the atmosphere still drips from the opening few seconds until that last crazy sequence and you’ll simply be thankful you got to experience this game.
The voice cast is strong, with Elizabeth being an obvious stand out. While she is very well animated and her emotions are plain to see, you can also hear them clearly. Voiced by Courtnee Draper, who deserves awards for her work here, Elizabeth oozes emotion and feeling. The voice work is seamless, something the medium rarely gets spot on. Coupled with an outstanding soundtrack composed by longtime Bioshock music guy Garry Schyman, the audio really challenges the visuals when it comes to that all important sense of atmosphere that the series is famous for.
2013 has been a fantastic year for gaming so far, but Bioshock Infinite trumps everything that has come before it this year. Hell, it trumps almost everything this generation. It proudly stands alongside the likes of Uncharted 2, Demon Souls and Skyrim in my opinion, titles that will in years ahead be referred to as inspiring a future litany of titles that will challenge us in some way, be it through presentation, gameplay or narrative. Seminal titles of this ilk simply do not come along every day, and this is a title you must all play, however possible. PC is surely the best platform, but the console versions are perfectly acceptable, at an admitted loss of some of the visual eye candy. Ken Levine and Irrational Games have done something special here, creating an emotional roller coaster that plays with our expectations of how games handle complex, adult themes, blending it seamlessly with slick first person shooter gameplay wrapped into a gorgeous presentation that’s a treat in every sense. Buy this game, clear the weekend and get ready for one of the best experiences the medium of video games has to offer.
Ok, so now you’ve read my thoughts on the game, how do you fancy winning a copy of Bioshock Infinite for Xbox 360? I’ve got a copy of the game to give away to one lucky reader! Entering the competition is as easy as ever here, all you have to do is either comment on this review below, tweet us on twitter, or comment on the posts we have up on Facebook or Google+. Easy as pie. Each task will get your name into the hat. Do all four and I’ll throw in an extra entry, giving you five chances to win! Good luck to everyone, I’ll make the draw tomorrow and will contact the winner in short order.