Review: BioShock Infinite (PS3)
Title: BioShock Infinite
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (6535 MB)
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Irrational Games
ESRB Rating: M
BioShock Infinite is also available on Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.
** This will be a completely spoiler-free review. All screen shots have been carefully selected so as not to give anything away. **
1912. The past few decades have seen the invention of automobiles, airplanes, electricity, telephones, movies, phonographs and more. America still sits in the shadows of its Civil War, the Great Sioux War, the Spanish-American War and the Boxer Rebellion in China. This is also the dawn of the idea of “American exceptionalism” and the circumnavigation of the globe by The Great White Fleet.
The Industrial Revolution had brought about a sea-change in the lives of almost every American and its effects were still reverberating throughout society, giving rise to the Populist and Progressive movements. Labor laws were pretty much nonexistent and companies exploited their workforces to the fullest.
It’s against this backdrop that BioShock Infinite is set. You play as Booker DeWitt, former Pinkerton Detective and veteran of the Battle of Little Bighorn turned Private Investigator.
“Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.” That’s your sole mission in the game. Sounds easy enough, but along the way, you’ll need to, and want to, find out why you’ve been asked to do this, who this girl is, and what makes her so special.
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 315 of the podcast.
The game itself unfolds at a leisurely pace, allowing you time to soak in your surroundings in the fantastical floating city of Columbia. It’s a critical component of the experience, giving you time to learn more about what’s going on, what day to day life is like and why you’re there.
If you’ve played the original BioShock, you’ll know what to expect here. This immediately brings up the question of whether you need to play the original BioShock before playing BioShock Infinite. The answer is no, you don’t really need to, given that this is a stand alone, fully realized story. Will you get more out of the game if you do? Absolutely, which is why, even though it’s not critical, I’d definitely recommend playing the original game first.
As in BioShock, you’ll have guns, controlled by R1 and R2 and “Vigors” (which take the place of Tonics), controlled by L1 and L2. Searching through trash cans and crates for items gives a very similar results screen. Vending machines will allow you to purchase supplies and upgrades and there are plenty of collectibles in the form of Voxophones and Kinetoscopes hidden throughout the city. The Voxophones are audio recordings which really help flesh out the story while the Kinetoscopes give a history of the city for the general public and both are well worth looking for. You’ll also find coded messages in places which can be broken if you find the correct cypher giving you a rich reward. Move controls are optional and they actually work pretty well (once you dial back the sensitivity) but if you’re going that route I’d really recommend the Nav controller over a DualShock 3.
You’ll be collecting Vigors throughout the game and learning to use them to great effect. You can only have two equipped at a time though so you’ll need to choose wisely when entering combat. Combining two, by using one then quickly switching to the second and using that, can create devastating effects on your enemies and it’s fun to experiment with them. The guns are slightly different in that you can only carry two at a time, no going into a menu and swapping out weapons so you really need to decide what’s useful in any given situation. You’ll find new weapons around the city and can, of course, pick up any that enemies have dropped.
Weapons and Vigors are all upgradeable through the vending machines scattered throughout the city along with a new Gear element. Hidden away, promoting exploration, are pieces of Gear which can be worn, only four at a time: a hat, shirt, pants and pair of shoes. While these don’t actually change you character’s appearance, they do add bonuses like increased ammo capacity for all weapons, an increase in melee strike range and more. This is another area where you’ll need to switch out pieces depending on your situation and needs. While they’re not critical to completing the game, they sure do help a lot.
Once you find Elizabeth, have no fear of this game turning into one big, painful escort mission. She’ll duck down out of the way and remain unharmed during combat so you’ll be able to focus all your energy on the enemies themselves. She can also help out by unlocking various doors and safes but she’ll need lock picks for some. These can be found throughout the city, encouraging further exploration. She’s also very helpful in other ways during combat but if you’ve avoided all trailers and info on the game up to this point, I won’t spoil how here.
Choices made along the way affect how parts of the story play out and it all comes together in one of the best story endings of all time. That goes for video games, movies, books, whatever, and that’s all I’ll say about that.
While visually striking, Columbia didn’t grab me in the same way that Rapture did in the original BioShock, at least initially. It took me a while to warm up to the city but I was consistently amazed by the level of detail in every environment. The Art Direction in BioShock Infinite is absolutely superb. Cobblestone streets, trash cans, mailboxes, architecture, every last little detail is in place to make Columbia feel real and lived in.
Set in 1912 in a floating city, there’s a wonderful mix of period architecture and mechanical wonders, each made to look possible, if unlikely, given the technology and materials of the time.
In combat, your Vigors each have their own unique look and feel. Using them can cause things to get really bloody really quick and this game doesn’t shy away from the gore. Your Skyhook can even be used as a weapon, tearing enemies apart in a bloody mess.
It’s important in a game like this that nothing takes you out of the story and in that regard, the graphics do a marvelous job, immersing you in a fantastic world that you’ll want to believe really could exist.
Another very strong point of the game, the audio shines. The songs playing on phonographs and such, much like the original BioShock, were very carefully chosen to put you directly into the early 1900′s. There are a few surprises along the way, also carefully chosen and explained throughout the story. The score itself is also very fitting, delivering the needed highs and lows matching the action on screen.
Dialogue is very well written and expertly delivered. This is a story designed to have an emotional impact and the actors really give it their all throughout the game to help bring it all home. Usually an afterthought in games and relegated to a few often repeated lines, the NPC’s in BioShock Infinite are much more than that and an absolute delight, breathing life into the day to day goings on of the city in the sky. It’s worth stopping and eavesdropping whenever you get a chance, you’ll really learn a lot about that story and the setting by doing so. The Songbird, of course, also has a unique feel and you’ll always know when it’s close because of the signature sounds it emits.
This game is single player only. There will be single player DLC and a Season Pass is available on the PlayStation Store.
It’s incredibly tough to write a review and try to explain why this game is so perfect without giving anything away. It slowly dug its hooks into me and by the end it had jumped to one my favorite games, if not the favorite, in thirty-six years of gaming experiences.
A critical look at racism, war, religion, politics, science and more, nothing is left out of BioShock Infinite. Exploration is richly rewarded with a fuller experience and by the time you reach the end of a harrowing and emotional journey, you’ll come to one of the most staggering and satisfying endings in fiction.