BioShock Infinite is the third game in the BioShock series, following on
from BioShock and BioShock 2. However, it is a stand-alone game that
does not require foreknowledge of the older two games to be enjoyed
(though there are a few nods to those who have played the earlier
In fact, it would be more accurate (not to mention
appropriate) to say that there are in fact two BioShock Infinites. The
first is a narrative and character-based game featuring a complicated
storyline and an exploration of themes revolving around the American
ideals of free speech, equality, liberty and responsibility.
narrative is recursive, using time loops and parallel universes to drive
forwards the storyline and melds elements of hard SF, steampunk and
revolutionary fiction together. The storyline is also highly focused on
individual characters, including Booker DeWitt, Elizabeth (Booker’s
constant companion for roughly three-quarters of the game), the Lutece
twins and the rarely-seen, often-heard ruler of Columbia, Zachary
Comstock. The narrative is twisted and twisting, complicated (though
mostly cohesive) but well-told and addressing issues that most games
pretend simply don’t exist, such as racism and prejudice, and doing so
intelligently. In short, it’s a bit of a triumph.
BioShock Infinite is the actual gameplay, wherein you blow away a truly
vast number of adversaries with an exotic selection of advanced weapons
and semi-magical powers. Enemies are defeated more quickly if you shoot
them in the head (causing their skulls to explode) or use your powers to
lift them into the air and then blast them over the edge of the city.
BioShock Infinite is a startlingly violent game where your path through
the excellent story is soaked knee-deep in blood.
There’s a bit
of a dissonance between the story and the gameplay. Ken Levine and his
team have attempted here to create a complex and literate narrative,
perhaps gaming’s answer to Ulysses, except that Leopold Bloom didn’t
periodically wander out onto the streets of Dublin to mow down hordes of
enemies with a crank-powered rotary chain cannon (literary critics are
divided on whether this would have improved the book). This collision
between gameplay and story is something that the original BioShock also
suffered from, though in Infinite they do a much better job of trying to
integrate the two together. For a start, combat is fast, fluid and fun,
a far cry (no pun intended) from the often-stodgy shooting of the
original game. There are a few similar problems, such as the fact it’s
bewilderingly easy to get stuck on the corners of buildings and
platforms and the game seems highly reluctant to let you jump over
anything (often resulting in your character bunny-hopping like a maniac
to clear a two-foot step whilst multiple opponents are firing missiles
at your head), but broadly speaking the combat – incongruous to the
setting as it often feels – is pretty good. It’s particularly good fun
to take to the overhead sky rails to zip above enemies’ heads, either
shooting them from afar or jumping off to perform a melee takedown.
Booker’s different powers – Vigours – are varied and entertaining to
use, and intelligent use of Vigours can mean the difference between a
fight being a dull slog and an exhilarating demonstration of power. It’s
all cool, but it also feels rather distanced from the actual storyline
and the quieter moments of exploration and dialogue.
been made of the game’s environment and with good reason. The art
direction is stunning. BioShock Infinite is hardly at the cutting edge
of visuals (the Unreal 3 Engine is starting to show its age) but its
colourful palette, World Trade Fair-inspired architecture, open spaces
and blazing sunlight combine for a vivid gaming experience. The game may
be shifting far fewer polygons than Crysis 3, but the ingenuity and
originality of the design more than makes up for that. It’s a game so
striking that it’s fun just to wander around and look at things.
Unfortunately, this artistic excellence does not extend to character
animations, which are often unconvincing and wooden. It’s not
Bethesda-bad, but it’s certainly somewhat lacking compared to the game’s
strengths in other areas.
Much has also been made of your AI
companion, Elizabeth, who accompanies you for roughly four-fifths of the
game. Elizabeth doesn’t fight, but she can help you explore areas and
finding money, and also scavenges extra ammo, health and salt (which
recharges your Vigours) for you mid-combat. She is also an accomplished
lockpicker, and can use lockpicks to open sealed doors. Lockpicks are
severely rationed for the first half or so of the game, forcing you to
carefully explore each area before moving on, but later on become so
commonplace that such care is no longer required. Elizabeth’s voice
acting is good but her animation is somewhat lacking. She also has
disconcerting tendency to teleport around the map, as her pathfinding
leaves something to be desired. Combined with her inability to fight,
this makes her rather less impressive a companion character than Alyx
Vance in the nine-year-old Half-Life 2, which seems rather poor going.
game’s biggest weakness is the same as with BioShock before it.
Irrational Games (and Looking Glass, where its founders worked
beforehand) started off with roleplaying games, most notably the System
Shock series, which is the spiritual predecessor to the BioShock series.
These games were roleplaying games with shooter elements, whilst the
BioShock series are shooters with a few roleplaying elements grafted on.
This is fine, except that the complicated story, more notable
characters and even the fascinating environment feel like they’ve still
been designed for a roleplaying game. The result is a game which hints
at immense depth but it held back from fully exploring or embracing it
by its shooter credentials.
As it stands, BioShock Infinite
(****½) is a very strong shooter with an unusually deep story, complex
characters and thematic elements that don’t entirely gel with the game’s
genre. It’s still a fascinating, fun and thought-provoking game, but
one that does not fulfil its full potential due to genre limitations.
However, it’s still a remarkable game, with a genuinely intelligent and
smart ending, one of the best endings a game has ever had.
March 26, 2013