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Late last night after conquering the challenging final mission in BioShock Infinite, I was treated to what may go down as the greatest 20-minutes of video game storytelling to date.  One could argue that this bold claim even transcends the video game medium, and could be easily changed to “the greatest 20-minutes of science fiction storytelling to date.”  The ending to this game left my mind full of awe and adoration for how neatly, and dare I say perfectly the otherwise complicated plot gets tied up in the final brain twisting moments.  I walked away with a feeling of wonder, curiosity, and respect for what Ken Levine, and his crew at Irrational Games pulled off in BioShock Infinite.

A debate has raged for many years in regards to the topic of video games being considered works of art.  Fans of the genre, for the most part, all can agree that a majority of the games they play should be considered just as deep and artistic as the latest film drama, or lengthy novel, that non-gamers consume for entertainment.  I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, and I feel it’s only a matter of time before the fuddy-duddies of the world get over themselves and accept the art of video game design as a legitimate piece of fiction that can influence people’s minds, behaviors, and passions.

BioShock Infinite may just be the game to break down the barrier that has prevented video games from being considered legitimate vehicles for telling a story that many non-gamers have placed in their minds.  This game made me feel no different than when I first saw LOST and was blown away by how intricate and mysterious the island truly is, and how science is used to help explain some of the more strange phenomena that takes place.  The game’s effect is still present in my mind nearly a half a day later as I ponder over all of the information I read to back up my thoughts on what happened in the end.  The game’s tale has become some sort of creative addiction to feed my inquiring mind, and I love it for that.

Infinite might not possess the most innovative gameplay, but I can promise you that it’s exquisite story and ending will trump any qualms you may have had about it.  BioShock Infinite is a video game experience, and not just a game.  It will be talked about for many years to come, so if you need further convincing as to why you shouldn’t be left out of the BioShock Infinite water cooler discussions, then I encourage to continue on with the full in-depth review that follows.

 

BioShock Infinite

10 out of 10 Buddhas

(Xbox 360 version used for review purposes)

The Awesome

  • Deep and rewarding story
  • Thought provoking science fiction elements
  • Perfect ending that makes sense
  • Memorable lead characters
  • Rich environments
  • Skylines
  • This list could go on forever

The Not so Awesome

  • Default control scheme is odd
  • Touchy controls
  • Being reminded of America’s tumultuous past (good lesson though)

Buy or Rent:  If you don’t buy this game you’re robbing yourself of one of the definitive gaming experiences in this generation of video games.

 

Story

BioShock Infinite, as I previously stated, has one of the best stories I’ve ever experienced in a video game.  One could argue that it has set a new bar in video game narratives, and I wouldn’t disagree.  What starts out as an homage to the original game, ends up as the definitive BioShock tale that will make the game’s title clearer to you, as well as fleshing out how the other games in the series are related.

You play as a down-on-his luck ex-Pinkerton agent by the name of Booker DeWitt, who is expertly voiced by Troy Baker.  The game kicks off almost identically to how the original BioShock began, which signaled to me that this game was going to be something special.  We join Booker as he is being escorted by two odd individuals to a lighthouse where he must fulfill a mission that has mysteriously been offered to him.  All he knows is that he’s been offered a chance to wipe his gambling debts if he captures a girl and brings her to New York.

BioShock Infinite’s opening 15 minutes grab hold an don’t let go until the credits

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In these opening minutes Infinite manages to grab hold of your inner curiosity, which in turn drives you to keep pushing the story forward with an uncompromising passion.  I found myself constantly wondering who Booker really is, who were the two weirdos helping him, and why he ended up in a lighthouse similar to the one Jack used to enter Rapture from the first game.  The similarities to the original become even clearer when he finds himself being rocket propelled to the infamous city in the sky known as Columbia.

Although, his arrival on Columbia is where Infinite’s tale departs from the original, and it doesn’t come back to that theme until the end. DeWitt finds himself in a lavishly detailed sky world that at first doesn’t seem to be the dystopian society that Rapture ended up being from BioShock 1.  The city looks beautiful and features a very bright aesthetic.  The citizens aren’t a bunch of raving lunatics whose only mission in life is to kill you as violently as possible.  Columbia seems like a pretty great place, but that quickly changes once Booker learns of the conflict between the Founders, and the Vox Populi.

Columbia is the brain child of a self-described Prophet known as Zachary Comstock.  In the city he is considered to be an almost God-like figure, and he’s the head of the Founders faction.  The Founders and their beliefs reflect those of other fanatical parties that have sprung up in history such as the KKK, the Nazis, and the Aryan Brotherhood.  They believe in the ethnic superiority of the white man, which becomes more and more evident as Booker explores the city until the issue smacks him in the face during a public raffle.

I must say that seeing racism so bluntly woven into a video game is quite shocking at first.  Columbia is filled with signs that equality doesn’t exist in Comstock’s heavenly city.  I came across segregated bathrooms, voxophones that spewed racist rhetoric, and an entire section of the city that is dedicated to the “lesser” inhabitants of Columbia.  The reason for this imagery disturbing me is the fact that the racist undertones of this game do reflect the state of America during the early 20th century.  It’s an embarrassing time to be reminded of, and Infinite does a great job illustrating what can happen when one man with a silver tongue spreads his poisonous gospel to the sheep of his nation.

Columbia’s run down part of town for non-Founders

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Due to the mistreatment of non-Aryans in Columbia, a new rebel faction pops up called the Vox Populi.  These guerrilla soldiers are lead by one of Comstock’s former servants Daisy Fitzroy, who has taken it upon herself to lead an uprising against the repressive Founders regime.  This is where Booker comes into play.  After learning of the troubles taking place in Columbia he agrees to help the Vox on his way to his main mission’s ultimate goal, which is to secure a mysterious girl and take her to New York, so he can wipe away his debts.

One may think that a majority of BioShock Infinite’s story is rooted in the civil war raging on Columbia, but that all changes when DeWitt finds his human package, who is none other than Elizabeth Comstock, the Lamb of Columbia.  Elizabeth has been elevated to a Christ-like status through Comstock’s propaganda, but that’s not her only power over the citizens of Columbia.  She can physically manipulate the fabrics of space and time, which drastically changes how the rest of the story plays out.  It moves from a tale about a dystopian society into a intricate take on the concept of the multiverse.

I’m a die hard fan of science fiction, so I greatly appreciate the direction Levine took with the final two acts of BioShock Infinite.  He and his team of writers crafted one of the clearest presentations of quantum physics and parallel universe theory that I’ve ever witnessed in any medium.  The mystery of Elizabeth and her powers, as well as what happens once her and Booker being using them, kept me on the edge of my seat until I made it to the end.  The pace is done in a way that it’s almost impossible to pull yourself out of the game to return to your own universe.

Throughout the game you will encounter oddities such as this that won’t make sense until the end

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I really can’t elaborate much more on the story of BioShock Infinite without revealing spoilers, so I’ll wrap up my opinion of the plot with this – If you’ve ever felt let down by one of your favorite entertainment mediums that raised all sorts of questions related to complex scientific theories of space and time, only to find out that many of these theories never get fully explained in the end, I can assure you that doesn’t happen in BioShock Infinite.

In fact, I consider the last 20-minutes of this game to be the most informative closing of any science fiction story that revolved around the concept of the multiverse that I’ve experienced.  What makes this feat even more special is that this is achieved through a video game, and not the traditional mediums of books, TV, and movies.  The ending will leave you with some questions if you neglected to pick up the various voxophones (recorders that flesh out plot details) scattered throughout Columbia, and you may not get it completely at first, but with a little searching on the Internet I think you’ll find that the ending, and overall story told in BioShock Infinite to be both resolved and brilliant.

Gameplay

The story of BioShock Infinite is without a doubt the true star of the overall experience, but some new gameplay designs also helped to separate this game from the others in the franchise.  Just like Jack from the first game Booker dispatches his foes with a combination of vigors (plasmids), and traditional firearms.  Both of these tools of destruction can be wielded together with great effect, and they only help to explain DeWitt’s ability to take on an entire floating nation by himself.

I highly recommend playing this game on hard the first time through to experience how the combination of guns and powers need to be utilized for success.  Without proper management of Booker’s abilities even basic skirmishes against lowlife enemy AI units can be challenging.  You’ll have to figure out which combinations work best for each situation.  Sometimes you may have to use your powers to take down an enemy, while others you’ll need your traditional weapons, and some battles will require both to be used in tandem.

DeWitt’s abilities make mince meat of lesser foes

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Playing the game on hard really helps to enhance the creative uses of Booker’s arsenal, which would otherwise not be needed on the lower difficulties.  I fired up a session and played on normal, and I could basically run through enemies like a hot knife through better, which made the experience feel cheap and too similar to other current FPS titles.  Fear not this game’s hard difficulty mode.  It will make your experience more challenging, and the way this game handles checkpoints and character deaths won’t punish your valiant efforts too severely.

I would also suggest changing the default controller scheme to “Marksman” as it better reflects the traditional controls of other shooters.  I found myself reaching for buttons to do things that have been programmed into me, but I would get different results using the default control scheme.  The biggest offender is using the shoulder button to change weapons when nearly every FPS in existence uses the top face button, or “Y” button on the Xbox 360 controller.  Once I changed to “Marksman” the overall control scheme felt more natural and allowed for fluid gameplay.

The city of Columbia itself also provides some unique gameplay designs that set Infinite apart from the crowded shooter genre.  Citizens use a rail system called the skyline to get around the various floating sections of Columbia.  After Booker acquires his skyhook, which allows him to magnetically attach himself to the skyline as if he were a human roller coaster, your options for dispatching foes become even more creative.  With a simple press of a button Booker can attach himself to any available skyline rail to help avoid his enemies, or to aid him in their defeat.

He becomes a bionic commando of sorts, which provides for some insane gameplay moments during Infinite’s more challenging encounters.  Booker can do vicious attacks from the skyline, which make him even deadlier, and more elusive than he already is.  I did experience some issue during frantic firefights where Booker wouldn’t attach himself to a skyline because the targeting system would get flaky, but for the most part this is a forgettable issue when set against the many positive aspects of this game.

INCOMING!!

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Columbia’s skyline isn’t the only major change to the BioShock formula.  Once you rescue Elizabeth early on in the game she can provide aid to you on the fly, and she becomes quite a solid partner.  I loved the fact that Irrational didn’t turn her into the dreaded companion AI that you have to constantly protect out of fear of her dying, which would result in a “Game Over” screen.  Elizabeth is as self-sufficient as it gets in that regard, which allows her to play the perfect support role.  Throughout the many battles Booker faces she can throw him item pick-ups that can restore health, ammo, and salts (vigor juice) on the fly.  She also will scavenge for items such as lock picks and silver eagles (Columbia’s currency) to aid Booker when he’s not in a fight for his life.

I thoroughly enjoyed the minor changes to the core BioShock gameplay experience found in Infinite, and I found them to be just enough of a change to breath new life into the franchise’s gameplay formula.  The skylines will change everything you know about modern FPS tactics, and Elizabeth’s assistance only helps you succeed in the game’s many frantic firefights.  I must say that I anticipated Elizabeth’s role in this game to be annoying, but her inclusion actually is what makes Infinite such a memorable experience.  She not only aids you in your time of need, but her relationship with Booker will cause you to care about each of their stories, and how they fit into the overall plot.

Graphics

BioShock Infinite uses a color palette that you’d expect to find in a children’s game from Disney to depict the world of Columbia.  The bright pastel colors used in this game’s design just aren’t seen in many FPS games.  The bright palette helped to create the illusion of a sky floating amongst the clouds, which if existed, probably wouldn’t experience too many dreary days considering their high altitude.

Little more color than your everyday FPS

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The overall quality of Infinite’s graphics is solid, but they’re nothing to write home about.  I played the game on the Xbox 360 and found more than a few low-quality background textures that are probably a result of the consoles aging abilities.  Luckily, this is the only issue with the fidelity of this game’s visuals.  I would expect them to be much more crisp on a PC than the consoles.

The characters and world are wonderfully illustrated, and both help to make this game believable.  I appreciated the character animations and their ability to convey emotion through their faces.  Elizabeth features a range of emotions that get reflected in her appearance, both via her clothing and facial expressions with great detail.  Anytime I let her down I could instantly see my failure reflected in her eyes, and it hurt.  This level of emotion helped to sell the bond between Booker and Elizabeth, which in turn drove home the impact of the game’s perfect ending.

Elizabeth can make you feel like a jerk with just a simple glare

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Action takes place free of severe frame rate issues, which is always a bonus in a twitchy shooter.  Infinite may not have the life-like visuals of Halo 4, but it’s not Aliens: Colonial Marines either.  We’re at the end of a console era, so I don’t really expect to be blown away by video game graphics at this point in time.  BioShock Infinite is a pretty game, free of major visual glitches, so that’s all I can really ask until the next generation of console hardware is in full swing.

Sound

BioShock Infinite features one of the better video game soundtracks that my ears have had the pleasure of listening to.  I loved how the game implemented music from the era, and I also appreciated some of the original songs crafted specifically for the game.  Everything about the soundtrack just fit perfectly against the backdrop of a floating city in the sky.  When I wasn’t listening to music from 1912 I heard brilliant orchestral scores to heighten the action.

The sound profile of the game world itself is also well done.  The voice actors, namely Troy Baker (Booker) and Courtnee Draper (Elizabeth), give life to their characters through excellent performances.  I could feel the emotion of both main characters as their respective voice actors read their lines.  This coupled with the excellent facial animations only helped to further immerse in the game’s universe.

Ambient noises are also well done in BioShock Infinite.  Everything from the gun sounds to the sounds your vigors create helped to flesh out the city of Columbia.  One could even argue that the ancillary sounds of Infinite are key to understanding its plot due to the audio based voxophones Booker can collect to learn more about the history of Columbia.

Final Thoughts

BioShock Infinite is the ultimate swan song for this generation of video games.  It’s story and the exceptional ending are already being touted as the first ever perfected video game narrative, and after completing the game I don’t think I can argue that opinion.  From the moment I first started playing it I was instantly ensnared in the mystery of Booker DeWitt and his role in BioShock Infinite.  That curiosity drove me to keep playing the game for marathon-like sessions so I could finally see what exactly Ken Levine had in store for a pay off, and boy is it a fantastic reward for completing his masterpiece.

Many social and scientific themes weave themselves throughout this game’s 10-12 hours of gameplay.  At first you may think it’s just a simple rescue mission that Booker has been tasked with, but by the end you’ll realize that those moments of the game were only a guise for the true meat of the story, which is the theory of the multiverse and how space and time operates in it.  The physics behind this theory will make your brain hurt, but if you take the time to briefly educate yourself on what they’re about, and then apply them to what you experience in BioShock Infinite, you’ll come away with a new understanding of why everything happened in the game the way it did, and the ending will make complete and perfect sense.

BioShock Infinite is one of those science fiction properties that will spark your imagination for many days after you experience it in full, and unlike other mediums that have toyed with the multiverse concept, I truly believe it actually explains it quite well and validates it through the ending.

Infinite may have had some minor issues with its gameplay and graphical design, but they’re so minuscule and unimportant to the grand picture that they’re forgettable.  The last game that lit my mind ablaze with its story alone was Halo 4, and I gave it a perfect score, so I must do the same for BioShock Infinite.  With that being said I hereby bequeath the prestigious honor of a 10 out of 10 Buddhas score upon what may end up being 2013’s game-of-the-year – BioShock Infinite.

BioShock Infinite Launch Trailer [HD]

 

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Tags : Bioshock InfiniteGame ReviewGOTY Candidate
Matt Heywood

The author Matt Heywood

Matt Heywood is the founder and EIC of EntertainmentBuddha.com where he strives to make you a better geek, one post at a time! When he’s not scouring the Internet for interesting nuggets of awesomeness he can be found in his secret lair enjoying the latest and greatest video games, taking pictures of toys, or talking Star Wars on EB’s Star Wars Time podcast show.