Bioshock Infinite lives up to, and beyond, expectations

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Bioshock Infinite lives up to, and beyond, expectations

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In Bioshock Infinite, you play as Booker DeWitt, a man who had fallen on hard times and has to come to the future city of Columbia to rescue a girl in order to wipe away his crippling debts. This game comes to us from the developers as Bioshock 1, Bioshock 2, and Dishonored and by god, does it show!

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Infinite doesn’t have a soul of its own. So many tropes from games like Half-Life 2 or Dishonored are used in Infinite, but to its credit it still presents them in a new and interesting enough way that it seems fresh and new.

However, unlike works of art back in ancient times, here in the mighty future video game era we still have something that makes them unique from all other mediums and that’s interactivity and outcomes based on the choices of the player… we call it “gameplay.” So how do the mechanics in Infinite hold up… meh.

Don’t get me wrong the actual gameplay in Infinite is alright; it’s just not as good as I thought I would be, especially when considering it’s pedigree. Bioshock was always about tense, claustrophobic survival horror with you having to scourge the area for health and other support items to help you during combat.

Combat that can, at any moment change from atmospheric passing to intense gun battles where you’ll need every little edge to survive. When you were properly armed to the teeth in earlier games and had a handle on what special abilities are good for certain situations, there was nothing more intense than leaping into the fray and unloading on enemies with a combination of heavy ordnance, support items, and magical abilities.

But with Infinite, I feel like the combat had devolved to the point where I’ll literally have items thrown at me.

When Infinite was first announced, people had some qualms about the setting (i.e. in the sky rather than underwater). Some people felt it undermined the tone a wee bit when a horror game went from a dark underwater environment to one that’s bright and literally above the clouds.

Since we’ve traded dark combat with brightness, most enemies couldn’t even get near me and the ones that did died faster than an ant in a blender.

Much like before, the game can be easily broken with the right combinations of special powers and weapons, and it seems that the developers thought the same way. Instead of carrying every kind of weapon at all times and easily cycling through plasmids with a push of a button, players are limited to two weapon slots and having to open a menu to select which vigors to hold. This makes no sense at all. In addition, they’ve added a sprint function, you don’t carry health or stamina items anymore, no more different types of ammo for each weapon, and you can no longer hack machines.

I can appreciate if they’re trying to go through a more streamlined approach with this installment but ultimately the game suffers for this. Limiting the amount of guns I can carry isn’t very helpful for a game like this. Because of these changes, Infinite isn’t so much survival horror anymore but more action adventure, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I feel like a dog on a leash being let out into the park, only to have my owner yank back on the choke chain.

For example, towards the end I found that the vigors I used were: Charge, possession, and undertow. But since I could only use two at time I constantly had to: pause the game mid-fight, select a new vigor, replace it with an old vigor, and switch them. This broke the flow of the game to no end. Especially since some vigors are extremely situational, like possession, I ended up doing the process twice because I only wanted to use a vigor once for a quick second.

I felt like I had more options in Bioshock’s 1 and 2. I remember certain tonics even gave me the ability to stealth it up with sneak kills, invisibility, and silent walking, but here the games wants it done its own way.

Probably the best example of the game’s ineptitude with its combat is a scene very early on. At one point, I entered a level where everyone said “Oh no, it’s him! Quick! Get the Fireman!” I found this to be very intriguing and rightly assumed that by Fireman, they didn’t mean someone who puts out fires.

Soon after, I entered a new level where I fell from nowhere and found the Fireman. He then set the whole level ablaze with fiery infernos and promptly informed me of his intention to defeat me. The heat emanating from his person was so great that I felt as if I was transported to the deserts of Arabia themselves.

At this point, the game expected me to charge this monster of a man with nothing but my wits, small selection of firepower, and gumption. So what did I do? I used a possession vigor on him, whereupon he immediately ran up to me ready to do whatever I said, like a well-trained border collie who controlled fire. So you know what I did? Shot him twice in the head and won the fight… exciting.

Wondering how one replenishes health while under fire if you don’t carry health packs or anything like that? Well that’s where your partner comes into the equation. Among other things, one of her abilities is to randomly toss you money, health, salts, and ammo during and after targeting. About to die and need a health pack? Well don’t worry, because Elizabeth will throw you one…sometimes. And while this is appreciated you know what would be just as good, if not better? IF I COULD HOLD THEM AND DECIDE TO USE THEM WHEN I WANT TO! Plus, as a rule of thumb it’s never a good idea to have randomness in gameplay.

Speaking of Elizabeth, she deserves special mention because with her we see something that we haven’t seen in a Bioshock game, and that’s a support character. When I first heard about this character back in 2010, I was afraid that her presences would undermine the tone of the game because having a support character in a horror game is always a double edge sword.

So aside from tossing the occasional chicken bone at you like an owner begrudgingly giving a dog table scraps, what else can she do? Due to her unique powers of time and space alteration, she can summon things into existence to give you a hand in combat. This can range from friendly turrets, cover, items, distractions, and even alternate realities during some missions.

It really adds to the formula when in the middle of combat you can have her summon any number of useful constructions to aid you. Plus, hallelujah, you don’t have to look out for her. In fact, at one point during the game a little notice pops up telling you exactly that.

She’s the daughter of the leader of Columbia, so no one tries to hurt her. She never gets in the way of combat because she’ll always find a place to hide behind, but at the same time will help you in any of the previous examples given above.

This isn’t the only new gameplay mechanic that Infinite has to offer. Probably the most exciting new feature is a railway system where the player can zip around using the new melee weapon like a rollercoaster where you can shoot people.

When you’re one with the magnetic sky rails, you are always in control. You can go fast to avoid enemies, slow down to aim properly and if you miss a target, you’re just a single push of a button from going in reverse. As well as shooting, you can also jump on to enemies like they’re Goombas and depending on what buffs you have this can cause interesting scenarios like having temporary immortality or send a shockwave of fire to a large radius.

One thing that I dreaded over during the creation of this game was that they wouldn’t connect with the first Bioshock in any significant form. Columbia and Rapture in canon are decades apart and since they are similar ideas with drastically different styles of execution, I was wondering how they would tie it all together. But at the very end of the game we find out just how everything is connected and it will blow you away.

In Infinite there is one ending, and only one ending. An ending so good that it made all other games created by the same company beforehand now seem better because they have the good grace to be associated with Infinite.

Protips:

  • Upgrade possession as soon as possible.
  • Possession only lasts so long
  • Only use possession on big guys and machines
  • It’s harder to kill a possessed ally
  • Setting traps is useless
  • If you see weird writing on the wall, in blood, then there is a secret room somewhere
  • Choices don’t affect the ending
  • Sniper Rifle ammo is somewhat difficult to obtain compared to other ammunition
  • Don’t rely on Elizabeth too heavily for support items
  • There is no punishment for killing civilians aside from early combat
  • Play the game twice

This article was edited to fix formatting issues. 4/18/2013 10:53 a.m.