The first person shooter genre has started to get repetitive, predictable and stale as this console generation reaches its end. Back in 2007, Irrational games released the first game in the Bioshock series which felt new and different, it was a breath of fresh air to the genre. Now, 6 years on can Bioshock Infinite do the same?
Bioshock Infinite is beautiful to look at. It’s rich in colour and like previous games in the series the graphics have that almost cartoon style to them. The first time you step into the flying city of Columbia, you’ll likely stop for a moment just to take it all in. It feels like a living, breathing city that you happen to find yourself in rather than a place that was built around you for the purpose of a video game. It gives the illusion that if you weren’t there then everybody would still be getting on with their lives and would probably be much happier.
From the first second it feels like a Bioshock game. The opening cinematic reminded me very much of the beginning of the first Bioshock, which is fitting because, skipping over Bioshock 2, Infinite feels like it’s back to its roots with this one.
Let’s start with the basics. Plasmids are back, but this time they’re called Vigors and work in the exact same way. To gain new abilities you’ll either have to defeat an enemy using one or simply find them lying around. These powers range from sending out a swarm of murderous crows to electrifying your enemies. Like previous games, they can also be combined. For example, sending out the crows to attack enemies and then electrocuting said crows with the Shock Jockey will make the crows electrocute and stun the enemies they attack. Experimenting with these different combinations is half the fun here. The other half is seeing electric murder crows eat your enemies.
There are several different weapons you’ll find dotted around Columbia from machine guns to rocket launchers and pistols to sniper rifles. Hitting a headshot with one of the more powerful weapons such as the sniper or hand cannon will literally make the enemy’s head explode like a melon, which never gets old. The lesser weapons such as the machine gun or pistol can take a little longer to get the kill but as you would expect carry move ammunition. Similar to the vigors, you can only carry two weapons at a time however, so plan a head. I generally carried one weapon for the smaller enemies such as the carbine or machine gun and one “just in case” weapon such as the hand cannon or RPG.
Bioshock is purely a first person shooter and this year only includes a single player campaign unlike Bioshock 2 which introduced a not so popular multiplayer element to the series.
Like past games the controls are mapped out in a way that makes sense and tries to avoid complicated button combinations. The left hand shoulder buttons control the vigors while the right hand buttons control the guns. L1/R1 fires and L2/R2 changes your weapon or vigor to the other you have selected. Being able to only hold 2 of each in your inventory can feel a bit limited however. Holding L2 brings up a wheel where you can choose from all the other vigors you have but it feels like it pulls you out of the action in the middle of a fight. Weapons can be switched for others you find on the ground in traditional FPS style.
There are no big neon signs telling you which way to go throughout the game but if you need a little help then hitting the up directional button will paint an arrow along the ground towards your next objective, in a similar way to Dead Space 3. It’s nice a little touch and adds to the notion that this place wasn’t built solely for you and we hope this subtle aide finds its way to other games as well.
On a quick side note, it isn’t the biggest problem in the world, but every time you start a new chapter it creates a new game save. So 17 chapters in and you’re going to have at least 17 Bioshock files on your HDD which for those who like to keep everything neat like myself can be rather annoying, especially if you’re uploading them all to the cloud courtesy of PS Plus.
When you die in Bioshock Infinite you simple come back in the same area you died in but with less cash and the enemies gain a bit more health. This is a good idea to help keep you in the action and pushing forward, especially when there are times it can feel a little unfair with the waves of enemies thrown your way. Some gamers however may find this a little too easy. 1999 mode has been introduced for gamers just like that.
Elizabeth tags along for the majority of the game and can come in very useful during both scavenging and fire fights. She can create “tears” in the world which allow her to drop in items such as turrets or cover for you to hide behind. This adds another layer of decision making. Do you take cover and pick off your enemy? Or do you distract them with a turret and sneak round the back? She will also find items such as money, ammo and health which she’ll throw to you throughout the game. This makes fights feel more free flowing, you’re running low on ammunition, back’s against the wall and Elizabeth throws a shotgun to you just in time for you to blow a few heads off. On top of all this she can also pick locks to help you get to the more secretive areas. I’m not saying you wouldn’t be able to do the game without her but unlike a lot of sidekicks it feels like you rely on her as much as she relies on you.
What also makes the game feel more free flowing is the Sky Hook you acquire near the beginning of the game. It can be used to traverse the environment by jumping on and off rails or used as a weapon to violently finish off your enemy. It’s a welcome addition and one that makes Bioshock Infinite further stand out from its FPS competition. I also noticed that my enemy use the rails and sky hook in similar and clever ways, using it to get nearer to me or to get a better vantage point to take me out.
The areas are generally rather big. Sure, you can simply run straight to your next objective but I would have thought that most gamers would like to search every nook and cranny for any secrets, and there are plenty of them. You may feel like you’re spending the majority of your time searching around but there’s a lot to find here from cyphers to hidden safes and it’ll be worth it in the long run. There’s a minor downfall here though in that between large areas there’s generally a loading screen. It’s only for maybe thirty seconds to a minute but it’s 2013 now, I thought we were past sitting through loading screens that tend to ruin the overall flow of the game.
It was a little while into the game that I realised that the traditional Big Daddy from the underwater city of Rapture had been replaced by Motorized Patriots. You’ll come across several of these during the course of the game and much like the Big Daddy they take a lot of damage and deal a lot out. You’ll have to plan your attacks if you’re going to win these mini-boss like battles.
Don’t expect to play through the game once and have all the upgrades. Upgrades cost money which you’ll find lying around the environment or on corpses but you only find a small amount at a time. This can be a little frustrating but at the same makes you think about whether you’re going to make one of your vigors more powerful or increase the damage of your machine gun because it’ll be a while before you can afford both. To upgrade your shield/health/salts (salts power vigors) you’ll need to find bottles of infusion which increase the capacity by a very small amount. Again, you get a choice here; do you upgrade your salts to have the ability to do more damage or your shield so you can take more hits? I like that you get a lot of choice here but at the same time I also like to feel more powerful half way through a game than I did at the beginning and with such small changes that feeling is lost here. What provides you the most power is the gear you find throughout the game. You can select 4 pieces at a time and they provide everything from additional damage to automatic reloading. It really helps you adapt the game to the way you want to play when you combine gear, vigors, weapons and upgrades.
1999 Mode is unlocked once the game has been completed to give the more hardcore gamer a different kind of challenge. Respawn points have been reduced, ammo is far more scarce and the reduced health bar depletes at a much faster rate on top of higher enemy damage. The money you lose when you die goes up to $100 and if you can’t afford this then it’s game over and you return to the main menu. The navigation arrow is also removed, though playing through the game once already you should know where you’re going.
The story has a basic backbone. You’re Booker DeWitt, trying to repay a debt by finding the young lady Elizabeth and getting her from point A to point B. It’s as simple as that, right? Of course it isn’t and it doesn’t take long for everything to go a little of course. I won’t give too much of the story away but it keeps you guessing and wanting to move forward to unravel the mystery of both yourself and Elizabeth’s ability to create these “tears” in reality.
If you’ve played the previous games in the series then you’ll know that Bioshock tends to finish with a nice twist to the story. For the whole game, around every corner I was waiting for it, trying to second guess what this big twist will be, and so will you. But I can almost guarantee that when the twist finally does come, you will not be expecting it. My only flaw here is that it felt like the story moved at a reasonable pace for the first two thirds of the game and then they tried to cram everything in at the end, especially with the final cut scene which is a lot to take in at once. Of course, this can be forgiven when a game leaves you still thinking about the story days after you’ve finished it.
At times this game does feel a bit padded out. You fight your way through an area just to be hit with a cut scene and told “sorry, our princess is in another castle” and you’ll have to turn around and go elsewhere. This is common in games these days however so you can’t hold it against Bioshock Infinite as the overall journey is still a blast to play. It doesn’t overdo the padding and feel forced in the way Dark Siders 2 did however. Overall I clocked in about 16 hours to finish the story on hard mode and that was with all the searching and going back to get the secrets I missed when I finally found the key I needed. There were also times when I was hit with multiple waves of enemies which again felt like it was trying to make the game longer and I’d be trapped in a room with no health but it also felt like Insomniacs way of saying “here, see if you can beat this then” which added a degree of satisfaction when I could finally leave the area with a trail of corpses in my wake.
The final couple of hours of the game left me wanting to lower the score by two or three points. I like to think of myself as a good gamer but some of the boss fights just felt hard for the sake of it and the final fight left me a little underwhelmed. As I mentioned before however, the final cut scene made me fall back in love with the game. Therefore, my advice to you if you find yourself punching the wall in frustration is to just stick at it. You will do it eventually and feel rewarded for doing so. In a day and age when games seem like a walk in the park it’s also a nice feeling that you can’t breeze through it and reminds me of the good old days of gaming.
Bioshock Infinite is a great game. It doesn’t revolutionise the genre like the first Bioshock did but nevertheless it’s more than worth your time. It’s an improvement on Bioshock 2 which fans don’t tend to talk about but for me it isn’t as great as Bioshock 1, although it’s very very close.
A breath of fresh air to the franchise