Hello g33ks, m33ks, and any fortunate sons out there. This is my attempt to review something other than a film … (gasp!!!) One of the most anticipated games of the year and the frontrunner for the 2013 game of the year, Bioshock Infinite. I am not the go to person for this review, but there are a lot of reasons why I’m personally interested in this game. I missed out on playing Bioshock … I generally don’t play many FPS. I’m not a fan of FPS as a whole. (Yes, I’m that guy that played Skyrim with the camera pulled back so I can play in third person.) It’s not that I’m not good at them … I am very good at them at least in single player. I’ve never been a fan of the view, especially in a medium where you can create a third person game. I rarely interject myself into the headspace of a character I’m playing as and so the “advantages” of this perspective are often lost on me.
As such my brother bought the game and I occasionally watched as he played it. I caught enough to know that the story and setting were top notch. Then just as I was considering playing the game my brother got to the the big reveal in the game. The moment where you learn all about Jack and why he’s in Rapture. It was some of the best storytelling I’d ever seen in a video game and was enthralling. At that moment I decided that I wanted to play the game that had a story element that good in the middle of it. So when he finished with the game I fired up the Xbox saw the great opening sequence got into my first Splicer fight, saw a Big Daddy crush a Splicer and then realized … I only cared about the story and I knew the best part. Going through this experience took all the joy out of playing the game and I never got more than 2 hours in before putting it down. When Bioshock 2 was announced to be made by a studio other than Irrational I told myself that I’d give a chance to whatever the next Shock game made by the original team would be.
I have to admit I was moderately disappointed by the title announcement of this game, a few years ago. I had done my searching on the Shock games and I was looking forward to ______ Shock. Whatever it was would drop the Bioschock element and leave behind the Underwater City for something new. So when Irrational titled the game Bioshock Infinite … I was worried that this was a GTA: Vice City situation. When Grand Theft Auto 3 came out (For those that are too young to remember and I feel old having preface a statement about that game in this way.) it was a revolutionary sandbox game. The expansive city, the varied story missions, all of the different vehicles and weapons. They coupled it with an innovative music system by creating actual radio stations within the games and it honestly felt like Liberty City was a real place. Yes there were borders to the city but it felt humongous. So when people started looking for the next GTA game Rockstar didn’t bring out GTA 4 they went sideways on us. They created a new game with a new setting but utilizing all of the same features as the previous game. Built with the same engine and upgrading things like being able to purchase property and going out on specific ‘dates’ with specific female characters. They did this again with GTA: San Andreas which became about an entire state. So when Irrational announced that their next game wasn’t Infinite Shock but instead was Bioshock Infinite, It froze me up.
Over the years we’d see quite a few images, trailers and Q&As with Ken Levine in which we learned about the new setting of this game Columbia, how it differed from Rapture and that this game wouldn’t be a solitary experience despite it being single player with the inclusion of Elizabeth. I still wasn’t sold until a few things happened. One, I met Ken Levine twice, once at a public event and once while he was having lunch and I kind of just ran into him. The second time he told me to chill out sit down and we talked about a lot of things none of which were really about the game. He couldn’t have been nicer and he was one of the best storytellers I’d ever met. After sitting down with him I knew I’d give this game a chance. Then at PAX East 2013 I attended a panel where he discussed the creation of Elizabeth’s AI. This second event alleviated my biggest fear for this game. Having a secondary partner in a game can be annoying or it can make a game downright unplayable. There’s very few games where I can think of a partner character not getting in the way, or being a detriment. Elizabeth, was being promised to us, as being the best companion character you’ve ever had in any video game. Watching the work that actually went into creating her, learning they had severely dark days where they thought of eliminating her from the game because she didn’t work right, to the creation of Liz squad who spent every waking moment making her work made me believe that my final major fear was unfounded and I could enjoy the game.
So after something in the neighborhood of 13 hours of gameplay I can now say that I’m very glad I played Bioshock Infinite. Some are saying its the best game of this generation, others are going further and saying it may be one of the greatest games in history. When it comes to world building, and imagination… there are few better than the team at Irrational. Columbia, like Rapture, is another dystopic utopian city defined by a specific period in American history. Columbia, like Rapture, occupies a space a city should not. Columbia, like Rapture, has a leader with an extreme cult of personality. After these similarities get checked off, the experience is very different. Bioshock’s dark haunting tone is replaced by the bright overly cheery Columbia. I think that both 2009’s Rapture and 2013’s Columbia are beautiful worlds to explore but if I had to choose between them I prefer Columbia. I prefer the time period in which the story takes place, in Infinite over the original Bioshock because the world isn’t ruined from the start. When you get to Rapture the Civil War is over, the domes are damaged and life in the city has become a living nightmare. When you arrive in Columbia there is still a pristine sheen over everything.
As you walk to the Fair you are greeted by happy people enjoying a beautiful day. You’re given the opportunity to view the landscape through telescopes and listen to some fantastic music. This fair is everything a World’s Fair in 1912 would be and more, but if you pay enough attention you start to notice the cracks in the facade. You start to notice that its only white skinned people enjoying the festivities. You start to notice that they are scared of some people called the Vox Populi. Then when you arrive at the big Raffle, the event everyone has been talking about all day they hand you a baseball and you’re faced with the ugly side of Columbia. From then on the game goes from world building to action and trust me it throttles up very quickly.
As it comes to the core mechanics of playing Bioshock Infinite its extremely similar to the original game. I found the controls to be tight and extremely comfortable. Aiming from the hip and staring down the sights are quick and easy. You are relegated to one hand controlling vigors and the other hand controlling your gun … so for any dual spell wielders from Skyrim you’re out of luck here. That said you can hot swap between two Vigors with one button press and they combine for some fun and devastating effects. You’ll be searching everyone you kill and every container you see for Silver Eagles so you can buy items, power ups, and weapon/vigor upgrades. I’d prefer if leveling up worked in a non monetary manner in regards to powers, something akin to if you use it more it upgrades itself, but I was able to shake loose enough coin to effectively raise my vigor skills while not having to totally neglect my gun upgrades.
Elizabeth is now the standard for an AI companion to me. She’s not only a helpful item gatherer, she’s not only there to active the extremely useful Tear mechanic, she’s the link that keeps the player motivated. When you don’t have her in the beginning you can get through but once you get her to join you, you’ll hate to have to play without her. I will go into this in detail in my follow up article about the building of Elizabeth’s AI. That said if the world of Columbia is my first draw then the Lamb is definitely a close second. Any developer thinking of having an AI partner needs to make her their starting point or they will find themselves suffering massively at the comparison.
Story is one of the toughest things to discuss because of spoilers. The story is good and definitely well paced. That said in the final hours the focus becomes much more personal instead of dealing with Columbia and her future. I had managed to guess the ending’s major two reveals but did not think they would go together. Essentially, I knew the pieces but thought only one would end up being true and it turns out they managed to fit them both in. The resolution is going to make a lot of people upset, I’m sure it will also have its defenders. I hope that no one goes to the level they did with Mass Effect 3 but gamers who’ve invested themselves for years with the anticipation of this game are going to feel something about the ending. Hopefully, it more positive than negative. I liked many elements of it. I didn’t love all of it. I’m extremely glad Irrational learned its lesson and made it the ending of the game instead of the turn at the end of Act 2.
At this point you’ve probably decided you’re going to play this game. If you haven’t and are wondering if its worthwhile even if you’re not a big fan of FPS, I’d say yes. If you love experiencing incredible worlds then the game is worth it. If you want to play a watershed game at the end of the current console generation play it. The game is extremely short and that does hurt it a little bit with some people, that said its not full of random filler missions either. If somehow I can influence you at all … I’d simply ask you the same question that Ken Levine did when I told him I’d never played the original Bioshock, “Would you kindly give Bioshock Infinite a chance?”
– Mr. Khon
PS – I will discuss The Art of Bioshock Infinite on the Podcast as well as the panel regarding Elizabeth’s AI. So there will be more Bioshock Infinite coverage coming soon.