We all have opinions. Sometimes they’re in unison, sometimes not. reReview is where we voice those opinions. Bioshock Infinite was released earlier this year and has sparked much discussion. Well, we're here for more discussion. To checkout Darkstation’s official score for Bioshock Infinite, read Nick’s review of it here.
I don’t explore game worlds much. Unless the game is a huge RPG that beckons me to run from place to place I don’t find myself checking nooks and crannies for collectibles, story pieces, or anything else that’s hidden. This goes doubly for FPS games that have me fending for my life in frantic and action-heavy situations. That’s why I was so surprised to find myself checking everywhere for anything and everything I could get my hands on om Bioshock Infinite. Columbia sucked me in to the point that I thought myself a citizen and I didn’t want to leave.
The amazingly realized world of Columbia and the top notch performances of its star-studded cast is what really pulled me in. Elizabeth, obviously the star of the show, teems with life and animated speeches about freedom and living. Her character alone was enough to make the world of Columbia real to me. That sense of realism is what made me able to forgive Bioshock Infinite’s somewhat tedious gameplay as well as its strange handling of Elizabeth in combat.
Combat feels a lot like arenas spread throughout the world of Columbia that start up when you, Booker DeWitt, walk in. These combat arenas would be hard to swallow if the skyhook mechanic didn’t make it enjoyable to traverse the arena while blowing enemies to bits using guns or other means. I just felt a bit let down that these battles didn’t tense up or change too much throughout the game. Sure, the views were different but that wasn’t enough for me. What really bugged me, possibly my only other gripe, is that Elizabeth is never touched by enemies. She hides around the level during combat, throwing you ammo and health, but is never once attacked or accosted. It just felt odd.
Regardless of the combat issues I saw in Bioshock Infinite I couldn’t put the game down and played it through twice due to its imaginative world and impeccable characters. Much like the world of Mass Effect I found myself wanting to know more about Columbia, its inhabitants, and its history. When a world can pull me in that deep and not let go I can forgive just about any misstep.
Bioshock Infinite had an odd effect on me. Upon finishing the game I was intrigued, but sadly made the fatal mistake of thinking about the game to much. Now, I didn’t like the original Bioshock. I found it plodding, stiff and far too impressed with itself. That said I wanted to play Bioshock Infinite because I wanted to be part of the bigger conversion about it (and I got a free copy). So I tried my hardest to forget the first game. To my surprise, I was able to and found myself enjoying Infinite… at first. But like The Dark Knight Rises, the more distance I got from the experience, the less I liked it.
Infinite’s combat, while not particularly extraordinary, is much smoother than its predecessor, traversal is more fluid, the guns are much more satisfying to shoot and the powers (while not quite as interesting) are much more practical in use. The standout part of Bioshock Infinite is its art. The world is exquisitely designed. Not only does everything look fantastic technically, it’s also has a great art style. Unfortunately, the game’s level design does not follow suit. Most levels boil down to simplistic rectangular combat arenas in which enemies run at you headlong. The saving grace is the game traversal system of skyhooks. Sadly, even they can’t outweigh the bullet-sponges that are the Handymen and Motorized Patriots.
Despite my issues with the combat and preconceived notions stemming from the original Bioshock, it was Infinite’s story that killed my enjoyment of the game. The thing I expected, far more than an overly convoluted twist, was for the game to make a statement. Bioshock 1 critiqued the player for blindly following orders and games for giving orders without apparent reason. Infinite makes no such statement and thus simply joins the chorus of all the other mindless, average shooters that think they’re smarter than they really are.
For the longest time, I thought nothing could ever top BioShock’s opening sequence. Why was I surprised to find that BioShock Infinite was the one that did? BioShock Infinite was a deeply engrossing game for me because it addressed my complaint about the first game, in that we didn’t get to see Rapture and its peak. Here was a beautiful underwater city, rich with ideals (and a lack of scruples) devastated and near death due to civil war. With Infinite, I was incredibly pleased with the opportunity to spend my quiet moments exploring the different facets of the city, from the fairground game stalls to the bleak, distressed worker housing. BioShock Infinite is rich with artwork and level design and I’m glad the game gave me the time to admire it.
Being enamored in the game world allowed me to give the familiar run and gun gameplay a pass. Its familiarity was a little disappointing but on the other hand, it didn’t get in the way. This meant that combat scenarios were easy to settle into, allowing me to focus on the temporal-based narrative, filled with the sort of paradoxes and alternate realities that come with the territory. I love time travel stories but there were moments in the narrative that didn’t spell things out coherently enough until reading through plot summaries and analysis writings after reaching the end.
The gameplay may not have been anything special, but BioShock Infinite earns a special place in my collection for its breathtaking beauty, the time travel narrative, a powerful ending and the sheer and utter delight that is Rosalind and Robert Lutece.
I enjoyed Bioshock Infinite enough to play it through to the end with another game grabbing my attention. That, by itself, indicates that it was at least good. I do think, however, that it got too much of a free pass on all of the problems that it had. It was forgettable to me as a shooter, and I can’t think of anything that was excellent about it other than its colorful and creative art design. The weapon selection was vanilla and their functions were largely redundant. What happened to the alternate ammo from the first Bioshock? The game also adopted the “you can only carry two weapons” convention, for no apparent reason, other than that’s what everyone else does. The bullet sponging enemies lacked variety and you could get through most of the encounters by spamming the same simple strategy over and over again.
Its story reminds me of Christopher Nolan’s Inception in a cynical way -- it seems pretty cool and complex on a surface level, but it falls apart the more that you think about it as logical flaws and plot holes become obvious. It leaves me with the feeling that I played through a way-too-serious episode of Doctor Who. It also reminded me too much of James Cameron’s Avatar. Its political themes had potential to be interesting, but they are so heavy handed and preachy that I found them annoying almost immediately.
The setting was at least an interesting idea, and, as I mentioned above, the art design was fantastic. It was a good once through ride, but I don’t have a desire to experience it again, and I don’t think that Bioshock Infinite will be on my Top 5 list at the end of the year.
Our thoughts laid bare, tell us what you thought of Bioshock Infinite? Live up to your expectations? Better than the original? Let us know in the comments below.
Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.