Monday, April 8, 2013

Bioshock Infinite (PC) Review



The United States of America. A country which many believe to be the most powerful nation in the world. As a child living in the Middle East, I always loved American movies, cartoons, videogames, and even toys. I was a pure fan of the red, white, and blue. As the times went on I grew to learn more about this country through books and television. By the time I reached 10th grade I took a full course on American History. Needless to say, I was shocked. The conflict with the native Indians, slavery, Lincoln’s assassination, The Civil War, Hiroshima—this wasn’t the America I knew. “Could this be the foundation of the powerful nation in the world?” I thought to myself. I felt deceived and robbed of my imagination. The America I knew was a lie. 

No other media (game or otherwise) has managed to capture that lie so well then Bioshock Infinite.   

Spirit in the sky


Set in 1912 off the Coast of Main, Bioshock Infinite puts you in the role of Booker Dewitt, a Private Eye Investigator looking for a girl named Elizabeth to pay off his debt. The complication? Well, Elizabeth happens to live in Columbia, a fictional city above the clouds, which happens to be run by an extremely powerful leader named Comstock. Comstock uses religion, an army, and vigor (magic) as his arsenal. Naturally he believes that you are the enemy that wishes to destroy Columbia and take away the seed of the lamb which is Elizabeth. Oh, and she also has the power to open doorways to other worlds so expect some strange plot twists, crazy set pieces, and an ending that will leave you baffled. The story telling here is brilliant with a Half-Life spin that encourages to explore the environment to learn more about the plot. It's the kind of story that people continue talking about years to com. Let’s just say the quote “bring us the girl and wipe away the debt” will become the next “the cake is a lie”.

Irrational Games have truly managed to suspend my disbelief. Unlike the lonely corridors of Rapture, Columbia is a city filled with life. People will go in and about their daily routine, believing in their so called perfect society. The environments, posters, building, vox tape (audio logs), citizens—all of them have a story to tell. In fact that could be Infinite’s main issue when it comes to the plot. There’s just way too much story going on that you will most likely end up missing something, especially when dealing with the game’s linear mission structure. Then again this is where replay value plays its role.

The visuals (particularly the PC version) look outstanding
Bioshock Infinite is a very bold game. Along the journey you will see topics that deal with racism, religion extremism, and America’s darker history moments such as Wounded Knee. Even as a non-American, a lot of it is kind of hard to swallow, although I’d imagine it being more impactful to an American with it being closer to home. It’s also a very bloody game with decapitations and everything. I honestly felt the violence was needed as it helped convey a more serious tone.

Topics in Infinite are nothing short of controversial
It’s not the environments but the characters that truly steal the show. Booker with his ‘must get the job done’ & ‘nothing to lose’ attitude’; Comstock with his obsession on “cleansing the lands below”; and Elizabeth who just wants to go Paris, but happens to be caught up in all this mess. From beginning to end, I constantly felt tension between these characters. I was, for a lack of better word, hooked. I wanted to learn the secret behind Elizebeth’s powers, how do Booker and Elizabeth plan on escaping, and even the minute details of how the people of Columbia go about their daily lives. All of it has managed to grab my interest in ways few games have done before. Of course none of it would have clicked had it not been for stellar visuals and animation—particularly Elizabeth’s.

Mind over matter


I can go on and on about how incredible Bioshock Infinite’s story is but in the end of the day it’s a game, which means the mechanics can pretty much make or break it. Well, let me put it this way: Infinite has managed to make me love escort missions. You see, due to my past experience, I never liked the idea of putting my faith in an AI so the idea of escorting Elizabeth for the majority of the game felt a bit jarring to me. Thankfully all my worries where put to rest when I discovered how useful she can be. When in battle I didn’t need to worry about her getting hit, instead she ended up tossing me ammo, health, and salt (MP). If the battle seems hot she can create a tear which can bring in a variety objects including turrets, cover, ammo, salt and health creates. Even when shopping at a vending machine she will occasionally toss me some cash to make me buy that upgrade I’ve been saving up for. Irrational clearly didn't want anyone hating Elizabeth. As a result the difficulty will spike up in sections that don’t have her.

Case and point
Bioshock Infinite is an FPS, one that is more streamlined than its predecessor. For the most part you will be following a linear path. There are some slight deviations such as decyphering hidden messages that reward you. Guns have also taken a minor step down. Gone are the invisible pockets and instead you will only be limited to carry 2 weapons (which is pretty much the standard these days). Your arsenal of guns will range from the standard pistol to machine guns, rockets launchers, grenade launchers, and--my all-time favorite--the carbine.  You won’t see any obscure weapons but they’re all still fun to use. I was a bit disappointed not to see any of my weapon upgrades take physical form (like Bioshock). There aren’t a variety of melee weapons either, with the only one being the Gears which can really pack a punch if modified well. Gears also allow you to ride skylines which can be used to combat enemies and transport you from point A to B much quicker. It’s fun and works well when it comes to transportation, but when it comes combat, skylines can feel a bit a bit too fast and confusing.

Adding an element of strategy to combat are Vigors. Enemies will often come in a variety of flavors and some will require you to use your powers wisely. For example, using the possession vigor on a turret or enemy will turn them into allies for a short period. This will come in exceptionally handy when dealing with heavy duty foes such as Patriots. Other Vigor powers include elements of fire, electricity, wind, water, strength, and...crows? There are a lot but I ultimately ended up using 3 (possession, fire, and electricity) as I found them to be the most effective.

Vigors really change up the mundane shooter formula
Like Bioshock, Infinite doesn’t really have a massive death penalty. When you die, Elizabeth will treat your wounds and get you back into the game. Enemies will only receive a minor health boost and you lose a bit of your cash. In short, dying in Bioshock Infinite doesn’t make you feel bad.

A game that has a soul


After my 12 hour experience, Bioshock Infinite turned out to go beyond my expectations. Like a luxurious meal, it’s one of those games that make you feel bad for finishing it. The soundtrack, the people, the city—it all feels alive. Even with the lack of multiplayer (which it doesn’t need) I still have lots of secrets and paths to discover. Columbia is a city that has managed to capture my heart and soul—a place that I certainly don’t mind revisiting. Hallelujah!

9.5/10

Editors note: I take no credit for the comic strip above. 

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