Bioshock Infinite Review
How important is originality?
That’s the most prominent question for our Bioshock Infinite review because while the game is undoubtedly brilliant, it’s not original. Not really.
Sure, the world is new and inventive, the characters are well-rounded and believable and a lot of what Bioshock is now known for is just as entertaining as it was in the original.
But then that’s the problem: the original. Bioshock set a precedent all those years ago and though it might seem unfair to compare Bioshock Infinite to its predecessor – especially because that is rather the point – the reason so many of you are excited is entirely because the original exists.
All this is taking emphasis away from what matters, though: Bioshock Infinite is a fantastic game, and if the original remains one of your favourite games of this generation then you owe it to yourself to play this.
The Floating City Of Columbia
The world of Columbia is – in a lot of ways – reminiscent of Rapture, and though the sea has been swapped for the sky, a lot of the ideology represented in Bioshock is present and correct here.
Though graphically Bioshock Infinite is not the best looking game yet – let’s not forget that Crysis 3 does exist – it is still one of the most visually interesting games yet.
It’s the art style that does it, with bright – almost blinding – colours filtering throughout your adventure. There’s a sense of caricature about Columbia, something whimsical yet sinister.
And that’s pretty much the point. It’s clear early on that there’s something dark ingrained into Columbia, and half of Bioshock Infinite is seeing that unravel.
There’s a level of quality and confidence about the game as a whole, in fact. It’s clear a lot of thought and effort has gone into not only the world of Columbia, but of the story it has to tell too.
You’ll play as Booker DeWitt: a mercenary, a killer, a war hero. Your goal is the retrieval of Elizabeth. She is the Lamb and you are the False Shepard, to use the game’s own terminology.
You’ll realise quickly that there’s something strange happening, and not just within Columbia itself. We’re not about to spoil it for you since it is the lynchpin that Bioshock Infinite relies on, but throughout your time with the game the twist is consistently teased.
Telling A Tale In Bioshock Infinite
It’s a different method to the original Bioshock where the twist was a revelation, a mind-blowing surprise that turned not only the story but the whole concept of playing a game on its head.
In this sense Bioshock Infinite is much more cinematic, working more like a thriller as it builds up to an inevitable conclusion that you will invariably try and piece together yourself.
Whether you prefer this method or not is subjective and entirely down to your personal tastes, but it’s not nearly as effective as a surprise twist.
The depth and atmosphere of Columbia isn’t quite as effective Rapture, either. Though there’s more detail in the world, the contrast between the light of the sun and darkness of shadows deters some of the atmosphere that could have been.
Though brief, the interiors of Columbia aren’t nearly as immersive as Rapture ever was. The first real potential for a little tension, for example, comes in the form of the Cult of the Raven, but even this is a wasted opportunity culminating in a large gunfight a little else.
Though Columbia is just as debauch as Rapture, its inhabitants aren’t nearly as unnerving. Splicers are a much more interesting enemy than any of Bioshock Infinite’s creations.
The Enemies Of Bioshock Infinite
The warriors of Columbia may fight in very similar ways to its Splicer brethren, but they’re not nearly as terrifying. As a result the enemies are just that: obstacles to overcome and little else.
Even the Tonic-enhanced super warriors, such as the Crow or the Burner, don’t provide much to really fear. As different as they are to take on, they don’t help mix up the variety much.
For the most part you’ll be tackling guys with guns throughout the entirety of Bioshock Infinite. You may choose to use the Bucking Bronco instead of Devil’s Kiss, but the combat will eventually begin to feel a little repetitive.
That’s something Splicers never had – they were adaptable, whether it was an aesthetic change to mimic your surroundings or a gameplay one in the way they fought.
Where Bioshock Infinite’s combat does improve is in its arena combat sections. Though you’ll filter through a number of corridors, it’s in the open environments that you’re rewarded a little more freedom.
Best of all is when the aerial Skylines are implemented to give you a real feeling of openness to the combat sections. Though you’ll spend most of your time sitting behind a barrel waiting for your shield to regenerate, which barrel you sit behind is entirely down to you.
You’re restricted to only two weapons at a time, and while this means you can’t stick to your tried and tested tactics for every battle (no electric crossbow bolts this time, kids) it also ensures that you’re looking for weaponry in the area around you.
The Handyman Can
Fans of the original Bioshock may lament that you’re forced into picking one of the weapons to hand rather than combining your favourite strategies, but it does mean you need to be more adaptable when in battle.
The inclusion of the Handyman really highlights this point: these guys are lumbering bullet sponges and you will, invariably, need to use everything the environment has to offer.
Though you’ll only encounter a handful throughout the game they do make for intense battles. They’re not a replacement for the Big Daddy – not even slightly – but they do help to facilitate the style of combat that Bioshock Infinite is all about.
The only problem is the respawn system. The Vita Chambers were such an issue with Bioshock that the option to turn them off was patched in, and it just seems like Bioshock Infinite should have included the same.
Dying in battle will have Elizabeth bring you back from the brink of the abyss with a little bit of health and a little more ammo. Though your enemies regain some of their health, it’s not nearly enough of a punishment and it works to the detriment of combat.
There’s no real penalty for dying, to such an extent that it makes you care less in battle. If you die, so what? In fact, since you’ll respawn with more Salts (mana) and ammo, in many ways dying is preferable. And that’s not right.
Guiding Elizabeth Through Bioshock Infinite
Mercifully, Elizabeth never really proves a nuisance in battle, though this is largely thanks to the fact that enemies simply don’t target her.
Sometimes she’ll find cover right in the middle of the fray, even racing through the bullets and the blood to find a different barrel to hide behind.
She can be helpful, however, flinging recovery items or ammo your way whenever you run low. Outside of combat she’ll even throw money at you, like a treat for being such a good little guard dog.
So don’t worry, she’s not the needy little NPC you were afraid she was.
In fact, it’s the relationship that builds between Booker and Elizabeth that is the crowning achievement of Bioshock Infinite.
Bioshock Infinite is at its best when its story unfolds, and though it is one that is intentionally more complex than the original Bioshock it is an intriguing one all the same.
Everything else in between is just more of the same, and in some ways not nearly as great. Though the war between Columbians and the Vox Populi tackles interesting themes that videogames rarely touch, as enemies they’re just gun-toting marines in different skins.
So again, it comes down to the question of originality. Bioshock Infinite is by no means a bad game, and offers enough new that fans of the series will find it hard not to be immersed in its offerings.
But it’s hard to deny that the original Bioshock was praised so highly because it was so unique. Bioshock Infinite retreads a lot of the same ground, at least mechanically, but with parts that aren’t nearly as diverse or varied as its predecessor.
Its enemies are uninspired and its world not nearly as rich, but that still doesn’t stop Bioshock Infinite having the tools to give you a great time all the same.
Version tested: PC