BIOSHOCK INFINITE REVIEW
Four years of development time, a rumoured budget as high as $200 million, several delays to the release of the game, and a worrying silence for many months from Ken Levine and his crew at Irrational Games… was (or is) Bioshock Infinite a project in troub
Posted by PlayDevil.com Staff on Apr 11, 2013 14:46 (242 days ago)
Written by: Ian
To Columbia and Beyond?
Four years of development time, a rumoured budget as high as $200 million, several delays to the release of the game, and a worrying silence for many months from Ken Levine and his crew at Irrational Games… was (or is) "BioShock Infinite" a project in trouble?
Have the development team managed to capture the magic and majesty of our trip to Rapture all of those years ago? Bioshock is one of my favourite games of all time, and certainly of this generation is easily in my top 3 along with Skyrim and Dragon Age. So, I had really high hopes that 2K would deliver on this semi-sequel, whilst still including enough of the ‘new’ to blow me away all over again.
The reason why I’ve described the game as a ‘semi-sequel’ is because, frankly, all that the two games share is an engine and some gameplay mechanics (apart from a few nods to each other). Columbia is an aerial city, recently seceded from the USA, and under the control of a radical preacher. Like with Rapture, though, this is a social experiment gone wrong. This is a controlled and controlling society, where to be a non-white is a life of serfdom and abuse, and views outside the official propaganda machine are unsafe to be discussed openly.
Unsurprisingly, there is a groundswell of dissent forming, and the way this gradually unfurls is a masterpiece of writing and discovery as you progress through Columbia. You play as Booker DeWitt, hired (or should that be forced) into a mission to capture a girl, Elizabeth. Booker’s world is turned upside down after minutes though, as he is propelled into this floating wonderland, discovers mysterious powers there, and finds his target.
The finding of Elizabeth really is a watershed moment as it changes the whole gameplay dynamic, as you have to work in tandem with the AI in order to take down your foes. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but needless to say, this is a really excellent tale, which can be light one moment, before reminding you of the deep, divisive problems our society faced 100 years ago like class division, racism, and mass immigration/ emigration the next.
The original Bioshock also had an interesting story to tell, and had fantastic gameplay to match. Yes, you could argue that System Shock 2 and Deus Ex had been doing much the same nearly 10 years previous, but never to any great success on a console, and whilst the core gameplay was there, it never felt as tight or easy to play as a modern action shooter. The original Bioshock managed the perfect combination of complexity, puzzle solving and shooting in a brilliantly accessible package that felt at home on a joypad.
Perhaps it was too much to expect, but Bioshock Infinite just doesn’t feel as revolutionary as its forebear. And most of the reason for that is the familiarity of the combat mechanics, which were not only repeated in Bioshock 2, but have also been aped by other games since. Sure, things have gotten renamed, with ‘vigors’ replacing ‘plasmids’, and a variety of new powers, but the core concepts remain the same. There are still upgradeable weapons, vending machines, audio logs, a respawn system etc etc. The biggest new gameplay addition is probably the shield, which is a gameplay facet as old as the hills now. Having said that, the combat arenas are well designed, the AI decent enough, the weapons feel meaty and powerful (for the most part), and the character customisation seems deeper and more customisable than before, thanks to the wealth of gear you pick up.
The main difference between the two games is that Infinite feels almost like a co-op game of sorts, except that there is, of course, no actual multiplayer. Elizabeth skirts along with you, subtly leading you in the direction of the next objective, finding hidden ammo and money, and unlocking doors that lead to various loot drops. In combat, she’ll even chuck you health from time to time, or help you manipulate the environment, adding a certain amount of verticality to the cmbat which is interesting. I did find that in combat she was just that bit slower than was ideal, which led to some frustrating respawns, especially when I played through in ‘1999’ mode, which forces you to replay whole checkpoints if you don’t have the money to respawn.
However, for the most part, this is wonderful unscripted AI which gives us a glimpse into the future and makes you wonder why no-one else can still even manage simple scripted pathfinding. Infinite is a decently lengthy game, running at about 12-15 hours depending on difficulty and how much you scavenge about, and that seemed like a pretty perfect amount of time for the plot to slowly unravel over Levine’s preferred three act arc. The game is pretty linear though, so if you go for a higher difficulty level, be warned that AI patterns repeat so there isn’t a huge amount of replay value.