Review: BioShock Infinite
- Developer: Irrational Games
- Played: April 2013
- Players: 1
- Website: bioshockinfinite.com
- Price: $60
- Platform: PC
Spoilers ahead, beware! BioShock Infinite is a heavily story-based game. I'll be spoiling most significant aspects of that plot below. You have been warned.
BioShock Infinite could be described as a sequel to BioShock, or perhaps a retelling, or simply a game which shares the same multiverse. You play as Booker, a rough-and-tumble murderer/hero, tasked with the rescue of a damsel in distress, Elizabeth, from the grasp of a religious fanatic, Comstock, in a flying city, Columbia. It's less confusing than it sounds. Throughout the game, Elizabeth becomes less damsel-y, you become more murderer/hero-y, and Comstock/Columbia become more dead.
What it does Right
I'll start with the uncontroversial: Infinite's art design is unequivocably stellar. Screenshots and videos do it little justice; it's well worth playing even if you've had the major plot points spoiled for you. Put it on easy and explore. In between the extensive sections of wanton violence, the game allows (and encourages) you to wander the streets of Columbia, seeking insight into its history or simply enjoying the scenery. It's a Good-Looking Game, and you're missing out if you don't stop to smell the roses.
Moving on to the more subjective: Infinite's story is well-paced and engaging. Enough is explained and enough is left at the periphery to keep the player (that's me) hooked. The writer(s) wisely sidestepped the finer details of multiverse logic and paradoxes, allowing gamers to argue about the plot for years to come. There isn't necessarily a wrong answer; it's a multiverse, after all, so anything is possible. I have my ending, you can have yours. But mine is the right one.
The game eschews choice in a deliberate way. It's up to you whether you'll see this as justified via the plot or simply laziness by the developers. Early in the game, you are presented with small decisions. Later, these choices are markedly absent. In the end, it turns out they didn't matter anyway, because externalities have set larger events in motion...and you were not really the main character anyway. Elizabeth is the main character, and though she gives you a chance to opt-out at the end of the game (which you are unable to do), she ultimately makes the final decision for you. She grows from a hopelessly innocent girl to a mistress of space and time...and then gives up all of that to collapse the multiverse into a Good Ending.
More than anything else, Infinite is a game that compels people to talk about it after playing (whether they liked it or not). It has lofty goals, and does things that many modern games do not even attempt.
What it does Wrong
It's a shooter. They make it work, but it can be argued (and I would agree) that it could have been a better game if it focused less on combat. That's not to say it shouldn't be violent; the story demands violence. However, the violence does not always serve the story; instead, much of the time it serves marketability. A pragmatic goal, to be sure, but one that ultimately hurts the game as a work of art--something else it strives to be.
Elizabeth's AI, while impressive, is not without flaws. She exists in a sort of Uncanny AI Valley, where she seems human much of the time, only to reveal her scripted/programmed nature without warning. Mere seconds after significant plot events (the death of her mother, escaping a torture chamber, etc), she will cheerfully pick locks for you or toss you a few coins she's scrounged from the environment, with no reflection of the situation's severity in her voice or demeanor.
Unlike BioShock, Infinite does not allow the player to save at any time. A console-style checkpoint system is used, and the checkpoints are spaced awfully far apart. Arguments can be made for avoiding save-scumming, but this is one example of eschewing choice that I did not find particularly welcome.
The game does not always clearly explain your destination, objectives, or even certain game mechanics. In particular, I spent nearly 20 minutes fighting endless waves of Patriots in the final combat encounter of the game, wondering if I was meant to lose, before realizing that I was supposed to be targeting a pair of airships which had spawned behind me. On a mechanical note, it wasn't until I took to the internet after completing the game that I realized you could combine Vigors for increased effectiveness. To the best of my knowledge, the only time the game tells you this is during a loading screen.
What it doesn't Do
It doesn't tell you everything. The game is a tease. The more I learned (via direct narrative, audio recordings, or the environment itself), the more I wanted to know.
It is one of the most engaging games I have ever played. It is not perfect, but I am glad to have played it and I'm glad there are people in the video game industry who are making games like it.