I finished Bioshock Infinite about 15 minutes ago, and I’m not quite sure how to review it.
It’s an incredible game, perfectly confident in the world it has created and nearly flawless in its execution. It is also a difficult game to talk about, or rather around, as so much of what the game really is is locked away in the back half of the adventure, and to give away even the smallest part of it would be to do the game and the player a huge disservice.
You came for a review though, so let’s see what we can do.
Graphics: The game looks good on the Xbox 360, though the system is clearly starting to show its age. PC players may obviously have a different experience, but the flying city of Columbia oozes a unique style and the graphics work well in service of the theme on any platform.
Controls: Mechanically, Infinite doesn’t stray far from the effective formula established by its predecessors. You’ll deal death from your right hand in the form of various weapons, from pistols and shotguns to RPGs and sniper rifles. You can carry two guns at any one time, but the game does a good job of providing plenty of weapons off of the corpses of fallen foes, so even playing through on hard I was rarely short of ammo or a new weapon to swap to.
Your left hand is reserved for vigors, Infinite’s version of the original Bioshock’s tonics. There are eight total vigors in the game, and though a handful tread familiar ground such as throwing fireballs and shooting lightning bolts, some of the later options introduce some new wrinkles.
You’re also often able to traverse some of the larger combat areas of the game using a magnetized sky-hook (which doubles as an effective melee weapon) and the rails that criss-cross much of Columbia, though this mechanic doesn’t play nearly as large a role as it seemed to in earlier builds of the game. All that said, Infinite’s combat is a pretty rote affair. It’s perfectly serviceable, and certainly more fun than the often clunky combat in the original, but it probably isn’t what you came for.
The Story & Characters: The biggest addition to Infinite’s systems is the introduction of Elizabeth. Besides being central to the game’s story, Elizabeth also serves as a capable companion both in and out of combat. When you’re in a scrape, she’ll occasionally find ammo, salts (used to power your vigors), or med kits for you. She can also open tears, which are rips in the fabric of space time, to bring in useful items, from automated turrets to rubble to use as cover to additional ammo or health dispensers. Outside of combat Elizabeth will often find a few extra coins for you, and she can pick locks and break Vox codes, both of which often open the way to more loot, additional story snippets, and power ups in the form of gear or upgrades.
The game establishes right up front that Elizabeth can take care of herself and won’t be a burden in combat. For better or worse, Infinite makes good on this by making her essentially invisible to enemies, which is great in that it keeps the game from becoming a 12 hour escort mission, but a little jarring when you see enemies actively ignoring her as they stomp right by. Elizabeth’s main purpose is to help move the story along and act as a partner and foil for the player’s character Booker DeWitt. Unlike the original, Infinite’s protagonist is a fully-formed character, and the interplay between him and Elizabeth is one of the most satisfying parts of the game.
Bioshock Infinite does a masterful job of crafting a wondrous world that goes deeper even than those familiar with Ken Levine and Irrational’s style might expect. In fact, the game does an excellent job of playing with the expectation that players familiar with the previous games may come in with. Experiencing the original isn’t a requirement to enjoy Infinite, but long time players will definitely appreciate nods in their direction and may pick up on things that the average player does not.
Bottom Line: Bioshock Infinite is a fantastic, fully realized world with great characters, fun mechanics, and a unique storyline. The game lays out complex moral and ethical issues and abstract scientific ideas in equal measure, leaving the player to decide how he or she feels about each of them without providing a clear right or wrong answer. In the end, the fantastic floating city of Columbia and all its troubles are only a backdrop for the real drama, and that… is about all I can say about that. The real conversation has to wait. The final sequence of the game is something that begs to be experienced. Buy this game. Play this game. Then we can talk.
Want to WIN a copy?! We’re giving away a copy of Bioshock Infinite for the Xbox 360. Just leave a comment describing what your ideal vigor or tonic would do, and what you’d do with your superpower. We’ll pick one of you at random at the end of next week. Good luck!
Bioshock Infinite was reviewed on a retail Xbox 360 copy provided by the publisher, 2K Games.