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Old 03-26-2013   #1
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Bioshock Infinite review.

I found this review on Ign.com.

Link - http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/03/...-360ps3-review

BioShock Infinite Xbox 360/PS3 Review

Ryan McCaffrey

You will believe a city can fly.

→ March 21, 2013 BioShock Infinite aims so damn high – fittingly, since its alternate-reality 1912 city of Columbia literally floats atop clouds – that it’s a wonder it successfully hits any of its lofty goals at all. But it does hit them, again and again. A stunning original world of retro-sci-fi technology and gorgeous scenery. A cast of fully fleshed-out, memorable characters who deliver real emotional impact. A great villain and a greater monster. New and thrilling ways of traveling and changing the world around you. A story twist most people won't see coming. Even when it does occasionally miss, another hit follows so quickly that the stumble almost feels like a setup to increase the effect. Infinite comes through as a true, worthy follow-up to BioShock, one of the most-renowned shooters of this generation. In my book, it becomes one itself.

Irrational Games – a studio that’s made a name for itself in eschewing predictability and is known for pathological cybervillains and brutish Big Daddies who earned our sympathy in their staunch protection of Little Sisters – somehow makes a city built on the clouds seem plausible. It's a place that feels alive. Townsfolk bustle in the plaza streets, birds flit about almost everywhere, and propaganda extols the local prophet's racist, ultra-nationalist beliefs. Columbia has its own history and hierarchy, to a degree that most shooters – or games of any genre, for that matter – can’t even aspire. It's created using a vibrant color palette and a unified vision of a twisted, jingoistic take on America. Simultaneously, no two of its many diverse areas ever feel alike. All these elements give this fantastical city a sterling sense of genuine place.

This world is easy to buy into because its characters believe in it so convincingly, chief among them our player character, war veteran-turned-PI Booker DeWitt. He's a reluctant hero on a mission, vaguely referred to as a less-than-virtuous man with a shady past. The first hour chronicles DeWitt’s unusual journey to Columbia under orders to recover a teenage girl named Elizabeth so that he might “wipe away the debt.” Though he begins as both a bit unlikeable and mysterious, eventually Booker's backstory is fully filled-in and brought to a satisfactory end. Under your stewardship, he oscillates between doing good deeds and some clearly bad ones, but his words and actions eventually left me thinking of myself as a fan of the man by the time the credits rolled.

Pleased to Meet You, Elizabeth

It’s that inaugural hour – and in fact the few that follow it – that build the foundation upon which the rest of BioShock Infinite $59.99 @ Microsoft Store stands. Er, floats. Early on, thanks to the weapons, powers, and upgrades having new names but functioning in largely the same way, it’d be fair to call Infinite an elaborate, blue-sky reskin of the first BioShock. If that's a criticism at all, it's a weak one; BioShock's about as sound a starting point to build upon as a game could hope for, and Infinite has made the most of that. I'd put the artwork, meticulously crafted detail, and overall atmosphere of Columbia right up there with BioShock's Rapture, Half-Life 2's City 17, and Mirror’s Edge’s unnamed dystopian metropolis. Two things evolve Infinite past its predecessor, however, and the first is one of its central characters: Elizabeth.

Our mystery girl rarely leaves your side once she joins you a short time into the campaign, and unlike the vast majority of AI companions throughout the ages, she requires zero babysitting. To the contrary, she'll take care of you, tossing you ammo and health in the heat of battle, randomly throwing you money at idle moments, and even bending the layout of a combat area to your will using her dimensional-portal-opening abilities.

In firefights, that means you might have the choice to teleport in any one of a flying gun turret, a wall of cover, a powerful weapon, or a stash of medkits. It’s yet another option that'll affect how the fight plays out in a big way – a layer that makes Infinite’s combat so refreshingly nimble. The guns may not be wholly original, and the vigors may be familiar, but in concert with the Elizabeth wildcard and the open, large-scale play spaces, Infinite offers tangible, meaningful choices in each encounter.

Elizabeth herself, in fact, plays a central role in BioShock Infinite’s story, and in the moment-to-moment experience. Once she’d established herself at my side, any period of separation was noticeable. Not only does the action revert to feeling very much like BioShock 1, but it made me feel as if something was genuinely missing: emotional depth. Over our time together, Elizabeth's expressive performances elicited everything from sympathy to fear and even guilt. She provides motivation and moves the story forward, and like the clear bond the Big Daddies and Little Sisters had in the first game, I was compelled to protect her. And from a purely mechanical perspective, it’s a half-miracle that she never gets in the way – but she doesn't. What's great about Elizabeth is that her presence always adds something, and never takes anything away.

Booker and Elizabeth have a strong supporting cast to work with as well. Almost from the moment Booker arrives on Columbia he's antagonized by Zachary Comstock, aka “The Prophet,” who makes for an easily hateable villain both for his morally reprehensible views on race and for his oddly personal verbal attacks towards Booker over loudspeakers and other communiques. His level of evil and the ways in which he harasses you indirectly are something of a cross between the sadism of System Shock 2’s SHODAN and the manipulation imposed by BioShock’s Andrew Ryan.

Meanwhile, Booker’s most physically imposing opponent is the Songbird, the gigantic robo-fowl assigned to "protect" Elizabeth in a tower, Rapunzel-style. He is constantly in your rearview mirror, as it were, ominously threatening you each time he appears and giving chase in exhilarating running sequences. I wish he'd shown up more often, really – among all the players in Infinite, his is the arc that feels the least developed. That’s not to say his story isn’t satisfying, just that I was left wanting more.

Drinkin’ and Shootin’

And what of the rank-and-file bad guys you’ll be shooting at? Some of them seem borderline comical, like the Patriot robots modeled after George Washington, who Columbia’s residents revere as a god. Then there are the Handymen -- intimidating 10-foot-tall proto-cyborgs who freaked me out the first time I thought I'd escaped them but, in fact, hadn’t. They’re much more agile than they look, even if they’re essentially bullet-spongy Big Daddies on PEDs. At least the AI is wise enough to use cover and the Skylines to keep you on your toes and even the odds.

From the moment you begin fighting your first barely competent Columbia cops early on, vigors – nee plasmids – bolster your offense with potent table-turners like the target-zapping Shock Jockey or Charge’s directed speed burst. My go-to, Bucking Bronco, floats targets up in the air for a few moments, letting you pick them off like (paralyzed) fish in a barrel. Some vigors are essentially reskinned abilities from the first BioShock, and all are familiar from one game or another; the ability to charge them up to lay them down like mines is the only thing that really sets them apart, though I rarely saw fit to use their secondary functions. But they're a useful toolset, and odds are you’ll find a couple you favor above the others -- particularly in their impressively powerful upgraded forms.

Since vigors are activated on the left hand while guns are held in the right, they combine with Infinite’s fairly standard collection of old-timey pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, and stat-boosting gear in unique ways. Prefer to step right out into the line of fire with a heavy weapon and the bullet-absorbing Return to Sender vigor? Do it. Would you rather bring everyone up close for a melee mashing with the Executioner shirt that adds a +60% chance for a melee critical hit? Feel free.

Speaking of spitting-distance combat, I was particularly fond of the Skyhook’s melee attacks because of the gruesome executions they deliver. Similar in function to BioShock 2's drill, it's a vicious tool for snapping necks, boring into chests, and exploding heads into a bloody mist with its spinning rotor. It's a treat until the enemies get too tough to make it a viable strategy any longer, but I was able to stave off that time using stat-boosting Gear augmentations, the equivalent of BioShock's tonics now in the form of apparel. Specifically, in this case, I made ample use of the Deadly Lungers pants' tripling of my melee-strike range, making the guilty pleasure of those sadistic executions much more frequent.

Infinite’s combat is nimble in the truest sense of the word thanks to its other great evolution: the aforementioned Skylines. Something akin to self-guided, one-man roller-coaster tracks, Booker is able to hook onto these metal rails with his Skyhook gauntlet and speedily navigate around Columbia's large open areas, often dangling perilously over the abyss below while moving from floating island to floating island. Riding a Skyline is surprisingly intuitive, useful, and perhaps most impressively, not the slightest bit scripted or disorienting. You are in full control at all times, to the extent that you're never forced into any significant encounters while you’re riding them. If you prefer to take the action to the ground, you can. Laudably, BioShock Infinite isn't so proud of Skylines that it wants to impose them on us for anything other than transportation.

Dusty Old Boxes

Having played BioShock Infinite on all three platforms, I've found that some of the combat system’s inherent versatility and wealth of options are restricted by the gamepad control scheme on the console versions. Oddly, only two weapons and two vigors can be hotkeyed at any given time (via a quick tap of the Xbox’s shoulder buttons or the PS3’s triggers). The rest of your arsenal is accessible, of course, but you must pause and go into a menu in order to get to them. That can break up the fun flow of an otherwise high-octane encounter, and picking the right tool for the job during the fight was something I found myself avoiding. As you might expect, though, this is a non-issue on the PC, where the number keys offer instant access to vigors.

Aging console graphics hardware lets down Infinite, too. When the original BioShock debuted on Xbox 360 in 2007, it was an eye-gasmic wonder – a blissful marriage of Art Deco art direction with top-shelf graphics technology. Fast-forward almost six years, and Infinite is every bit as effective in the former area, but in the raw graphics department it fails to make anywhere near the same impact on either Microsoft or Sony’s box.

It’s far from an ugly game (quite the opposite, really), but the low-quality textures, wooden NPCs (aside from Elizabeth), and occasional minor but noticeable framerate hitches are all maladies the first BioShock avoided. It seems Infinite’s stratospheric ambition is a bit too much, at least in the technology department, for the creaky hardware of the aging consoles. The PC version, as run on mid-range hardware, makes no such visual compromises, with gorgeous high-resolution textures, detailed faces, and smooth performance.

Story Time (No Spoilers)

Infinite’s layered gameplay carries it through much of the campaign, but eventually the story must close the fun loop and bring everything together. After the original’s mind-blowing “Would you kindly?” twist, you’re probably expecting a similar “Gotcha!” this time. Will I spoil it? Of course not. But will it come? Yes. Will it catch you off-guard? It got me, and I'll be surprised if it doesn't wow most people. The moment it happened was, for me, every bit as stunning as Andrew Ryan's reveal in the first BioShock. Unlike the vast majority of other games, Infinite's ending will give you something to talk about with your friends for hours and days afterwards. And mechanically, Infinite has clearly learned from the original BioShock’s big boss fight mistake, concluding in a much more organic, sensical way.

Infinite deserves plenty of credit in its moment-to-moment storytelling too. Serious themes abound in Columbia’s alternate-reality 1912. Racism, sexism, nationalism, and religion are all put directly in front of you, whether you like it or not. It makes a point simply by confronting you with these uncomfortable issues and forcing you to at least think about them. And though Infinite never gets preachy, it certainly offers political commentary, chiming in with obvious nods to the “99% vs. 1%” debate -- even if, unlike in the original BioShock, Infinite slyly submits that both sides of the coin have their demons, and neither can claim the moral high ground in Columbia. To that end, Infinite skips out on any significant moral choices or multiple endings from the previous BioShocks. I didn’t miss them, though, as its story arc is both definitive and impactful while riding its own singular track.

Still, the pacing seemed to plateau and flatten out for a chunk in the middle. The story’s delivery slows to a drip-feed, and the gameplay suffers from an exhausting stretch where the goalposts you’re barreling towards are suddenly and repeatedly moved back, ratcheting down the momentum. I wouldn’t say BioShock Infinite ever drags, but it does noticeably – and disappointingly – take its foot off the gas at times. That slowdown does let Infinite last for between 10 and 15 hours (depending on your appetite for exploration, which Columbia readily feeds and ably satisfies; it was the latter for me), but it does come with a cost.

Given that this is a single-player-only game, is that one playthrough all you should expect? I'd say not – the 80 plot-buttressing Voxaphone recordings and other lore-lifting collectibles offer BioShock Infinite at least one more run worth of exploration, optionally while playing in 1999 Mode. Unlocked after completing the campaign on any difficulty, 1999 ups the challenge exponentially by severely reducing the amount of money available (and thus the number of times you can pay to revive when killed in combat), notably slowing down your shield’s recharge time, and of course making enemy attacks hurt more. Oh, and completely disabling the handy navigation arrow, which in normal play kindly stays off of your screen unless you summon it for a few seconds with a button tap.

The Verdict

Going in, I had to question whether Infinite could live up to the BioShock name after having discarded its signature world of Rapture, with its Big Daddies and Little Sisters and warring philosophies, and starting from scratch. On the way out, I'm forced to seriously question which is the better game. In total, BioShock Infinite is a brilliant shooter that nudges the entire genre forward with innovations in both storytelling and gameplay. It trips over itself in a couple of spots, but not in any way that should keep you from embracing it with your utmost enthusiasm.

BioShock Infinite on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 rating


Would you kindly play BioShock Infinite? Gameplay and the story combine for a majorly memorable shooter. RT

Ryan McCaffrey 21 Mar 2013

+Rich, satisfying story
+Luscious art direction
+Myriad combat options
+Elizabeth matters to both story and gameplay
– Feels a bit padded in the middle
I pre-ordered and fully paid fpr mine at Gamestop, and I can't wait to pick it up.
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