There are few games that have managed to reinvent themselves as successfully as the BioShock series has. Whilst the first and the second did not differ too much in terms of setting they did play as wildly different games and they both managed to explore different parts of the same universe. The Rapture universe was pretty much tapped out however (barring a prequel) and so it was with a sense of intrigue that I waited to see what Irrational had planned for their magical steam punk world. BioShock Infinite is the next installment in the BioShock franchise and the first one to be set outside of Rapture, but that’s not the only difference this game brings with it.
Set about 48 years prior to the original BioShock Infinite puts you in the shoes of Booker Dewitt, a private security agent who works for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. You are charged with a simple mission, retrieve a girl and your large gambling debt will be wiped clean. It’s not going to be that simple of course as she’s being held captive in a city called Columbia, a city that resides in the clouds and is ruled by a man whom everyone calls The Prophet. Thus a simple snatch and grab soon turns into much more than that as you unravel the events that led up to you being here, and why your opponents seem to know so much about you.
BioShock Infinite has the same art deco feel as its predecessors and there’s been a notable step up in the graphics. Whilst Rapture is quintessential BioShock I can’t say that I missed it much when playing through Columbia as the wide open environments just felt a whole bunch better. Sure there wasn’t a lot more detail, with the world rapidly fading into the blue sky, but there was something refreshing about being out in the open. Combined with the excellent foley and music work the environment of BioShock Infinite is top notch and is something I’ve come to expect from Irrational’s games.
The way BioShock Infinite plays will feel instantly familiar to anyone who’s played the previous instalments. Lovers of the original’s much more RPG like elements will be disappointed to know that the simplification has continued with many of the more complicated ideas being distilled down to their basics. The necessary elements of a BioShock game are still there, plasmids are called vigors and you use salt instead of eve, but on a scale from Mass Effect 1 to Call of Duty we’re definitely starting to lean towards the latter side in terms of overall game complexity.
Probably the biggest change to BioShock’s combat, at least in terms of its overall impact to the game, was the addition of a rechargeable shield. Now it’s not like this was just slapped on top of the previous combat system, no its implementation seems to come at the cost of being able to carry consumables. The reasons behind this seem to be two fold: the primary one being to facilitate the overall simplification in aid of making the game more fluid. At the same time though it also encourages you to search around as you’ll often find yourself low on health, salts or both. However the infusion system, which allows you to upgrade your health/sheild/salts capacity, would seem to heavily favour you going for shields before anything else, well at least if you were playing BioShock the way I was at least.
Many of the vigors will seem familiar, notably ones like Shock Jockey and Devil’s Kiss, but they’ve all got a unique twist to them that sets them apart from their predecessors. I’m not exactly sure why but the alternate use mode for most of them, activated by charging up the power, is usually to create a trap version of said vigor. This can be useful if that’s your play style but for someone like me they were mostly useless unless I was facing down one of Columbia’s larger enemies. The traps might come in handy if you’re playing on 1999 mode difficulty but after a certain point I rarely found myself needing them due to the plasmid/gear combination I found that made me feel completely broken.
My vigor of choice was Charge which allowed me to get up close and personal with enemies who were usually quite a distance away from me. It wasn’t particularly great initially however once you’ve upgraded it not only do you get bonus damage on your target your shields are instantly recharged and you’re made invulnerable for a couple seconds. Combine this with some gear that gives you a 30% chance to possess things and a 400 damage fire nova when struck and you have a recipe for someone who’s essentially invulnerable in battle with most of the enemies tearing each other apart, if they’re not on fire already. Once I had that combo down there wasn’t really enough enemies in Columbia to stop me, unless they weren’t grouped together.
Gone is the two tiered currency system where Adam was used for plasmids and cash for everything else, now all you’ll deal in is cash. Again this seems to be done in aid of simplifying the whole game although this means that gear prioritizing cash rewards, like the Extra Extra! hat that gives you cash from voxophones, is by far the smartest choice early on. This does feel a bit limiting to begin with as taking away those sources of revenue, in favour of other gear upgrades, feels like you’re cutting yourself off from a potential killer build.
This is in stark contrast to BioShock 2 where you were basically able to try out any build you wanted in the space of a single playthrough. In BioShock Infinite there’s no way that you’ll be able to get the cash required to upgrade all the vigors and all the guns in a single play through (I say this as someone who found the vast majority of voxophones and much of the hidden coin stashes and finished with 2 maxed weapons and vigors. I could have afforded 1 more of each though). This is possibly done to encourage additional playthroughs as previous BioShocks could be done as one shot deals, should you make the right choices. I don’t necessarily hold this against BioShock Infinite though as it forces you to make choices about how you’re going to play rather than just pick and choosing whatever you need for the particular situation.
Minor-ish plot spoilers follow.
One very notable thing that’s absent from BioShock Infinite is the franchise’s moral choice system. Now it’s not like you’re completely absent choice, there are many occasions where you’re presented with similar binary choices that affect the game in some way, but the whole idea of crafting a good/bad/mixed character is gone. I believe this is mostly due to how the story is constructed, what with the whole pre-determined fate idea woven throughout the game’s narrative, but it did remove a significant amount of the agency in Booker’s character which was one of the stronger points of BioShock franchise previously.
This is not to say that the story suffers because of this, far from it. Whilst it will be easy to pick holes in the “tear” idea that’s central to Elizabeth’s character and the overall plot it does function well as a plot device. This, combined with Ken Levine’s brilliant writing and the various voice actor’s great performances, make BioShock’s story engaging, thrilling and, whilst ultimately tragic, beautifully executed. The only criticism I’d level at it was it became somewhat predictable past a certain point but the overall concept was still solid.
BioShock Infinite is another great instalment in the BioShock franchise, aptly demonstrating that Irrational is capable of delivering a fresh game experience when it would be all too easy to just crank out another Rapture. Whilst the game may have undergone a lot of simplification from its predecessors I don’t feel that it suffered because of it. Indeed BioShock Infinite feels a lot more fluid, the story flows better and rarely would I find my immersion broken by something in game. For both fans of the series and newcomers alike BioShock Infinite provides a gaming experience that’s hard to find a direct comparison to, one that’s incredibly enjoyable.
Rating: 9.25 /10
BioShock Infinite is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $69.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC on Hard difficulty with 10 hours play time and 48% of the achievements unlocked.