If it's crap ... We'll tell you
We are only in April, and yet this was easily one of the most anticipated games of 2013. Countless reviews have been written praising 2K's latest game, and even more articles have discussed the ending and mechanics throughout the story. It almost seems silly for me to add another review to the pile but hey, nothing beats a good honest opinion. I'll just give my thoughts and responses, and not receive a giant bag of cash for giving it a high rating. (I'm looking at you IGN...) So, enough introductions, let's get right down to the review.
This game moves away from the underwater city of Rapture, and instead follows a man named Booker DeWitt. He is uncertain of his past but has been tasked with finding a girl and returning her to New York in order to "wipe away the debt". He is dropped off at a remote lighthouse, which turns out to be a means of entering the floating city of Columbia, where the people have left the terrors of below in order to receive redemption.
Booker finds what looks to be a paradise full of sound, colour, and beauty. But quickly sees the very dark side of the culture and social standings. He is labelled as the "false shepard" and hunted down while he attempts to make his way to the girl he needs to rescue. This simple plan very quickly descends into a far greater problem than he ever imagined, where his past choices begin to consume his thoughts. And the girl Elizabeth herself will not leave Columbia so easily, not because of lack of will, but from her dark past being unfolded wherever they go.
Really, I could easily write two pages just about the early story synopsis, but that would include spoilers and be thoroughly confusing. So for this review, the short description will do, despite not at all giving insight into just how deep this game is. For now though, I'll place that aside and instead focus on the gameplay aspects. In many ways it resembles both of the previous Bioshock titles - you have your melee weapon, you can search the bins for food and money, areas are sectioned off into segments, and you have your special powers to utilise along with the weapons. However here "Vigors" are the powers you use and "Salts" are what power them. They vary from electricity and possession, to fire bombs and sending forth a flock of bloodthirsty crows. There are some new inclusions as far as weapons, and all can be slightly upgraded to boost their power and ammo size. The main new entry is your melee weapon, which can hook onto Skylines, which are rails used for transporting cargo around Columbia. You use these to reach new areas, swoop down on enemies, or find a better cover position to attach from. It's no giant drill, but still a very well implemented feature that is easy to use, and very satisfying when used well.
The biggest gameplay feature though, is the inclusion of Elizabeth as your Co-op character. And wow, did they completely nail down how Co-op should be done. Firstly, you don't have to worry about her dying, or even getting hurt. She stays in cover and the enemies never target her for reasons linking to the story. Even better, she works as a great ally, since she provides health, ammo, and salts during tough battles as you begin to run low on provisions. Later on she can use her powers to open "Tears" in the space-time, and pull in allies to fight for you, or even more weapons to help you out in a tight spot. Outside of the fights, she helps in unlocking doors and searching for money, both being very handy and not as intrusive as it may sound. The cut scene used every time she throws money to you is short so it doesn't slow the gameplay down at all. I also found that except for a few times where she was in the way near a door, there were no glitches to speak of with her, so happy days.
Now on to the story, and I apologies before-hand since I won't be able to do it justice in this review. It suffices to say however that this script and screenplay are both absolutely fantastic. What appears initially to be a simple task quickly turns into a rollercoaster ride of emotions that never stops amazing you. The detail is stunning and even more when at the end you look back at everything you saw, and realise how it all connects together. The game speaks on many different aspects - from white oppression over other races, the dark and unknown areas of science, to the illusion of choice presented to you all the way through. It speaks on a lot of areas, and although it may not give a definitive resolution to all of them, it balances it with letting the player think things over for themselves. This will have you forming theories and ideas for a week after you finish, and I doubt anyone will have all the right answers...
The art style and visuals are for me, the big selling point for Bioshock Infinite. After so many games filled with dreary, dark landscapes and an over-clinical attention to detail (yes, even Skyrim is guilty of this), the world of Columbia is like a giant sweet-shop in comparison. It looks incredible from every angle you observe from, the city shimmers with light and radiates colour everywhere. I spent the first hour of this game just taking in all I could see at the Fair; I imagine it is like how a kid sees Disneyland. (except for the racism and God-fearing stuff) But seriously, I cannot remember a game that is so pleasing to the eyes, probably not since I first lay eyes on The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. The visuals have a surprising level of range too, as they go from bright streets, to dark corridors and even burning landscapes. And all the time, it is beautiful.
To speak very briefly about the ending without spoiling it.... I think it is a theme that has been done several times before and isn't as "new" as some have proclaimed it to be. What matters though, is how it is delivered, with such a marvellous level of emotional resonance, perfect visual markers, and one hell of a gut-punch. Make sure you have no one to disturb you while it plays out people; this is a gaming moment you do not want interrupted. Even better, the reveals at the end work directly toward providing this game a lot of re-playability, since you will see things from a new perspective the second time round.
So, after all of this praise and joy I have talked about Bioshock Infinite, are there problems? Well.... yes actually. The one that stood out for me related to the upgrade and customisation system, which always feels narrow in sight and application. You can power up your weapons, increase your primary stats, and find gear to provide special abilities but.... most of the time the effects are rather slight. You don't get a great sense of progression in terms of strength, I found myself cowering like a mouse in the final battle despite spending vast money on building up my abilities. Also, the game doesn't offer time for you to earn lots of money either, and you will finish the game without unlocking all of the weapon upgrades. If you don't know this at the start, you could easily waste time and provisions on the wrong items.
The side missions are very flat too, being simply a back-track to a location you were previously at to unlock a door or decipher a code. With very few re-spawning enemies encountered throughout the whole game, there isn't a huge advantage to completing these outside of finding some collectables or money. There is single player DLC on the way which is very exciting but... I don't know, I just wish there was more to do in the side missions here.
My final point to make isn't really a problem but is worth mentioning. The game in essence has no boss battles in the classical sense. You encounter stronger enemies and large battles against many enemies, which thankfully don't become repetitive since you have many choices on how to take them on. Some may complain about this but for me, the story was the real star here and adding throw-away bosses in would have tarnished the finish.
But when all is said and done, what we have here is an intoxicating blend of story, characterisation, layered themes, and visuals like none you have seen before. On almost all the core aspects, Bioshock Infinite stands head and shoulders above all the competition, and makes some of the previous AAA releases look dull and one-dimensional in comparison. This game is going to shake up the industry in a big way not due to innovation, but for delivering on every promise they made to their players. I cannot describe even a tenth of the brilliance of this game... it is something you will have to experience for yourself.
And really sums it up, this is one of the best gaming experiences you will have. But... and this is going to be an unpopular decision for many... I don't think it is the perfect game others have described it to be. There are issues here that could have been solidified or refined further. It does not grade down the game, it just halts it from reaching perfection. Maybe the DLC will provide what I want to see, but even without that I cannot stress the astonishing achievement Bioshock Infinite is. It took the series in a very bold and completely new direction, providing a new story but incorporating what we loved about the original titles. It is exactly how a sequel should be done - expanding the world while retaining the core elements.
My final rating will be a Very High Full Price (9.5/10), with that being just a shade below a perfect 10. I absolutely love this game and everything it has accomplished. If you are still wondering on whether to play it or not, you need ponder no more. This is essential gaming.
Thanks for reading! ^__^