Tuesday, January 14, 2014

BLTN Reviews: BioShock Infinite (PS3, 360, PC) Review

BioShock Infinite was our runner-up for Best Multiplatform Game at our SuperPhillip Central Best of 2013 Awards ceremony, so you sort of have a hint on how we feel about this game. If not, read this review and be amazed!

The BioShock Series Takes to the Skies


Meet Booker DeWitt. He's taken to a lighthouse on a secluded island courtesy of a mysterious married couple. His objective is stated short and succinctly: "Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt." However ambiguous this mission is to the player, Booker takes it on, entering the lighthouse, reaching its top, and enters into a chair. The chair propels Booker miles into the sky, upon then the sight of Columbia, a breathtaking city above the clouds is revealed. The goal now is simple-- find a girl named Elizabeth and escape with her from her confines in Columbia.

The story is quite nebulous, with the player seldom really knowing what's going on. However, once the pieces of puzzle fit into place, there's this ah-ha moment where everything suddenly makes sense. It's this realization that makes BioShock Infinite's story so fantastic. There's a continued mystery throughout the game, and when all is resolved during Infinite's twist ending and final conclusion, a great sense of satisfaction will most likely be given to the player. Each act of the game is well done, and there really is no weak link to be found, unlike how the original BioShock sort of fell apart halfway through. It's a story that shows that video game plots and narratives can be as engaging as other media when done right.

Columbia is a gorgeous sight to behold.
As for the gameplay itself, BioShock Infinite plays like what you'd expect a first-person shooter to be like, but the level of polish that the gameplay has and the tightness of the controls make for a really rewarding experience. Rapture in both BioShock and BioShock 2 was rather claustrophobic, obviously because it was underwater and all, but it limited the amount of combat options you had to utilize. In contrast, Infinite's Columbia is far more open, allowing considerably more varied combat scenarios.

This is really how George Washington
looked when he was president.
Seriously. Look it up.
Such a fun scenario comes with Columbia's cargo transit system, the sky rail. There an abundant number of these around Columbia, and with Booker's Sky Hook wrist attachment, you can ride these. Six Flags and Disney World have nothing on these rides. You can speed up, slow down, and switch directions effortlessly. Where this involves combat is that you can use one hand to ride the sky rail while the other picks off foes on the ground. You can even do sky rail executions by targeting an enemy on the ground and pressing a single button to launch into them in glorious, violent fashion.

Coming through!
Booker can carry up to two weapons at a time. There's everything from standard handguns, machine guns, shotguns, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, among many others to tackle whatever challenge is thrown your way. Weapon ammo and weapon upgrades can be purchased with money found all around Columbia at specific vending machines to increase the power of his arsenal.

Booker gets a hold of some serious hardware.
In addition to standard guns, Booker obtains special powers and abilities through coming across Vigors, Infusions, and Gears. Vigors, of which there are eight within the game, give Booker the power to unleash what one could call magic onto foes. These are highly creative, such as being able to possess an enemy, whether it be human or mechanical, the power to shock a foe into submission, and another that calls upon a flock of crows to rip an enemy to shreds. However, you can't just use these Vigor powers all willy-nilly. Each time a Vigor is used, a portion of Booker's Vigor gauge goes down. It can be replenished through coming across Salts, found in food and drinks all over Columbia. From inside bars to inside barrels, food and treasure are plentiful around the city in the sky, and it's fun to scavenge around areas to see what sorts of goodies you can find.

Booker's having a blast in Columbia.
Infusions serve as upgrades for either Booker's health, shield, or Vigors. When one of these is found, usually hidden in an out of the way location, you can decide to upgrade one of the aforementioned three attributes. Health is self-explanatory, while the shield, which is earned early in the game, protects Booker from a small amount of damage before disappearing, leaving him vulnerable to attacks. It will rejuvenate, but it takes a little time. Using an Infusion to upgrade the shield means that it will be able to take more punishment before disappearing. Finally, boosting your Vigors means you can use them more times before needing to refill your supply via Salts.

Meanwhile, Gears can be equipped to Booker and come in four types: Hats, Shirts, Pants, and Boots. Only one of each type can be equipped at the same time. These Gears grant Booker with abilities such as creating a surrounding circle of flames upon landing from a sky hook or increased attack strength when low on health.

Within close to a third of BioShock Infinite, Elizabeth joins your side. While she doesn't get involved with combat, she does prove to be an invaluable asset to Booker. She has the mysterious power of opening tears, gateways that can bring forth useful objects for Booker to use, such as a box of health-restoring medical kits, cover, and defense turrets, for example. She scavenges around areas to throw Booker health, salt for Vigors, ammunition, and money. Lastly, move over Jill Valentine, as Elizabeth is now the new master of unlocking. As long as there are enough lockpicks in your arsenal, Elizabeth can tackle any lock. Inside usually hides some great rewards, like lots of money, Infusions, Gears, or Voxophones, audio recordings that give back story to BioShock Infinite. Thankfully, when all is said and done, Elizabeth never gets in the way of the player, and unlike BioShock, you need not protect Elizabeth, as she can take of herself, so this is definitely no escort mission-type nonsense. It all adds up to Elizabeth being a great addition to Booker's mission.

Elizabeth's reaction to meme humor.
BioShock Infinite will last most players anywhere between 10-15 hours for a first run. However, there's plenty of collectibles to uncover and secrets to be found. When the game is cleared, BioShock Infinite challenges players with its 1999 Mode, where enemies are more ruthless and take more damage, ammo is scarcer, aim assist is gone, and managing your resources is as important as ever. Perhaps because of how few cutscenes that take the player out of the gameplay are and that most of the story is told while Booker is under the player's control, subsequent play-throughs can be a bit tedious. You have to sit through story elements all over again, and while yes, the story is worth sitting through again, it can be annoying for those that just want to get to the gameplay.

Time to bring out the big gun, big boy!
The presentation of BioShock Infinite is top-notch guaranteed. The visuals are bright and you can almost feel the sun as it shines on the city streets of Columbia. Characters are modeled well and show damage wonderfully. Columbia itself is so incredibly well done and superbly realized that it feels like another character in the game. The level of detail is immense, and all of this runs at a silky smooth frame-rate. The voice acting is phenomenal in BioShock Infinite, and the music is marvelous, too. Hearing barbershop quartet versions of songs like "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and "God Only Knows" brought a large smile to my face. Irrational Games spared little expense to make a truly remarkable setting and presentation for BioShock Infinite.

Take a picture. It'll last longer!
What this all adds down to is a game that must be played-- it must be experienced. While some might just portray BioShock Infinite as "just another first-person shooter", there's more to this book than what the cover reveals. Inside there is a game with a stunning story, well developed characters, engaging gameplay, tight and responsive controls, and an amount of polish that puts other games to shame. BioShock Infinite pushes the envelope of what a game can be with its terrific tale and astounding artistry. It's not quite infinitely rewarding, but it sure does come close.

[SPC Says: 9.5/10]

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