Reposted Review: Bioshock Infinite

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(Originally posted on the lapsed Retro Retreat)

Bioshock Infinite. Is it worthy of all of the praise?

For some this review will seem rather unnecessary. By now, you’ve seen every journalist from every magazine, website, show, or newscast talk about how great Bioshock Infinite is. Upon playing through the game it isn’t hard to see why. Bioshock Infinite does make every successful attempt at pulling you into it’s story, and wanting to see what happens next. In an age where single player games (Especially FPS titles) have to have something to separate themselves from the crowd, stories are arguably the best way to do this. A great story can make even the most mundane, broken game somewhat playable by making a player want to see everything unfold. Bioshock Infinite, like the original game does exactly that.

PROS: Excellent storytelling. Solid game mechanics.

CONS: Minor technical hitches. The formula doesn’t stay behind the curtain quite long enough.

OMG: You will shout at all of the eerie things that shock you.

That’s not to say gameplay in the third entry is completely terrible, it is a solid shooter. But it’s the narrative that rules the roost. Not only in the actual storyline but in the fact that all of the other parts of the game make every effort to fit it. The artwork assets are among some of the best in gaming over the past few years. The floating city of Columbia really feels plausible. The different attractions, and set pieces shown to you feel authentic. You can almost believe you’re back in the early 1900′s  toward the peak of the industrial revolution.

Moreover, you will feel more, and more disturbed as you follow the game’s plot. I won’t be talking much about it in this review. While I am later than most talking about the game, it’s still new enough that I don’t want to spoil it for those who may be interested, but still haven’t played it yet. That said, I will give a general synopsis or summary here. You play as a detective named Booker. Starting the game he finds himself on a rowboat on the coast of Maine going toward a light house. The couple rowing you there exposit on about how he has a life debt, and if you can find this missing woman for them they will pay it off for him. Getting to the top of the lighthouse is where the game, and the strangeness begin. Booker will traverse through Columbia, looking for the young woman who he needs to bring home to New York. Along the way, much like earlier Bioshock games, Booker is given choices that make alterations to the game as you progress. Some will be small changes, others large. But every option given to you goes a long way into trying to deepen the tale of Columbia.

When you do finally find Elizabeth, (The woman you were sent to bring back) the story kicks into Twilight Zone mode, introducing some eerie Science Fiction elements into an already great detective story. Elizabeth will help you along the way, finding health, and elixirs for you during firefights, along with opening secret locked rooms. Much like the plasmids in the original game, the third installment features elixirs called vigors. These give you magical powers to help you defeat some of the harder enemies in the game. For instance, replacing the Big Daddies of the original game, who were almost like minibosses, Infinite brings in a mechanical cyborg called a Handyman. Not only are the Handymen difficult to put down, they are just plain creepy looking.  Also needing to be seen are the motorized Patriot robots.

All versions are essentially the same, although the PC version will look much better provided your video card can handle the Ultra settings, and the rest of your system won’t bottleneck it too much. Most average computers should be able to run the game on medium or even high settings without too much trouble. For those of us who have to run the game on it’s lowest settings expect the game to look about on par with the Xbox 360 version. There is little to complain about here. As of this writing though Ati users may have some minor quibbles with drivers. On my system I found even with the latest drivers some stuttering problems even on lower settings. I ended up tweaking some .ini settings to get the issue under control.

My experience of course isn’t going to be indicative of everyone’s mind you but looking into the issue a small number of players reported similar nitpicks. It still didn’t impede me from enjoying or completing the campaign.

If there is one valid complaint with the game though, it is that it does become a bit formulaic near the end. You will do some exploring for clues like Voxophone audio logs (Like the PDA’s in Doom 3) that further the background of the story. Or you will find key items to boost your health or vigor. Other times you’ll bump into some fun vending machines that allow you to buy power ups or find silent films that give more story. While all of this is happening you will converse with Elizabeth much like Gordon Freeman did with Alyx Vance in Half-Life 2.  The difference being Booker actually speaks here. Upon completing these moments you will be thrust into a shooting gallery. These never feel like unbeatable horde modes the way some other campaigns go, again feeling much closer to Half-Life 2′s pace.  Guns are equally inventive, and fun. Shotguns are powerful, pistols are accurate, and the more powerful weapons are just crazy. After these moments you may have to use a vigor to solve a small puzzle before moving forward to another bit of story. Then a shooting gallery. Then a puzzle.

It does a pretty good job of hiding the formula but near the end it becomes a little more obvious. Fortunately, the story does carry the game enough that you really won’t care as you’ll be on the edge of your couch or computer chair throughout the entire tale. And there are even some underlying discussions in it if you’re willing to really explore the environment rather than burn through the campaign. It really is the reason to play this game. The fact that it’s an above average shooter under the hood also helps this fact.

Devoted players can also go back, and play through a few more times making different decisions for alternate occurrences in the campaign too. So this does give the game some replay value, as well as being something you’ll replay simply to revisit the storyline every so often.

Bioshock Infinite is one of those rare times that yes the deafening high praise is deserved. Still one can’t completely overlook it’s minor problems. But just because it isn’t a flawless game doesn’t mean it’s a bad one. If you like a good story in your video game Bioshock Infinite is an excellent choice for you to add to your library.

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10

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