Rate this review: Bioshock Infinate
Human characters provide ground for a tale that reaches for the sky
High: Waking up on a crowded beach to find Elizabeth dancing after an intense set piece
Low: Fighting an obnoxious mini-boss three times
WTF: guest appearance by a Willem Dafoe sound-alike
The sameness of AAA releases can be explained with simple mathematics, the more money that goes into a game the less risks can be taken. Rising costs of games seem to go up every year resulting in publishers re-using tech and pumping out yearly releases. Irrational earned such accolades with 2007's Bioshock that 2K allowed the developer and lead designer Ken Levine to make a challenging successor with the condition that the name Bioshock remain. The result is an ambitious follow-up that reaches high and comes down with a game that's distinct, imperfect, and gripping.
Set in one of the most imaginative places seen in a blockbuster release, Columbia, a floating metropolis lead by a ultra-christian government that uses propaganda to make it's leader less a man more a religious icon. The city is populated by many people, yet while you can overhear barbershop quartets, bickering kids, and preachers however taking your time will be beneficial as this game will keep you moving from one set to another at an almost breathless pace if you allow it. Taking place before Columbia's eventual demise allows more warm and frequently amusing sights that provides a break from the serious moments, the addition of Booker Dewitt in place of the mute player character and Elizabeth give the game a real emotional core in a world that's frequently surreal.
Giving more leeway to look around and absorb the scenery with audio logs and secrets behind every nook, infinite continues to carry larger levels than you'd expect in a current first person shooter, almost resembling a scaled down Bethesda RPG. The levels frequently resemble old-school arena design as special weapons and tools are scattered throughout and enemies flank you wherever you go. Like Halo the levels are made for the player to have multiple combat options using your array of vigorous, firearms, and skylines in one of the funner yet impractical combat abilities that has Booker leaping off a sky-rail and punching an enemy to death, it's something better seen than read.
The narrative of Bioshock has been seen as both a depiction of idealist politics gone wrong and a meta-commentary about video games, the lack of any true choices you have in the rigged world of video games, and trust in an objective maker who makes sense of the situations in front of you. Infinite takes a isolated society that mythologizes it's history and riddled with class warfare and shows you it's downfall driven by lies and self-important hero figures. Though those looking for gaming’s A Tale of Two Cities may be a little disappointed as the conflict between the Vox and Columbia is largely disconnected from the player as an abstract plot device mid-game causes an immediate change in the power struggle removes any empathy for a faction that soon becomes another enemy in a manor that is a tad contrived. At that point the game is less about political struggles and instead takes form into a loopy and sometimes confusing narrative that resembles the works of Phillip K. Dick. Even when the multiple realities start to cause fatigue the characters and skillful mystery hooks will keep you intrigued until an ambitious and somewhat overreaching ending that curious gamers will pick apart while others search Gamefaqs answers.
The violence of the game combined with the bright colors and grotesque character models have the effect of a horrific yet whimsical comic book. While Infinite's violence is gruesome and occasionally ridiculous as many heads explode threatening to become a distraction, the narrative doesn't ignore these actions effect on Booker's companion though it doesn't quite overcome the occasional feeling that a well-realized world is suddenly taken over by endless enemy waves to deliver the genre goods.
However the combat provides a nice variety of abilities, many of the boss encounters leave something to be desired. A certain enemy type who turns into crows is more obnoxious than fun, a late mini-boss that appears multiple times is downright horrid on hard mode. The guns have excellent sound and animation giving a sense of real force yet said mini-boss reduces your firearms to peashooters as it's health slowly depletes. As encounters continued to expand in size I found myself possessing enemies to fight for me, midgame encounters reek of padding as you fight another handyman and two waves of soldiers though chain lighting can make most of these fun.
Faults and all however, Bioshock: Infinite is easily worth playing. If not as the bastion of gaming's artistic triumph then as a wonderfully imaginative and engaging action game who's imagery will stick with you long after it's over. It's the kind of raw ambition of high concept ideas that may not gel together in the end but offers more humanity and sense of place than it's predecessor. Whether or not the game transcends the medium as the pre release hype would have you believe, there is still a lot to enjoy about Irrational's thrilling roller coaster ride of a game. 8 out of 10
Parents: Rated M for "Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Mild Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco"
Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Subtitles and hand HUD tips make this playable though sound cues may put the impaired at a disadvantage.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via redbox and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 8 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 times)