Stunt Granny Video Game Review: Bioshock Infinite

bioshockBioshock Infinite is the new story-driven first person shooter from Irrational Games available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.  This is the 3rd game in the series and has the player visiting Columbia, a flying city in 1912, to extract a mysterious young girl and bring her back to New York. With a gripping plot, highly engaging setting, and stunning visuals; Bioshock Infinite overcomes its few flaws and creates one of the freshest and most memorable gameplay experiences I have had an opportunity to play.

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You play as Booker DeWitt, a private eye who has been given the task of retrieving a young girl named Elizabeth in exchange for clearing his substantial debts.  Booker struggles to get Elizabeth out of the city while having to deal with both the local police force, known as the Founders, and group of revolutionaries known as the Vox Populi.  Elizabeth has the power to open tears, rifts to parallel dimensions, which she uses to help you in combat.

The fights in the game are somewhat mediocre and repetitive for a modern shooter, but still serviceable and fun enough to not take away from the overall experience.  Like most modern shooters, you can hold 2 guns at any given time and have a melee weapon that you can use with a button press.  The normal tools of the shooter all make an appearance: pistol, shotgun, machine gun, and sniper rifle; as well as a few heavy weapon types like the Gatling gun, rocket launcher, and a gun that shoots mortars.  Most of the weapons have a version for each faction, effectively doubling the weapon list.  For example, the Founders sniper rifle is high-powered, accurate, and single shot; while the Vox Populi version does less damage per shot but fires in 3-round burst and has a bit more recoil.  This seems like it would allow for more combat variety, but creates some frustration in combat due to the weapon upgrade system.  Each gun has 2-3 upgrades you can purchase that are quite pricey, which leads the player to tend to upgrade a few guns and stick with them as much as possible.

The other half Bioshock Infinite’s combat is made of Vigors.  These are tonics you get throughout the game that allow Booker to have supernatural powers that he can use in fights.  While a few of these powers are interesting utilities, such as a shield that can throw bullets back  at a target or mind controlling an enemy to fight for you, most are just a way to stun a group of enemies.  There is Murder of Crows which stuns by having a swarm of birds attack, Shock Jockey which stuns with electricity, Bucking Bronco which stuns by lifting a group into the air, and Undertow which knocks a group of enemies down with a wave and, you guessed it, stuns them.  The Vigors all look fantastic in combat, but you quickly find yourself settling into one stun and sticking with it.  Powers are upgraded just like the weapons, meaning the first 2 you get are likely to be the ones you use throughout the game.

bioshock3Elizabeth joins you in most of the engagements during Infinite, but as the game tells you up front, you do not need to worry about protecting her and getting stuck with the normal frustrations of an escort mission.  The game establishes that Elizabeth is pretty important to the future of the city, so none of the enemies actually attack her.  She helps you in combat by finding ammo, weapons, and salts (the stuff that you consume when using your magic powers) which she will throw to you as you start to run low.  She can also open tears in the area that you can use tactically in combat.  These include ammo and first-aid, cover and platforms, or turrets that you can call in to shoot at the enemy.  Outside of combat, Elizabeth finds money from time to time and will throw it to you to add to your wallet.

Infinite’s pacing is set up to give you breaks between combat and allow you to explore the world of Columbia and take in the game’s story which is where I feel the game really shines.  Irrational Games are known for their ability to build immersive game universes with a rich history and lots of detail.  Society in Columbia is centered on an extreme idea of traditional American values from the time period.  The founding fathers are worshipped as religious symbols.  Racism and class elitism create heavy tensions between the city’s upper and working classes.  The upper class feels their place and actions are justified by a higher power as they follow their prophet and leader of the city, Zachary Comstock.  Meanwhile, laborers and minorities who are tired of mistreatment talk of revolution and turn to crime.  The political motivations of the characters in the game are believable and fit well in the setting.

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Infinite’s plot grabs your attention by getting the player to ask questions about the strange nature of the city of Columbia.  How is a city in the beginning of the 20th century flying in the air?  Why can this girl open holes in reality to other dimensions?  If it is 1912, why are all these songs from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s showing up all over the place?  The game draws you in at the beginning with questions, but slowly fills you in on them through interactions with characters and audio logs you find during gameplay.  It also manages to bring them all together in a satisfying ending that makes you want to start another playthrough right away.

Visually, Bioshock Infinite is nothing short of jaw-dropping.  I played on the PC with settings all the way up, but it appears that the presentation is no less impressive on the console systems.
The art team at Irrational uses lots of color, something often overlooked in most first person shooters, to catch your eye and keep you interested.  The history of Columbia is told through artwork, statuary, and those old arcade viewing machines that they used to show black and white movies in.

Overall, Bioshock Infinite is a great game.  It has a compelling story that keeps you looking for more info, mixed with a detailed world that you want to immerse yourself in and explore.  The combat, while sometimes repetitive, is still fun.  The elements come together to create a tremendously memorable experience that I would recommend to any gamer with an interest in a good story.  You can’t really go wrong with this game. -Will

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