Bioshock Infinite

Originally posted by Boogie Knight:

The crop of sequels to AAA franchises has been pretty lackluster lately. Assassin’s Creed III was okay, but was more interested in things that did not involve stealth killing. Dead Space 3 was fine, but the Awakened expansion pack hints at what the main game could have been if EA wasn’t motherfucking EA. Resident Evil 6 so alienated the fanbase, Capcom decided to not go through the motions with another game or two as (a surprise since that’s what I thought they would do) and decided to go straight to a reboot. To be perfectly blunt, Bioshock Infinite was the one game from a major developer which I had any excitement for. Naturally, there was much anticipation and anxiety as I popped in the disc and started playing.

In many respects, Bioshock Infinite borrows heavily from the template that was created in the first Bioshock. This is not an inherently bad thing, and in the early parts of the game I imagine quite a few players will be enthralled by the splendor of the floating city Columbia in much the same way they were dazzled by the undersea metropolis of Rapture. Many of the gameplay elements should feel familiar, and without hesitation most players will get into the familiar pattern of exploring every nook and cranny for scraps, loose change, and recorded messages in which characters spill their guts out (though the removal of the map I think was a flaw, since I missed one side objective because I thought it was past a point of no return rather than demand backtracking). While some players may be less than enthused, conjuring up memories of the first game is deliberate and fits into the big ideas which drive the game.

Our protagonist, one Booker DeWitt, is a man on a mission to retrieve a young woman locked away in order to clear a hefty debt he accrued dealing with some shady characters. He’s also voiced by the same guy who voiced Kanji Tatsumi, which you can really hear when he’s yelling, and this makes me chuckle from time to time depending on the scene. The choice of a talking character was a good move, as a silent protagonist who was also a blank slate would not work for the kind of story that the game was trying to tell. A silent protagonist might have also resulted in the character Elizabeth coming across as one of those “perfect” girlfriends for the blank slate hero through which the player lives vicariously. Thank goodness they didn’t.

Elizabeth is a pretty solid character with an interesting arc (reminds me of Farah from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time), good chemistry with Booker, and not bad to have around. Her talent for opening tears in the fabric of reality to summon allies, cover, equipment, etc. often helps shift the battle to your favor.  Escort missions can easily ruin a good game, but fortunately the game throws away all the rules which ruin the flow and result in the player throwing down their controller in frustration. Elizabeth doesn’t have a life bar to manage, you don’t have to worry about an enemy carrying her off resulting in game over, and she throws guns to you.

One boring feature which Bioshock Infinite lifted from mainstream games is the two guns rule, though the player can carry ammo for every gun in the game. However, the health packs and salt restoring items are consumed like foods, so you don’t get to store them for use as needed in battle. Elizabeth also comes to the rescue with those restorative items, which brings up a bad habit of the game. It seems like the Square button is used to do damn near everything: searching, opening doors, reloading, grabbing stuff, selecting tears, catching items Elizabeth has for you, starting a folk band with Elizabeth (not entirely kidding).

The health bar which needs items to restore is still in play, but like in Darkwatch the player also acquires a shield which regenerates when not getting shot. Yet, combat is more focused on being speedy and quick thinking rather than hugging cover and waiting for enemies to pop up. This emphasis on speed is built on with the inclusion of the Skyhook tool and the rails which the player can use to zip around to both dodge fire and shoot back at the enemies. Vigors work like plasmids did, but each one has a trap function when charged up. There are even combinations of vigor attacks for bonus damage, though for most of the game you can get by with a maxed out Possession like you’re the protagonist from Code Geass.

As for the story itself, early info seemed to emphasis the conflict between the Founders and the Vox Populi, the two major factions with disparate visions of Columbia, but this seems to be more of a B story which is used to move along the main story and might even be an outgrowth of the main story as details come up. While the game itself has lots of story to tell, it seems like it would be hard to appreciate the nuances without rabidly hunting for Voxophones for the recorded thoughts and confessions of the characters. It’s admirable that the developers realized that the story involving Elizabeth and the implications of quantum mechanics would overshadow the political elements of Columbia and doubled down on the more interesting stuff.

That said, I think the plot twists are only shocking if the concepts are new to the player. Pretty early on, one can easily guess a couple of the big reveals, though getting to those big reveals is rewarding. Over the course of the game, the player is given a handful of “moral choices,” but fortunately without an arbitrary karma meter, and no choice is a repetition. Not repeating a moral choice is a good idea, because I recall more than a few people decided to mix things up by murdering an innocent child the fifth or sixth time they were asked and got stuck with the evil end in the first Bioshock. However, it all leads up to a single ending, and this is probably for the best. Events of the story dictate one logical end and the choices Booker makes really about the player asserting their ego as is the standard for Western gaming. About the ending, I’m gonna paraphrase the late Roger Ebert’s comments in reviewing “The Crying Game” for Bioshock Infinite: Play this game. Then shut up about it.

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