Lightning striking twice in the same place?
Irrational and 2K are seriously hoping that lightning can strike twice with Bioshock: Infinite. Bioshock was an interesting take on a dystopian underwater society full of strange twists and turns. It was packed with pop-culture references and Rapture inspired people across the globe who loved the first game to come together on Minecraft and build a replica of the city. The game itself hit the ground running and enraptured a whole slew of gamers into the world Irrational so carefully crafted.
Infinity and Beyond
Welcome then to a new Bioshock, this is a refined Bioshock. A Bioshock which has learned from gamer reaction and fan forums talk for years. Irrational has been hard at work crafting a curious playground in the sky and what a playground it is!
Say hello to Booker DeWitt. Mister DeWitt is a bit of a bad man (understatement) who finds himself in debt to other bad men. Mister DeWitt is given a chance at redemption. Bring us the Girl, Wipe away the Debt. Thus he embarks into a mysterious journey fraught with danger, excitement and powers beyond his wildest dreams. The story is told (as per Bioshock) in the first person and keeps the player immersed in the world at all times. You learn about the floating city of Colombia from audio-logs, conversations and scattered clues.
Bioshock: Infinite is a class act, a refined sequel with better controls and smoother gameplay systems. The mechanics have been polished to a near-silver shine and what you're left with here essentially is a superbly crafted intelligent shooter which gives you a great world to explore and packs it with surprises. You take the fight to the opposition using guns, which are upgradeable. Powers (they're now known as Vigors) which are also upgradeable and the unique abilities of Elizabeth, who we'll come to a bit later on.
Booker can equip 4 pieces of gear which can apply bonuses and special effects to his abilities. For example, he could gain 50% clip size from a neat pair of trousers. Or a hat could give him a 70% chance to shock his enemies in melee combat. We did mention melee combat right? Booker gets a nice melee weapon early on, which also doubles as his tool for getting around the sky-lines.
Colombia is the City in the Clouds and stretching for miles above are rails which Booker can use to get from A-B. He can also fight from those rails and zip around on them with an easy to use control method that lets him target enemies and strike from above. The story is linear but some of the areas are designed to allow you to explore, find secrets, sandbox your way from encounter to encounter and return back when you discover a key that opens a door, or a chest. It has to be said though that the actual fight areas for the game aren't as interesting as the enemies - except for a few areas (such as a later piece with sky-lines and a lot of neat action).
The gameplay never seems to drag and there's always something new and exciting to try your hand at. Be it a new Vigor or a new weapon. Vigors replace Plasmids and they're powered by Salt ... Salt can be found from various foods/drinks or stolen from dead bodies. Some foods and drinks will lower your Salt content but give you more health and so on. Booker also gains a shield which protects him from projectile damage and other sources, it doesn't last long but it can be the difference between life and death later on. If you can hide and wait however the shield will pop back to full after a period of time.
Elizabeth can also exploit rips in reality called Tears. She can literally pull objects from one dimension into this world - as helpful as say a health kit box, or as dangerous as a gun turret to attack Booker's enemies. She can only pull one thing across at a time but usually the battlefields are littered with interesting choices to allow the player to pick the right option tactically for the right purpose.
You'll also be presented with story based choices, A or B and these will have a direct impact on how things progress.
With all the above systems and refined combat, Bioshock: Infinite manages to really push the boat out in terms of playability and when you marry that to the story and world Irrational has created it is truly a great ride. Just remember that it isn't a sequel to Bioshock, it is a separate story.
The aesthetic of Infinite is one of the early 1912's combined with bits of diesel and steampunk. It's a glorious mish-mash of parts which shouldn't fit, but they do so well. The visual look of the game is utterly breath-taking in parts and the use of textures; design, light and shadow combine to bring Colombia to life. Unlike the darkness of Rapture, the city is a breezy and airy place with tons of little details and neat touches. It also rattles along on the 360 without skipping a beat in terms of frame-rate.
These are top notch with a ton of time and effort taken on the facial animation, along with the combat animations and traversal. A great deal of time has been spent on Elizabeth too making her feel real as possible. She's a pleasure to travel with and she'll often interact with the environment around Booker. She'll examine things, interact with NPCs and sit on benches or just explore near where the player (Booker) is.
The enemy animations are tied into their AI and once again they have numerous little touches which transform them from bog-standard bad guys into something a little bit more. We think that about sums up the way the core systems of Infinite hang together. They use tried and tested game industry methods and tricks, but present them in a solid and engaging manner. Most fights are something worth remembering and not just a slog fest, though the area fights which aren't set pieces have been more fun for us than the big arenas (except for any area with the sky-rails - because we freakin' love those).
Infinite's enemies are a clever lot and each type has various tactics, attack patterns and their own method of dealing with the player. The game likes to throw in different types as well so you're kept on your toes by adjusting tactics between combatants and on the harder difficulties you'll be moving around like crazy. At longer ranges the AI tends to lose a little bit of its sparkle and it's possible to get some cheap kills when they decide to stand out in the open and forget to use cover.
Elizabeth's AI is the star of the show though, because she can handle herself in a fight. Assist Booker with opening Tears and throw him various useful things in combat. She can toss Salts, ammo and a few other things your way if you're low in a fight. Outside of combat Elizabeth's AI interacts with Booker in numerous little ways, she'll talk and explore. She'll find interesting things in the world to poke at and sometimes she'll toss money your way.
She's the best AI companion in a game for a long time and we started to think of her as a friend. Which we feel is a triumph for any programmers making something like this.
A high quality audio suite provides the various sound effects in Infinite. It builds some gorgeous atmosphere and creates some superb set-pieces where the city comes alive. From the soft swoosh of the moving city platforms to the scree' of the sky-lines as Booker zips about it all comes together nicely and doesn't miss a beat. There are some really great treats in there too, from the Barbershop Quartet early on to the menacing Songbird. We love the sound in the game a lot.
Aesthetic and very 1912, the music of Bioshock Infinite goes down as disturbing in places as well as suitably retro in others. There are some old-timey (not wimey) tracks and we're reminded of the feeling we got from watching the old Fallout 3 teaser videos ages back, in a good way. We can't find a nit to pick with the music, so moving on!
Bioshock Infinite has a great script and whilst sometimes it might get a little bogged down by some of the themes (which it doesn't fully explore). The dialogue is crisp and the writing sharp enough to ask some interesting questions of the player. The exchanges between DeWitt and Elizabeth are good and provide some insight into the world around Booker and how she fits in. Both characters will discover a lot about each other from their interactions.
All of the voice performances in the game are top notch. We love Booker, we love Elizabeth and we can spot Jennifer Hale a mile off! This is a great cast doing what they do best - no complaints here. From the character performances to the vending machines, this is gorgeous stuff.
Single Player Only
Yep, read that - we're happy that the game has no tacked-on multiplayer. This is perfect and we're glad that Irrational didn't go the adversarial or even cooperative mp route.
In the Clouds
So the game gets a solid recommendation from us. There are a few minor issues in terms of pacing and story here and there, some themes are not fully explored and there are times when the AI forgets how to fight at a distance. Overall though the game is a superb addition to the IP and deserves a playthrough.
Don't forget about 1999 Mode too...which changes the way the game plays - unlocked with the Konami Code (truthfully, this works) or when you finish the game...it adds a fiendish layer of gameplay atop the game which changes things up a little. We'll leave things as a surprise though, we're like that.
Buy it and experience Colombia - the City in the Clouds, today!