33 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Captivating. Haunting. Powerful.
, March 26, 2013
This review is from: BioShock Infinite - Xbox 360 (Video Game)
When I first set foot in Columbia, I was immediately swept away in its historical grandeur above the clouds. All my senses were immersed in the heaven-like entrance, and I greatly enjoyed seeing what things the 1912 citizens were doing. However, as I explored the city I picked up on the twisted subtleties that made me realize I was actually trapped here, far away from normal society and the actual ground. Though the feeling was quite unnerving, little did I know just how incredible of an experience this whole game would be.
Ahh, the floating city we've all been waiting to see since that infamous trailer that debuted several years back. Just like Rapture from the original BioShock, Columbia itself plays one of the star parts of this game. Everything feels alive. People are chatting with one another and being involved with the town. Shops are bustling every which way.
The visuals themselves are marvelous. I love the Colonial architecture, as it's not something I'm used to. The attention to detail is truly impressive -- as you walk around various buildings will bobble up and down in the air. Blimps, fireworks, etc., will all be occurring whether you are paying attention or not.
Yet something is horribly wrong here, as we all know these fictional cities serve to show what dark things humanity is capable of. In Rapture, there was no authority at all, and everything focused on the individual. Columbia, on the other hand, goes in the opposite direction. The citizens religiously follow and worship "the Prophet", the man in charge of Columbia. Convoluting his own status with faith in God and a pseudo-American Exceptionalism, it doesn't take long before you start thinking how parts of Columbia actually mirror some facets of America today, even as things shift around later in the game. The hyper nationalism, misplaced religion, and racism will make you, the gamer, wrestle with your own questions and beliefs long after your console is off. This alone is one of the things that makes this game so different and brilliant.
The story is the complete driving force behind the game. All philosophies/religious topics aside, BI focuses on Booker DeWitt's mysterious dilemma surrounding Elizabeth. Where most first person shooters do a terrible job on making a cohesive and compelling story, the team over at Irrational reliably excels here. As you'll see, Columbia, the protagonist, and Comstock are filled with dark and horrible secrets you'll inevitably uncover.
It's not just about the story (though I think you'll find it's a fantastic plot) -- it's really about the storytelling. You see, you won't learn everything through just dialogues or cinematics. Through Booker and Elizabeth's conversations about their pasts, the voxophones, the environments/levels themselves, and so many other factors, all these come together and mesh in an organic way where you directly experience the story as you play from beginning to end, piecing everything together as you go. It's a truly rich and uninterrupted method of storytelling you simply don't see in other games or other forms of entertainment. Just like the original, make sure you pay attention to everything!
I thought the ending was great. I felt there was a lot of emotional buildup through the game, but, without giving anything away, ultimately the ending took more of a figure-out-the-puzzle turn than an emotionally powerful one. As a result, you'll feel very rewarded once everything clicks, and you'll be quite stunned with just how intricately woven everything is around the city in the sky.
If you played BioShock 1 you'll notice this game is much more linear than the previous ones. There aren't nearly as many large, open areas to freely explore, rather there are various rooms and places continually as you go. This may sound like a negative, but in all actuality I consider myself a rigorous explorer and am more than pleased with the balance of plot pacing and freedom to explore Columbia on my own.
I find the combat here to be a tighter and faster form of what was in BioShock, especially regarding AI and gun audio. Just like before, your guns are on your right hand, and your powers are on your left. I actually find myself preferring to use guns more than the Vigors (BI equivalent to Plasmids) because their audio makes them so darn fun to shoot. However, don't get me wrong -- there's plenty of fun to be had with a myriad of combinations you can cook up between the Vigors, guns, and the personal upgrades (known as "gear") you find throughout Columbia. Some Vigors burn enemies up. Others send off a pack of crows to distract. There is a sufficient amount of variety here as I found myself using multiple Vigors as opposed to just one.
Probably the single biggest element to the gameplay aspect is Elizabeth. As many of you are aware, in battle she will give you various supplies to give you the edge in combat, whether it's med packs or her mysterious abilities to call in objects for you, such as a wall for cover or a turret. However, where she really shines is out of combat, where she is engaging with Columbia and asking Booker all kinds of questions. An emotional bond is formed here, as the gamer won't be able to ignore that Booker and Elizabeth increasingly and meaningfully learn about each other as the game progresses. Fortunately, Elizabeth never feels like she gets in the way. I know from an interview with Levine he said he put in a lot of time with his team to ensure that. I don't even want to know how many hours it took to implement her in so well.
In terms of flaws, there are only a couple to keep in mind. One thing that did stick out to me was how little Songbird is emphasized until last minute. From the trailers leading to BI's release, I would have thought its involvement would have been higher. Everytime it debuts I am either disappointed with how quickly it leaves or just overall with how rarely you see the fascinating creature. Also, I felt the audio levels were a bit unbalanced with dialogue, or at least the timing.. There were times when I'd be listening to a voxophone, only to have it drowned out by a random comment from Elizabeth. At other times, Elizabeth would be saying something super important, but then that would get drowned out by an equally important PA. It wasn't a constant problem, but it was a little noticeable.
At the end of the day, are you getting your money's worth in terms of time? If you like to explore and take in all the details, you'll be looking at at least a 15+ hour game for your first playthrough (mine took just over 20 hours). If you are the type who likes to stick with what's necessary and power through games, you will likely finish this game in 10-12 hours. This puts it overall at a bit longer length than previous BioShock games, but considering how linear and story-driven this game is, the quality you get for the hours spent is insanely good. Also, if you want all the achievements, expect to play on higher difficulties as well as through the 1999 Mode once it's unlocked. Yep, that's money we'll spent.
In conclusion, you will most likely be mentally rattled after playing this, and I mean that in a good way. Not only will you have fallen in love with the characters, but the game will repeatedly expose you to ideologies apparent in our society today, even as some of those ideologies largely switch around as you progress through the game (don't want to spoil anything). I think this is great, as it gets people thinking, asking questions, and looking deeper into what they actually believe about these topics.
Would I compare this to the original BioShock directly? You can, but that's like directly comparing two different Final Fantasy games. Both are excellent games with their own strengths over the other, and just like the original, Infinite will be a classic for gamers for years to come.
Thanks so much, Mr. Levine. I heard your team put in many hours to make this game happen, and it shows very much. This will go down as one of my all-time favorites.
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