Sunday, 21 April 2013

BioShock Infinite Review (ish)

As my next post is going to reference Irrational Games' BioShock Infinite, it occurred to me that I ought to post a brief explanation of the game, before I get down to brass tacks. Consider this a kind of review of the Xbox 360 edition, which I will keep as spoiler-lite as possible. I also ought to state at the start that, while I do post news articles and features for the Escapist, this mini-review is in no way associated with the Escapist.

Now, on with the show.

The year is 1912. You play as Booker De Witt, down-at-heels private inquiry agent, assigned one simple task: capture a girl named Elizabeth, and bring her back to your shadowy masters in New York. Except Elizabeth is held captive in Columbia, a floating city high above the clouds, ruled over by a self-proclaimed prophet and messiah figure, Comstock. Comstock relies on a combination of religion and mad science to keep his city afloat and his flock obedient; along the way you'll be mastering at least some of that mad science in order to achieve your objective. These Vigors, which allow you to hurl fireballs, electrocute enemies, blast them with water cannons or savage them with bloodthirsty crows, among many other powers, are your main means of keeping the enemy at bay. Lord knows you need 'em; the human opponents are reasonable at Medium difficulty, at least until end game when they start getting tough, but the mechanical Founders, Frankenstein monster-esque Handymen, Vigor-using crow fanatics and firemen all do their best to pound you flat.

The plot and setting are the two main draws here. Ken Levine's team have created something really special, in Columbia; unlike many another fictional world, you'll come to believe in this twisted utopia in the sky. There's such incredible intention to detail here, much of which has a deeper meaning that you'll only come to appreciate late game, as the plot threads start winding together. Characterization is also vital. This is one of the few first-person titles that gives the protagonist a voice, a decision which makes perfect sense, and Elizabeth - your target - is one of the best designed heroines in video game fiction. Her personality and abilities are both engaging and extremely useful. Expect to see plenty of Elizabeth and Booker cosplayers at conventions over the next few years! Special mention must be made of your two not-quite-allies, the Lutece twins, who you'll come to love and hate in equal measure. Again, perfect cosplay material for the right couple!

Game play is pretty standard shooter stuff, and if you played the original BioShock you'll already have a good idea what to expect from Vigors. You'll feel like a superhuman, blasting your way through the ordinary enemies, but don't get too cocky, or the Handyman will punish you! There's a great variety of powers here, and I strongly recommend experimentation. In my first play through, I concentrated exclusively on the powers you get early on - Possession, Murder of Crows, and Devil's Kiss - and while I enjoyed them, on my second game I deliberately concentrated on all the others. I soon found that, contrary to my initial assessment, the other Vigors - Charge and Undertow being my two favorites - are incredibly powerful, and well worth playing around with.

This is particularly so if you concentrate on getting the best kind of equipment. New to BioShock Infinite is Gear, special shirts, pants, boots and hats that give you extra boosts in combat. If you concentrate on a combat build that suits your style, you'll soon discover massive benefits. Take Charge, for example, a Vigor that allows you to run straight at the enemy, dealing massive damage. On it's own, it's pretty sweet, and perfect for taking down the heavy hitters. Combine that with gear that benefits a close-combat style, and you'll be clearing the room in no time. Towards the end, each Charge was smacking my main target, stunning all the others, making them vulnerable to damage for 5 seconds, and had a 40% chance of Possessing one of them, free of charge. Perfect for a donnybrook, particularly if you're facing off against half a dozen enemies or more.

Mind you, you do have to enjoy a donnybrook. There isn't a non-lethal way of dealing with foes, and the melee finishers in particular have set off some people's gore alarm. I didn't find that a problem, but then I enjoyed the original BioShock, which had exactly the same kind of play. 

I'm told there have been issues with the Xbox 360 version of the game. I can't speak to that, as I never encountered any of them, and by now some or all may have been fixed. It's worth checking before you buy.    

I should point out that this title features very linear game play. That should come as no surprise to veterans of the original BioShock, since linear game play was integral to the focus of the plot in that title, and also in this. However if you're looking for plenty of side quests and options, you may come away from this disappointed. Though there are some side quests, there aren't many, and - unlike a Dishonored-style sandbox - there's only one way to get from A to B, most of the time. You may also get a little sick of Press X To [fill in the blank]. However this title, like the previous, was put together with that style of play in mind ... and I really can't say more than that without giving away massive plot spoilers. You'll just have to trust me when I say that it works very well indeed.

Bottom line: if you like shooters, and enjoy an immersive game world with a cleverly designed plot, this is the title for you. If you're allergic to linear game play, and would prefer a non-lethal way of dealing with your enemies, best avoid. Expect to see this on Game of the Year lists, come December!

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