Bioshock Infinite Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: April 16, 2013
Last year I sat down, played through, and then wrote up a review for Borderlands 2. Since then I have written more reviews, typically of games included in bundles. Therefore, I have not had the luxury of completing the games simply because there was no time to do so for each title. Finally, I once again have the opportunity to finish a playthrough of a game for its review, and that game is Bioshock Infinite; the third in the Bioshock franchise.
In the first Bioshock game, the players were introduced to Rapture, an underwater failed-Utopia filled with guns, plasmids, mutated humans, hulking enemies, and more. Its sequel returned to Rapture but had you play as a 'Big Daddy;' one of the hulking enemies of the first game. Both games captivated fans with their creative stories, immersive world, and crazy abilities for killing stuff. (Ever wanted to shoot a swarm of bees out of your arm to attack your enemies?)
With Bioshock Infinite, many things have changed. Instead of underwater-Rapture you visit Columbia, the city in the clouds. Like Rapture, Columbia is an attempt at Utopia, but it has not failed; at least not yet. Exploring the city will uncover a great deal about it through 'Voxphone' recordings and 'Kinetoscopes.' However, you must be careful about what you believe, as propaganda is almost more common than bullets in this First-Person Shooter-Action game.
For those of you that are curious, I have played both previous titles in the franchise and enjoyed them. They are quality titles and deserve being purchased and played. We are not here to talk about them though. We are here for me to share whether or not I believe Bioshock Infinite also deserves a place in your game library.
With the introduction done, kindly read on to formulate your own verdict.
They say 'a picture is worth a thousand words,' but I'm not going to spend that much time talking about the graphics. Of course you can check out the screen shots throughout this review, but if you want to get the best idea of what the graphics are like, you should find a trailer or gameplay footage to preview.
The first comment I want to make about the graphics is a weird one. As you explore Columbia and its inhabitants, you will very likely notice how easy it is to count the edges to their models. This actually makes the game look years old, but once you turn your eyes away from the objects and onto the environment, you will see what modern game engines can do. Sunlight diffuses through clouds, flares off of surfaces, and streaks in through windows as beautiful beams. It is quite awe-inspiring.
Dated on the one hand and awe-inspiring on the other… like I said, this is a weird comment on the graphics. Because of the wonderful environmental effects and the fact that, in an action game, you generally do not go around trying to count vertices, I would not say it detracts from the experience or immersion. However, the blood splatter and fires are something you will see quite a bit of and definitely could look better.
Through all of the game I noticed only one graphical glitch, which is entirely forgivable, and one body-physics glitch. The physics glitch had a killed enemy hanging in the air, with head and one arm freaking out, spinning around. The forgivable graphics was another dead enemy that fell such that her head was pushed forward by a wall. This caused her neck to literally break away from her body.
Of course, a graphics section would not be complete without mentioning the settings I was running as well as my specifications. I was using the Ultra preset in a borderless window at 2048x1152, my monitor's native resolution. The day before Infinite released, nVidia released a new driver with optimizations for it that I did install. Here are my system specs:
- Processor: AMD Phenom II 720 BE, 4-core, @3.40GHz (17.0x200)
- Cooling: Corsair H50 with Push-pull Akasa 120mm fans
- Motherboard: ASUS M4A785TD-V EVO 785G
- Memory: Corsair Dominator 2x2 GB and G.Skill Ripjaws 2x4 GB (12 GB total) @ 1600MHZ 9-10-9-28
- GPU: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB (825/1650/1950)
- Hard Drive: 1 x Western Digital Caviar Black 750 GB SATA
- Power Supply: Corsair 750TX
- OS: Windows 7- Home Premium 64-bit
Infinite comes with a benchmarking tool that is actually really cool, in a nerdy way, but I will come back to that tool shortly.
Even though my computer is not overly powerful, I was able to play Infinite at comfortably high frame rates. I was not measuring it during gameplay, but I would estimate it between 40 and 60 FPS, depending on what was on-screen. Occasionally the frame rate dropped lower, but this was only during particularly intense moments, and quickly rose again. At times I did notice what might have been some stuttering, but likely any stuttering will be worked out through further driver optimization. Also I want to share that I had read about some people having severe performance problems with nVidia graphics cards, but did not experience any.
What makes the benchmarking tool cool in a nerdy way? Instead of processing the data and just presenting you with an average framerate, it saves all of the data to a CSV file you can open up and examine yourself, by scene. While average FPS is good to know, other values such as minimum, maximum, and standard deviation can also be valuable, as they can tell you how much the framerate fluctuates. Instead of boring you with all of those numbers from when I ran the benchmark though, I'll just give you what I got, overall: the average FPS was 46.4 and deviated by 11.5 FPS, which means most of the time the benchmark ran between 34.9 and 57.9 frames per second.
A 20 FPS spread is not particularly good, but then the benchmark at times looks like a tech demo for Unreal Engine 3 (the game's engine), so that kind of variance is not unexpected.
The audio was quite good throughout, filled with music that made me want to watch some classic movies, where I first heard the same song, or something similar. At one point in Columbia, you even come across a barbershop quartet singing! Perhaps I have peculiar tastes in music for my age, but I found it all enjoyable.
Sound effects were definitely satisfying, or terrifying, depending on what they are accompanied by in the gameplay. One thing I noticed and found interesting was the voice work for the antagonist, Zachary Comstock. Occasionally while he speaks over the PA system, a filter is applied, causing his voice to drop in pitch and resonate more. I did not find any explanation for this within the game.
Overall, I felt the voice work was very good. The only sad thing about it was the only average facial animations associated with the words. Such animation is hard to do, but some games still do it better.
Story (99.9% spoiler free, but a spoiler substitute can be added, upon request):
I used the same joke for the Borderlands 2 review, and sadly it will be much harder to live up to with this game. Bioshock Infinite is so story driven that almost any discussion of the story requires divulging something one may consider a spoiler. I will do my best to avoid anything critical, but that 0.1% may still exist.
As already mentioned in the review, revealed prior to release, and expected based on the previous two titles, the story is set in an attempt at science-derived Utopia. Here the city still stands and is not overrun by the equivalent of Splicers, Big Daddies, Little Sisters, etc. The leader of the city, Father Comstock, controls the city in part through propaganda and indoctrination, using tools such as the 'Dimwit & Duke' show, which is an obvious reference to 'Punch & Judy,' but with less bludgeoning. Also Comstock and Columbia are shown at many times to be racist.
You play as Booker Dewitt, a private investigator with an unhappy past, seeking salvation. Towards that end, you are sent to find Elizabeth, the woman shown in the trailers. As the game progresses, you learn more about these three's pasts through campaign exposition and collectibles.
You will also meet and learn about the past of multiple secondary characters. Some of these are only present for an hour or so, but one pair, the twins Robert and Rosalind Lutece, are found throughout the game. (I prefer to call them Alice and Bob.) While most of these secondary characters exist only to reveal the past and drive the present (the point of secondary characters), Alice and Bob also provide some assistance. Think Merlin from Arthurian legends and you'll get the idea.
With that being said, all of the secondary characters have a definite purpose within the story, and the experience would be vastly different without them. The plot points they serve are critical to the story, so as you play, you would do well to pay attention to them and remember them.
Overall the story is exceptional. I could name a book which could have influenced the development of Infinite, but that could spoil some of it. Let's just say that if you start playing Infinite, failing to finish it is a disservice to yourself. Though I have not had time to confirm this theory myself, I have read that this game has only one ending. While I believe this shortcoming is a little unfortunate, I would not consider it a strike against the game. Even without multiple endings to unlock, I would still suggest playing this game at least twice to best appreciate the intricacies of the story.
One final note about the story: it does answer why the game is called Bioshock Infinite, in case you were curious.
Like the games before it, Bioshock Infinite is a story-driven, FPS-Action game. (Really the only times you get a chance to forget the story are during the action scenes.) You are able to carry two weapons at a time, pick up what your enemies drop, and utilize Vigors, the Infinite equivalent to Plasmids. Vigors give you the ability to throw fireballs and lightning (not at the same time), summon a murder of crows to attack your enemies, possess some enemies, absorb incoming bullets into an orb that you can hurl at your enemies, and more. There are eight Vigors in total, and if you do not explore the game world, you may miss some of them. The equivalent to Eve that powers the Vigors is Salt.
A rather useful feature of Vigors is that they each have two actions; instant and delayed. For example, the Vigor for launching crows at your enemy can be charged up to drop a nest on the ground. When enemies approach it, the crows erupt from the eggs and attack them. These traps and other charged abilities consume more Salt. Oh, and usefully, the different Vigors add marks to the Salt gauge, indicating how many uses you have for the abilities, as each Vigor uses different amounts.
While there are certainly more equivalencies between the games, it is the differences that are the most memorable. For one, you are no longer able to save when you want; it is all auto-saved. It is worth noting though that when you die you do respawn instead of reload at a checkpoint, so dead enemies stay dead, though living ones regain some health. Also, the respawn points I used were relatively close to the battles, so it does not take long to return to the action.
Another important departure from the previous games is that you no longer collect health packs to be applied during combat. Instead you have a regenerating shield that must first be broken before your non-regenerating health takes any hits. This system does have the effect of simplifying combat, to a degree, because you no longer have to strategize when to pop a health pack. However, as you cannot regain your health arbitrarily, you will want to take advantage of cover and be as quick and efficient in killing as you can be.
When you do find yourself running low on health, Salt, or ammunition, there is a decent chance Elizabeth will call out to you that she has something for you. With the press of a button you will receive a health or Salt vial, or an entirely new weapon with a filled clip, ready to fire. This happens in almost real-time during battles, so enemies keep moving while the item is thrown and caught. However, it did appear the enemies could not damage you during the perhaps second-long event. Oh, and in case you were worried, she does not need your help in combat. The game is not one giant escort mission.
Outside of combat, Elizabeth will point out things to be picked up and toss you money she has 'collected.' (Insert joke about how only in a fictitious-Utopian city will a woman provide a man with money.) Among the items she points out are lock picks, which she uses to access areas and safes upon your request. Once you indicate you want a lock picked, she will simply run over and pick it; no mini-game involved.
Something shown in the trailers is the Skyhook. This is a handy tool for not only tearing off faces but also catching Skylines and freight hooks. Unfortunately, as the game is relatively linear, the Skylines exist just to get from point A to point B, so you will not be crossing Columbia via hand-held rollercoaster. These features are useful for more than movement though as you can leap from them onto enemies. Depending on the enemy, you could kill it with one hit. Depending on the gear you have applied, you may also be able to take out multiple enemies, which was quite satisfying.
Gear in Infinite is the replacement for the Gene Tonics of the other games, as they passively give you special abilities. One of these abilities is to emit a wave of fire when you leap from a Skyline or freight hook to the ground; an ability you can use to eliminate a group of enemies. Another piece of gear increases the clip size of all your weapons, while yet another gives you a chance of electrocuting enemies when they hit you. I am not sure how many pieces of gear there are, but they each have interesting abilities that will prove useful.
One topic some people like to bring up when discussing a video game is enemy variability. Well, don't worry, there are various enemies in this game from Iron Patriots with Gatling guns to hulking Handymen, and the usual humanoid cannon fodder. Also there is a segment with reanimated corpses and a ghost. Then there is the segment where enemies change color and start using fairly different weapons. (Naturally you can wield these weapons as well.)
Despite the variety of enemies, the difficulty of the game never seemed that bad. Of course I was only playing on normal, and I did die a few times, but it never felt especially easy or horrendously hard. There are very challenging moments, but I found myself getting better each time I attempted them. The game is definitely well balanced… at least on normal.
The game world of Infinite is quite large, but being a linear game, I never really had the impulse to return to areas I had already cleared. Fortunately it is possible to replay specific chapters, which should ease any later exploration. Also helping with exploration is the navigation system. You do not have a map but, as in Bioshock 2 (I can't remember if Bioshock had the same mechanic) you can push a button and have an arrow appear, directing you where to go. Obviously this is useful for finding the correct path to take to proceed, but also for finding the alternative paths to explore.
I completed the game with some exploration and plenty of collectibles still to find in approximately 10 hours and 45 minutes. While not particularly lengthy, the game is as long as the story is, with action added into it. There is definitely some replay-ability as completing the game unlocks '1999 Mode,' which is meant to replicate the challenge and balance of games of that era. Also there are collectibles to find that further uncover the history of Columbia.
Does Bioshock Infinite grasp at perfection or does it fail as Rapture did? Without a doubt, the former is the case. The mechanics are solid and well refined while the story is exceptionally well crafted and well told. I truly cannot think of any substantial criticism of the game and what minor quibbles I could make, I have already forgotten since I finished the campaign and started writing this review.
Without hesitation I can recommend this game to any FPS-Action gamer or any gamer that enjoys a good story experience. Neither group will be disappointed. If you want to wait for a price-drop or sale, I can understand, but if you have the money to spend, go ahead and spend it now. Bioshock fans dubious of the high-flying Columbia, put your fears to bed and some money on the table, because I cannot help but believe this game to be the best of the franchise yet. This game deserves a place in your library.
No 'would you kindly' trigger here; just an extremely good game deserving of praise.