From concepts of Science to Philosophy and Religion. Reviewing: BioShock Infinite

BioShock Infinite (PC/XBX 360/PS3)

Price: $59.99

Hours Played: 10-15 Hours (Single Player)

The underwater city of Rapture awed gamers the world over with its vision of a world where people can explore science without the consequences of morality. Trust the guys at Irrational Games to turn the series on its head by taking us from a submerged wonder to a city soaring up above in the sky. Does this reinvention of the franchise live up to the expectations? Read on.

Story & Character: At the heart of it, BioShock Infinite is the story of a man, Booker Dewitt, sent out to rescue/kidnap a girl, Elizabeth, from the clutches of the self proclaimed leader of Columbia, Zachary Comstock. But oh the rabbit hole runs deep. The story takes place in a background of warring political and philosophical ideologies set in a world which is technologically advanced and themes of quantum physics and space time are beginning to see application. The guys at Irrational are masterful storytellers who lead players down a path of discovery of not just the schemes of powerful people, but the past of the characters, which leaves you intrigued to find out how things conclude. The Vigors which grant players superhuman abilities although do not play a significant role in the story, which feels like a step back for Irrational and the series. The story is linear and players do not have a choice in the outcome like in the original which made plasmids and abilities a central theme to the overall story.  It’s worth mentioning this since the original let players be responsible for their outcome (granted the fact that the choices in the original were very black and white) which added a certain replayability value. But outside of the small comparison, the story is intriguing on its own merits.

The girl:

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The characters here are numerous and all of them well crafted. Booker Dewitt stands out as one of the more memorable protagonists in gaming and players put themselves in his shoes to discover who he truly is. The same holds true for the other characters as well whose identities are part of the puzzle of the story and players can discover them through Voxophones (Audio Logs), banters over the PA system and one on one interactions.  The dialogues between Booker and Elizabeth create a relationship which makes players feel more involved in seeing the story conclude (which is a good thing and a bad thing at the same time). It immerses players but doesn’t give them control on how they would like to proceed with things. (9/10)

Game Design: There are three basic attributes players control and can expand: health, salts (mana essentially) and a shield meter (Similar to Halo). At the core of the experience though is the combat system and it’s all about creative approach.

There are five dimensions to the combat system which can allow players to define their play-style:

1. Firearms can only be equipped two at a time which can be upgraded across the standard affair of damage, recoil or ammo clip sizes.

2. Vigors which allow players to unleash superhuman powers which can in general be used in two different variations each.

3. A Skyhook for gliding along the sky rail seconds as a trusty melee weapon.

4. Perks in the form of attire which adds a certain RPG element to the entire experience.

5. Elizabeth who supports the player through combat by scavenging items to replenish the player’s health and salts and at times open tears in space to bring in objects from parallel worlds which players can use to their advantage.

The entire system screams creativity but the problem here is what is called “The illusion of choice”. More often than not players will find a style which feels most effective and stick to it.

Of Vigors, Skyrails, Perks and Tears:

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There are no puzzles in the game but exploration can be quite rewarding in BioShock Infinite. The world here is full of intrigue and players can satiate their need of understanding the world by discovering Voxophones which offer insights into the characters at play in Columbia. Audio logs in Infinite are an essential part of the overall story and are well worth discovering as compared to most games where their existence doesn’t add much value to the overall experience. Players can find lock picks which can be used to open locked doors to yield rewards in the form of a stash of cash or perks. There are secondary objectives in place which can be easily overlooked if players are not paying attention to the environment or certain conversations. All in all, the game design treads familiar ground for the most part and takes small steps in terms of expanding the existing. (9/10)

Game-Play: In one word, BioShock Infinite is frantic!! The encounters with enemies can be overwhelming and the enemies are balanced in design i.e.  enemies with machine guns are lightly armoured and faster while heavy hitters who carry rocket launchers are slow and heavily armoured  The AI though is not without its flaws – enemies pop out of cover for no apparent reason amounting to the role of cannon fodder but it’s the non-conventional enemy types which provide suitable challenge. The abilities that players wield draw some inspiration from a rock, paper, scissors approach wherein certain abilities are more effective as against a specific enemy type, adding true tactical value to the combat when up against the non-conventional enemies.

Paint the town Red:

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The assist mechanic which Elizabeth brings to the game is definitely a welcome addition but is not without its flaws. Certain scenarios let players command Elizabeth to draw objects into the world from other parallel universes through tears on the map. But players need to be at a certain distance from such tears in order to be able to issue Elizabeth the command. It can be argued that it adds a tactical aspect to how you move forward but the lack of a cover system leads to unnecessary loss of the players’ health meter.

The control scheme as well will fare better for players using controllers as compared to players armed with a keyboard and mouse (The left and right mouse button are used for firearms and abilities respectively, as a result the middle button can either be assigned for melee attacks or aiming through a weapons iron sights). It’s a minor hindrance for which players will have to acquaint themselves with the keyboard for more than just moving around and interacting with objects around the world when they’re not fighting. The game though runs smoothly even through the big set pieces. (9/10)

Production Design: One aspect that no one can fault is Infinite’s production assets. The game looks stunning and it’s quite apparent that Irrational Games took it to heart when critics observed that the original game lacked different enemy types. The game borrows themes from steam punk as much as it does from history to create a world which looks familiar and at the same time intriguing. The art style is fresh and feels somewhat similar to Dishonored but apart from the main characters the facial expressions of NPCs are rather stone-like. The world, unlike Rapture is full of citizens who players can hear talking amongst each other as they cross them. But there are concessions made here as well, wherein most of these NPCs can be killed but won’t move if the player tries to push against them which makes the world feel somewhat outdated as compared to most games today.

Welcome to Columbia:

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The sound production is top notch as the world comes alive around you. The background score creates a sense of panic in the thick of battles and the dialogues convey the emotions of the characters as realistically as possible. Walking through a world filled with sounds as the PA systems blare propaganda speeches create an experience which lets you feel part of the world. (9/10)

Final Verdict: It’s BioShock at the end of the day.  The game is linear where there is no choice, but you don’t get to experience a story such as this every day. The game design doesn’t innovate leaps and bounds but it doesn’t take away the spirit of creativity on the part of how players play. The AI may feel dumb at times but it doesn’t mean that the players won’t be challenged at the easiest of settings. And the production, even with its flaws makes Columbia feel so alive that it would be a crime not to visit this world.

SCORE: 9/10

Final Final Verdict: Must Buy!!! Even without the replayability, BioShock Infinite is well worth the price of admission.

Check out the trailers:

Check out the song which rocked BioShock Infinite’s trailer:

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