The successor of Irrational Games steam punk themed first person series takes the player from the depth of the ocean to a flying city, can claustrophobia be traded for a severe case of vertigo?
BioShock was a hit, the gaming world agreed on it. I still fondly remember the first time playing it, the dramatic setting that introduced the player perfectly to a very unique world, the game had great direction, but game play itself was just as good. When I started up BioShock Infinite and entered its flying city Columbia, my expectations were just as high as the clouds.
You play as Booker DeWitt, a kinda clichéed noir detective whose unfinished business leads him up to the flying city. About one hour in, one thing becomes clear: In the polished, bloomy world of Columbia, not everything is perfect. Without giving too much away Booker soon finds himself being a fugitive with the mysterious Elizabeth in tow, shooting, sky-hooking and vigor-ing his way through.
The mechanics are solid and familiar. You find and pick up more and more weapons, which you can also upgrade. Vigors – Infinites answer to Bioshocks Plasmids, are kind of magic tricks to help you in battle in creative ways like summoning a murder of crows to swarm the enemy. To add even more tactical depth you can give Elizabeth – when she’s around – orders for support. Even though she is an AI companion, she is never annoying and actually adds to the game experience. To access the open architecture of the floating city, Booker also gains an additional method of traversal – the skyhook. This hook latches onto rails which lets you ride from building to building, traversing the level fast and giving you options to ambush or flank enemies.
As exciting as all of this is, the game doesn’t utilize all these new options to their fullest potential. You can easily recognize areas as impending battle zones, the order of enemy-spawning almost always the same, and you just continue once you cleared an arena.
BioShock Infinite lost quite a bit of BioShocks non-linearity and feels more like Half-Life in terms of level structure. Why not use the skyhook to have a dramatic chase on the rails in the sky? No, you usually just go in circles inside an arena.
What disappointed me the most was the missed opportunity of the Vigors. InBioShock they were not only attack modes you had to use tactically and in combination with other, more traditional weapons; they were tools to access new parts of the world. Fire melts a frozen door – now you can reach a new area. In BioShock Infinite I can only remember one instance where the electric Vigor helped power a machine to continue, and that was non-optional path. It just as well could’ve been a key or a password.
To be fair though, the magnificent art direction of the game makes you forget a lot of that. To all of its linearity, Columbia still feels big and open, like a living city. Everything looks beautiful and fits the steam punk vibe. You will hardly find games that look and feel that unique and distinguished, a trademark of the BioShock series that was successfully pulled off with Infinite again.
I have to say that I was a bit disappointed about what started out as a very promising story. I don’t want to spoil it so I’ll be very vague: About halfway through the plot goes a bit more into the paranormal – which I usually like – but towards the end it drifts into confusion and the resolution was a convoluted mess. Severe M. Night Shyamalan-syndrome made it feel like the writers were trying too hard to offer more craziness and twists than necessary. A case were less would’ve been more.
Nonetheless BioShock Infinite is one of the more unique games out there. Great direction makes it deliver a fantastic journey through a unique world.