First things first, I love Bioshock. It is literally my favourite game in the world and you know what, I even love Bioshock 2! So there. Sure it was a blatant rehash that offered nothing new at all and the last level was a bit of a letdown, but so obsessed with the characters and scenery and every little detail of Rapture am I, that everything you’d call a flaw in the game meant nothing to me. Just give me a Plasmid in one hand and machine gun in the other and I’ll kill Splicers all day long regardless.
Bioshock Infinite is a completely different beast to its namesake on the surface. It is a sort of polar opposite in both physical environment and narrative. Instead of deep dark sea, we have wide open sky and sunshine, instead of a singular tyrannical oppressive Capitalist ruling by fear, we have tyrannical oppressive, racist, patriotic/religious quasi-Communist Government headed by a man with a Jesus complex.
Many things in Infinite are very similar though once you ignore the sunny paintwork. Enemy types can be easily identified, with instant access to both “Lead head” and “Thuggish” Splicer enemy types, “Vigors” replace the traditional “Plasmids” (think Nigel West Dickens* replacing Science) Your first gun is the traditional pistol followed by a quickly obtained machine gun and the wrench is replaced by the multi-purpose Skyhook which is great for battering enemies to death in gruesome detail.
The fact that the first ten minutes or so of the game are a play on concepts within the original Bioshock is telling. We start at sea, go to a light house (not the Ryan light house but still the visual simile is not incidental) and when we finally ascend to the cloud city, the first part of the level is spent splashing through a water filled Church. Anywhere else I might call this a homage rather than a calculated attempt to create a visual sense of oneness between the two games, but this is Bioshock apparently so we need these connections to feel that.
There are many references to the original Bioshock dotted throughout the game, including the vending machines being voiced the same way. But over all it is the feel of the interiors that create the most genuine recognition. The visual style is very similar and you get the impression that if you were to walk through Rapture a year before the violence, things would have been visually beautiful in the same way as they are in Columbia.
It becomes clear very quickly that things are awry and the game has a reminiscent sinister tone without being visually dark for the most part. Many of the spaces are filled with things to creep you out but this game won’t induce any nightmares. Whether it’s the open skies or the fact that you’re fighting normal people and not monsters who were once people, very little in the game will make you fearful or even jumpy. Enemies have a tendency to just run at you shooting, or shoot you from a ledge as you whiz by on a Skyrail and not really for working to terrify by disappearing and re-emerging through new dark holes. This game does less to tackle you psychologically than it’s predecessors and as a result, isn’t scary or creepy in the same way. There is something lacking in the fact that nobody has suffered depravity and misery in the same way in Columbia that they had to in Rapture. Still different game, different feel. This game seems to aim to be a good fun adventure game with a Bioshock-esque theme attached.
The game play is of course very reminiscent of Bioshock, we have an objective – get to the girl and murder anyone who tries to murder us. We get given weapons progressively as usual and Plasmids, sorry I mean Vigors are doled out with perhaps the only surprise being that Electro Bolt isn’t the first one we get. We fight the lead head, the thugs and Houdini style splic…sorry, people and eventually get to Elizabeth the Lamb of Columbia.
So, I have been wondering about this concept. Obviously the lamb is significant as a religious symbol, but wasn’t this already used in a similar context with Elanor in Bioshock 2? The main difference being that Elanor was to be the recipient of all knowledge or something and this girl, Elizabeth can tear holes in the fabric of the universe – which creates an awesome game mechanic which we will explore later.
Actually, we’ll ignore that last train of thought and explore the new one now. Elizabeth can pull elements into the world through tears in the fabric of space time (don’t worry the Doctor** will find a way to fix it before it becomes a problem) Examples of these elements are medical supplies, or gun turrets that fight for you. In some scenarios you can swap and change as you need to, which element Elizabeth pulls through. So, if you need meds, pull the meds, if you need protection, pull the turret.
As for the girl herself, similarly to Bioshock 2, she can look after herself. You don’t need to protect her and she can fight back to some level too, which is great if your least favourite component of the original game was the Little Sister escort duty, where the little swines die while harvesting and make you have to repeat a section whilst simultaneously depleting your ammo and EVE supply. Speaking of which, Elizabeth also throws you occasional scavenged ammo, coins and health packs, which usually land when you need them the most. This gives a great sense of teamwork a makes Elizabeth a vital asset rather than irritation, which was a very wise addition to what initially looked like one long escort filled nightmare.
The biggest addition to the game play in terms of new mechanics is of course the Skyrails. While I hesitate to offer any criticism to this, I will, but in a moment. The Skyrail is an awesome mode of transport and makes for great on-rails shooter action, making the whole thing feel like an incredibly fast arcade game. It’s brilliant fun and with the superb graphics you can pinpoint enemies quite nicely to ensure they don’t get the better of you. And who doesn’t like roller coasters? Well, I don’t, I get vertigo, but that’s not the point here. It’s fun, proper, actual fun, which is a rare thing in a shooter nowadays. So, where is the criticism? Okay, it’s just a small thing, but the skyrails are just a means of getting to the next thing. There is no sense of freedom, you can’t explore anything, your path gets blocked once the game decides it’s time to get off. Stupid thing to complain about really, but I choose the words cynical and cyclical rather than contentment and compassionate for this blogs title deliberately, so don’t try to make out that you’ve been misled.
Overall I would say that this game deserves massive plaudits for being something new and something old at the same time. While I don’t necessarily think that they needed to use the Bioshock name to sell this thing and it doesn’t really give anything extra to the series, I do think that this is a great stand alone title. The characters and story are good – if a little, been there before – and some of the voice acting is fantastic. The additional elements of game play are strong, well thought out and complementary to the existing ones. Level design is good and the game flows well. The graphics are excellent (even at low settings on the PC) as are the sound track and incidental sound effects. My only real disdain is for that stupid bird! Birds aren’t scary…except in the film the Birds where all the birds go mad. Or when a seagull attacks you for your chips. Okay, some birds are scary, but that Song bird, no, not feeling it. Otherwise I can’t criticize this game in any meaningful way other than to say “I miss the Big Daddies!” Which is blatantly just whining…
4.5 Stars for you Bioshock Infinite. If you haven’t played it already, give it a go. After all, “There’s nothing quite like a fist full of lightning…” Oh, now I miss Atlas. Dammit.
*Nigel West Dickens is a Snake Oil Salesman from the blissfully awesome Red Dead Redemption in case the reference got away from you.
**Doctor Who obviously. Unless being a parallel world, he can’t get here because of the Time Vortex thing…never mind. I’m sure he’s got it in hand.