BioShock Infinite review: ambitions fulfilled

With BioShock Infinite, developer Irrational Games has the daunting task of creating an experience that is as engaging as its genre-defining predecessor, BioShock. Through its fleshed-out characters, believable performances, and thought-provoking themes, Ken Levine and company have created an emotional roller coaster ride that's not unlike grabbing onto a Skyline.

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With BioShock Infinite, developer Irrational Games has the daunting task of creating an experience that is as engaging as its genre-defining predecessor, BioShock. Through its fleshed-out characters, believable performances, and thought-provoking themes, Ken Levine and company have created an emotional roller coaster ride that's not unlike grabbing onto a Skyline. As I wandered through this alternate-history 1912, I was immediately inundated with the breathtaking awe of the city. As Booker DeWitt enters Columbia for the first time, I easily shared in his audible gasp as he floats down to begin his journey. The architecture and innovative nature of life in this vision could have easily come from a fantastic Jules Verne dream. It's easy to get caught up in exploring the shops, listening to some of the old ragtime music, or eavesdropping on conversations--the latter which reveals the sinister intolerance that hides beneath Columbia's idyllic setting. The game's social and religious themes are overt. However, whether you agree with Vox Populi leader Daisy Fitzroy, or the purist views of prophet Zachary Hale Comstock, both are ultimately obstacles to finding the object of your visit: Elizabeth, perhaps the strongest and most impressive triumph of the game. Elizabeth is a compelling character that gives you reason to care about her plight. Although she may not be playable, BioShock Infinite isn't an elongated escort quest; Elizabeth is an integral and necessary part of your adventure. Sure, she will help find ammo and money, and she'll patiently wait as I plundered every desk and barrel I could find. But the game proves she is not a mere sidekick, as she reveals her frailties and inner strength throughout our journey. She'll also serve as a guide during combat, shouting when new enemies may enter the fray. She can also use her ability to open tears into alternate worlds to change the battle: forming a wall for cover, spawning additional weapons and medkits, or even creating new places to latch your Skyhook to get above and around enemies. Flying through the Skyline will also let you knock unsuspecting guards off an edge, or bury the Skyhook in a skull for a rather gruesome end. Like previous BioShock games, you can also use magic (called vigors this time, instead of plasmids). While the usual fire and lightning throwing from previous BioShocks were there, BioShock Infinite adds some new ones. One of my favorites was the Bucking Bronco, which could throw multiple enemies into the air, allowing me to kill them as they flailed helplessly. Another that I used quite often was Charge, which catapulted me forward to inflict massive melee damage with the Skyhook. However, I found I could make it through huge segments of the game without swapping powers, and only occasionally changing weapons. Ultimately, taking cover whilst constantly moving proved the most effective strategy.

Vigorous!

But all the good will that BioShock Infinite builds up in the first three-quarters of the game gradually starts to deteriorate as the story nears its climax. A twist at the end was to be expected, and when it happened, I found myself with even more questions. Although a few loose ends are tied up, the ending ultimately seems a bit too contrived, and is a radical departure from the endings of the previous BioShocks. But, as a friend told me, the journey is more important than the destination. And this journey was an incredibly gorgeous ride with a partner that was as interesting as she was complex. Irrational's ambitious take on a new dystopian society does its predecessors proud, with Comstock and Fitzroy worthy of sharing their place of enmity with the likes of Andrew Ryan, Frank Fontaine and Sofia Lamb.
This BioShock Infinite review was based on a pre-release PC version of the game on Steam provided by the publisher. The game was tested on a system featuring an Intel i7 2600 3.4 GHz quad core CPU, 64-bit Windows 7 OS, 16 GB RAM, and an nVidia GeForce GTX 660. All graphics options were set to "ultra." The game will also be available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Contributing Editor

From The Chatty

  • reply
    March 25, 2013 5:00 AM

    Alice O'Connor posted a new article, BioShock Infinite review: ambitions fulfilled.

    With BioShock Infinite, developer Irrational Games has the daunting task of creating an experience that is as engaging as its genre-defining predecessor, BioShock. Through its fleshed-out characters, believable performances, and thought-provoking themes, Ken Levine and company have created an emotional roller coaster ride that's not unlike grabbing onto a Skyline.

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      March 25, 2013 5:12 AM

      The one thing I've grown to hate about games is that generally you don't have to switch up playstyles too much to get through the entire game.

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        March 25, 2013 6:05 AM

        Although I still thought Bioshock 1 was good overall, I was very disappointed how shallow it was in terms of RPG character development.

        I came in expecting something like Deus Ex, the game was ridiculously easy even on highest difficulty, and not using Vita Chambers. You can pretty much wipe the floor with anything you want to use, unspecialized. I never really found a reason to play it again, and I passed on Bioshock 2 entirely.

        I doubt the core game changed much on this one, but 1999 mode gives hope. Either way, I can wait until this goes on sale.

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          March 25, 2013 9:34 AM

          Sounds like ur just really good @ FPS.

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      March 25, 2013 5:15 AM

      Pre-order justified

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      March 25, 2013 5:16 AM

      Having to avoid all the reviews and everything until I can play this :/

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      March 25, 2013 5:26 AM

      Er. John wrote this review. I just copy and pasted and added pictures. Shhhh.

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      March 25, 2013 7:10 AM

      Great review there keef. I'm totally due for more Bioshock.

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      March 25, 2013 7:30 AM

      Is it still very Objectivist themed?

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        March 25, 2013 8:54 AM

        I saw his interview on GB and it seemed to imply this one is about racism and religion in the same way the first one was about objectivism. Spoilered just in case someone wants to go in blind.

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        March 25, 2013 10:54 AM

        Nah I think this is all about Nationalism or some other such nonsense.

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      March 25, 2013 8:14 AM

      Great review, it still feels like a shooter first and foremost but the Vigors (plasmids) add some much needed flavour to the mix. The story is it's strongest point and does a good job of making the player feel like a part of the games universe. I really miss the puzzle mini games though if I'm honest, they were a nice break from all the shooting. Oh and although the Vigors are a lot of fun, you could easily shoot your way through all of the enemies without using them, in fact, a lot of the time I forget they are there and mostly use them just to conserve ammunition. I've yet to finish the game, I'm mostly taking my time and exploring all the nooks and crannies finding upgrades and voxophones.

      The opening though.. Wow.. I Just wish it went on for a little while longer so I could soak in more of it's strange euphoric atmosphere, but in a way it makes it that much better.

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        March 25, 2013 8:37 AM

        I am curious on everyone's feelings on the ending. We'll need to set up a separate thread that is heavily labeled SPOILERS!

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          March 25, 2013 8:58 AM

          Sounds like a good idea, I felt that the opening was a great set up for the characters but did youmiss exploring without any kind of immenent threat? I wish it was a free roam game because the setting is mind blowing. But it works because the character is a threat, like a form of antichrist. Without spoiling, can you tell whether or not everything becomes absolutely clear by the end?

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            March 25, 2013 9:43 AM

            The ending was my biggest problem with the game (as I said in the review). So in my mind no. i had said in the review (but later took it out) that the ending here makes Mass Effect 3's unpatched ending look brilliant by comparison. But again, just one man's opinion.

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              March 25, 2013 9:45 AM

              Oh wow, I'll keep an open mind and try not expect a great deal.

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                March 25, 2013 9:49 AM

                Yes please do. The ending really what I'd like to discuss in a spoiler thread. I reloaded the ending twice just to see what I was missing and if I could grasp it a bit more.

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                  March 25, 2013 10:02 AM

                  I've played through the whole game twice and wanna talk to somebody about it! I think I have a decent grasp on it at this point. What's your puzzlement?

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        March 25, 2013 8:55 AM

        What about 1999 mode?

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          March 25, 2013 9:00 AM

          I'm pretty sure that's not an option on the console versions. I'm playing the PS3 version, I'm quite happy that it has a frame-rate unlock option though. For those who like to play at max frame rate it's good, but does dampen the visual quality a fair bit.

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            March 25, 2013 9:46 AM

            What do you mean? It requires one playthrough or the Konami code entered at the menu screen.

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      March 25, 2013 8:51 AM

      genre defining predecessor? really?

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        March 25, 2013 10:46 AM

        I loved the first one but yeah that's pretty lol worthy.

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        March 25, 2013 10:55 PM

        It may be the best known example for those large and short memoried masses, but System Shock did define it 13 years earlier.

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      March 25, 2013 9:06 AM

      Does this game have the same amount of world explanation as the first BioShock? I think listening to the recordings was my favorite part of the game.

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        March 25, 2013 9:26 AM

        So far, I would say yes. It has a fair amount of Voxophone recordings to find, which go into detail about Columbia and it's inhabitants.

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          March 25, 2013 9:37 AM

          Yes. There are some old film viewers that give you some background on Columbia and the prophet as well. Lots of extra story info.

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      March 25, 2013 9:37 AM

      Thank you for testinf this in the PC and listing ur specs/settings.

      I thoroughly enjoyed Bioshock 1 and listened to every tape. Very immesive playing in a big plasma with 5.1. Sadly Ill have to play this one in a crappy ips. :(

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      March 25, 2013 9:45 AM

      Bioshock didn't really define the genre (Ultima Underworld? System Shock? Half-life?), but I'd say it was one of the first to bring many modern game elements to the FPS/CRPG world, like using checkpoints/not dying instead of millions of save games, and it was generally polished beyond most RPGs (though this is largely due to the fact that it's a much, much simpler game than an RPG in most ways).

      Anyway, not dissing Bioshock and all, it was a great game, and I suppose it helped defined the genre, even though it didn't do anything that hadn't been done before it in one way or anything. The sum is greater than the parts... Bioshock combined FPS/CRPG elements in a cool way, made the plasmid gameplay really fun, and has a rich world/story/art direction to tie everything together well. Bioshock was more about great execution than about innovation, and that's a-ok with me.

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      March 25, 2013 10:14 AM

      is it better than bioshock 2? i loved the original but the sequel was just ok.

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        March 25, 2013 10:39 AM

        Same here. Thats why I am waiting for this one to come out before making the decision to buy or not. Bioshock 2 had everything I disliked from 1, as the main game (slow moving, thundering footsteps, etc). If this one is the same, I will have to pass on it.

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        March 25, 2013 1:00 PM

        Bioshock 2 was not made by the original people. This is what you've been waiting for.

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        March 26, 2013 12:52 AM

        It's far better than Bioshock 2.. It's done by the developers of the first game. It's still not as good as Bioshock 1 in my opinion though.

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        March 26, 2013 12:52 AM

        It's far better than Bioshock 2.. It's done by the developers of the first game. It's still not as good as Bioshock 1 in my opinion though.

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        March 28, 2013 1:56 PM

        I would say yes...thought I never played 2. But I'd say it's as good if not better than the first Bioshock.

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      March 25, 2013 4:35 PM

      Eh, 10/10 means nothing anymore, after reviewers have diluted the review industry with a million and ten 10/10 or 100% scores for a million and ten different games.

      100% used to mean an unattainable mark, pure perfection. Sometime after Half-Life 2, or maybe with Half-Life 2, that completely changed, and games started to receive perfect scores all across the industry, like they were cheap candy. Part of that was almost surely due to Bethesda payingfor /incentivizing top scores. Now, reviewers are just as sleazy and untrustworthy as used-car salsepeople.

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        March 25, 2013 9:06 PM

        Yeah that's it. Bethesda must have paid people off. That's the only reason why their games get good reviews. Good thing you didn't let them get away with it!

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      March 25, 2013 9:00 PM

      Is it me, or are the Shacknews reviews getting shorter and less descriptive with each iteration? Is this really all you could manage to write after having played a game that was, according to you, top notch with deep storytelling etc? I learned almost nothing from this review that I couldn't garner from a so-called "preview" or a game trailer... I think the Shack staff needs to take some creative writing classes if they're going to be reviewing games on launch day.

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      March 27, 2013 6:17 PM

      **BioShockInfiniteSpoilers**
      Still confused about the ending well i created a timeline showing what happens #Bioshock
      http://tinyurl.com/cm5kk44