360 review: Bioshock Infinite

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Swirling cumulus clouds surround the floating city of Columbia. Candles burn for the prophet as dust motes swirl around Elizabeth. She’s prancing between fairground stalls, past red banners blown by the wind. Every one of Bioshock Infinite’s graphical flourishes is ideally realized. Just so.

Likewise, Infinite’s plot is smartly designed. We’re baptized into another world, as startled as our player character, Booker DeWitt. The game grabs you with initial mystery: Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt. If Infinite excels at one thing, it’s the liberation that comes with a blockbuster game treating players as if we can follow a plot.

Many people argue that Bioshock Infinite could bring legions of non-gamers into the medium, if not for an uncomfortable level of blood and gore. Elizabeth is pure Disney princess, the game’s colors are gorgeous – and it ruins the effect with blood-spattering headshots.

But the violence isn’t unnecessary, I don’t think. From the very first, Booker is rebelling against his former crimes, while Elizabeth points out the moral ambiguity of his gunning people down for the greater good.

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Even so, Bioshock Infinite’s plot never arrives at any deeper meaning. So often throughout the game, I thought it was going to break through: the class struggle between the capitalist founders and the communistic Vox Populi, and the extremism each side is driven to, seem endemic to our times.

Infinite touches these themes, then lets them drop without further analysis. It feels content to let them sit where they are, relics of the past rather than parallels of the present. They’re strong ideas. Stronger even, I’d argue, than the message about choice and consequence that Infinite eventually settles on, a message only loosely supported by the rest of the game.

The story’s emotionally compelling, though, and feels on the edge of realizing its potential. But Infinite’s gameplay is unremarkable, playing like almost any first person shooter on the market. Move from setpiece to setpiece. Duck behind cover. Aim down the sights.

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The notable difference is the inclusion of vigors, essentially bottled superpowers, but there’s too little variety between them. Half are extra weapons, and the other half are standard videogame tropes. None are unique, and none have that special oomph that elevates the action. They may as well just be grenades.

And the game is held back by old design decisions. Searching crates for items was natural in System Shock and Bioshock, because those games emphasized survival. There was the sense that these were dwindling resources, and players needed everything they found.

Infinite lacks the same emphasis, but retains the relentless scavenging. It constantly breaks up the action, not to mention my suspension of disbelief, to see Booker taking a break after every gunfight to eat twelve bananas scrounged from dead men’s vests. It’s a very hollow way to spend a third of your play time.

There’s much to marvel at in Bioshock Infinite, but ultimately very little to do. The mechanics don’t live up to the visuals and narrative, and large segments of the game feel like busy work. Search these crates, shoot these guys. It’s too well-presented to feel this plain.

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2 Responses to “360 review: Bioshock Infinite”

  1. Albedosrighthand Says:

    I am annoyed by the people saying it doesn’t need to be so violent, but I agree that the game should have been a different genre than shooter. Something along the lines of the Zero Escape series puzzle/visual novel would have been nice since those games did focus on the same story ‘mechanics’ near the end of Bioshock infinite.

    • catstronaut Says:

      I need to replay 999 – I played at least halfway through and then I got caught up in some other game, as I always do :\ My girlfriend played it recently (a few times) and absolutely loved it, but she’s not having any luck finding the sequel. I’m betting Aksys will re-release it at some point, though. Hopefully.

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