Friday, 5 April 2013

BioShock Infinite Review

Doesn't it suck that there are hardly any games that explore deeper themes? Doesn't it suck that there are hardly any games that are truly meaningful? There were only 3 games last year (The Walking Dead, Journey, Spec Ops: The Line) that really meant something, when at the movies in 2012, I can pick 20 films off the top of my head that explored deeper themes that don't focus solely on fun. Sure, I still want dumb fun games, and not all games do have to mean something, but isn't it so much better when they do? Isn't a party so much better when it's celebrating something? Not only is BioShock Infinite the most meaningful and surprising game I've played since Spec Ops: The Line, and the most fun I've had in a linear shooter since Max Payne 3.

Warning: Spoiler Alert
I wont directly spoil anything for you, but there might be some details in this review which you can join the dots and figure out the ending, and it's best to go into it knowing little about it anyway. If you want to avoid having any indirect spoilers, don't read this review until you've played it all the way through. If you want a mini-review: Do not miss BioShock Infinite. It is absolutely incredible, and it's the first great game of 2013. Go play it, now. 

This game is notable for being heavily delayed. The first trailer was released in August 2010 and was set for a release date in October 2012, and has been pushed back twice since then. I guess it's good for a developer to spend a few more months polishing a game, as Shigeru Miyamoto once said, 'A delayed game will eventually be good, but a rushed game will be forever bad'. I could wait till 2014 for BioShock Infinite, just as long as it's polished and perfected to a mirror shine. You can see the time and effort that's gone in to Infinite; the world building is extremely effective, but the combat certainly needs a further polish.

The world building is very similar to Dishonored, Hell, the world in general is very similar to Dishonored. Columbia can be described as an American Dunwall, and a good one at that. The buildings look very similar, because they run on the same engine, and the stylisation of the characters is very similar. Much effort has gone into making the world extremely disconcerting, even though it starts out peachy and wonderful and perfect. There are barbershop quarters floating in from the sky, there are rosy-cheeks on happy children and everything is so neat and tidy and bloody happy. It's disquieting how non-disquieting everything is, and you must wonder how the government is keeping the people this way.

Mechanically, Infinite is absolutley perfect. Bullets fly at things you point at and the movement is fast and fluid. The guns are incredibly fun to use, as are the plasmids, I mean Vigors, including a plasmid, I mean Vigor that allows you to wash away several enemies with a load of water, and a plasmid, I mean Vigor that allows you to absorb incoming bullets and throw them back in the enemies face. The weapon menu is incredibly unique: THERE ISN'T ONE! You can only equip 2 weapons at once, so instantly the combat becomes less varied and more limited. I spent most of the game with a Machine Gun and a Shotgun, and just upgraded the Hell out of both of them, so I never needed to do anything else, which kind of sucks. I can't see why they wouldn't allow a weapon wheel like in BioShock 1. Maybe they didn't want Booker to become a walking armoury, or maybe it was more efficient in the midst of battle to just quick select, but still, maybe you could only assign 2 weapons to the quick select to make things easier, or you could just have an 8 weapon limit, as there are a lot of weapons in the game.

On Easy and Normal difficulty, the Vigors seem like a gimmick. On Normal, I got through the entire game without needing to use any plasmids, I mean Vigors, except for the odd boss fight and if I was trophy hunting. You also never really need to go hunting for ammo, health, money or Eve, I mean Salts, as Elizabeth just chucks you some around every corner, so the world becomes less interesting when you're not picking up voice notes all the time. This is why I encourage you to play on Hard. Sure, play it on Normal first, because the controls and movement is something to get used to, but on Hard you can really see the diversity of the combat, and most importantly, you will feel the urge to explore more and learn more about the world of Columbia. Be prepared to play on 1999 mode, though. I could only play an hour of it before I have to give up. When you die, you have to pay some $90 dollars to revive. $90? Seriously? And when you have insufficient funds, you're taken back to the main menu, and forced to start from the most recent auto-save. Unless you've murdered your wife and kids and are seeking for a punishment, go ahead, but otherwise I can't recommend it.

Of course, what would BioShock Infinite be if it weren't for the memorable characters and writing. The writing? Yeah, it's pretty great. At some points it falls a bit flat and cliche, but at other times it's very well written and is overall pretty great. The characters are amazingly well developed, Elizabeth in particular. Here's a complaint: Why isn't Elizabeth on the front cover of the game! Elizabeth is an astonishingly good character, and she's more of the main character than the main character, so why isn't she on the front? The front cover consist of a Bro holding his gun and looking all cool-like, and I'm pretty sure we've seen enough of those covers (what do you mean Battlefield and Call of Duty?). Is it so awful to have a female character on the front cover? Will people not buy it if they see a female taking away the spotlight from the Gun Bro? It's hideously sexist, and borderline misogynistic, and it really shows how little the Gaming Industry and the gaming audience in general has evolved from the basement-dwelling troglodytes of the late 80s and early 90s in which the only female roles are Ditzes or Bad-asses or characters that arbitrarily switch between the two. You know, there are more girl gamers than ever before, and it's up to the industry and the audience to make them feel less alienated.

But I digress. It's refreshing to see a female character that isn't a damsel in distress. When you get down to it, the game is one large escort quest, but she takes care of herself in combat and is regularly an asset to you. When you're low on health, salts or ammo, she will happily chuck some to you in the midst of battle. Hmm, that's strange, a female character that doesn't need the constant assistance of a male? What do you mean Metroid Other M?

From earlier in this review, you might of picked up on the parallel I made with the first Bioshock, and it might seem like just a retread of BioShock 1, and that's understandable; plasmids are now Vigors, Eve is now Salts, Adam is now Infusion, objectivism, materialism and conformity is now racism, american exceptionalism and religious freedom, the wrench is now this awesome sky-hook, Andrew Ryan is now Father Comstock, Jack is now a more developed and empathetic Jack called Booker DeWitt, the Big Daddy is now the Songbird who protects Elizabeth instead of the Little Sisters, and steampunk is, well, steampunk, but a different kind of steampunk, the up-in-the-clouds sort of steampunk instead of the rock-bottom of the ocean kind of steampunk. But all of these parallels, the games uses it to it's favour. I wont tell you how it does it right now, but it's something different, and you have to play it for yourself.

Having a satisfying conclusion is rare for a combat focused game. It's usually rushed and stupid and token and cheap, like every Call of Duty (even the good ones) and every Modern Military Shooter you can care to name. The original BioShock famously failed at drawing a satisfying conclusion, with an awful, pointless bossfight and a 'good' ending which made no sense because the only reason the Little Sisters existed was to provide you with Eve. Infinite's ending however, is so remarkably conclusive and satisfying that it rivals the best of all shooters (especially Spec Ops: The Line), but I won't spoil it here, maybe another time.

Final Verdict: 9.5/10
You want action? It doesn't come much harder. You want story? It doesn't come much better. This is the kind of game I've been waiting for for years, and it was worth it.