BioShock Infinite screenshot
BioShock Infinite screenshot

BioShock Infinite is a strange game, and one that makes a mockery of those little scores at the bottom of this and almost every other review ever. The number, that, invariably, you've already looked at. It's a difficult game to put a score on because it succeeds and fails in equal number, yet isn't average. It is fascinating, and also boring. It is important, yet forgettable. Its world is enticing and unappealing. It attempts to move things forward, yet is in places stuck in the past. For a game that has the potential to open the franchise up to a multitude of different ideas and interpretations, BioShock Infinite can feel curiously limited.

As everyone and their 12-inch collectible Big Daddy figure knows by now, Infinite is set on the floating city of Columbia: a demented paean to puritanical values and rituals that makes The Wicker Man's Summerisle seem like a well-adjusted sort of town. Presided over by 'The Prophet' Zachary Comstock, it's an interesting snapshot of America's ills of the time: racism, sexism, fundamentalism all bubbling away, swept to one side under the veneer of America The Beautiful, heaven for believers, as long as you're white. A WASP's nest with plenty of sting.

Comstock himself is a standard cult leader gone mad (is there any other type?), ruling over his dominions with an iron fist and exceptional beard. His 'nation' represents early 20th century values taken to their (il)logical extremes. The centrepiece of his city and ideology is Elizabeth, 'the lamb', a young girl who wields the ability to open portals to other spaces and times. She's imprisoned in Columbia and treated with fear and awe: it's your job as troubled ex-Pinkerton man Booker DeWitt to get her back to New York. Do so, and your gambling debts will be wiped away by your mysterious employers. However, between a civil war, a mechanical jailer called Songbird and Elizabeth's own headstrong personality (and Booker's murky past), getting her out of the tower is the easy part.

As setups go, it's a far more interesting setting than most shooters that aren't also called BioShock. It enables Irrational to explore the blackness that hides behind the white picket fence of American life. One of your first acts involves defending (or not...) a couple from torture-as-entertainment; baseball, America's pastime, turned into Columbia's punishment.

In a genre mostly famed for asking no more of players than to kill everything, all the time, it's a ballsy opening. The racial divide is at the heart of Infinite's drama – indeed it's heavily implied, via a museum 'glorifying' Wounded Knee and the Boxer Rebellion, that Booker himself may have a dark past.

Like Ryan before him, Comstock has a necessary problem: for his flock to live like kings, they need plenty of ordinary men around. They find them in the shape of scared minorities, and those forced to endlessly toil in Columbia's factories. As Booker and Elizabeth delve deeper into Columbia this conflict escalates – via their own hand in some crucial places – until all-out war on the streets is unavoidable.

BioShock Infinite screenshot

These are brave decisions for a big studio to make, and Irrational should be applauded for its efforts. It's a shame then, that you never really feel that involved in the war itself. Your actual choices don't seem to affect proceedings that much, and if the rebels' victories turning them into the thing they despise makes a good point about shades of grey, it doesn't do much for combat variety: your enemies now wear red instead of brown, and that's about it.

If Columbia does one thing right, it's making the player question the nature of the environment around them. It feels like The Truman Show crossed with The Twilight Zone – plastic smiles and saintly manners hide barbaric beliefs; barbershop quartets singing anachronistic pop hits disturb and entertain in equal measure; and secondary characters appear and disappear like Batman auditioning for a role in The Prestige (itself surely an influence). There's an eerie, dream-like sense of disharmony to it.

At the same time, it's quite a boring environment to fight through. The blue skies and bright colours have no doubt been chosen to contrast with the dank oppression of BioShock – a point that couldn't be made more explicit in the game's opening few minutes – but in doing so Irrational has forgotten what made Rapture so special. Andrew Ryan's city under the sea felt complete, claustrophobic, inescapable; growing stranger as you progressed through it, the water, as it does, providing a constant pressure. Its inhabitants were both familiar yet disquietingly alien, like actual sealife found at the bottom of the ocean.

Columbia, on the other hand, is so bright and breezy that it feels like a shootout at Butlins. Even when things 'go dark' it never feels especially oppressive. There's a worrying lack of urgency or danger to it all, compounded by the fact that the populace doesn't seem to care much that a total stranger is wandering in and out of shops with an automatic weapon. At one stage I was in a giftshop wielding a machine gun, the barrel still red hot from killing more cops than Ice Cube on an especially bad day, and no-one much seemed to care. Good for adding to the dreamy haze, bad for tonal consistency.

BioShock Infinite screenshot

There's also a lack of diversity to the environments themselves. Besides a day-night transition and a late game tone shift, the environments you fight through at the start of the game feel very similar to the environments you fight through at the end. Fine, if said areas convey a sense of individual character or design, but for the most part it all feels the same. There's nothing here to touch Fort Frolic or the sense in BioShock that you're digging deeper into an actual place, and not just navigating a set. Instead, I felt like I was hopping around a series of near-identical platforms, going wide rather than deep, the game feeling very samey for it.

The combat itself also suffers from monotony via overuse. Essentially the same from the previous two games – even if you can now only carry two guns, annoyingly enough – Booker can wield vigors (plasmids) at the same time as his more conventional weapons. He also has a recharging shield. The vigours and weapons can be upgraded via vending machines, and there's also upgrades in the form of wearable gear that gives you combat buffs.

As ever, the fighting is satisfying without being truly remarkable, but combining your supernatural powers with your more traditional ones does still entertain more than most shooters. Using the Return To Sender vigour to absorb incoming bullets like Neo is simply very cool; being able to throw them back even cooler (vigors have two or even three different fire modes). The new Sky-Line mechanic also plays a part, enabling players to change levels during combat, secure vantage points and literally get the drop on their foes.

When this all comes together, BioShock Infinite feels vital and addictive. The problem is that there is too much shooting. Infinite feels shamelessly padded, and if Irrational wanted to give players more content then all it has really done is expose how rudimentary its combat mechanics really can be. Elizabeth is never really a problem: enemies won't target her, and she'll also toss over health, salts to power your vigors, and ammo. Her portal-rending abilities also enable her to pull in weapons, cover, and hook points from other universes. Only one of these can be used at a time, lending a slight strategic edge to proceedings.

Sadly, as the hours wear on the combat becomes more and more grating, as there's no real sense of escalation in either your abilities or your enemies. Fighting cops and guerrillas for the most part means fighting humans, reducing the combat to the same tactics over and over again. There are special enemies, but again, it doesn't feel like you need to change your tactics that much: I got by using pretty much two of the eight vigors (Possession and Return To Sender). Even the special enemy types, while very cool in design, don't add that much. As for bringing items in through tears: it feels gimmicky almost straight away. Surely, if Elizabeth can open up doorways to other worlds, we could have had some delicious set pieces: trucks bursting out onto enemies, planes crashing through. Instead we get the same combination of sniper rifle/ a bit of cover/skyhook/robot auto turret, like the only place Liz can look into is an under-construction Skynet HQ. Infuriatingly, you're locked into most encounters via sealed doors that only Elizabeth can open. Kill rooms, essentially, and far too many of them at that. There is an attempt to shake things up with a boss fight against Psycho Mantis about two thirds through, but this is easily one of the worst things about the game.

BioShock Infinite screenshot

There's also a lack of a true antagonist. Comstock might get on the mic to chew you out occasionally, but you're pretty much constantly slaying grunts. Songbird is severely underused, only popping up in a few instances. What could have been a running battle ends up being a few cutscenes (until the end). Irrational had an infinite set of variables it could have used for Songbird (via the tears): what it went for is deeply disappointing.

And yet, despite all this BioShock Infinite might just be one of the most compelling games of this generation. For all its flaws, it has an odd power, an insistence that players find out how the story concludes, and even then the voxophones dotted around are worth going back for (Preston, Comstock's ally, in particular). A sense of dread and unease that will linger unless solved, especially where the Lutece family and their sheer oddity is concerned. Elizabeth's strength drives the story, and her insistent search for the truth nicely counterparts Booker's shady past. She may cower in combat – and her attire is utterly ridiculous – but she is far stronger than Booker in the areas that really matter, and seeing her power grow exponentially, her thinking evolve, had me locked in until the bitter end. The finale is sure to be debated for years to come – in both positive and negative senses, but the end of the game is merely the beginning of a cycle: I wanted to play it all over again, despite its flaws. If that's not a recommendation I don't know what is.


Version Tested: PC
Completed the campaign on normal difficulty in 15 hours.

8 / 10

  • Looks wonderful
  • Story is compelling
  • Tear mechanic underused
  • Combat becomes tiresome

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Highest Rated Comment

Neon-Soldier32's Avatar

Neon-Soldier32@ Bloodstorm

Do you actually like anything that isn't; a JRPG, a fighter or very niche?
Posted 21:34 on 30 March 2013

User Comments

rrerer's Avatar

rrerer

8/10 is an exceptional score, or atleast it should be.

Sites like IGN give scores like 10/10 for games with glaring gameplay flaws. Sometimes they even acknowledge the flaws and still give games 10/10.

Bioshock: Infinite had glaring gameplay issues, you could just zerg through the game with one weapon and ignore plasmids and be fine, 1999 mode was advertised as difficult, it felt like what 'normal' should have been.

The graphics were good for consoles, well, they used bloom effect well. The graphics on PC were terribly lacking and the environment was rushed (e.g if you shot a tin can it would just stay still on the shelf, chairs were immobile if you ran into, no reflection in mirrors/water that sort of thing). This is something which games from even 2003/4 have.

I was looking forward to there being a multiplayer, because the Bioshock: 2 multiplayer was great and I needed something to do for a few weeks. Unfortunately after finishing the game on 1999 mode in a matter of hours I was done... I guess its acceptable if adding a multiplayer would have taken development time from the game.

The story was interesting, the general feel of the city felt great, the characters were well done and engaging. I just wish the game was properly polished, had the complexities of the other Bioshocks and had half decent gameplay.

You should look at the trailer that was released at E3 in 2011, that's the game I was looking forward to, actual use of sky-hooks for a purpose other than just moving to the next zone, actual need to use plasmids, side missions, witnessing the destruction of the city and the effect on the people.
Posted 13:35 on 19 December 2013
newangetrox's Avatar

newangetrox

8?????? Oh Gosh... I disagree
Posted 06:15 on 01 June 2013
bigbry75's Avatar

bigbry75

Highly overrated game. Graphics are good, story is ok but hard to follow, characters and enemies are interesting. The problem is the actual combat and strategy is very limited and repetitive. I beat the game in 6 hours on hard mode and really have no interest in replaying the game on this harder mode I read about. Much of the game is just a cinematic collection of cutscenes with very little interaction or feeling of making choices that matter.
Many of this was stated in this review. That is why I am puzzled with the 8 out of 10 and all the other glowing reviews I have read. If I would have paid $60 bucks for this product I would have been VERY upset. Far Cry 3 and Borderlands 2 are both superior shooters to this. IMO this is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog with all the hype that preceded this release. I am just baffled by all the praise.

5/10
Posted 08:00 on 01 May 2013
rbevanx's Avatar

rbevanx@ Bloodstorm

Yeah it's humour was really good but it just felt very generic to me anyway as a game.

People can Fly are really good and their boss levels in Judgement were well done, it's just Gears is a franchsie I feel you can't do much more with now except for the multiplayer.
Posted 11:49 on 02 April 2013
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm@ rbevanx

It's the fact it didn't take itself seriously at all and kept me VERY entertained for a few weeks that made me thoroughly enjoy it.

I'm not all that into serious games now, i love having a laugh, playing with friends and having skill in FPS.

Oh and i LOOOOOOOOVE UT99, many of you (2 of you maybe) know how much i love it i came first in a massive LAN (10 man match).
Posted 00:54 on 02 April 2013
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm@ Neon-Soldier32

Why do you think i like JRPGs?

I enjoy the RTS genre too so please don't make it out that i have a closed mind to gaming.
Posted 00:32 on 02 April 2013
rbevanx's Avatar

rbevanx@ CheekyLee

Bulletstorm was pretty much the same thing over and over again for me. Just had that point/score system which I found rather boring after a few minutes.
Posted 12:42 on 31 March 2013
CheekyLee's Avatar

CheekyLee@ Neon-Soldier32

He loves Doom. He loved Bulletstorm. Therefore, he knows a quality FPS when he sees one.
Posted 12:40 on 31 March 2013
MJTH's Avatar

MJTH@ Rezeak

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rezeak
But if your not basing your score of other reviews on your site or on other sites then the score 8 out of 10 has no meaning to anyone except the author and in my opinion defeats the purpose of a review.

I don't think it defeats the purpose of a review, but it somewhat defeats the purpose of giving the game a score, yes. Or at least puts the whole idea of review scores up in contention. Different games get different scores from different reviewers. For all we know Steve may have thought the original was 8 as well and Bioshock 2 was a 7, but we don't have his views on the others. All we do know is that infinite is an 8 in his eyes. However he can't go and change the scores of the games to better fit the score of this game because it devalues the score originally given, by a different person. And he can't go change his score to better suit previous reviews on the site. In many ways this game may be "better" then Bioshock, or at least Bioshock 2, but in the grand scheme of things he still thinks this game is worth an 8, so pushing this game to be a ten, just because Bioshock got a ten would be a counter to the point he's making.

And then we have got to consider the test of time. The original Bioshock did something different for when compared to what else was coming out in the genre at the time, but this is now the second sequel to that game. So whilst it may be a "better" game because it's newer and has more modern techniques and technology behinds it's creation, it may not have the same impact, simply because it's happened before. Not visually, because Columbia is a stark difference to Rapture, but emotionally speaking you expect to see all the tricks that you saw in the original Bioshock, which lessens the impact.

So yeah there are many problems with a review scoring system (and not just in over and under valuing games). However I think we can both agree that the most important part of a review, is the review itself, the opinions thoughts and feelings written down on the page. When you read a review, you compare your feeling on problems that a game has with someone else. If you feel that a problem a game has isn't a problem for you then that game is better in your eyes then it is in their and vice versa. As long you can understand what is written in a review and take it into account before purchase who cares what the score is really, as a consumer!

Arbitrary numbers, grades and scores at the end of a review aren't there for us to mull over in the end (even though a lot of people think they are, because it's within our nature to compare things). It's to allow for sites like metacritic to easily convert that score into an averaged number for publishers to look and and decide whether people should be paid or not. Because in the end, the sad truth of the industry is, no matter how well you write a review, and how much of your heart and sole you put into it, metacritic won't care if it doesn't have a score, and some publishers (not all) don't care because it's not on metacritic. So if they don't care about your views because you are not giving it a score, or you aren't important enough to get on metacritic, then why are they giving you the game to review in the first place....

P.S. Thanks for replying, to my other comment. It's really annoying to see people join the site to make one comment then leave. Especially when it concerns a review score. You were good enough to come back and explain your views which is better then most people. :)
Posted 10:02 on 31 March 2013
Neon-Soldier32's Avatar

Neon-Soldier32@ Bloodstorm

Do you actually like anything that isn't; a JRPG, a fighter or very niche?
Posted 21:34 on 30 March 2013
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm

I've played 2 hours of it and i think it's over-rated to hell.
Posted 12:37 on 30 March 2013
WabbaWay's Avatar

WabbaWay

Made an account just to thank you for giving an honest review of the game instead of spewing out some 10/10 bull***** when it only deserves 8, at best.

Real shame with all the wasted potential this game had. They sacrificed the disgusting, dark and closed-off atmosphere of Rapture for a more pretty, light and open Columbia, which is weird because the appeal of Bioshock is the creepy atmosphere and the openness of Columbia is merely an illusion - if you do a bit of exploring you'll quickly find it's roughly as closed-off and linear as BS 1 and 2... Real damn shame.

Also, the AI sucks ass, the difference between opponents isn't there and I'm still mad that we didn't get to fight the songbird (which is pretty much the only really awesome opponent in the game).

... Still a good game though :D worth the purchase, but not as good as the original bioshock.
Posted 12:24 on 29 March 2013
Rezeak's Avatar

Rezeak@ MJTH

If ratings aren't ment to compare games to each other then what are?

I can agree the game is 8 out of 10 if the game rating system was fair like say with films and overall the review is pretty decent considering it does highlight some of the problems with the game rather than just saying it's GOOD!!!

The point I was making, in context of the site he's telling me it's worse than Bioshock 2 which is why I disagreed with the score and it would of been nice to know why he feels that way.

Of course, like you say it's written by different people ect. but if your not basing your score of other reviews on your site or on other sites then the score 8 out of 10 has no meaning to anyone except the author and in my opinion defeats the purpose of a review.
Posted 02:44 on 29 March 2013
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm@ Bloodstorm

Still waiting on your replies.
Posted 11:59 on 28 March 2013
VGSteve's Avatar

VGSteve@ reynoldio

Ha! It wasn't meant to be a negative thing: most people look at scores before they read the review.
Posted 09:35 on 28 March 2013

Game Stats

BioShock Infinite
8
Out of 10
BioShock Infinite
  • Looks wonderful
  • Story is compelling
  • Tear mechanic underused
  • Combat becomes tiresome
Agree? Disagree? Get Involved!
Release Date: 26/03/2013
Platforms: PC , Xbox 360 , PS3
Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: Action
Rating: PEGI 18+
Site Rank: 879 203
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