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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User Comments

reynoldio's Avatar

reynoldio

a) good review, interesting read, ta
2) OTHER PLACES SAY IT'S A TEN YOUR NOT ALLOWED AN OPINIONS
D) gently put out about being told off for reading the score before the review when it's right there on the page next to you and impossible to ignore
Posted 17:16 on 26 March 2013
Karlius's Avatar

Karlius

Ahh the MetaCritic score haters are in again. I'm sure I said something about this when the score came out but here they all come.

I think when you look at that site the bottom score always gets blasted on it's comments section and sometimes that's worthy.

However the review score here is just and reads like an 8 it's simply one man's interpretation and viewpoint. To be fair it's not even worthwhile getting annoyed over as it's not like there were 10's and 9's and VG gave the game a 5. All scores are in that same ball park of good to great.

People should get a grip.
Posted 10:05 on 26 March 2013
MJTH's Avatar

MJTH

You do realise these are completely different reviewers from completely different era's of the website right? You do realise different people reviewed these 3 game right? You do realise that people are allowed to have different opinions from one another right? You do realise that just because these games are reviewed by the same site it doesn't mean the same site will review these games the same way.

Well of course you don't... And you're probably not going to read this or care anyway...
Posted 08:05 on 26 March 2013
Rezeak's Avatar

Rezeak

On this site.
Bioshock = 10
Bioshock 2 = 9
Bioshock Infinte = 8

So the reviewer prefers
Reusing old content, adding a multiplayer and day one disc DLC over completely reinventing the game and focusing on single player.

Guess this guy loves CoD.
Posted 06:52 on 26 March 2013
p0rtalthinker's Avatar

p0rtalthinker

Really, I dont care about the score. I will play it anyways and then cast my judgment.
Posted 02:16 on 26 March 2013
s_h_a_d_o's Avatar

s_h_a_d_o@ Clumsyninja89

"... there are critics who just want traffic so they give amazing games lower scores."
And there are sites that give mediocre games higher scores for the same reason.
Scepticism is healthy, but should really cut both ways.

And a thank you to @vgsteve for at least keeping spoilers to a minimum (unlike other reviewers).
Posted 20:05 on 25 March 2013
MJTH's Avatar

MJTH@ Clumsyninja89

Somehow a 9/10 average is far higher rated then 8/10 apparently to this man...
Posted 18:54 on 25 March 2013
rbevanx's Avatar

rbevanx@ Clumsyninja89

Quote:
I never even heard of this website until i saw this horrible review

Yeah this site only had a 1,000,000 Youtube trend not so long ago...
Posted 18:33 on 25 March 2013
Clumsyninja89's Avatar

Clumsyninja89

Yeah..no.. lol This is for traffic, every other critic is saying the very opposite of this review. I never even heard of this website until i saw this horrible review. This is why metacritic is useless, there are critics who just want traffic so they give amazing games lower scores. This game is FAR to high rated atm to ttake this seriously. lol Nice try though.
Posted 17:53 on 25 March 2013
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm

THE COMPANIES ARE TELLING ME IT'S GOING TO BE GOOD! THEREFORE IT IS THE BEST THING EVER!
Posted 17:08 on 25 March 2013
MJTH's Avatar

MJTH

HOW DARE Steve give this game a great 8/10 score with a mostly positive review, that isn't quite as positive as other peoples. How dare he do his job and express his opinions on a game I'll obviously love, that I've never played before. It's an OUTRAGE!

Great review Steve. I didn't intend on buying this game, but at least I'll know when I get a new PC at some point this will be a decent shout in a steam sale.
Posted 17:00 on 25 March 2013
Bloodstorm's Avatar

Bloodstorm

Fanboys who have just joined the site to moan about the review.

Please point me in the direction of the perfect game.
Posted 16:45 on 25 March 2013
rbevanx's Avatar

rbevanx

Well my plan is and always has been was to get the game in the Steam sale. I will post back on the review comments as I always do and what I thought about the game after playing it.

I would also advise for the people defending the reviews or reviewers to actually play the game as well for once, rather than just defend it for defending sakes when they haven't/plan to play the game.
Also repect that other people may have different views to you.

Danke guys :)
Posted 16:35 on 25 March 2013
Catterick's Avatar

Catterick@ DancingRhino

We slap him on a daily basis. It's part of his contract.
Posted 16:16 on 25 March 2013
DancingRhino's Avatar

DancingRhino@ Jam_Sponge

Enjoy but the review is quite negative, sounds like he's not really into it. Give him a slap.
Posted 14:47 on 25 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: 931
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