I originally wrote a massive wall of text here about Bioshock: Infinite, and you can still read that if you want (It’s under the “More” tag), but I read it over and realized that I could sum it up much more succinctly:
Bioshock: Infinite is to Bioshock as Prince of Persia (2008) is to Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. It’s set in really pretty environments, you have an attractive companion who follows you around to help and deliver your recommended daily requirement of snarkiness, and it’s excellent in its own right but maybe not as close of a sequel as I’d hoped for.
If you want about a thousand words to say the same thing, read on.
I bought Bioshock: Infinite during the Steam sale when it dropped to 50% off, because I have an aversion to paying full price for games, and I finally got around to playing it this week. I’d managed to stay unspoiled for the four and a half months since release, and I’m glad about that as some of the twists caught me entirely off-guard. Fortunately, it wasn’t as hard to stay unspoiled as back in 2007, when the entire internet was all “Would you kindly lie about cake?” and I was still waiting for the first game to drop to 20 bucks so I could finally get the jokes.
Anyway, as the post title suggests, it’s an absolutely gorgeous game, to the point where it actually became immersion-breaking. There were a few times when I was wandering around Columbia and found Yet Another Spectacular View and (after I’d finished going Oooh and Aaah) found myself a little boggled at the obvious scope of the development work that went into making the game. Those were kind of “Wow, that looks fantastic! I hope the poor guy who had to put that together was actually seeing his family now and again!” moments.
It’s not that I have any sympathy for developers, mind you. I did software QA for many years, and you can’t be a good QA guy if you have any remorse about filing a massive showstopper bug at 4 PM on the Friday before, oh, Christmas. There is nothing I like more than a nice cool glass of developer tears.
You may have noticed that I’m avoiding talking about the game here, so let’s do some of that.
Bioshock: Infinite – and I realize that the colon I’m putting in there doesn’t actually exist as part of the title but I’m putting it in because I like colons – is as fun to play as it is gorgeous. It’s not as mindblowing as the original Bioshock, but that had the benefit of coming out six years ago and not having massive expectations to live up to.
If I do a point-by-point of “Bioshock: Infinite is like THIS, but Bioshock was like THIS”, this is going to get painfully long. Let’s do the thing where I talk about THIS game for a bit and then I can get to the inevitable comparison bits afterwards.
So. Bioshock: Infinite. It’s a first-person shooter, so much of the non-story bits revolve around finding the most efficient way to insert bullet A into the soft fleshy bits of enemy B while avoiding being shot by enemies C through M because my god they love to swarm you at times. It doesn’t have regenerating health, but you do have a regenerating shield – kind of like the first Halo. You’re limited to two weapons at any given time, and ammunition can get a little sparse for certain weapons at times, so you’re forced to change things up regularly, rather than just picking your two favorite and sticking through them throughout the game.
Unless you have a fondness for the shotgun, that is, because it seemed like I was constantly tripping over shotguns and shotgun ammunition. It’s not that I didn’t like the shotgun, mind you – it’s an absolutely brutal weapon against anything at close range, unlike certain video game shotguns I’ve mentioned recently.
The PC version also gets controller support back, something that was present in the first game but dropped for Bioshock 2. I recognize that I’m one of about, oh, four? PC gamers who give a damn about controller support but I’m glad to see it return.
Some games in this genre fall into the unfortunate trap of being little more than a carnival shooting gallery, where bad guys pop out at you from behind bits of shrubbery and your job is to shoot them before they duck back in, like some sort of horribly beweaponed mole. My preferences are for games where you are definitively in a three-dimensional space, and where your opponents use the space in the same way, advancing on you, flanking you, getting behind you and forcing you out of cover and so on and so forth. There were a few bits in Bioshock: Infinite where it was going with the shooting gallery paradigm, but they were offset by several fights, particularly boss encounters, where I had to move and stay on the move to survive.
If I have any quibbles, it seemed like I spent an awful lot of time finding containers to open and loot for STUFF, and this really broke the flow of the game. I also let myself get trapped in a bit of cheevo-chasing, so I found that I was using weapons that just weren’t any fun in order to get certain achievements related to them. That’s on me, though. What ISN’T on me is that the final Big Damn Set Piece Fight is a protect mission, where failing the protection part means that you start the entire thing over again.
Those quibbles aside, it was a highly satisfying 14 hours of exploring and fighting my way through Columbia and I don’t at all regret the thirty bucks. I did need to go and look up an explanation for the ending, which is kind of a black mark against it, but I realized after doing so that I had actually gotten all of the information I needed in order to understand the ending during the course of playing the game – I just hadn’t been doing a good job of putting two and two together.
Now, to come back to the inevitable comparison to the first Bioshock. Bioshock: Infinite is a stunning piece of work, but I don’t think it was as good as the 2007 game. There’s no hacking and no research, to start, and much less emphasis on using the environment against your opponents with trap wires and exploding gas canisters and the like, and Columbia just wasn’t as interesting as Rapture.
I realize that I am dismissing, off-hand, a fantastically-realized GODDAMN FLYING CITY, one that took hundreds of people to create in virtual form, but I’m going to stand by that. The atmosphere in Rapture was claustrophobic and creepy and occasionally legitimately scary, and Columbia just didn’t have that going for it. I’m also going to come out and say that I think Andrew Ryan was a heckuvalot more interesting than Comstock and that the Big Daddies were WAY more interesting than Infinite’s Handymen or Motorized Patriots. I won’t even try to find anything in Infinite that compares to Sander Cohen, because, well, nothing in Infinite compares to Sander Cohen.
I will give Infinite props for the Songbird, mind you, because he was pretty spectacular.
Nonetheless, I expect that most gamers have, by this point, played through Bioshock. So, er, Bioshock: Infinite is pretty good and you should play it if you haven’t already.
If you haven’t played Bioshock yet, though, I envy you and you should go do that. Infinite will probably be 20 bucks by the time you get through with it.