Friday, August 9, 2013

Guest Review: Bioshock Infinite (PS3, XBox 360, PC, 2013)


Today, the "Deli Mane" Nick Vogt is taking a look at Bioshock Infinite. It's one of the best games of 2013. It's controversial. It's deep. What are his thoughts on the finished game? Read on to find out.






CAUTION: Spoilers run rampant. If you've already played the game, then by all means continue. If not, turn back now, as this is one game you don't want to spoil. You have been warned.



BIOSHOCK INFINITE
Review by Nick Vogt

Irrational Games’ third (and final?) installment in their ambitious Bioshock series, Bioshock Infinite definitely lives up to its hype. Infinite is not only the best Bioshock, but also one of the best games of this generation. Infinite combines a thought-provoking and immersive story with really solid gameplay, making for an awesome experience. Here are my thoughts about the single player game.

Story

While the characters of this game are incredible, the real star of the story is the setting. For Infinite, series creator Ken Levine moves us out of the cramped, undersea, creepy, dystopian, 1960s Rapture and into the bright, open and flying early 1900s city of Columbia. The two cities may seem very different, but they are actually quite similar. While Rapture is an obviously dark and dangerous place, Columbia is even more insidious because its darkness isn’t immediately obvious.


Columbia is a racist, classist, xenophobic and fanatically religious city. When Booker arrives in Columbia we see its dark side almost immediately. He is forcibly “baptized” and nearly drowns. The baptism scene is great storytelling because it shows us the game’s two themes right away: Religion and violence.

Also, early into the game, we also see a violent and extremely racist fair event where soldiers bring an interracial couple on stage and the public can essentially stone them for entertainment. And, later in the game, we see a poor part of Columbia where mostly black workers appear to be basically slaves, doing menial, hard labor.

Despite these examples (and more) of bigotry, segregation and downright hate, the upper class (and white) people of Columbia are all smiles. There is a good deal of happy music, sunshine, and talk of triumph and glory all around. Rapture was an obviously fucked up city in just about every way. Columbia is just as fucked if not more, and the city’s happy front makes its darkness extra disturbing.


Unlike the previous Bioshock games, Infinite’s hero Booker Dewitt is far more of a developed character than the heroes of the previous games. He has a fleshed out back-story and a voice, he comments on the story unfolding around him. But, even though we play as Booker, this game isn’t his story. It's the story of Booker’s companion, the super powered Elizabeth, who goes through some very major changes over the course of the game. It’s almost as if she “grows up.”

At the beginning of the game Booker acts protective towards Elizabeth and she is very naïve and innocent. Elizabeth is disgusted when Booker kills, seeing him as a brute and a monster. But, eventually Elizabeth learns that it has become kill or be killed in Columbia. And then, we get that huge moment when Booker is powerless to stop Elizabeth from killing Daisy, the leader of the revolution. To prevent Daisy from killing a child, Elizabeth stabs her. And then, Elizabeth stands there with blood on her hands. She is disturbed by what she has done, but also realizes that it was necessary. Later in the game we see Elizabeth fight a specter of her dead mother, in the process coming to terms with her memories of her mother and her feelings about her family. By the end of the game, Elizabeth has literally transformed. Her realization that there are infinite alternate realities causes her to transcend all reality. And, by the very last scene of the game, we see a goddess-like Elizabeth, wise and powerful.

Most stories featuring a hero with a dark past end with a redemption. Infinite’s intense ending is less of a redemption for Booker and more of an acceptance of fate. Through a somewhat confusing/overwhelming cutscene we learn that in other realities, Booker, became Comstock, the founder and spiritual leader of Columbia. This is a good parallel to the first Bioshock (and a good echo of the baptism at the game’s start) where, late into the game, we learn we are playing as a clone of Andrew Ryan, Rapture’s founder. When Booker decides to let his daughter Elizabeth drown him to prevent Comstock from ever existing it is a powerful scene. While much of this game’s story is anti religion, this ending seems a bit hypocritical. The idea that we can’t escape fate (Booker will always become Comstock) seems extremely religious. It’s very Catholic: “you’re born a sinner!”

The POV drowning is a moving scene, but the idea that Booker doesn’t have a choice but to turn into a monster seems like an odd storytelling choice. The first Bioshock is about a man who never had a choice gaining choice and finally acting on his own. This game seems to have the total opposite ending. Booker always thought he had choices but learns his fate is predetermined.



Gameplay

The Bioshock games are often described as “shooters with RPG elements.” Infinite is far more shooter than RPG. While the original Bioshock features a number of perks and stat changes and tons of powers and abilities we can upgrade, Infinite has scrapped most of that. There are now only a handful of super powers (now called Vigors), and a few items (called Gears) that Booker can wear to create some passive effects. But, that’s it for the RPG stuff. For the most part this is a shooter. There are even regenerating shields like Halo and controls that are similar to Call Of Duty.

This game is not just a clone of other shooters, though. The Vigors add a lot of choices in how we can play. For instance I choose to use the “Bucking Bronco” and “Undertow” powers mainly and upgrade those. My friend’s wife relied heavily on the “Possession” power to make enemies turn against each other. While a couple powers are similar to the original Bioshock’s (“Murder Of Crows” is like “Insect Swarm”, “Devil’s Kiss” is like “Incinerate!” and “Shock Jockey” is similar to “Electro Bolt”), there are also brand new, and very inventive Vigors in Infinite. “Charge,” for instance, causes Booker to rush at whoever he’s facing and hit them hard. The aforementioned “Undertow” and “Bucking Bronco” can pull in enemies or send them flying up into the air respectively. And the defensive “Return To Sender” creates a shield around Booker that will reflect enemy projectiles.

Columbia’s “Sky Hooks” allow Booker to zip around open areas of the city on a weird, rail system. He can leap down and crash onto enemies from it, or use it for a quick escape. It is also used to travel to new areas. Granted, the skyhooks are not Infinite’s coolest feature, but they are a unique part of the gameplay.

Graphics

As I said earlier, this game is much brighter than previous Bioshocks. The art style is stylized to a greater degree and characters can appear a bit “cartoony.” That playful look coupled with this game’s extreme violence and gore makes for a pretty intense contrast. But, that is right in line with Infinite’s themes. Just like how a happy Columbia makes seeing its dark side more disturbing, the playful art style makes the violence even more disturbing. The level of violence may seem gratuitous, but I have no doubt it’s purposeful.


Bioshock Infinite is a masterpiece. Characters with depth, a fascinating and disturbing setting, and complex themes of religion, violence, and choice make for a powerful and unique story. And the Vigors are like a streamlined version of the previous games’ Plasmids, allowing far more creativity than one would expect from a shooter.

Rating: 9.0/10



2 comments:

  1. Sweet review. The thing I liked most about this game was the atmosphere. You're right that it's the best game in the series but it's too bad that the game play wasn't as deep as the original game, needed more abilities.

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  2. Nice review. The theme of the inevitability of fate seems Greek to me.

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