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BioShock Infinite: it always starts with a lighthouse

Monday, 25th March 2013 11:59 GMT By Dave Cook

BioShock Infinite is one of the most controversial and politically-charged games VG247′s Dave Cook has ever played. It’s simply one of the best games of the generation.

BioShock Infinite

Developed by Irrational Games, BioShock Infinite is the true follow-up to the studio’s 2007 original.

Releasing March 26 on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, BioShock Infinite also comes with a DLC season pass option. Check out what you get for your money here.

Publisher 2K Games released the game’s official TV spot last week. Watch it in full here.

The publisher also released a gameplay trailer that shows the district of Emporia torn apart by civil war. Watch it here for a good idea of how BioShock Infinite plays.

Humanity is capable of some truly despicable acts. One glance through the history books will reveal atrocities and inequality so inhumane you’ll start to question the true extent of man’s morality.

Pages dedicated to slavery, racial segregation and the rich-poor divide can’t be ignored and cannot be erased. These things actually happened, and they serve as the backbone to BioShock Infinite’s warped tale of arrogance, religious doctrine and turn-of-the-century change.

It’s one of the bravest games I’ve ever played. As you walk the sunny streets of Columbia’s floating paradise you’ll see posters depicting Chinese and African-Americans as demons. You’ll see people of colour working in chain-gangs. The ‘N word’ is used often.

At one point you’ll walk down a dank hallway. To the left is a dilapidated toilet marked “Irish and Coloureds only”. Take 40 paces along the corridor, and through the double doors you’ll be met with plush red carpets, leading to a pristine bathroom for white residents. Inside you’ll find an apologetic black man waiting to dry your hands.

Its shocking, but Irrational Games hasn’t done this just to outrage the games press or score spun headlines. The brazen bigotry exists to make a point. Much like the original BioShock’s Rapture, the imagery shows the folly of ignorance, and that every utopia is flawed at its core.

Ruled by Zachary ‘The Prophet’ Comstock, Columbia is a false heaven that weans its children on militaristic toys and propaganda, moulding them into soldiers who will live and die to serve its twisted ideals. Behind its carnival veneer lies a brutal underworld brimming with hypocrisy and death.

Then protagonist Booker DeWitt arrives in town, turning Comstock’s immaculate utopia of the sky on its axis, and leaving immeasurable death in his wake. He’s a deeply flawed man, someone you’ll spend all of the 12-hour campaign trying to understand.

After racking up some sizeable gambling debts DeWitt is forced to search Columbia for Elizabeth, a prodigal child who is said to lead the city to a new age of prosperity. Your first experience on the streets will probably see you wandering around in an amazed stupor. It’s a beautiful game.

No screen space is wasted as market vendors peddle their wares, airships drift lazily overhead, all set to a filter of red, white and blue confetti. It’s technically superb, even if some Xbox 360 textures look quite muddy up close, and like Rapture before it, Columbia feels so tangible that it’s a character in its own right.

There’s a real sense of dread that sustains for the duration. It burrows under your skin and refuses to eject, backed up by mystery at every turn. You already know this game has plot twists, but Irrational hangs evidence and misdirection in front of you that constantly keeps you guessing. It’s engaging, frequently powerful stuff.

On the mechanical side, BioShock Infinite handles well. There are stark similarities to the original game such as raiding containers for cash and food. Automated vending machines that dispense ammo and medi-kits, as well as upgrades for both your weapons and Vigor powers.

These supernatural tonics give Booker a range of powers such as Shock Jockey, which can be used to electrocute enemies or bodies of water. You can also use it to charge up switches and as with all Vigors, has an alt. fire mode that typically lets you lay down proximity traps.

There are eight Vigors in total and while they back up the gunplay well, they don’t feel as prominent as BioShock’s Plasmids. You can fight your way through most encounters without them, as they don’t do much damage to begin with.

Until you start buying upgrades they’re more useful for crowd management and as a finisher instead of an out-right means of attack. But even once you’ve paid to improve each Vigor, they still aren’t as destructive as you might like.

That said, you can also combine Vigor effects for added depth. Blasting a pack of guards with Bucking Bronco will cause them to hang in the air paralysed so you can then torch them with Devil’s Kiss, or blast them off the city’s edge with Undertow. There’s an element of strategy at play, even if it feels wafer-thin.

Then you have Elizabeth, the heart of BioShock Infinite’s plot. She’s a superb companion, and one you never have to coddle or worry about. Her AI is visibly smart as she seeks cover and tosses you useful items during a gun fight. You can also use her reality-warping powers to give DeWitt an edge in combat.

An example of this sees the pair trying to commandeer the late Lady Comstock’s airship. You’ll fight through a large sandbox area full of Skyhook rails and terrain that gives you freedom to proceed as you see fit. Elizabeth’s ability to open rips in reality called ‘Tears’ can change your approach further.

You can phase in ammo crates, health caches, ad hoc cover, auto-turrets and more. Summoning in Motorised Patriots – lumbering statues of George Washington and other founding fathers armed with hulking mini-guns – is a personal favourite. You’ll also have to fight your fair share of these monstrosities of course.

One monstrosity who is severely under-used is Songbird. You’re led to believe that Elizabeth’s mechanical guardian will block Booker’s rescue mission at every turn yet it rarely appears throughout the campaign. Resident Evil 3′s Nemesis it is not.

Other antagonists will hound you in Songbird’s place, such as leader of the Vox Populi rebel movement such as Daisy Fitzroy. She fights for the people, but wants to paint the streets red with the blood of the white upper class. She and Comstock are essentially a palette swap, both idealistic dictators on either side of the race divide vying for Columbia’s throne.

None of these players come close to matching the fractured psyche of BioShock’s Sander Cohen, or Andrew Ryan’s misplaced self-righteousness. In fact, BioShock Infinite’s final third trades words, characters and ideals for bullets and bombs. Its cast makes way for gunfights that seem to outstay their welcome.

The game falls into a similar trap as Dead Space 3, steadily shifting focus from pathos and immersion to walled off arenas full of enemies. Kill everyone in the area and you may proceed. It feels like filler compared to the incredible sights and symbolism that come before it.

There’s not enough time to drink in the geography during the closing hours. You’ll be too busy zipping along Skyhook rails volleying off RPG rounds at Handyman sentries, as flame troops hurl balls of flaming death at you. You’ll want the game to shift focus back to story-telling.

As the plot begins to wind down it returns to the same “delicious” question being asked throughout. Whatever answer you come up with is probably wrong, and when you come to understand the context of “Infinite” itself you’ll see everything in new light.

After the end credits roll you’ll have a million questions on your mind, but that’s not because the plot fails to tie everything together. Instead, this is a game that wants you to be sceptical, to distrust everything you see so that it can rail-road you with twists until the end. It wants you to think.

Although Rapture and its host of psychopaths, monsters and liars makes for a more engrossing experience, BioShock Infinite is a superb piece of story-telling that deserves to be played by all. It surpasses Levine’s original concept on many occasions, but just falls short of ascension.

It succeeds in shrouding everything in a deeper mystery than its predecessor. There are half-truths everywhere. But no matter which way the narrative shifts, or what you choose to do while playing BioShock Infinite, you’ll want to go back right back to where it all started and experience it again with clearer eyes.

You’ll want to go back to the lighthouse.

Disclosure: To assist with writing this article, 2K Games sent Dave an Xbox 360 copy of BioShock Infinite. No other merchandise or advertising was offered or accepted.

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32 Comments

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  1. Edo

    “You’ll want to go back to the lighthouse.”Are you trying to tell us something Dave cause I don’t like spoilers even as subtle as this? :).How long is the game btw and which version did you play(sorry for not reading but as I said spoilers and all).

    #1 1 year ago
  2. Dave Cook

    @1 Nope, no spoilers man. I wouldn’t do that to you guys.

    it took me 12 hours on hard :)

    #2 1 year ago
  3. Edo

    @2 Interesting…maybe I should start on hard too,is it true that there is much less exploration than in Bioshock,cause that kind of worries me?

    #3 1 year ago
  4. monkeygourmet

    Picking up my copy today, although I have a shitty metting to prepare for tommorow…

    Must resist playing till then… O_o

    Bioshock was basically my perfect setting for a game. Am a little bit worried I won’t really get on with this one.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. Dave Cook

    @3 Nah I wouldn’t say so I spent a lot of time rummaging for loot. It gets more fenced in towards the end due to the gunplay, but it’s mostly the same as the original.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. Dave Cook

    @4 I think Rapture is the stronger setting. I prefer Infinite’s plot and mystery though.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. monkeygourmet

    @6

    Im a sucker for diving history and anything to do with ocean exploration, so Rapture just blew me away! :)

    Glad the plot has had alot of work. To be honest, I was actually really worried this would get f**ked up what with all the delay’s and multiplayer fiasco.

    Im glad it’s turned out well in the end.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. Dave Cook

    @7 Let me know what you think once you play through it. Keen to see how people react to it.

    #8 1 year ago
  9. Edo

    @5 Thanks,that is good to know.

    #9 1 year ago
  10. Dave Cook

    @9 any time :)

    #10 1 year ago
  11. monkeygourmet

    @8

    Will do!

    Huge fan of the series, I even liked Bioshock 2,

    I find a harpoon gun usually makes any game better though! ;)

    #11 1 year ago
  12. Cobra951

    “Irish and Coloureds only”–is that a reference to Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles? Looks like an off-color joke anyway.

    This game doesn’t turn into “Django Infinite” does it? The woman wielding the revolvers, following what you wrote up to that point, made me wonder.

    #12 1 year ago
  13. Phoenixblight

    @12

    The leader of the rebellion is a black woman who was a slave which I figure is the woman with the revolvers.

    #13 1 year ago
  14. Dave Cook

    @13 Correct. Daisy Fitzroy.

    @12 possibly, but there are a lot of Irish and ethnic minorities (in Columbia they’re minorities anyway) in the slum district. It’s depressing.

    On the Django thing. No. Honestly, whatever you guess about the game will end up being wrong. It’s insanely well-written.

    #14 1 year ago
  15. Cobra951

    @14: Thanks. I can’t wait to grab this, but I’m going to have to. I’m going to be busy through the Easter weekend.

    #15 1 year ago
  16. Dave Cook

    @15 ah that sucks :( Well, seriously avoid spoilers.

    #16 1 year ago
  17. ActionGameKing

    Thanks for the spoiler-free review Dave. Unfortunately I won’t be able to get this immediately, so for the next few weeks I have to avoid spoilers like a madman! A.K.A Youtube comments and forum threads.

    #17 1 year ago
  18. Dave Cook

    @17 Yeah do it mate, try your best to avoid them It’ll be so worth it :)

    #18 1 year ago
  19. Kabby

    How does this game stand out if you thought the previous two were tedious tat?

    #19 1 year ago
  20. ActionGameKing

    BTW I have MG Rising, and just defeated Sundowner. The game is a blast, but more of a Viewtiful Joe experience than a Bayonetta one. Not really about combos, but just classic hand-eye co-ordination here. The camera is an issue, and the game rarely tells you about lock-on (or anything else for the casual gamer), but I see something special here like no other action game I’ve played. I think the potential on next-gen hardware is massive, hoping for a sequel. Going to go read your review for that again now that I’ve played a couple days worth of the game.

    #20 1 year ago
  21. Samoan Spider

    I’ve managed to clear up a huge amount of games just in time for my gaming calender to be clear. One thing I’ve noticed in all this, so many games have ridiculously low running times. With the 12 hours, are their diversions you missed or is this to be expected? I. Cannot. Wait.

    #21 1 year ago
  22. polygem

    shit. i suck at avoiding spoilers. countless times it happened to me. i just can´t resist to read/ watch stuff about a game i am interested in. i planned to play bioshock infinite in the summer, maybe even in the fall just before the next gen rolls out but there is probably zero chance not to get spoiled by then. maybe i´ll just pick it up for the weekend :)

    #22 1 year ago
  23. Dave Cook

    @19 define ‘tedious’ in that context mate, I’ll try my best to help :)

    #23 1 year ago
  24. Dave Cook

    @21 yeah you can miss a lot mate, you need to scavenge like mad.

    #24 1 year ago
  25. theevilaires

    Damn those screens alone just reek triple A quality. This is a game you instantly look at the back of the box and say yea I need to play this. Can’t wait to pick up my copy tomorrow.

    #25 1 year ago
  26. Dave Cook

    @25 visually it looks superb, until you get up close to some textures. I found the 360 build to be blurred out in many places. Take a step back though and it’s truly a sight to behold.

    #26 1 year ago
  27. Samoan Spider

    @24 Well that’s awesome. I’m the gaming equivalent of your local pikey so I should have a lot of fun with this ;)

    #27 1 year ago
  28. Dave Cook

    @27 oh yes, tons of loot :D

    #28 1 year ago
  29. Jet Black

    Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B and A = 1999… ;-)

    #29 1 year ago
  30. Cobra951

    @16: I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers. I even skipped some sentences in your review, and that’s mostly safe. :) I want the experience to be surprising and unexpected. I don’t even want to know much about abilities (vigors, I guess) ahead of time.

    #30 1 year ago
  31. Beta

    I love story driven games so I’m very much looking forward to rushing down to pick up my pre-order tomorrow :D

    Will try to do it in one sitting on normal to avoid spoilers.

    #31 1 year ago
  32. YoungZer0

    Just finished it. Maybe it’s because it’s so raw and I’ve Not really processed it all yet, but the ending left me feeling disappointed.

    Spoilers ahead

    It felt rushed.

    “Okay, so here’s how it works with the lighthouses and here’s who you really are and here’s how it ends. Die. Credits.”

    As if the developer was so busy cramming in as much combat in the end as possible and then went: “Oh shit, we forgot to tell the story.”

    Right around the end I tried to avoid combat, because it was getting boring. They definitely should’ve toned that down.

    I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to feel about the characters yet. Booker is way too broody at times, always saying his mysterious shit whenever godi’mterriblewithnamesELIZABETH asks him anything.

    “I’m dark, I did terrible things, you shouldn’t ask me too much, you’d be afraid of me. I’m gonna go and and listen to Linkin Park now while I cut myself.”

    And seriously, some of the plot points were predictable. As soon as he mentioned a baby I thought “What if this baby survived? What if it’s her? Wow! Would that mean that he might be Cockstick? Of course, that would make sense, that’s why he can see in the future! He did it all before.”

    And then you have the ending, where Booker tries his best to save Elizabeth so she wouldn’t become her other self.

    We’re supposed to believe that all is good now, that people can change, and that this change can impact the future. But then you find out that he’s actually Cockstick before his bath and he kills himself.

    Why can Elizabeth change, but not he? If he can kill himself, why can’t he simply avoid the rebirth? Just go home Booker, you’re drunk.

    Spoilers behind

    And what happened to the choices? You could choose one or two things at the beginning but they completely threw that concept over board even before you reached the middle of the game.

    And the environments can get pretty stale after a while. Though, I have to add that right around the time when I said “God, this is getting boring” Bo & El went to the slums. That was nice. Not too different though and very short.

    The game could also have benefited from some stealth gameplay mechanics. There are a lot of situations where the enemy has not spotted you yet, but you can’t really sneak past, or kill him silently.

    I expected much, much more from the game.

    #32 1 year ago