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REVIEW: BioShock Infinite (Multi)

After a four day marathon in which I rocked through Bioshock 1, 2 and Infinite back to back to back to back I have to say that Bioshock Infinite is gorgeous. It’s possibly the best game I’ve played this year. However, it doesn’t much feel like a Bioshock game. This review focuses primarily on what makes Bioshock Infinite different from the previous two games and as a result does NOT go into plot detail.

Oh, sure, it has elements of the first two. There are guns in your right hand and “magic” in your left, although Infinite calls them “Vigors” instead of “Plasmids”. You gain them by drinking potions instead of injections. Each area of the game is dominated by a character speaking over a loudspeaker and you know you’re done with that zone once you confront them.

Bioshock Infinite starts as a sort of love letter to the original, approaching a lighthouse in the middle of the Atlantic via rowboat. The player character, Booker DeWitt, has a box in his lap in much the same pose and contents as Jack, the player character in the original Bioshock. As Booker ascends into Columbia there are echoes of Jack’s descent into Rapture, including a zeppelin standing in for a large whale.

From there, Bioshock Infinite meanders widely from the Bioshock universe. Gone are the maps which showed you which areas were cleared and which were not. Gone is the overhead arrow which points you to the next goal (although you can get a temporary arrow by pressing up on the d-pad.) Columbia is the brightly lit, open aired, acrophopic nightmare Metropolis compared to Rapture’s dim, close, claustrophobic Gotham.

The most frustrating part for me was being constrained by a two-weapons-at-a-time and also two-Vigors-at-a-time FPS system. This caused the combat to feel more like Halo than a Bioshock game and after immediately preceding Infinite with 1 and 2, that took the biggest adjustment.

The time honored tradition of zapping an opponent with your left hand and clocking them with a melee weapon in the right is still brutally effective. You don’t get the Shock Jockey Vigor until you’re in the game for a bit, but the “Murder of Crows” works well, as does “Bucking Bronco”, which hoists enemies into the air allowing you to skeet shoot them. There is also an incredibly powerful melee attack which can be performed by holding Y on a weakened opponent. There are various and horrible things that your skyhook can do to a human body and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

The magnetic skyhook is also used for its intended purpose of latching on to hook points to gain a higher perspective on your enemies. When you spot a hook location, pressing A will vault you into the air and latch on. From there you may find other hook points, otherwise inaccessible balconies, ledges and rooftops, and perform Assassin’s Creed style air assassinations, There are also series of rails which can be ridden from one floating island in the sky to the next, somewhat like the train in Bioshock 2.

Pressing and holding the left bumper will access your wheel of up to 8 Vigors, but you can only have two equipped at any one time. There are also only 8 in the entire game, so the notion of buying slots and populating them with any one of many Plasmids is out the door.

Also out the door is any kind of solo play. The Bioshock games were claustrophobic and it felt like you were alone. Sure, Atlas and Tannenbaum kept in radio contact, but that’s not the same thing as having a living, breathing NPC traveling with you through most of the levels. Once you pick up Elizabeth she remains with you, with one brief exception, through to the end of the game. The good news is, this is no game long escort mission. Elizabeth tells you early on that she can take care of herself and doesn’t need your protection. Not only that, she will actually help you out, feeding you health, ammo and Vigor powering Salts through the game.

There are no “Adam” or “Eve”. Vigors are gained naturally through the game via found bottles and they are powered by Salt, also found through the game. The only items to buy are weapon and vigor upgrades along with health and ammo. Instead of character buffs, there are clothing slots. If you were a fan of the item that set people on fire when they punched you, you will find a hat here that does the same thing. However, unlike the first two games, and in keeping with the limits of Infinite, you can only have 4 buffs equipped at any one time. One hat, one shirt, one pair of pants and one pair of boots.

Yet another difference is the complete and utter lack of anything resembling little sisters to rescue and/or harvest. Except for one moment early in the game, Infinite doesn’t offer the same sorts of moral choices that the first two games had. This makes a certain level of sense as there is no Adam with which to buy upgrades, but it feels like another divergence from the Bioshock formula. Elizabeth and her relationship to the Songbird is similar to a Little Sister-Big Daddy relationship, but not really.

In the end, I came away feeling like Bioshock Infinite shares the same relationship to the original games as the film Prometheus does to Alien. It’s gorgeous to look at and made by some of the same people, but aside from a brief call back right at the end you can’t really say it’s related to the original at all. Bioshock Infinite is it’s own animal, and worth experiencing even if you never played a Bioshock game before. Perhaps I should say, especially if you never played a Bioshock game before.

On it’s own, as an original IP, BiuoShock Infinite is a 5 star game. Because it’s shoe-horned in to the Bioshock franchise when it feels nothing like a Bioshock game, I’m taking off 1/2 a star.

4.5 stars out of 5

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