BioShock Infinite Video Game Review

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Stand Tall for the People of America!

"The Good" of BioShock Infinite

By: Lawrence Napoli

Story:

Story is one of this game’s strongest elements because it gives repetitive shooting renewed context in every chapter which motivates the player to plow ahead.  As the protagonist Booker DeWitt, the player navigates the fictional city of Columbia: a floating city in the clouds that is the result of unparalleled technology not present in the real world’s recollection of the American industrial revolution circa 1912.  An ex-Pinkerton (or thug that breaks up organized labor), Booker is no stranger to violence, but he is coerced to go to Columbia himself to extract a girl known as Elizabeth because his employers hold some sort of debt over Booker which he cannot repay on his own.  Upon arriving at Columbia, the player is introduced to what seems like nothing short of magic although it is explained to be the result of otherworldly or rather, other-timely technology.  As Booker infiltrates the city, he is forced to deal with a multitude of armed opposition, a brewing civil war and a mechanical menace known as Songbird with only his trigger finger and Elizabeth herself to aid his quest.  She is somehow at the center of the entire conflict, but the facts are shrouded in deceit and few native Columbians are forthcoming.  Capitalism, communism, civil rights, racism, inequality, and the good old fashioned military-industrial-complex is touched upon during Booker’s journey so get used to the sensation of heavy handed metaphors at work throughout this game.

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"Heavy"

Mechanics:

Vigors- BioShock’s most notable mechanic in the form of pairing weapons with superpowers formerly referred to as “plasmids” have returned in the form of “vigors” in Infinite.  These powers function in almost the exact same capacity as established in previous games by giving the player a means of altering tactics to an ever evolving threat level based on differing numbers and abilities of the opposition.  Every vigor has an alternate deployment by holding the left bumper button which engages more powerful versions that usually take the form of traps which the player can lay on any surface.  Some of these powers give the player mastery over fire, water and lightning while others produce defensive or distraction effects that can be more valuable especially on higher difficulty levels where conserving health is mandatory.  Vigors can also be combined to have compound effects when used in tandem.  They are all very fun to use and upgradeable at the various automaton stations littered throughout Columbia.

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Thus I present the vigor known as "Shock Jockey"

EquipmentInfinite is the first BioShock game to utilize an equipment-based combat enhancer that is more in lines with contemporary action RPGs.  The player can assign different clothing to four parts of the body to give bonuses to a variety of in game activity which never hamper the player in any way.  The effects can work together to make new methods of play (like melee) viable in a shooter like this.  If he or she wants to completely ignore them, but on higher difficulties, resources are scarce and the player must look for every advantage possible.  This serves no aesthetic purpose as the FPS format prevents the player from actually seeing the character or any possible costume alterations.  Clothing is well hidden in Columbia so it behooves the player to search every corner and look around every corner to reap the rewards of enhanced prowess.

Infusions– There are three vital stats to track in BioShock Infinite: health, shields, and salts.  Health is self-explanatory.  Shields are an ever-regenerating barrier that the player actually doesn’t begin the game with, but can absorb a variety of incoming damage from projectiles or melee based assault.  Salts equate to a magic or mana meter and this determines the frequency the player can deploy vigors.  The player can find infusion bottles while exploring Columbia which can upgrade any one of these vital stats, but what makes them unique is that the player can choose to upgrade any category whenever a bottle is discovered.  For instance, there is no such thing as health-only infusions.  It is the reason why the bottles are seen as constantly morphing between the colors that represent their respective stat: red for health, yellow for shields and blue for salts. 

Guns– Weapons are easily the most unremarkable combat element to BioShock Infinite, but there’s no way to achieve victory without them.  Machine guns, pistols, shotguns, rocket launchers, sniper rifles and grenade launchers represent the arsenal at the player’s disposal which can each be upgraded in the same way as vigors.  Should the player find an affinity for particular weapons there’s no punishment for holding on to them for the duration.  Unlike vigors, the player can only retain two guns at any point so making wise decisions in regards to weapon range will pay dividends.  Keeping two heavy damage weapons might seem cool, but are slow and you might need a higher rate of fire to keep up with quicker enemies.  I suggest experimentation to discover which guns work best for you, but beware that ammo vendors may not be available at every location in Columbia, so scavenging guns you have neglected to upgrade may be necessary.

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Consider the enhanced range of the sniper rifle.

Elizabeth– Once you rescue her, Elizabeth becomes yet another gameplay mechanic that adds yet another dimension to the shooting action.  There are a couple of things that the player can control in regards to the girl.  One is that the player can control her ability to open up “tears” in space time that bring in a multitude of set pieces that didn’t exist in the regular environment.  For instance, Booker may be walking down an alley and is instantly accosted by enemy snipers.  Elizabeth can be ordered to open a tear that produces a brick wall to be used as cover for Booker.  Whatever gets “torn in” is predetermined by the area the player is actually in so you can’t magically summon a tank to roll over enemy opposition whenever you want.  You can, however, tear in friendly gun turrets, weapons, health boxes and ledges to vertically explore the landscape. 

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Looks like a "tear" in progress.

The player will also run into several locked doors in Columbia which only Elizabeth can bypass, provided the player has the right number of lock-picks to gain entry.  The amount of picks varies from door to door and safe to safe, but the reward is usually a bunch of cash, new equipments and infusion bottles, so unlocking everything is the order of the day.  The other element of Elizabeth that is useful, but the player cannot control is her emergency support throughout the game.  Occasionally, she will find money and toss it to Booker, but only when the player acknowledges her via pressing the correct button.  She will also toss the player ammo, health or salts in the middle of combat if he or she is running dangerously low, but she will not do this (no pun intended) infinitely.  The rule of thumb is that you better be done killing soon after she tosses you support because your lifeline is shrinking.

Money– The currency of Columbia is the Silver Eagle and collecting these will ensure the player is outfitted with upgraded weapons, abilities and ammunition.  Money is also fairly scarce on any difficulty so the player shouldn’t expect to upgrade every gun into its ultimate evolution.  Resource management is the key, so frugal choices will add to the player’s longevity.  Every upgrade for guns and vigors is very costly and if you do not have 100 Silver Eagles to pay when you die on the “1999” (survivor) mode, the game kicks you to the main menu as a form of “perma death.”  Spend your money wisely.  

Death– Booker DeWitt will die plenty of times during BioShock Infinite, regardless of difficulty level.  I like how the game doesn’t exactly punish you for perishing in that every death involves losing some cash and revitalizing you with only a fraction of health while restoring health to enemies you failed to put down.  Multiple deaths can become problematic during boss fights because they absorb a ton of damage and ammo is finite.  Multiple deaths can be a virtual death sentence over the long haul on a “1999” run.  At 100 Eagles a pop, death ain’t cheap and seeing how you scavenge no more than 10 per corpse (if they have any at all), replenishing money to pay for death becomes less realistic.  Consider reloading checkpoints if this becomes an issue.

Music:

Few soundtracks for games are worth purchasing as a separate entity, but let me tell you, it is worth every penny for BioShock Infinite.  The highlights include an exceedingly emotive performance by Courtney Draper (the voice of Elizabeth throughout the game) who sings an adaptation of Will the Circle Be Unbroken that takes on so many parallels when keeping the story of the game in mind.  Another example of emotional, yet metaphoric music is Nico Vega’s song Beast which has been earmarked as the unofficial/official theme song of Infinite seeing how clips of the song have been attached to just about every trailer and commercial you have seen promoting this game.  My favorite examples of shear, musical, genius happen to be the turn of the century covers of several 80s pop hits such as God Only Knows and Girls Just Want to Have Fun.  Several of these tracks occur during standard gameplay and are worth taking a brief time out from digital homicide, to listen to the music of Columbia as it helps to immerse you into the environment that much more.

Gameplay:

Gameplay is what makes a game fun and regardless of the mechanics a game affords the player, the functionality of said mechanics and the fluidity of their execution determines good gameplay from the bad.  Overall movement in BioShock Infinite is fairly satisfying.  You can run, jump strafe and aim with relative ease but with a control scheme that may be a tad foreign to veterans of military FPS games. 

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There's plenty of shooting involved.

For instance, just about every shooter (regardless of perspective, developer or license) have all assigned the left bumper to allow the player to aim down the sights of whatever weapon they have equipped for more precision.  This cannot be done in any BioShock game thanks to the existence of the vigor mechanic which takes exclusive control over both left bumpers on either controller for XBOX 360 or PS3.  You can, however, switch to “iron sights” by depressing the right analog stick (at least for the PS3) which I didn’t find cumbersome, but shooter veterans might consider such a control scheme as a deal breaker.     

The one dynamic movement element new to this franchise is the use of the skyline system that bridges the various buildings, airships and freight throughout all of Columbia.  It also provides the player with a quicker means of transportation as well as an effective form of evasion during drawn out assaults.  With the simple press of one button, Booker can use his “skyhook” to ride the rails to jump in and out of firefights quickly while picking of the enemy from a distance.  The only drawback is that you cannot use vigors while riding the rails seeing how your other arm is busy at the moment.  Navigating the skylines is actually quite easy from increasing/decreasing throttle, reversing direction, leaping off to safe spots and using the very valuable “skyline strike” that usually leads to instant kills for non-armored adversaries. 

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Riding the rails.

Vigors may or may not be easy to use, depending on the player.  You see, there is no way to aim as precisely with these as with guns so there may be a little trial and error involved.  Trust me when I say that you can completely wiff at point blank range (thank you Shock Jockey).  Their functions are also fairly different amongst them and although they all have a quick ability with a tap of the left bumper, every vigor unleashes greater power by holding the left bumper and then releasing.  Unfortunately, this leaves the player vulnerable should he or she forget that they can still shoot their weapon while charging their vigor. 

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The "Murder of Crows" vigor looks cool, but how useful is it really?

 

 

PART 2

Stand Tall for the Beast of America!

"The Bad" of BioShock Infinite

By: Lawrence Napoli

BioShock Infinite is not a perfect game.  It has its glitches and it has its character flaws, but believe me when I tell you that this really took some nitpicking on my part to highlight what was “wrong” with this game: 

1) Occasionally there will be objects in the environment that you can interact with or collect that are designated by an unmistakable shimmer.  Sometimes these objects cannot be collected despite crouching Booker right on top of it as if it weren’t there at all. 

2) I found that the upsurge in difficulty that occurs when dealing with a “Handyman” to be a bit unreasonable when compared to every other opposition in the game.  These guys absorb a TON of damage, are faster than you and can leap tall buildings in a single bound.  Of course, they also happen to attack you whenever skylines are present so don’t ignore them.

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I hate it when these guys show up!

3) The objective arrow is terrible!  Ugh, I hated using that thing because when I needed course alterations quickly, it either never engaged or the angle of my perspective was not low enough to the ground to actually see it.  If there was anything that the game series of Dead Space did well was their objective arrows.

4) There’s no ability to skip in game “dialogue” cut scenes.  Sometimes you just want to get to killing and although you may have completed the game once before, the game won’t deny you the opportunity to sit through the drama once again, whether you like it or not.

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I'm sorry sir.  Was this your rail?

5) No manually saving stinks and auto-saving to only one slot is worse.  Yes, I know the manual saves (at any point) during the previous BioShock games might have seemed like a broken option, but being irresponsible with it could lead to saves that resulted in instant deaths if they were poorly timed (like in the middle of a firefight).  Infinite’s solution to this problem substitutes a player-controlled safety net in favor of a glitchy AI safety net.

6) Replay value is low.  With the exception of upping the difficulty for those who may need baby steps when it comes to challenges, more than two runs isn’t particularly necessary.  For those who take their time exploring every inch of Columbia, perhaps only once is enough.  Trophy hunting is usually a solid motivator for multiple replays on games these days, but even average gamers will find that they will acquire most of Infinite’s achievements effortlessly.  Perhaps multiplayer would have helped this bad boy out?

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Is Elizabeth interesting enough to warrant another go?

7) Respawns are the bane of this game.  Sometimes revivals will get you right back in the action, not two steps from where you perished.  The only problem is that all the bad guys are still there and aiming at your defeated corpse which can lead to some frustrated profanity on the player’s part so consider reloading a checkpoint before wasting more time and Silver Eagles.  Respawning also has a significant glitch at the most inopportune point in the game: during the final moments of BioShock Infinite’s climactic battle.  This happened to me on my “1999” run as I eliminated the last enemy with an RPG only to be killed by a bullet of his own.  I revived, dropped through the floor, respawned and was frozen; unable to finish my objective (which amounted to taking 50 paces straight ahead) and ultimately finish the game.  I was ready to break many things and as of this article’s writing, there is still no patch for this problem.  Reloading the last checkpoint won’t work because it saves Booker’s “frozen” state as well.  If this happens to you, take a deep breath and reload the previous chapter point: yes, you’ll have to do it all over again, but it’s better than starting a brand new game from the very beginning. 

 

PART 3

To "1999" Mode and Beyond!

Survivor tips and the final word on BioShock Infinite

By: Lawrence Napoli

Although the tips that I will go over in this segment are meant for a "1999" run, they can easily be applied to any difficulty level.  With a little practice and comfort with the control scheme and timing/placement of vigors, anyone can conquer this beast.

1) If you pre-ordered this game, play all of the “Industrial Revolution” puzzle games at finkmanufacturing.com which gives the player some nice in-game bonuses.  Finishing all 59 of them may seem time consuming, but it gives the player a bit more context to the overall story as well as more free goodies towards the beginning of your adventure through Columbia. 

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More powerups make dealing with specialty enemies like this much easier.

2) Consider using only the carbine rifle and sniper rifle as your exclusive weapon load out.  Just about every weapon gets the job done, but no two does so more efficiently than these two.  It gives the player masterful medium and long distance range as well as being moderately common to find replacement ammunition amidst the ruination Booker leaves in his wake.  The sniper rifle is excellent with one hit (headshot) kills from range, so take advantage of cover because not every ambush will involve 20 angry Columbians charging right at you.  I completely understand switching to some other situational gun or anything else if you’re plain out of ammo, but upgrade-wise; stick with these guns.

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Pistol ammo is very common, but not particularly powerful.

3) Possession and the Devil’s Kiss vigors should be upgraded both times.  “1999” mode does mean enemies deal out more damage so conventional wisdom would dictate investing in more defensive minded or distracting powers.  WRONG!  In this case, a good defense is a great offense and instantly turning your assailants into allies levels out the playing field quickly while you duck for cover and regenerate shields.  Devil’s Kiss can deal massive damage (especially paired with the right equipment), but consider using traps as opposed to tosses.  The only other vigor you should spend 1 second thinking about is Charge.  Late game, this max upgraded vigor will make mincemeat out of the most difficult bosses and conserve minutes, bullets and money in the meanwhile.  Its only limitation is that it doesn’t have as much of an area of effect on mobs as Devil’s Kiss.

4) Infusion strategy: Salts FIRST, Shields SECOND, Health LAST!  Trust me on this one.  The first few chapters of the game are certainly tricky when your health meter is so low, but if you are using your powers more frequently (thanks to a greater salt meter), you are eliminating threats almost as quickly.  You shouldn’t even be thinking of absorbing ANY damage “1999” mode seeing how mishandling even one enemy can put you six feet under.  Later on, there will simply be too many bullets flying around to keep track of, but max your shields completely before putting a single infusion bottle into health because they regenerate.  Health does not.  

5) Use skyline to your advantage during all firefights.  Use the skyhook strike when possible.

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The skyhook is your friend.

6) Going for the “Scavenger Hunt” achievement isn’t as bad as it sounds.  You just can’t buy any ammo, health or lock picks from the “Dollar Bill” vendor, so if you are using your vigors wisely, this shouldn’t be much of a problem.  Remember to take your time exploring in between every fire fight and if need be, back track a bit to stock back up because the items you left behind will still be there.

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Avoid these during "scavenger hunt."

7) If all that still doesn’t work (and you really like this game) consider buying the season pass.  Not only does this give you a discounted price for all the eventual DLC for this game, but it gives you a MASSIVE advantage during the standard game in ANY difficulty.  You are gifted with superior equipment immediately and you are gifted 5 infusion bottles to distribute as you see fit which brings you half way home to maxing out any stat you like in the first few minutes of the game. 

Conclusion:

Believe the hype, BioShock Infinite is a video game worth your time.  It’s got more than enough guns, action and bloody violence for FPS fanatics and it’s got enough story and drama for contextual enthusiasts.  As far as AAA titles go, this installment of BioShock is worthy of its pedigree as it is worthy of being considered for best Game of the Year before the summer has even begun.  And that’s the trick isn’t it?  Last year was supposed to be Mass Effect 3’s incredible culmination, but a pre-Spring release coupled with fan rage over the fumbled attempt at an ending saw this title go from favorite to fecal matter in months.  BioShock Infinite has one of the best endings I’ve seen in gaming so there’s no problem there, but people have short memories and there are some very heavy hitters coming this fall.  I’m convinced that a steady stream of DLC will keep this game relevant because it certainly has more than enough production value and overall quality to be compared to any.  So the only question remains if you’re willing to lay down for the Beast of America or stand up for the man next door?

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Would you kindly vote for BioShock Infinite for Game of the Year?  Otherwise, Songbird will be pissed!

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