Monday 1 April 2013

BioShock Infinite - Review

Bioshock Infinite is one of those games that for long periods feels like it's failing to live up its potential and then, in the last three hours, as the narrative kicks back in, it just completely blows your mind.

The game begins in familiar BioShock territory.  A man and a lighthouse but with a big twist.  We're not going down into the depths we're going high into the sky, to Columbia, a city, it would seem, perched on the clouds.  It's 1912 and we see Columbia through the eyes of Booker DeWitt a man on a mission to 'find the girl and wipe away the debt'.  Columbia is brilliantly realised.  Even on a creaking 360 the game shines and in those early moments, as you wander the streets and play around at a fair, it's bright, colourful and vibrant.

It doesn't take very long for the game to become incredibly violent or to start to make you question everything about your surroundings.  Columbia is run by a racist religious fanatic called Comstock who has dubbed himself a prophet and seemingly locked his daughter Elizabeth in a giant statue.  Of course it's her you've come to save.  Once Elizabeth joins you the game becomes something quite different.  The AI on display here is quite something as she never, that I noticed, did anything weird at all.  During battles she ducks behind walls offering occasional support in the form of ammo, health or 'salts' (we'll come back to them) and she often leads you down the right path or points out provisions as you wander through Columbia.

It's the moments of interaction between the pair that really elevate Infinite, the relationship grows and you, along with DeWitt, start to care for Elizabeth and her fate as you try to escape the city.  Is she a bit Disney?  No, not really.  She's fully realised and the developers at Irrational Games have done an outstanding job of making the relationship between the two both heartbreaking and heartwarming.  It's rare with games to really 'feel' the characters but when Infinite is on song it makes you care quite deeply for this unlikely pair.

Although DeWitt can only carry two of the multitude of weapons available at any one time he also has access to Vigors, essentially spells.  In order to use them you must replenish salt and at times, particularly in sections where Elizabeth is absent, the management of ammunition, health and salts can become a mild irritation.  However the Vigors are fun to use, I particularly enjoyed sending a flock of crows to peck my enemies to death... you might enjoy something else...

About a third of the way through Infinite's story takes a back seat in favour of goal posts being moved and as a result the game suffers for a few hours.  Although it remains stunning to look at the narrative slips and the pacing gets lost.  It feels like filler to make the game longer and it is frustrating when so much that's on offer here is so satisfying.

Those closing hours more than make up for those that precede them, it is a quite simply a mind boggling but brilliant climax.

Here's my tweet, seconds after finishing it.
Even today I'm still feeling that.  You don't even really play the last twenty minutes, in any traditional sense, but they are so well realised, so huge in scope and imagination you simply don't mind.  You feel a part of it because by now you are DeWitt.

As a first person shooter Infinite is pretty special but as a grown up game, dealing with grown up topics, it's up there with the very best.  Like a great book or a great film you'll be thinking about the end days and weeks later.  I can't remember saying that about a game for a very long time.

Occasionally frustrating but for the most part wonderful.

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