Bioshock Infinite review

Bioshock Infinite

All other shooters seem so grey and dull compared to BioShock Infinite's whirlwind of colour, fantastical scenes and incidental detail. Set on a city in the sky in 1912, it's a fusion of the vintage and the impossible, within which it spins a yarn of alternate realities and simmering social tensions. The most important fusion, then, is that of cannily mainstream action and science fiction, and thoughtful political and historical destruction. Visit GamePro UK.

It's almost a shame that BioShock Infinite's a shooter, as telling its tale from behind a gunsight limits the interactions the player can have with its fabulous, skybound world. You can play virtual tourist, soaking in the many sights, sounds and disturbing social structures of this pre-digital city, and in that regard the first-person perspective at least is ideal. The power of Columbia, this ultra-religious, racially intolerant community which has chose to secede from the United States, comes from getting your boots on the ground, rummaging through its streets, shops and secret dens to gradually uncover its secrets and its strange, violent history. But once the time comes to engage with any of the people you see, all you can do is pull or not pull the trigger - and, most of the time, you'll have to. Non-enemy characters are sadly little more than living statues, mere window-dressing for an amazing and beautiful setting.

There's one key exception: the mysterious Elizabeth. You, as debt-ridden private investigator/mercenary Booker DeWitt, have been sent to Columbia to retrieve this young woman. You don't know why, you're not sure who for and you don't know what you'll encounter en route. Elizabeth turns out to be a prisoner of Columbia's self-elected ruler/despot Zachary Comstock, a 'Prophet' adored by Columbia's well-to-do white population, but less so by its black inhabitants, who are treated as virtual slaves. Allegories for American history, and indeed more contemporary social problems, run deep, though the need for BioShock to also be a rollercoaster adventure means it doesn't go into too much detail on the issues it raises. But raising them at all, within the context of a big-budget, mainstream shooter targeted at the Call of Duty crowd at least as much as it is the more discerning adult gamer, is a minor miracle.

Even so, the plot's fixation on the mystery of Elizabeth, and her quickly-revealed ability to open temporary access to alternate realities, means the nature of Columbia and its society is increasingly sent to the background. Elizabeth is a fascinating and charismatic non-player character, and one who's by your side for the bulk of the game. Mercifully, she doesn't get in the way, she doesn't need protection and she's not an annoyance. In fact, her ability to call on aid from those alternate realities and to chuck you any health, ammo or cash she comes across as she follows you across Infinite's often huge spaces makes her an invaluable companion. You'll even miss her when she's not there.  

Who she really is and what her powers can really do is central to the game's elaborate and twist-heavy plot. Opinions may be divided about how it all pays off, but what's for sure is that it's very carefully and thoughtfully done, never doing things for shock or spectacle alone. Perhaps it's not, in the final analysis, quite as compelling as the strange, discomfiting nature of Columbia and some of the dark vignettes you'll encounter, but in the context of your average videogame plot it's a masterpiece.

The action is perhaps less remarkable, due to rather humdrum enemies and oddly similar-feeling guns, but it's still a flexible hoot compared to your average machinegun-fest. As with earlier BioShocks, you mix and match guns with magic, here named 'Vigors' and capable of felling or incapacitating enemies with the likes of fire, electricity, water-tentacles, psychic control or a horde of angry crows. You're almost never forced into using one particular weapon or power, and instead free to choose which most suit you, plus spend the money you collect in your travels on upgrading them. The guns might be a little homogenous, but the Vigors are almost ludicrously powerful and vicious - really satisfying to use once you've found your rhythm.

Added to that, in the larger levels, are Skyrails, sort of rollercoaster tracks running above Columbia which you can speed around on to dodge or hunt down enemies at speed. These could do with showing up more often, in fact, as the high-speed battles are the game's most thrilling, but at least they don't outstay their welcome. And added to that is another helping hand from Elizabeth, who can conjure up weapon stashes, cover, grapple points or friendly automatons on demand during the bigger fights.

It's a world of improvement in both spectacle and flexibility from your average shooter, but even so it won't be the action which lingers in your mind after the simultaneously compelling and infuriating final scene plays. It'll be Columbia itself, surely one of the most amazing game-places ever created. Sure, it's apparent that Infinite has had access to a budget most games can only dream of, but the level of artistry in its world, its architecture, its backstory, its eerie past-meets-present soundtrack and the realisation of Elizabeth proves that most every penny was well spent. BioShock Infinite might share a targeting reticule with all those games of bald space marines and sweary soldiers, but they seem so dated, limited and cheerless by comparison.

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Bioshock Infinite

NEXT PAGE: our first look Bioshock Infinite review, from late 2012 >>

Bioshock Infinite

Not much has been said about Bioshock Infinite since the much-anticipated game's original unveiling at E3 2011. In fact, we haven't really heard or seen anything beyond continued delays. That trend was finally broken last week in Los Angeles as I got hands-on time with the first three hours of the game. Thankfully, it didn't disappoint. Visit GamePro UK.

As I sat down at my high-end PC and started the game, one thing was immediately clear: Bioshock Infinite is beautiful. Not in a "there's bright colors everywhere" way, but rather that the team at Irrational pushed the hardware to its limits. The story opens with Booker DeWitt getting rowed to a lighthouse on a small boat by a chatty couple. He's given a box that starts to give us our first indication of who he really is, but it's not until later in the opening chapters that we really find out just who Booker is in the world and what his purpose is.

Soon after he exits the boat, he enters the lighthouse and sits in a chair that turns into a rocketship and shoots him into the sky and eventually, right into Columbia, a floating city in the sky. It's a magical place, that somehow manages to operate just as efficiently as the rest of us do on solid ground, despite taking place on floating platforms.

Bioshock Infinite: alternate timelines

This all takes place around 1912, but the Bioshock universe still runs on its own alternate timelines, so you just have to deal with the fact that they're hyper-advanced in some areas, yet right where they should be in others. Everything still looks just as you'd expect a city to at that time, so there's kids selling newspapers and cobblestone roads everywhere. There's still horses pulling everything around, but they're robo-horses, rather than real horses.

Unfortunately for Booker, everything isn't as magical as it seems, as he quickly finds out that there's something far more devious going on behind the curtain. Everyone in the city zealously praises Comstock (the founder of Columbia), claiming that he's one of the greatest men to ever live; yet all the while, he has locked his daughter Elizabeth in a room for her entire life, so that he could "preserve" her. Not only that, but he watches and records her through one-way mirrors. As if that wasn't creepy enough, he created a mechanical creature, called the Songbird, to protect her and make sure that she never once leaves her captivity.

There's a pivotal moment about twenty minutes in that gives you a hint at the tone that the rest of the game will take, as we find out that Comstock and the residents of Columbia are completely racist. They don't just disapprove of interracial marriages, but they hold raffles to see who gets to throw the first baseball at the heads of the people who are caught in interracial marriages. It was a big moment for me that sent the message loud and clear: Bioshock Infinite takes you to some uncomfortable places.

It's also really great to see such a priority placed on Elizabeth. While you're technically protecting her in this sequence we played, it never felt like an escort mission. In fact, she was usually the one leading me around, not the other way around. She even helps by throwing Booker ammo or weapons every once in a while, which is a great and unobtrusive way to involve her in combat, despite her not having a weapon.

The first three hours are a mix of non-combat and combat sequences (there's a really strong balance between the two) but as soon as things shift to combat, everything cranks up a notch very quickly. It goes from a slow pace, where you can't help but take in the vast world around you, to one where you might have to blow through some areas in order to keep the flow of combat moving, but it manages to do all this without it feeling like a forced push to move on.

You have your guns and iron sights, just like any other modern shooter, but there isn't as much of a reliance as there is in most games. Sure, they're still a necessity, but it's all about using Vigors (a sort of psychokinetic power found throughout the world) in combination with objects in the environment to solve combat puzzles. During my playthrough it quickly became second nature to chain together a vigor like Murder of Crows (which, well, calls in a murder of crows to peck at and slowly peel the skin off of your foes) with gunfire to easily take down a larger group of enemies that I would normally have been able to.

This kind of environmental manipulation is aided and abetted by the great implementation of the Skyhook, which allows Booker and Elizabeth to ride the cargo rails found throughout the floating city. It drastically quickens the pace of combat scenarios and makes for a handy secondary weapon to boot.

Despite the great pacing, combat can feel somewhat shallow at times, whether that's due to the scarcity of ammo that leads to constant weapon swaps or just the typical AI behavior that's incredibly easy to read and abuse, I can't say for certain, but for a world as deep and thought-out as Columbia, it's somewhat concerning at times.

Bioshock Infinite: Specs

  • Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 & PC PC system requirements: OS: Windows Vista Service Pack 2 32-bit Processor: Intel Core 2 DUO 2.4 GHz / AMD Athlon X2 2.7 GHz Memory: 2GB Hard Disk Space: 20 GB free Video Card: DirectX10 Compatible ATI Radeon HD 3870 / NVIDIA 8800 GT / Intel HD 3000 Integrated Graphics Video Card Memory: 512 MB Sound: DirectX Compatible
  • Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 & PC PC system requirements: OS: Windows Vista Service Pack 2 32-bit Processor: Intel Core 2 DUO 2.4 GHz / AMD Athlon X2 2.7 GHz Memory: 2GB Hard Disk Space: 20 GB free Video Card: DirectX10 Compatible ATI Radeon HD 3870 / NVIDIA 8800 GT / Intel HD 3000 Integrated Graphics Video Card Memory: 512 MB Sound: DirectX Compatible


Bioshock Infinite is an incomparably ambitious shooter that deftly weaves meaningful characters and social commentary into an amazing setting, peppered with spectacular action.