Ask any gamer and they know ‘that game’ – the one that is supposed to be ‘genre transcendent’, combining excellence in gameplay, technical aspects, gear, freedom of choice and action, story, immersion, multiple platforms, cinematic qualities, and so on. And while there are many games that have claimed to bring it all together, in 2007 Bioshock was perhaps the first one to truly manage the feat reasonably well. It was not the greatest shooter, nor did it have the best sense of freedom of choice, but it brought excellence in all areas to bear in a way that kept gamers playing and talking for years. Now the team who brought us the original game is back with the third entry, and Mike Siebenaler and I will be debating the merits and flaws of the game on the Playstation 3 and PC respectively. So without further ado, on to our Bioshock Infinite Review for PC and PS3!
Type of game: Action/First Person Shooter (FPS)
Platform/where to buy: PC/PS3; available in the Steam for PC and Amazon for PS3. Also available for XBOX360 and coming this summer for the Mac from Aspyr.
Developer: Irrational Games / 2K Games
Bioshock Infinite breaks new ground with unique gear, power and weapons amid amazing environments amid the immense floating city of Columbia. Michael Anderson and I offer our critiques on the PC and PlayStation 3 versions respectively. The PlayStation 3 Bioshock Infinite version includes first Bioshock installment, originally released in 2007.
Set in 1912, this third installment in the Bioshock game series enthralls without the “Big Daddies” while keeping familiar gameplay elements involving various gear, weapons, and powers. Bioshock Infinite is PS Move compatible and only takes up 96MB of hard drive space. Download the manual at www.2kgames.com/manual/bioshockinfinite The PC digital download clocks in at 20-40GB depending on options and DLC.
This action/first-person shooter (FPS) game features former Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt, voiced by Troy Baker, must rescue the imprisoned Elizabeth, voiced by Courtnee Draper. Elizabeth can definitely hold her own in combat and pick locks while tossing Booker found supplies. Her biggest power is opening tears, inter-dimensional rifts in time and space that have three functions – resource, structural, and offensive.
Booker and the AI controlled Elizabeth must work together and merge their powers to escape Columbia and reach New York. Simple enough, right? Oh, Columbia is also in a tumultuous civil war between nativist/elite factions and the Vox Populi…also the protagonist duo must escape a large robot bird called Songbird…um, the various “Heavy Hitters” also pose formidable challenges.
The mysterious “prophet” Zachary Comstock overshadows all the baddies as does the Songbird…literally. The songbird serves as a warden for Elizabeth (a.k.a. “The Lamb”, “The Miracle Child”) while she is imprisoned … until players, (Booker) ultimately rescue her. The Heavy Hitters, created by the Founders, include the Motorized Patriots, Boys of Silence, Handymen, and Siren.
As their name suggests, the Patriots are machines with the faces of famous U.S. patriots. George Washington headlines the group who were originally constructed as tour guides, but now yield peppermill machine guns. The Boys of Silence have big ears for super sensitive hearing because these semi-mechs are blind humans inside with metal helmets. Handymen can take large jumps and have human hearts and heads. The female Siren revives fallen foes.
The flying city of main setting, Columbia, is an apparent homage to the 1893 World’s Fair and has steam punk style with Sky-line transportation options – an intricate, roller coaster-type rail system, originally built for shipping/transportation purposes where characters can jump on for the ride of their lives. Players can access audio logs, Voxophones, and film projectors called Kinetoscopes, which provide valuable background about Columbia. After players conquer the game they can experience a more challenging 1999 Mode. Enemies have increased power. Items do not replenish health as well as the regular mode.
Here are some of the features:
- Immersive Story
- A City in the Sky
- New Combat Experience
- 1999 Mode
PS3: Mike S. Says: The high production value creates a great sense of space plus a sense of vertigo with entire structures floating in the air. The zipline-type experience of hoping on the fast sky-lines is one of several showcases in the game. Not every element has sharp resolution (e.g. some street signs, etc.), but the essential items do. Characters have amazing detail especially when moving close to them.
PC: Mike A. Says: When I set out to play Bioshock Infinite I installed it on two different laptops, my gaming laptop and a HP Elitebook 2570p I have for review. I knew the gaming laptop would be able to deliver Columbia in all of its glory, but I was more interested in how a Core-i5, integrated Intel HD4000 graphics system would work. I was amazed that the game ran at all on the EliteBook, but even more amazed that it looked gorgeous.
One thing that has stunned me is how well the game scales with hardware. I have seen Bioshock Infinite running on the PS3 and XBOX360 in demos, and it looks very similar to my experience on the Elitebook — which shows how well the team did optimizing the code across platforms. However, taking in Columbia’s vistas on my gaming laptop with its fully amped-up hardware was even more stunning. Everything was sharp and distinct throughout. But guess what? I was very happy to play through on the EliteBook, and I never felt like it was a compromise. It reminds me of Half-Life 2 in that way, the team has to choose where to put computing resources, and by focusing on where your eyes go they can de-emphasize non-critical resources.
PS3: Mike S. Says: The “tears” create unique experiences present special advantages for these protagonists who must endure various challenges that shock, surprise, and exhilarate. Lead designer/Bioshock vet Ken Levine and his team really give players a nice payoff by giving them time during gameplay to experience their environments so they can make well-informed decisions, find helpful items, and experience entertaining surprises.
Players can gain additional advantages by using stealth; changing direction, gaining control of mechanical systems; get familiar with surroundings and situations instead of having to go “all out” and destroy everything all the time.
PC: Mike A. Says: Bioshock was never the greatest of ‘core shooters’, but it was the way that it wrapped up the entire experience that made it such a great game. Bioshock Infinite improves the experience of sitting down to play in every way, and it does it by minimizing the ‘out of game’ experiences. The combination of levels designed to allow exploration, imagination, and combat; the use of the ‘tears’ Mike mentioned; and the amazing character of Elizabeth all come together to keep your mind in the game all of the time.
This is no small feat – playing a shooter means needing health, ammo, weapons, and so on. And having a Bioshock game means gaining special secondary abilities which need their own fuel, and finally having a progression system for all of these means needing a system that will allow you to upgrade without hitting a menu screen. Ken Levine’s team did this without the game being too easy (Bioshock), by having all of these systems integrated naturally into the environment, and by providing Elizabeth with natural skills that will help you throughout.
Two examples of where Elizabeth is extremely useful are combat and locks. During a fierce battle Elizabeth can bring in an automated turret from a tear, toss you ammo or health or salts, and generally be right there in a non-combat support role; while exploring you will find lockpicks, and Elizabeth can make good use of them opening up hidden areas or locked paths. It adds to the feeling of teamwork throughout.
The final thing about gameplay is defying expectations. Most experienced gamers know the story: you start off weak, with a basic reason to start fighting, then you gain strength and better weapons and options, and eventually you take on the big boss in the climactic final battle, and then perhaps watch a cutscene or just watch the credits roll. That is NOT how it happens here – the ‘end game’ isn’t finished when the last enemy drops, in fact, it is just getting started.
Gear / Weapons
PS3: Mike S. Says: Players must gear up with protective apparel (e.g. hats, boots, etc.) and, of course, weapons (two at a time). Players can compare their inventory and buy items at convenient vending machines using the silver eagle game currency. Use a special grappling hook for the sky-lines and freight hook points while using weapons that include shotgun, grenade launcher, carbine gun, and a sniper rifle. Fisticuffs and melee are always available when low on ammunition while the grappling hook itself comes in very handy.
Collect vigors for some amazing powers that involve telekinesis, magic (e.g. a Bucking Bronco levitates enemies into the air making them easy targets), electricity manipulation, possessive control and time travel/manipulation. Possession allows players to briefly control human or robotic foes…human foes while act dramatically after the possession power wears off. Elizabeth’s gifts include the time travel/manipulation powers, which she introduces to Booker in an elevator as they escape.
The efficient load times are only lengthy at appropriate times (e.g. during a break in the story triggered by leaving an area) and players can typically move freely through areas while saving occurs.
PC: Mike A. Says: The weapons and weapon system (two at a time as Mike mentions) are fairly standard for a shooter, and I was glad that the developers didn’t opt for a ‘universal ammo’ system we’ve seen too often in recent years. Instead you have a great variety of close-up, ranged, high damage, fast fire, and area effect weapons to choose from. There are only a few weapons at the start, and as you progress more and more come available. Some weapons have very limited ammo, and for good reason. You can upgrade the power, clip size, recoil and reload times of pretty much every weapon in the game. My strategy was to always have a high damage and high-speed weapon equipped.
Mike S., I would be interested in knowing which vigors you used the most? For me it was fire and electricity – my kids watched me battling a Handyman using the combined vigors with the great effect of keeping him stunned and far away … and they noted that I was pretty much playing as a ‘battle mage’. That comparison isn’t too far off. The game is very effective at allowing the player to decide how to play. As you mention, you don’t HAVE to be a wrecking crew, as you can take control of enemies, use stealth, and so on. In my case, I CHOSE to be a walking missile platform!
Since we’re discussing load-times, I was honestly stunned at how infrequently I saw the ‘leave area’ screen noting a full-area load was required. Given the scope and scale of some locations, combined with item tracking within those areas, I can only assume there was some amount of streaming-from-disk to keep the game flowing along within a location. Also, given the size of these areas I though the loads were very quick. I was never left waiting for an area to load, as most times I appreciated the cool-down after a pitched battle.
One final thing – the save system. I know I’ll sound like an old PC gamer stalwart, but I hate checkpoint-only save systems. In the context of playing Bioshock Infinite, I didn’t mind it too much, but I would have LOVED to go back and replay certain area – something I could do in the earlier Bioshock games. But this time around they removed manual saves. For most people it isn’t a big deal, but it was a bit of a let-down for me.
PS3: Mike S. Says (follow-up): The Devil’s Kiss and Possession vigors were my favorites? Possession worked well with mechanical turrets then I could lead all the baddies behind me into the turrets’ line of fire. Firepower is always helpful for breaking clusters, so The Devil’s Kiss was standard for me. The combinations created some great opportunities for discovery and action.
PS3: Mike S. Says: The intuitive control scheme lets players switch weapons and vigors on both sides (R2 and L2 respectively with visuals in the lower screen corners) then fire on each side (R1 and L1). Players can hold L1 for a more powerful vigor attack and hold L2 cycle through the vigors in a break out circular menu. Vigor use is not available while on the sky-line or freight hooks.
Available upgrades usually allow for two and can change the way the selected power works, which adds some nice variety and unpredictability. Players use the x button to jump or attach to the sky-line/dismount, which felt so invigorating that you might instinctively hold down the x button so you don’t fall. Eventually, like most thrill seeking games, if you let yourself go and “give in” to the experience, then you can find some incredible experiences.
Multiple actions require assigning multiple functions to certain buttons. Thankfully, developers make logical clusters (e.g. square button used for searching/using items and reloading weapons plus holding it to open a time “tear”).
PC: Mike A. Says: I tend to immediately assess a game as a ‘console port’ when starting out and working through the settings and other menu options. Bioshock Infinite was a bit of a hybrid as I could freely use the mouse or the arrow keys. Once I started playing I definitely found a couple of places where your control choice was limited in a way that suggested being made for console buttons – but those where areas (such as dialog choices) where it made sense.
As I made progress and got solidly into the game the game felt more and more like a standard PC shooter with outstanding keyboard & mouse controls. Standard keys were mapped to all of the normal controls, and rather than an ‘alternate fire’ for weapons, the right mouse button was mapped to vigors. I changed around a few controls to bring them to a more natural position, but in general I was pleased with how it worked on the PC. Which has also made me thrilled to hear from friends playing on the XBOX360 and Mike on the PS3 that the game fits naturally on those control systems as well. Again, well-balanced choices by the team.
Music & Voice-Acting
PS3: Mike S. Says: Former Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt, voiced by Troy Baker, andd Elizabeth, voiced by Courtnee Draper, convey the game’s elements well as they explain their situation and awe throughout the game. The subtle comic comments or strong reactions are not overdone. The characters they encounter handle most of the comic barbs, especially a character in an interior sequence that you might try to shoot. Music composer Garry Schyman, a seasoned veteran of film, television and video game scores, matches the game’s tone and themes very well. Schyman and his composing orchestra/team elevate the epic action and awe-inspiring scenarios. The score soundtrack is currently only available through the varying Bioshock Infinite editions and special sets while the “Original Songs Uncovered (tracks inspired by Bioshock Infinite) is out now.
PC: Mike A. Says: I recommend checking out the character video below, because it shows why Elizabeth is one of the best NPC characters ever developed. You care about her as a character, and the team does a great job of holding your emotions through Elizabeth’s voice acting and physical movements. As Mike mentions both Booker and Elizabeth provide a variety of emotions that help carry you throughout the game without feeling out of place.
The whole idea of ‘dynamic music’ has evolved a great deal in the decade or so people have been trying to make it work. In the early days, games like Jedi Knight II would have peaceful music playing when you already entered battle, or battle music long after you were done dispatching foes. But even that was much better than what there was before. In Bioshock Infinite the music provides mood, setting, atmosphere, and sometimes provides just enough of that ‘horror movie warning’ to get you ready for an impending attack!
PS3: Mike S. Says: The three add-on content packs will be free with a season pass purchase. Players who purchase the BioShock Infinite Season Pass will get the three packs for approximately 30% less than purchasing them separately. These packs will “provide hours of additional gameplay and continue the player’s journey in the sky-city of Columbia with new stories, characters, abilities and weapons.”
The Early Bird Special Pack contains exclusive gear, weapons damage upgrades (pistol and machine gun), weapon gold skin (pistol and machine gun) and special health upgrades. Players who purchase the BioShock Infinite Season Pass receive this pack for free. The Industrial Revolution Pack includes $500 in-game currency, a special puzzle game and three pieces of special in-game gear for increased fighting powers. Players who preorder BioShock Infinite get the Industrial Revolution Pack for free. So there are five packs to be had in all. Three all-new add-on packs are currently in development. Hopefully a multiplayer option is on the horizon as well.
PC: Mike A. Says: I have only played the standard version of the game, so I appreciate Mike laying out all of the extras. As I looked into it, I found that as Mike said only some items are currently available, with the ‘characters and stories’ coming sometime between now and next year. That is a very interesting approach, as it is a bit of a gamble. But if you like the game, it is an investment in getting more action over the next year.
I was honestly glad to see there was no multiplayer, at least at this point. This is such a single-player driven experience that I am glad they stuck with that. If they decide to add it on as part of the Season Pass, also a good thing.
PS3: Mike S. Says: Publisher 2K Games work well with developers Irrational Games and 2K Marin in their creation of the high quality Bioshock Infinite. Great for game series fans and likely to attract several new fans. Great potential for upcoming add-on content. Currently no multiplayer mode, but that could be coming as well. Well worth the wait.
PC: Mike A. Says: The original Bioshock had a decent (if way-too-easy) shooter with a solid story and some cool options; the sequel came from a different team and was a decent if forgettable extension. With Bioshock Infinite Ken Levine and Irrational are back, with the best story yet, a challenging shooter, great character, great customization of your character, and loads of intriguing twists and turns along the way. Not only that, but unlike way too many games it is highly polished with few crashes or bugs, works very well across platforms, and scales well on low — or high-end PCs. I see this as a strong ‘game of the year’ candidate.
Price: $59.99 for standard edition; $79.99 for Premium Edition; $149.99 for the Ultimate Songbird Edition.
What I Like: visual design incorporation combination with interactive gameplay/abilities, fantastical Columbia setting, the story, intuitive control scheme, many hidden items/unlockables, 1999 mode increases replay value to high level
What Needs Improvement: no multiplayer mode (yet); loss of manual saves; game needs bigger “buffer” zones for action areas and text message triggers (e.g. players must find a spot to dismount from a sky-line and text messages disappear during quick actions and movement, so it’s challenging to get them to reappear)
Here is the trailer:
It is also worth looking at HOW they created the character of Elizabeth:
And on the subject of Elizabeth, much has been made of her likeness to Belle from Beauty and the Beast, as noted in this Penny Arcade comic. Here is another fun image:
So … have YOU played Bioshock Infinite? What did you think? Let us know!