BioShock Infinite, Irrational’s new superb arthouse shooter aims to ignite the imagination while posting a true test of gaming mettle
Update: We've updated our review to include a BioShock Infinite Burial at Sea DLC review
BioShock Infinite is the sort of game that’s an absolute nightmare to review. The reason for this is because the central appeal of Irrational’s superb first-person-shooter is tied directly to its plot. The story isn’t just an important feature in BioShock Infinite, it’s the overriding factor. And naturally, the less one knows about the plot going into the game, the better a time one is likely to have.
BioShock Infinite: Plot
So right from the start, reviewing BioShock Infinite is a tricky proposition. We obviously don’t want give away any the plot’s major revelations and since they’re the best parts of the game, this places us slightly in a quandary.
Just as the knife-twist in the plot of BioShock depended on the players’ state of ignorance for maximum impact, so too does BioShock Infinite’s layered narrative – to the extent that any mention of the plot’s details seems a disservice to anyone reading this.
There are aspects that have already emerged, however. Players know that BioShock Infinite is set a floating city called Columbia in 1912. They know they take on the role of an ex-Pinkerton called Booker DeWitt who enters this fantastical metropolis in search of a woman named Elizabeth.
Both she and the city of Columbia are held in thrall by a religious zealot called Comstock and a giant mechanical nightmare called Songbird. As Booker heads into the city to free Elizabeth, he runs up against Comstock’s soldiers and a movement called the Vox Populi, who speak for Columbia’s disenfranchised and downtrodden.
BioShock Infinite: Characters
The relationship between Elizabeth and Booker lies at both the heart of BioShock Infinite’s story and its gameplay. Players never need to protect Elizabeth in a firefight, and she will occasionally toss them health, ammunition, coins and power-ups.
Elizabeth also has the power to open up ‘tears’ in the fabric of reality and yank useful items through, such as gun turret, a rack of health kits or a piece of cover Booker can shield himself behind.
Over the course of the game, players will work their way through a variety of weapons – machine guns, pistols, rocket launchers – and Vigors, which are essentially a series of superpowers.
Some cause direct damage to targets – such as Devil’s Kiss, which is an exploding fireball – while others give the player a temporary edge – such as Bucking Bronco, which briefly suspends multiple targets in the air.
Along with his collection of guns and superpowers, Booker has a device called a Skyhook that allows him to latch onto the series of rails that encircle many of the in-game environments.
BioShock Infinite: Gameplay
The game mechanics work hard to offer the player an array of options in every set piece they encounter. A frequent complaint levelled at the first BioShock was that the gameplay of switching between superpowers and firearms got repetitive too quickly.
BioShock Infinite side-steps that complaint by widening the corridors the player wanders through and then adding multi-tiered platforms to the mix. Every battle the player takes part in feels like it could be tackled from myriad angles.
They’re also balanced on a knife-edge; no firefight in BioShock Infinite feels like a cakewalk, and that’s before the game starts hurling stronger opponents at the player, such as Patriot gunners and Handyman mini-bosses.
BioShock Infinite: Verdict
Irrational’s shooter, however, leaves its mark on the player not with its frenetic gun play or its high octane set pieces, but with its layered narrative. There’s an argument to be made that the game’s central story is deliberately oblique so as to prompt debate and conversation, but isn’t that what all great art hopes to do?
BioShock Infinite aims to ignite the imagination while posting a true test of gaming mettle. This is arguably one of the best games made for this generation of console and a culturally important title for the medium.
BioShock Infinite release date: 28 March 2013
BioShock Infinite price: From £27.99
BioShock Infinite Burial At Sea review:
Rapture, the sunken city of BioShock, has to be one of gaming’s greatest constructs. Here is a metropolis situated at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, which is cast in gorgeous art-deco and filled with gabbling, murderous addicts.
The fact that its society was founded on the uber-capitalist machinations of Objectivism gives it a resonance in the present and its dark, haunting atmosphere draws players like moths to a candle.
So when Irrational Games announced that the first story-based DLC for this year’s superb BioShock Infinite would be set in Rapture before its fall, the fan faithful went apoplectic with glee. Here was a chance to return to Andrew Ryan’s vision for society in all its pre-war, pre-drug glory. Oh, and if we’ve lost you at this stage with references to earlier games and lore of the BioShock universe, you can stop reading this now.
BioShock Infinite Burial At Sea: Plot
The reason for this is that Burial At Sea is the very definition of fan-service. If you are unaware of the history of BioShock or you don’t at least own a copy of BioShock Infnite, Burial At Sea – and by extension this review – is useless to you. For everyone else, be aware that while Irrational’s first ever story-based DLC looks sumptuous and is an absolute blast to play, you should be aware of a couple of kinks going in.
The Bioshock Infinite Burial at Sea opens with Booker DeWitt, Rapture private investigator, taking a meeting against his expressed wishes from a mysterious woman named Elizabeth. She looks like your typical crime-noir femme fatale; she clearly knows more about Booker than she’s letting on and shadows play around her eyes.
Elizabeth is after a young girl called Sally – a child whom Booker coincidentally has a shared history with – and she needs the PI’s help to follow up on a lead. The last time Sally was seen was in the company of a child-trafficker and hack artist called Sander Cohen.
BioShock Infinite Burial At Sea: Characters
If you’re still reading this then we’re going to go ahead and assume that you know who Sander Cohen is. And, while we’re on the topic, Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine. You should certainly know who Booker and Elizabeth are – although you may find them somewhat changed from their original incarnations here.
Irrational have taken BioShock Infinite’s protagonists and plugged them into the dark, mysterious world of its first game, while adding the requisite years on their lives. Elizabeth is a far darker, more cynical creature than the wide-eyed innocent players met in Infinite – although in light of what happened to her in that narrative, this is to be expected.
Booker is still as cynical as he ever was, although his failure to recognise Elizabeth should tip players off about where the narrative is heading.
As to the rest, well, you’ll only really get anything out Burial At Sea if you explored both Columbia and Rapture. If you did, you’ll smile wryly at the newspaper headlines that announce Fontaine’s death and how his businesses were taken over by Ryan at the behest of Rapture’s council.
You’ll also enjoy the scenes involving Big Daddies welding up the doors of Fontaine’s businesses.
BioShock Infinite Burial At Sea: Environment
The main draw here, though, is seeing Rapture in all of its glory before war turned it into a leaking hellhole at the bottom of the ocean. For at least first half of Burial At Sea, players are able to explore Rapture – which looks far more glorious on BioShock Infinite’s engine than it did in its original form – and drink in its full majesty.
The first half of Burial At Sea is a sight-seeing tour with a mini-quest bolted on keep the player engaged. Naturally, because they’re walking through a city where there are no hostile elements, initially the player is relegated to scrounging for cash, picking up audio diaries and solving the min-quest they’re on.
It’s only once Cohen directs them to Fontaine’s sunken Department Store – which is filled to brim with Splicers – that the real action starts.
BioShock Infinite Burial At Sea: Gameplay
It’s here that BioShock Infinite players will note that the game’s mechanics and layouts have been tweaked somewhat. Unlike BioShock Infinite in which players were assailed by organised AI groups,
Burial At Sea gives players an open-ended entry into most of the gunbattles they’ll get into. Most of the time, Rapture’s Splicers will give away their position with their insane babbling.
Most firefights give the player the option of planning their tactics before the first bullet is fired. This makes the charged applications of the Vigor powers far more of a tactical benefit. It also allows the player the option of stealth killing before they decide to go loud.
The game is balanced to counter this. The Splicers are a far tougher bunch than they were in BioShock. Brute Splicers need two headshots before they go down, while Leadhead Splicers have two or three dodges in their arsenal. Couple to which, resources are scarce. Bullets, cash and Vigors are in short supply and even Elizabeth’s scrounging abilities have been clipped.
BioShock Infinite Burial At Sea: Verdict
The biggest drawback to this DLC, though, is that it’s too short by half. Even on the hardest difficulty setting, it’ll only take players a couple of hours to completely rinse it. That having been said, this is a DLC package aimed squarely at hardcore fans and it’s likely that only two hours in Rapture will be enough to get most of the target audience to plonk down the admission fee. Apart from its brevity in length, Burial At Sea is what BioShock fans have been clamouring for, for years.
BioShock Infinite Burial at Sea release date: 12 November 2013
BioShock Infinite Burial at Sea release date: £11.99