It only seems fitting that this review begins by paying tribute to what has been an incredible 2013 for the industry. This year has clearly been dictated by the arrival of next generation consoles with the PS4 seemingly winning the early rounds of the industry’s biggest heavyweight contest. Next gen games have looked equally impressive with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Watch Dogs proving the prowess of Ubisoft leading into the new age of gaming, whilst Killzone looks to finally be living up to its potential with the announcement of Shadow Fall. The current generation of gaming has also enjoyed a big improvement on the somewhat meagre showing of 2012 with titles including Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto V and of course the brilliant, The Last of Us. One of 2013’s most long awaited releases however, was Irrational Games’ BioShock Infinite. Would the title be worth the wait?
Let me first make something clear. I didn’t want to like this game, I had no intention of buying it. To me, BioShock Infinite was overrated and had only achieved such prestige because it was “cool” to like it, therefore I resisted purchase. After weeks of hearing what a stunning title it was, and the pressure of running a gaming blog forced me to show an interest, I finally cracked with expectations at a low. Much to my great surprise and slight annoyance, I found that BioShock Infinite was every bit as good as people said it was, and then some.
So, let’s talk details. The place to start is clearly the title’s stunning environment. The title is mainly contained within the glorious world of Columbia, floating high above the clouds of civilisation. A beacon of golden architecture and bright blue skies, the environment is one of the mostly richly colourful arenas on the PS3 console. This no doubt invites connotations of a welcoming approach to life, one that is compounded by the very “candy cane” appearance of the citizens and machinery that inhabit the streets. A transport system defined by the use of gondolas gifts the world a certain charm, more suited to something from a children’s book or television series, a fact that belies the title’s PEGI 18 rating. Crackly music and broadcast techniques help to afford a sense of authenticity to the overall effect that provides the game with its unique and original charm. The real talent on behalf of BioShock Infinite is its ability to transform the world of Columbia as the story evolves. The overtly welcoming disposition of Columbia rapidly disappears as title character Booker DeWitt is revealed and suspicion runs rife through the floating steampunk city. Columbia slowly becomes a warzone and as the city blazes, the innocent exterior is lost, replaced by something far more sinister and threatening.
Of course, so much of the environment is defined by the course of the title’s storyline, and this is where BioShock Infinite excels, particularly in the dynamics of the relationship of Booker and Elizabeth. Her captivity has not dampened in Elizabeth her sense of righteousness, and her initial disgust at Booker’s violent methods moulds a moral divide between the two of them. However, the title questions the state of the pair’s moral codes when Elizabeth’s ability to create “tears” in the very fabric of time repositions their own conceptions of right and wrong, with Elizabeth literally altering history to suit her needs in the escape from Columbia. At this point, Booker wrestles the dubious moral high ground from Elizabeth granting BioShock Infinite a subtle examination of right and wrong that many titles commonly forgo for the sake of high octane action sequences. A constantly twisting storyline surprises throughout until the finale which is tragic, mind-boggling, amazing and rewarding all at once. Gamers will find no spoilers here, but this is one of the greatest ends to a game ever seen, even the poignant moment at the conclusion of The Last of Us is put to shame, with Joel’s herculean lie trumped by BioShock Infinite’s earth-shattering revelations.
Setting, check, story, check. Now let’s move on to some more technical points. Presentation of BioShock Infinite is very much in keeping with the rest of the title’s considerable charms, exhibiting a very “cartoonish” approach to gameplay graphics. Alongside many of the typically photorealistic titles that inhabit the world of Sony PlayStation, this style of presentation grants the title a unique quality of originality. For a title that wholly exhibits such imagination, this graphic style is very well suited and only adds to the title’s inimitable charm.
The title’s presentation also contributes heavily to BioShock Infinite’s use of violence. As a PEGI 18 title, obviously a certain amount of heavy violence is to be expected and it is not found wanting throughout. While a bloodied corpse in the lighthouse acts as somewhat of a precursor to what is coming, the first real introduction to the theme of violence comes when Booker DeWitt is revealed to the authorities of Columbia. The scene is harrowing as a man’s face is literally cut off and this is somewhat of a benchmark for what gamers should expect throughout. Blood splatters ridiculously as bullets find their targets and hand to hand combat often results in gruesome decapitations. This is neither praise nor criticism of the title, accepted level of violence is of course at the discretion of the individual gamer, but BioShock Infinite is frankly gratuitous. The title’s “cartoonish” style does maintain some level of ridiculousness in the case of presentation of violence with prevents it from ever crossing the line and becoming disturbing, but gamers should not be fooled by the colourful sleeve of the disk, this is one of 2013’s most gruesome experiences.
It is in combat where the title’s only real faults lie. Whilst one would not expect the title to exhibit such sophisticated combat as the Battlefield series, the overall feeling is that BioShock Infinite lacks a certain substance. The main issue lies within the title’s AI system, as enemies move with little thought for self-preservation, happy to charge into the fiercest of gunfights with no consideration of cover. This makes fights wholly unrealistic and diminishes any regard towards the art of tactics. The first-person view that inhabits the title throughout also makes combat chaotic to the point of confusion. The very narrow view that gamers have as a result of its status as an FPS title only worsens the issue with the enemy’s artificial intelligence. It is often hard to counter ten enemies at once but when one cannot see these enemies moving into strategically baffling positions, it can become an impossibility. Movements of powerful enemy archetypes continue to heighten the problems that exist with combat and the overall experience is unfortunately disappointing for what is an otherwise wonderful game.
The battle for Game of the Year in 2013 is as fierce as it has been in years with The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V also proving sure fire contenders. I recently named Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX as my Game of 2013, but I have to admit, if I was to put to one side my nostalgia, then BioShock Infinite would no doubt be a clear winner – quite an endorsement for a title that I deliberately ignored for weeks.
This is a magnificent title, one of the most imaginative, original pieces that I have ever encountered on PlayStation consoles. Shoddy combat blights the otherwise clear blue skies of BioShock Infinite, but among a year of stunning releases, this title is a must-have. BioShock Infinite scores 94%
Join the #PlayStationNation. Leave your comments below.