STAFF REVIEW of Bioshock Infinite (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013.
by Brent Roberts

Bioshock Infinite Box art In the pantheon of video games the title Bioshock sent smiles across faces of gamers around the world. Millions who realized that they were about to embark on a twisted and dark journey that would ultimately test the limits of their very own sanity. Phrases like "Would you kindly" set the stage for what could be argued as one of the biggest surprises in video game history, and, originally set in depths of the sea, provided a haunting, claustrophobic stage from which survival became almost an unreachable dream. It has been a long time since the minds of Irrational Games took us beyond the sea but now in their latest release, Bioshock Infinite, gamers arise from the depths below to take to the clouds and the skies above as the sunken landscape of Rapture is left behind for the soaring city of Columbia. Come with us as we look into the heart and mind of Columbia and examine what makes Bioshock Infinite a possible crown jewel of video gaming.

Straight away Bioshock Infinite sets you as the role of Booker DeWitt on your way to a remote lighthouse which apparently is the gateway to Columbia. The reasoning for your voyage there is clouded at first but the one certainty is that you must find the girl to wipe away a debt. Mystery clouds your initial arrival, but few details that you do gain in the beginning allow you to unravel the many layers of intrigue only to be left with more questions in your mind. A top quality story has always been the backbone of any Bioshock game, and in Bioshock Infinite the trend continues. Instead of a story that plunges you head first against an adversary and their challenges, Bioshock Infinite takes it's time to prepare and set many stages that ultimately in the end become incredibly satisfying and allow your mind to play tricks upon itself thus dramatically increasing the psychological aspect of the game. Think of Bioshock Infinite's story more in terms of parts of a play where each act not only brings you one step closer to solving your mystery, but also adds additional questions for you to think about. The story itself though wouldn't be as compelling if it weren't for the girl herself, Elizabeth.

This innovative take on the single player experience is one that was a big risk for Irrational Games due to the fact that some games in the past that offer a companion don't fully utilize them and thus making them feel more like baggage than an actual companion, but not in Bioshock Infinite. When you think of Elizabeth's character you can easily draw reference from the childhood tale Rapunzel where a young girl is trapped in a tower from which she must be rescued, except instead of a gallant hero we have a protagonist with a shady past and instead of saving her from a witch, you have to contend with the Song Bird. Elizabeth however, offers up more than just an NPC character with a few lines of dialogue. She has the ability to do many things such as: look through items to collect resources to give to you, pick open locks, point out hidden areas of exploration or valuable items, and even do quite well in battle. These abilities though pale in comparison to her greatest power, tearing. These tears in space time allow you to gain resources such as health and ammo but can also provide paths for navigation and more. Aside from all of this Elizabeth's character also will interact with other NPCs in Columbia including various machines which all adds to the wealth of the character and in the end adds a wealth of meaning to the character and the story as well.

Being that previous Bioshock games have tried to bring innovation to a first person gameplay experience, Bioshock Infinite goes to great lengths to bring back that unique quality gameplay. The plasmids of old have been replaced by Vigors but that doesn't mean that the joy or lethality has been lessened in the slightest. Vigors will allow you to harness powers such as fire, electricity, crows, possess enemies, and more. Now though you have options in the forms of combinations and traps. Instead of using the crow vigor you can hold the button down to throw a crow trap that if any enemy sets it off, a murder of crows circle around the enemy tearing it apart slowly piece by piece while you watch and hear your enemy scream for mercy. These Vigors are not just one trick pony though, they can be upgraded to increase damage, area attacks, and even have your enemies kill themselves. The possession vigor allows you take control of an enemy or machine to temporarily aid you in a battle, but once the vigor is upgraded your enemy NPC that you possess will kindly commit suicide. These combinations of different vigor powers greatly increases your options and enjoyment in battle and to be honest, there's something satisfying seeing an enemy survive a murder of crows only to attack you with part of a face that’s recognizable but that’s where another strength of Bioshock Infinite resides.

Jaw dropping, breathtaking, heavenly. Any of these words could blanket any discussion about Bioshock Infinite's graphics. Everything from the other NPC characters, to the environment, to the special effects has been polished with tremendous attention to detail making every moment in Bioshock Infinite a wondrous moment to see. The flying buildings and mammoth airships that cascade through the clouds are populated by a wide variety of NPC characters that create one of the most beautiful settings of any game. We did experience some graphical glitches with some out of place textures but those very few and hard to see glitches paled in comparison to the overall magnitude of beauty all around you. While the graphics of Bioshock Infinite make you feel closer to the heavens than ever before, the audio will immerse your mind into the society and psychological aspect of the game. Listening to other NPC conversations provide a tremendous amount of backstory on what life in Columbia is really like, and the musical score does great justice to the year 1912. Without question, it really is spectacular to witness every moment of this game.

As stated earlier you will come across a wide variety of NPC characters in Columbia, but that also means that your enemies have changed. Now gone are the splicers but only to be replaced by a militarized force of police, guards and of course, automatic turrets. One character that has been an iconic staple of the Bioshock series has always been the Big Daddies, but now they are replaced by the Handymen who are monstrous in size, very aggressive in temper, and viciously powerful. These massive brutes are a force to contend with so keep the strategy simple, aim for the heart and don't stop firing. While the Handymen may be massive, the Songbird is gigantic. Imagine a massive bird of prey that is six stories high and has one purpose in life, to protect Elizabeth in the tower at any cost.

It is very rare to find a game that delivers such a top quality experience in almost every field, but Bioshock Infinite does just that. Innovations in character development, gameplay, and story really help take Bioshock Infinite out of the shadows of Rapture and into the light of Columbia. Without a doubt, Irrational Games and 2K have done what very few thought would be possible and that is bring out a Bioshock game that not only lives up to the high quality standards that we all know and love but exceeds almost every expectation we as gamers have for the franchise. As the sun sets on the life of the Xbox 360 we as gamers raise our glass to thank the folks at Irrational Games and 2K for providing one last breathtaking tapestry of psychotic beauty on this console.

Overall: 9.6 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.9 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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