Bioshock Infinite review
This is how you do a threequel...
Well, somebody bothered. The big complaint aimed at the perfectly entertaining Bioshock 2 was that it rested on its considerable laurels, that it re-trod, if not narratively then in every other sense, what had made the first game so interesting. It was a criticism that no doubt stung, with an undeniable ring of truth to it.
Bioshock Infinite arrives in the aftermath of a pair of big PC gaming sequels, that have had similar accusations levelled at them. Crysis 3 is more like Crysis 2.5, while Dead Space 3 seems content to be less innovative and more homogenous, in a backfired attempt to play things safe.
At the core of Bioshock Infinite too, in fairness, is a familiar game. It's part first person shooter, part exploration and part discovering new Vigors, so let's cover off the conventional parts first. The first person shooter mechanic of Bioshock Infinite is strong, aided by good enemy AI and lots of ideas that spruce up the combat. We'll come to those shortly.
Regular Bioshock players will need little introduction to the Vigors, which have had a name change, but effectively perform a familiar trick. These are powers that, providing you have enough fuel (or salts, as the game calls it), allow you to fire off powers that can help tip a battle your way, or get past a proverbial dead end.
Vigors include launching deadly crows, fireballs, lightning bolts, or simply flinging foes high into the air. Finding the right vigor for the right scenario is part of the fun, and you then can gradually upgrade them more and more as you progress and collect more cash.
These are all ingredients, in slightly different clothes, that we've seen before in Bioshock though. What we haven't are some of the terrific new ideas that Irrational Games has thrown at the title. The game is this time set in 1912, in a world where cities float and where imposing architecture just demands to be explored. If half the fun of the original Bioshock was exploring the city of Rapture, then that's very much the case again here. You get a real sense of just what Bioshock 2 was missing within half an hour in the presence of Infinite.
Another added feature is the grappling hook, which has a two-fold purpose. As a close combat weapon it's amazing, not least when you get an incendiary upgrade for it, but with an added hint of Bionic Commando, it's also a transportation device allowing you to hook onto the skylines that surround the city. This in turn can gain you advantageous positions, or simply allow you to travel around.
The mark of a good game world is how interesting it is to explore. Bioshock Infinite gives you lots of interesting scenery and tremendously fun ways to get around it. Heck, at times it feels as though the game is getting in the way.
However, it has a better trick up its packed sleeve, and she goes by the name of Elizabeth. At first, she seems the game's objective, a predictable rescue mission lifted straight out of the manual of any 8-bit game of your choice. There's a lot more here, though, not least when Elizabeth becomes a companion on your quest.
Refreshingly, she's not a companion you have to protect (such missions are surely the most frustrating ever in first person shooters), but a genuine ally. If you're running low on salts and ammo, she'll find some. She'll point out interesting things you need to take note of. She'll gather up cash and send it your way. Oh, and she can tear through time.
This is a brilliant, brilliant trick and Bioshock Infinite takes its time to introduce it. When it does, you can pull through cracks in time, to basically transport more contemporary items into the 1912 setting of Bioshock Infinite. That might be a crate of medical supplies languishing in the future, or maybe even a gun turret. It's not something that comes easily to Elizabeth, and there are only so many things she can bring forth at once, but it's a tremendous tactic and adds something really quite different to the game.
Further Bioshock trademarks are fully in place too. This is a game dripping with detail, with optional voice logs filling in the gaps of the world's story. The sound design is excellent, with a rich score pumping out subtle doses of atmosphere, as the genuinely interesting narrative continues to unravel.
The biggest fault? Well, at heart, no matter how much it's dressed up, it's still pretty much the same game sitting at the heart of it all. It might look glorious, and ideas have been pumped in to subvert it all a little, but dig deep enough and it's a first-person shooter sequel that you're getting for your money.
But what a first person shooter sequel. At a time when criticisms are being rained on PC gaming for just offering more and more of the same, here's a developer that's taken those same ingredients, but injected so much that it's hard to resist. Bioshock Infinite might not be groundbreaking, but it is brilliant, and it shows just where the likes of Dead Space's and Crysis' threequels were fearful of treading.
As we said at the start: with Bioshock Infinite, the worst you're going to get from it is an enveloping sense that somebody, from start to finish, tried their damnedest to make this good. They succeeded. With honours.
• Price: £34.99
• Manufacturer: 2K Games/Irrational Games
• Required spec: 2.4GHz processor, 2GB RAM, 20GB HD space, 512MB DirectX 10 graphics card, Windows Vista or later