A brief and overdue review of Bioshock Infinite

I played Bioshock infinite a few months ago, and I had meant to write up my thoughts on the game here shortly after finishing it. I did finish the game, but I never wrote about it.

Bioshock Infinite is easily the most engrossing PC game I’ve played since Half Life 2. In some ways, though, it is a bit of a mess, and I hope that if there ever is another Bioshock, some of those mistakes will be learned from.

Put simply, there are two reasons you play Bioshock – the visual splendor, and the tale. Gameplay is secondary to these things, and it shows. At times, painfully so.

But it also doesn’t matter. Infinite is worth the $60, easily. Even if you only play through once. Which is probably all most people will do – there is no substantial reason to repeat the single player story, not until you’ve forgotten the various niceties of the plot 6 months to a year later.

Bioshock Infinite takes what players loved about the first two titles and tries to turn them up to 11. It succeeds. You thought Rapture was grand, ambitious, and original? Columbia makes Andrew Ryan’s undersea utopia look like a quickly sketched sand castle. The level of detail and imagination is truly astonishing. Subplots go deeper. Characters don’t simply advance the lulls in firefights or puzzles, they have real intrigue about them – they make you want more. And the story arc, well, although I doubt anyone cares about spoiling it at this point, I wouldn’t want to even risk it. It’s not perfect, but it surpasses the first two games in almost every conceivable way.

Bioshock Infinite is, frankly, a piece of art. You want to stop and appreciate the little things, to take in the full experience. The stuff you’d never notice in any other first-person shooter, because who gives a fuck what’s behind the produce counter in one of a half dozen shops on a street? In Bioshock, you care. And you should – the one piece of lore, the one Vox tape you need to really connect the dots at a particular point in the story, could be there.

Find me another game like that. All the way until the very, very end, you are utterly driven to dig deeper, listen harder, and look closer. This is the reason Infinite is a game you must play.

Oddly, the reason you shouldn’t play it, however, is the “playing” aspect. The first two Bioshocks had relatively simple but decidedly entertaining and unpretentious combat. As soon as you accepted this fact, you loved it. You’d use a weird Adam power just because you could, because it was hilarious or visually pleasing. Weapons had clear, defined purposes.

Bioshock Infinite just mucks everything up. Too many guns, too many powers, too many ways to tweak those guns and powers, and too much dependence on them to get yourself out of complex combat scenarios. They just tried too hard. Like the story and the visuals, 2K turned up the combat system from the original to 11. It wasn’t a good idea. Health is harder to come by. So is ammo. More fun, simple weapons become laughably ineffective later in the game, and your powers are either totally worthless or absolutely required based on the combat situation. There are too many enemies, and most of them just shoot at you (either with guns or powers) – how lame is that from the series that brought us wall-crawling hook-handed fish people? It just isn’t very fun. It’s not bad, but it’s not great by any measure. It tries to make serious a combat system that was never meant to be serious.

It by no means ruins the game, however. Combat is simply a means to an end. You hate it at times (a sniper rifle in Bioshock? Really?), but not others. One / two on one combat, for example, allows you to play with your powers and more unorthodox weapons – and you can have genuine fun that way.

Most of the time, though, it feels like busy work mowing down a dozen baddies and a George Washington robot from a hundred yards.

Even with the lackluster combat, though, Infinite gets an easy 9/10 from me. A fantastic game that any gamer should play through once, even if it doesn’t have a dog.

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