Pirates Aren’t the Only Ones With Hooks For Hands: Bioshock Infinite

infinite

The Bioshock series is one of the most well known first person “shooter” series out there.  I emphasize shooter because, well, you do more than shoot.  The first Bioshock starts you off with a wrench, and your trusty drill will just demolish splicers in the first two games.  But, in the third installment, Bioshock Infinite, not only do you play most of the game above the ocean, your arsenal includes a wide variety of guns (that shoot bullets, no rivets this time.)  And it works ever so nice.  So, let’s go get our dystopia on, and take a look at Bioshock Infinite.

I think the best place to start this review is at the start of the game.  Why?  Well, it begins rather slowly.  You’re on a rowboat, you’re dropped off at a lighthouse, you see some ominous scrawling on the walls, ascend some stairs, see a dead body, and so on.  Until you board a steampunk rocket, get launched into space, and parachute down into a floating city.  Ok, so maybe not slow, but you just walk around, looting and looking.  This continues for a good fifteen minutes.  You visit a fair, test out some skills and weapons at the fair booths (basically a tutorial), all without any real interaction from anyone else, or any dialogue about what the hell you’re actually doing.  All you know is that you have to find a girl, to repay some debt that you may or may not owe.  It’s very vague.  Until, you get to the fair’s raffle.  Of course, you win this raffle, and your prize?  To throw a baseball at a soon to be married mixed race couple, tied up and at your mercy.  Ok, so I’ll call this next part a spoiler.  Even though it happens very early on, it was, to me, one of the most memorable openings of a game that I’ve ever played.  So, SPOILERS.  Ok, now, you’ll have a choice of whether you want to chuck the ball at the couple, or the announcer.  I chose the announcer, because he was egging me on like an asshole.  This, of course, brought the guards down on me, but at this moment, the game became pure awesome.  I grabbed a guard, forced his hand down, and drove his hand, which was holding a sky-line grappling hook, right into the other guard’s face!  Immediately, everyone starts screaming, I steal the hand hook, guards are running at me, swinging night sticks and shooting at me, and I’m beating the crap out them with my steampunk pirate hook.  Now, why did I choose to describe the first twenty minutes of the game?  Because it describes this game perfectly.  Surprising, sudden, and brutal.  You’re just walking along, casually forced into some racism, and before you know it, you’re demolishing faces, stealing guns, and blasting the shit out of anyone who looks at you funny.  It was perfect, gripping, and holds onto your mind like, well, a sky-claw.  The game play throughout is like this.  Surprises wait for you behind corners, twisting and turning the story in and out of itself.

Whoops!
You’ve got a bee on your face!  Oh, also, spoilers!

Now, as I mentioned above, this isn’t your typical Bioshock game.  Rapture is both far below you, and, not even there yet, since this takes place in 1912.  Instead, you’re in the floating city of Columbia-a racist, dystopian, religiously ruled totalitarian fortress of steampunk and crazy advanced physics.  Instead of a Big Daddy suit and a drill, you’re just a former Pinkerton with a penchant for shooting holes into everything.  The looting is the same as the other Bioshock games.  Eat food for health, collect guns and ammo.  You also eat and drink certain items for Salt, which is basically EVE from earlier. These salts power your Vigors, your “enhanced-magic” abilities.  So, yes, you have ranged guns-everything from pistols to RPGs, your badass sky-hook with which you can shred faces and grapple-slide from personal monorail lines that weave throughout the city, and your Vigors, which feature such abilities as creating fiery grenades, a stunning flock of ravens (not stunning like, fabulous…they actually stun the enemies.) and a magnetic shield that will absorb enemy bullets before shooting them back with awesomely deadly force.

Ok, so maybe they are Fabulous!
Ok, so maybe they are Fabulous!

All this ties in with your companion, and super important person, Elizabeth.  Her AI is surprisingly smart.  She’ll get in your way sometimes, but she always finds some cover, and, quite possibly the best part of the game, she will find money, ammo, salts, and health for you, which can and will save you in a pinch.  You’ll also loot lockpicks, which she can use to get into secret areas.

If it's heads, you'll have to hook-punch the next dude in the face.  Same if it's tails.
If it’s heads, you’ll have to hook-punch the next dude in the face. Same if it’s tails.

Ok, I know there’s so much being described here, and the game is only a few months old.  I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, so I’ll step away from the gameplay.  But, before I move on, I’ll just say that while it feels similar to the other Bioshocks, the experience is different.  Actual guns, more creative “magics”, and Elizabeth as your companion make for a truly awesome combination of gameplay factors.  I loved it.  Quick note, I know I’ve left out some awesome, crazy important gameplay aspects especially related to Elizabeth.  But, I loved experiencing everything for myself.  I don’t want to spoil too much.

Alright, now that I’ve peeled myself away from the gameplay, what about the story?  In a word, superb.  It feels like a noir detective story throughout the entire game.  You sort of know what you’re supposed to be doing, but you constantly learn more and more about what’s going on, why you’re doing it, who the major players are, and why they are so major.  Theories you might have turn out to be wrong.  Mysteries jump out at you, only to deepen.  When you think you’re at the end of an area or sub-plot line, you find the hidden piece that drops the floor out from under you.  By the end, you’ll be so wrapped up within the layers of this story, you’ll need a few minutes of quiet solitude just to collect your thoughts.  I love when a video game can do that-pull you in so deep that you have an emotional response to the end of the journey.

One of the most gripping aspects of the story revolved around Elizabeth.  I found her to be not only an awesome personality, but heartbreaking at the same time.  This was accomplished by the smallest of details.  When there’s a moment of dialogue, her face reacts like a real person would.  At one point, you and her are in an elevator, when it suddenly stops, and the telephone rings.  She looks at you, raises an eyebrow, and listens with a look of “what the hell is this guy talking about” as the voice squawks out of the phone.  It’s a little detail, but it goes so far to pull you into the action and story.

Seriously.  That's a perfect "what the hell is he talking about?" face
Seriously. That’s a perfect “what the hell is he talking about?” face

Acting as awesome support to the story and the gameplay, the sound is, well, beautiful.  Old-timey music will fade in an out as you move from room to street to room.  Screams, gunshots, PA announcements all flow seamlessly over the background ambiance.  Voices trail off, stopping their conversations and becoming terse if you look like you’re about to cause some trouble.  It just feels so real.  I know that if I took a stroll though a city, I’d hear these exact same things.  Well, a dystopian city where gunfights and explosions were commonplace.

Who care about the gunfights.  I'll take that chance for a city this beautiful.
Who care about the gunfights. I’ll take that chance for a city this beautiful.

Now, when compared to how real everything about this game feels, the graphics may seem a little off to some.  They are smooth as silk, with no clipping, unwanted polygons, or weird face bugs marring the beauty, but they do have a bit of a…cartoony feel.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a 2D, cell shaded shooter.  But Battlefield 4 realistic level graphics were not the goal here.  Having said that, I think the graphic style works absolutely perfectly.  There is an underlying humor, buried beneath the dark, gritty seriousness, and these graphics personify that feel to a T.  Not only that, every movement is spot on.  Humans look, move, and crumple like humans.  Clouds, smoke, steam and water all flow and drift like the real deal.  The only liquid that doesn’t behave like it should is blood.  Sure, when you slap-chop a dude’s face off with your sky-hook, a spurt of crimson will burst out.  But it’s not a mist or a spray.  It’s basically a torrent of blood-a giant, angry, cloud of red that bursts out of people when they’re hit or shot or pecked to death.  And that’s fine.  It works.  I didn’t need to see life-like blood explosions.  I was too busy cackling at tearing a man’s head off with my hand-held food processor.

I think this automatically sends me to the dark side.
I think this automatically sends me to the dark side.

Alright, we’ve now come to my usual grading trap: replayability.  Bioshock Infinite doesn’t have multiple endings.  There are many secret areas to find, trophies to unlock, and easter eggs to find that help further solve the mystery surrounding you.  But, gloriously, there is a DLC that is not only awesome, but brings back the best of each Bioshock game.  Titled Burial at Sea, it features Booker, the person you play during Infinite, and Elizabeth, running around pre-craziness Rapture in a noir detective style mystery.  Rapture has been spruced up something fierce, rather than just reusing previous iterations, and features new weapons, secrets, and other goodies, just waiting to be found.  It’s a rip-roaring good time, wrapped up in a wonderful, watery dystopian package.

Everyone smokes in a noir.
Everyone smokes in a noir.  Even her cigarette is smoking a cigarette.

Additionally, there are other DLC’s, including a nice little puzzle game, and an arena with wave after wave of enemies.  Nothing quite as in-depth as Burial at Sea, but they do a great job prolonging the fun of Bioshock Infinite.  Which is nice, because when I finished the main story, I was a little sad that it was over.  I wished the main story would have been more open-ended.  Maybe my choices throughout the game could have had more impact later on.  But, the DLC does a nice job in an attempt to atone for that.

Overall, Bioshock Infinite is a perfect example of not just a shooter, but of video games in general.  A gripping story, great gameplay and sound, and fun as hell DLCs create a package of awesomeness.  The worst part of this game was that I had to finish it.  I wish I could have kept discovering mysteries and running around Columbia, Elizabeth in tow.  But, of course, all good things must come to an end.  All I can hope for is that the next Bioshock, whether it continues on in the Infinite Universe, or the Rapture Universe, achieves the same level of greatness.  Bioshock Infinite earns a far from dystopian A.

Scoring:

Gameplay: 10/10

Story: 10/10

Sound: 10/10

Graphics: 9.5/10

Replayability: 9/10

Overall: 9.7/10 A

Beer Pairing:

Oh boy, pairing this game with a beer was a bit of a challenge.  There are so many characteristics about this game that can go nicely with so many beers.  But, I think that the major force behind the game is its noir air of mystery.  It pushes and pulls the story at every turn, creating the powerful emotional forces that draw you in and make you become invested in every little action, from the very first scene, to the ending credits.  Because of this, I’m suggesting Stone’s Imperial Russian Stout.  Not only is it as dark as the game, its deep complexity and multiple layers will keep you guessing from start to finish.  Coffee and chocolate flavors will appear and suddenly switch positions before you have a firm hold on the flavors.

It will also force you to keep drinking, pulling you deeper and deeper along for the ride.  Drink it slowly, and try to keep pace with the action of the game.  Slow section?  Take a sip.  Just finish an epic fire fight?  Treat yourself, and take a hefty taste.  Just be smart about it.  This stout is potent as hell, and you’ll need to keep a clear mind if you want to understand all the mysteries within the game.  So, pick yourself up a bottle or two of Stone’s Imperial Russian Stout, turn of your phone, shut the shades, and strap yourself in.  Between the game and the beer, you wont be leaving your chair for a while.

In fact, the only reason you'll stand up to to skyline attack anyone who bothers you.
In fact, the only reason you’ll stand up is to skyline attack anyone who bothers you.
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2 thoughts on “Pirates Aren’t the Only Ones With Hooks For Hands: Bioshock Infinite”

    1. It was close, but the whole Elizabeth-scavenger extraordinaire tipped the scales to Infinite for me. Something about snatching a gun out of the air midfight…

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