You know, for all of Ken Levine's talk of wanting to do something new and different as his reason for not working on Bioshock 2, Bioshock Infinite is still pretty fucking identical to Bioshock. Not that that's a bad thing. The whole "gotta do something new and different" philosophy is dumb anyway. The best games come from building and improving on a formula that is already good, why the fuck would you go in a different direction once you've established something good?
Yo, this is such an easy game to review. If you liked Bioshock, you'll like this one too, and if you didn't, there ain't nothing in particular here that'd make you change your mind. There, done. Disperse!
What? You want a real review? Ugh, fiiiine. You people and your demands. Okay, so maybe there are some tiny differences here and there. Maybe. Barely. The basic gameplay is vastly the same. Basic FPS action with a primary emphasis on exploration/setting/discovery rather than shooting. You've got your Bioshock plasmids except now they're called vigors and instead of bees you shoot crows. I guess crows are cooler than bees though, so that's an upgrade. The game world is still littered with stuff to find if you care to look, which is cool: maybe you'll find a wallet tucked under a mattress, a box of ammo under a sofa, food, recorded messages that flesh out the story, lockpicks that can be used to open safes or doors, etc. The game even has optional "sidequests" where you can find chests and then have to find the key in another area to unlock it and vice versa, or ciphers where you have to find the code book to decipher it. That's all great and makes it more fun to explore.
Conceptually the setting is the same as Bioshock's except inverted. You infiltrate a dys/utopia and start fucking shit up. Even the way you first get into it is the same. Except instead of being a city underwater it's a city in the clouds, and instead of being dark and damp it's really bright and sunny. So I guess if for some reason you didn't like how dark Bioshock was, there's that. Infinite's still got its fair share of dark creepy places, but in general the game's much brighter. Hell, there are even a lot of areas with people that aren't out to slit your throat. In that sense, the "feel" of the setting is different. Whereas in Bioshock you felt very isolated in a dark ruined place full of splicers always wanting to fuck you up, here you have instances of just walking around perfectly peaceful places talking to people.
Now I absolutely love the original Bioshock's setting, but Infinite's is also really good in its own right. The departure from a completely ruined city to one in its prime allowed them to create some very beautiful areas. A lot of it has a nice old timey feel that reminds me of Disney places like the Boardwalk/Beach Club/Main Street and to be honest the times where you're just exploring these places, talking to people at the beach, visiting the ice cream shop or bookstore, getting some cotton candy and whatnot are probably my favorite parts of the game because the FPS action is just plain not anything special. I imagine this is why multiplayer doesn't work in Bioshock. It takes away the main thing that makes it good. If it has to rely on just its FPS elements then it becomes a very meh game. This might also be part of the reason why later on when you start fucking everything up and it just becomes a full-on war with the game just throwing armies of enemies at you it becomes... not as good (and then gets good again when it goes back to exploration).
That being said, the vigors are still pretty fun to use. Setting traps and blowing enemies up with Devil's Kiss when they run into them is always fun. Pulling cowardly enemies to you with Undertow and blowing their brains out with the shotgun or hand cannon is another favorite of mine. Possession is always really strong and Return to Sender and Charge are borderline overpowered. Crows are always funny and home in on enemies, making them a good fire and forget move. Enemies have their unique weaknesses and resistances which keeps all the vigors useful in different situations. Except Bucking Bronco, does anyone even use that shit? Why would I want to make enemies float when I can make them float AND pull them in with Undertow?
I like how enemies no longer inexplicably respawn in places you've already cleared. In fact, the game does a surprisingly good job of keeping track of the state of the world. If you set up traps in a place, they will STAY there indefinitely, even if you leave the area, go through a completely different place, do other stuff, spend hours away and then come back, they'll still be there even if you yourself forgot about them/assumed they would disappear.
I've already said before that Bioshock has a problem in that it's made way too fucking easy through a series of very questionable design choices. Infinite does absolutely nothing to correct this, and in fact gives us the double deuce by actually making it worse. Alright, Irrational, I get it, this isn't what Bioshock is about. Message received. Now I'm not gonna sit here and tell you that a game can't be piss easy and still be good, but seriously man, this is kind of fucking ridiculous. Any pretense of difficulty is made a total joke by the fact that you can change the difficulty mode at any time. That's a pussy feature that shouldn't exist in any game, ever. I don't care if after you beat the game you unlock a mode where you take 10% more damage and can't change it, it should never be there period. But it doesn't even particularly matter because Vita chambers are back with a vengeance. Not only do you just automatically respawn when you die with the enemies not resetting, but you can't even turn that shit off now. So same as always, you can just keep dying and throwing yourself at enemies until you bullshit your way through. What a fucking joke. Oh what, it takes off a little bit of your money when you respawn? Big fucking whoop. It seems that Irrational wants the player to get through any encounter no matter what. Fuck having to do things properly the whole way through a fight, that's so 1999 am I right guys? OH PSYCH, even in the 1999 mode you still respawn! Trolled. What makes this so ridiculous is that even if they turned off respawning in 1999 mode that would simply be the normal, standard way that any game is supposed to work. It wouldn't be special or praise-worthy, it would just be the way it should have been from the beginning. And yet they still didn't. Look, I'm all for liberally placed save points, but in the middle of a fucking battle? Come on.
Then there's the fact that now you can't carry medikits or eve hypos (called salts in this game), which would normally be something that I praise, except that they very clearly didn't make this change for the sake of gameplay. Rather, they made it so that your partner, Elizabeth, could supply you with them mid-fight. Now rather than the things you pick up, it's Elizabeth who heals you and replenishes your salts when they get low. So it ends up being more or less the same as before, except now you don't have to pick up these items because you get them for free. Essentially, they made her your walking resource supply and cut off the ability to carry these items so that you would appreciate her for it. And she is mad useful, not gonna lie. But it's because it's designed to be this way. Irrational is going to make you appreciate Elizabeth, by god, and they'll be fucked if they let gameplay or anything else get in the way.
To that same end, they've changed the weapon system and made it so that now you can only carry 2 weapons at one time ala Halo/Gears/CoD and Elizabeth replenishes your ammo mid-fight for free or you pick up the weapons from dead enemies. This system is fine in games like the ones I mentioned, but Bioshock is different and changing to this system makes the game worse because it hurts the exploration aspect. I've said this before but ammo should be a commodity and it should be an incentive for you to explore and find it. This system absolutely destroys that because since you can only have 2 guns, 90% of the ammo or weapons you find at any given time are worthless. But Irrational doesn't give a fuck. They just want you to appreciate Elizabeth when she gives you ammo during a fight. Surprisingly enough, they actually handled money and prices right in this. Vigor and weapon upgrades are so expensive that you won't be able to buy every single upgrade in a playthrough unless you deliberately farm for money. This helps alleviate the problem somewhat, even if ammo is useless at least money isn't. And of course the game still has important items to find like voxophones, gear and infusions, so exploration is still rewarded.
But I haven't talked about Elizabeth yet, and according to the developer she is the most important part of the game. Elizabeth is Bioshock Infinite. At least that's what they say, and judging from the changes for her sake I mentioned before, I believe their intent. Their mission was to create an AI companion that the player would appreciate and hopefully feel a connection with. According to them, this is the "new" thing that makes Bioshock Infinite different. Well I'm sorry to break it to you, Irrational, but this exact thing has already been done in Half-Life 2 with Alyx Vance. Still, I'm not gonna begrudge anyone for stealing ideas, and Bioshock is already practically the same type of game as Half-Life anyway.
Certainly Elizabeth makes the game feel quite different from previous Bioshocks. The fact that you're no longer alone takes away a lot of the creepiness/dread from the game. This isn't necessarily better or worse, just different. You can't get jumped from the shadows or snuck up on because that would scare Elizabeth more than it would scare you. She also acts as a sort of enemy radar, when Elizabeth is at ease that means there are no enemies nearby. Don't worry though, there's still a part where they take her away and ratchet up the creepiness.
As I mentioned before, Elizabeth is very useful. She will provide you with health kits, salts, ammo, she will lockpick things for you, give you money she finds, warn you of enemies, highlight where they are, and even bring in all kinds of useful things like automatons, weapons, decoys. Unlike Alyx, she will never fight directly, she only helps you and hides. Y'know, like a real woman. Also she wears pretty dresses. Y'know, also like a real woman. The game does take place in 1912, so most people are pimpin'. Man, whatever happened to the good old days when we used to have some fashion? Nowadays you can go out in fucking shorts and a T-shirt with an ironic sentence and not get your ass kicked. But anyway, the things Elizabeth does outside of helping you are probably better. She'll do a lot of cool things, like pinch her nose when you walk into a disgusting bathroom, start coughing if you stand near someone smoking a cigarette, look at you and when you look back at her she'll quickly look the other way. Stuff like that. I liked having her around just for the dialogue, but I feel like there should've been more. The problem is that the developers wanted her to feel more spontaneous and dynamic, so they tried to limit her scripted sequences in favor of letting the AI do unscripted stuff. While this sounds good on paper, in reality it isn't because scripted dialogue and sequences are always more fun to watch. Letting the AI just do whatever results in Elizabeth doing a lot of the same things, namely sitting on things, leaning on things and looking at things. Which is all well and good, but my favorite parts were always the scripted dialogue, such as when you walk into the men's bathroom and she says she's not going in there with you, or when you walk into the women's with her and she says you'll get arrested, or when you walk into a cellar and find a child trying to steal food and she gives him an orange, or when you find a secret room and she remarks that it wasn't worth the work to find it. That kind of stuff. Who cares that it's scripted, I would've liked a lot more of that. Like when you're at the beach I walked her over to a sand castle and she didn't do or say anything about it! What a missed opportunity! Overall Elizabeth doesn't particularly improve or worsen the game, to say that she is the heart of Bioshock Infinite seems kind of a stretch.
The story is good enough that I don't want to spoil it, although I don't like how it gets more and more depressing as you go on. That seems to be standard Bioshock procedure, although this one somehow felt even more depressing than usual, likely due to how pretty and cheerful everything seems at first and how the main character has an actual personality this time around and interacts more with the world and especially Elizabeth, and also other reasons that I'm not gonna say.
But anyway, this game is Bioshock through and through. If you like the series you'll like this too, and if you don't, you won't. If you're not sure, get it anyway. It's good.
Final Verdict: B-
Final Playtime: Who knows. About the same you'd expect from this type of FPS.