My personal experience with the Bioshock franchise isn’t positive, I played the previous entries but never finished either because I was eventually too bored to continue playing. I had no expectations at all that could cloud my judgment when going into this game. So let’s see what this game is all about.
The story starts with your character, Booker DeWitt, as he is on a boat with two rowers bringing him to a lighthouse. All you know at the beginning is “Bring the girl and wipe away the debt!” That’s not easily done though, because DeWitt has to ascent to the city in the skies, Columbia. This is where I will stop talking about the story because it explodes with detail, powerful scenes and emotional impacts. Elizabeth herself, the girl you’re supposed to bring, will join you and is a pretty useful sidekick. The story itself can become pretty confusing near the end and the ending has left players to debate for weeks to come. In my opinion, the story is well written and makes sense, the ending is not a cliffhanger and leaves a lot for your own interpretation, which I like a lot if done right. The atmosphere in this game, thanks to the heavily scripted story, is amazing and at no point in this game did I not feel unsettled. My problem is that there are no multiple endings. You are given some choices during the game but they don’t influence anything. Also not being able to chat with Elizabeth outside of the scripted sequences is a shame as well.
I can say this though: The less you know about the game, the better your experience will be since this game heavily relies on the impact of its scenes.
The game seems like your everyday shooter with magic powers but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Let’s get this straight off the chest: The shooter gameplay works. The powers are a different story though. The game would have been better without them, in my opinion, but more on that later.
You have your traditional moveset of jumping, crouching, aiming, shooting, interacting, melee-attacks and “inventory”.
Why is the inventory in proclamation marks? Because you don’t really have an inventory. In said menu, you can change your equipment (head, body, pants and shoes), look up the upgrades you bought, your current objectives and listen to the voice recordings you found. If you find something to refill your health like food, then you HAVE to consume it immediately.
Speaking of equipment, you can find these in presents scattered throughout your journey and each gives you special abilities, for example: When jumping off of a railroad you create a blast of fire when landing.
Railroads are neat, thanks to the hook you get early in the game. You can jump onto railroads to dodge, jump on and shoot enemies. It sounds simple but it’s tons of fun, sadly railroads are often only there to get you from point A to point B with some combat mixed into it, they’re not even close to be used to their full potential.
You can buy upgrades in two of the three different vending machines. The two are split up in power and weapon upgrades, while the last one is available for refilling health, salt and ammunition (rarely lockpicks). Salt is used up when you use your powers, but thanks to some specific equipment and salt lying everywhere you shouldn’t ever run out. In addition to that, there are infusions at some places with which you can strengthen your health, shield or salt meter. You get the shield very early, it’s basically a second health bar that refills itself before your actual health bar takes damage.
Lockpicks are used by Elizabeth if you want to open locked doors or vaults. The balance of lockpicks is a bit off though, in the first half of the game there are too few while the second half bombards you with them.
Mentioning balance: Money. You get money by looting dead enemies or you just find money by looking through desks etc. but you always have a bit too much, not enough to buy every upgrade in the game but at a certain point in the game, I’ve been throwing money out like nothing because ammunition is extremely cheap and I had nothing else to spend it on. This sounds like a contradiction but keep in mind that you won’t ever buy every upgrade in the game because you won’t use all the powers that are given to you.
Why? Because this game is easy. With that I mean ridiculously easy, if you decide to use your powers. Not even the hardest setting is a challenge and you unlock the only somewhat hard difficulty by completing the game once. But even then it’s easy because of one more mechanic: Instant reviving. If you die, you’ll be revived on the spot, enemies respawn and you loose a little bit of money. Money is thrown at you at every corner, so death has next to no consequences at all. This game doesn’t have replay value because it doesn’t have New Game+ for some reason and since all “choices” always have the same results, there isn’t much reason to go back at all except for it being fun.
Honestly, I would probably replay it more often (I took A LOT of time enjoying the little details and I was still able to complete the game in 11 hours) but this game doesn’t have a free save feature, meaning everything is depending on your auto saves. Dear developers, free saving is better for a game like this and if you have a confusing “Load Chapter” option in the main menu, then I expect to be able to reload certain points in the game. I wasn’t expecting to look at my last 5 endgame auto saves. To make it clear one more time, Bioshock Infinite is fun but it has another problem: Freedom.
You want to go and explore the city, but you can’t. You want to stray away from the path, but you can’t. The game handholds you until the very end and that already annoyed me in the previous Bioshock games. Just let me go, I want to explore the world you present to me but you chain me up on your linear path. I mean sometimes you can explore some very minor areas and, thanks to the N button which shows you the way to the next main objective, you always know where to go without triggering the next event but that’s not enough. I dislike the current hype of open world games but I can’t help myself, as both Columbia as well as Rapture would have been much better for me as open world games or at least semi-open-world similar to Half-Life 2.
In order to return to the “it would have been better if the player himself couldn’t use powers” argument, let’s get to Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a great sidekick with actual character development but she also breaks the game even more. If you run out of ammo in the middle of combat, Elizabeth will throw supplies at you, same goes for health, salt and money. That’s great because other than teleporting around the map to keep up with you, she doesn’t do much (thankfully) but it breaks the balance, making powers seem even more like some sort of cheat code. She can also, later in the game, open rifts that help you even further in combat.
Let me just clear this up: I like the powers but they’re completely unbalanced and they often feel somewhat shoved in just for the sake of being Bioshock. I don’t think that having overpowered abilities is bad if it’s a singleplayer experience, but it feels like all the powers are here because the game is named “Bioshock”. The last two or three powers are just thrown at you, making the impression of the developers saying “well, we have some powers left… let’s just leave them here” while all the other powers have some sort of background to them or are connected to the main story.
Is the gameplay of Bioshock Infinite bad? No, if you don’t mind fun balance breakers then go ahead, there’s no problem with that.
I really enjoyed Bioshock Infinite but the fact that this game is not even barely a challenge is off-putting. It could have been fixed very easily by unlocking the only difficulty suitable for experienced players from the very beginning or by generally including a mode that could be considered difficult.
Musically speaking, this game has a phenomenal ambient soundtrack, one of the best I’ve ever heard in fact. Like any ambient soundtrack you have to play the game to fully appreciate it but it’s well worth it. Garry Schyman, you have done a fantastic job with this one.
When it comes to the graphics, the game looks pretty good for a game of the last generation. The art design will allow it to age better than most other shooters and the scenery is impressive. There are issues though. There are way too many clone NPCs and the PC has a problem of it’s own.
The “ultra graphics” setting can potentially strain your eyes, making it almost impossible to play for more than 2 hours.
Why is that? In short: A combination of motion blur and “depth of field” which are both NOT optional in the settings. What they create is a weird effect, comparable to looking through glasses that aren’t suited for you. Close objects appear too close and distant objects are washy. Someone in the test department MUST have noticed it. Why Irrational Games didn’t include those two things in the graphics options is beyond me.
Before you start the actual game on PC, I highly recommend adjusting the settings first and then to manually deactivate those two effects.
You can do that by going into your personal documentary folder, go into “My Games”, into “Bioshock Infinite”, “XGame”, “config” and finally into “XEngine”. Open the file with programs like “Wordpad” and look up “SystemSettings” within the file. You will find two lines underneath “SystemSettings”, “MotionBlur=True” and “DepthOfField=True”. Remove “True” and change it to “False”.
If you have trouble with headaches or motion blur in general, then this is the way to play without suffering.
What is this game doing good for its genre?
It has an engaging story with an interesting ending, fun shooter gameplay, railroads are a good mechanic, Elizabeth is just great, the music is fantastic and the voice acting is extremely well done. The art design is also very good and on PC, you will have very short loading times.
What could have been improved?
Remove powers for the player or actually build your game around those powers (the occasional oil/water puddle doesn’t count), make your game more difficult by having a punishable death.
Have a free save mechanic (especially for PC) and what is up with the missing options in the settings?
Make railroads go throughout the entire city as an interconnected location, have an actual inventory, fix your lockpick balance and increase the prices in the shops so that money actually means something.
If you confront the player with choices, then make them actually influence anything, have all difficulties available from the very start, have less clones running around and why is there no New Game+?
Bioshock Infinite is a fun and very good game. I can easily recommend it to anyone, even to newcomers but I don’t see this as a must-play. This is an easy game and can be picked up by everyone. The scenery is often fantastic and the story will engage you emotionally. That being said, the game has flaws and had a lot more potential in many, many ways. I will still recommend it to anyone that enjoys games in general because it is just that: A linear, easy and fun game that can be enjoyed from start to finish.