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Monday, 20 July 2015

Bioshock Infinite.

Bioshock Infinite.

You guys.

I've never reviewed Bioshock Infinite. Do you know how amazing that is to me? You would've thought it would have been one of the first things I reviewed and, apparently, its DLC Bioshock Infinite - Burial At Sea very much was, being the twelfth review I ever did and one of the first things I reviewed as a new release. But the main game itself completely passed me by.

Which is a crying shame, because I absolutely adore Bioshock Infinite. As someone who completely and totally hates first person shooters, Bioshock Infinite stands out to me as one of those few FPS games that I actually like, joining Dishonored amidst the ranks of 'games from genres I usually hate which would nevertheless make it into a list of my favourite games.'

The third and last Bioshock game, Bioshock Infinite sees private detective and former Pinkerton Booker DeWitt travel to the floating city of Columbia, a vast and technologically advanced city that lives by the rather terrifying ideals of religious zealotry, even more zealous American exceptionalism, and even more zealous racism. Tasked with locating and retrieving a young woman, Elizabeth, the two quickly become a dynamic duo in their attempts to escape Columbia and the iron grip of its leader, Father Comstock.

Not that Columbia isn't very beautiful, it's just also kind of crazy.

We'll start with the gameplay, because that was always liable to be my biggest bugbear with this game. It's very typical first person shooter fare - you get given a range of guns, and you have to shoot your way through hordes of enemies. In terms of gameplay, the game doesn't really innovate at all - its biggest innovation, if anything, is having Elizabeth throw you various healing items or ammunition in the middle of battle, and she's far from the first video game companion to do that. The game mixes things up a little by giving you tonics, superpowers that can range from tossing fireballs to dragging enemies closer with a watery tendril, but even that isn't that original. 

There's a lot to be said, however, about how well optimised the gameplay is. While there's more than a few FPS games that are so over-responsive that your aim will careen wildly from side to side, or so under-responsive that you'll find yourself stopping in the middle of a firefight to drag yourself to face a charging enemy, Bioshock Infinite is precisely as responsive as you need it, and very steady to boot, meaning that when you miss it will pretty much always be because of your own error, and not because you're playing a protagonist with arms of jelly. On top of that, Elizabeth's ability to find useful items is unerring, and the game never punishes you too badly for failure, simply throwing you back a short distance on the game's map and restoring some of your foes' health. The combination of well-optimised gameplay and a fairly forgiving punishment for failure means that Bioshock Infinite is, on lower difficulties, a perfect game for newcomers like me to get into first person shooters with.

All of which is something I can appreciate - I'd rather have old ground retread well than have a game try to reinvent the wheel and fail horribly.

Elizabeth, and an unemployment crisis.

It's in terms of storyline that the game really shines, though. It tries to be a lot of things - rollicking action adventure; satirical commentary on right-wing politics in the US; buddy story of two unlikely friends; and thoughtful science fantasy. Unlike most pieces of media that try to fit into a lot of different genres, though, it actually succeeds, and quite well at that. The action is suitably over-the-top, with slightly ridiculous additions such as implacable gun-toting robots with the faces of the Founding Fathers adding flavour, and only becomes more so as Columbia begins to collapse (figuratively and occasionally literally) around the protagonists; the satire is sharp and on point, taking aim both at the involvement of religion in politics and the absurd, toxic philosophy of jingoism that is American exceptionalism (both of which are gigantic issues in US politics); the buddy story is sweet and sometimes painful; and the science fiction is thoughtful and will leave you pondering its twists, turns, and theories for some time afterwards.

Out of those four plot elements, though, Bioshock Infinite's biggest success is in the relationship of Booker and Elizabeth: They're both very human characters who it's very easy to empathise with, and thus audiences will quite quickly find themselves invested in their friendship, and later on in the father-daughter dynamic they acquire. It's the element that binds the storyline of the game together, as without it, it would just be a fun but kind of stupid action game with delusions of being meaningful, because all of the political commentary and science fiction malarkey would feel empty if it wasn't happening to characters whose well-being we're emotionally invested in.

Mechanically, everything is more than up to snuff as well. The soundtrack is great, particularly the various renditions of 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken', a hymn from the early 20th Century; the voice-acting is all pretty astoundingly good; the graphics are gorgeous and the game makes full use of them whenever it can. 

Where to even begin?

There's not much bad I can say about this game, if I'm being honest. The boss battle with the banshee ghost thing wasn't great? The game probably could have been a touch longer, although much like Dishonored it's very much a small but perfectly formed game? A few more breathers would have been appreciated? It's one of the great gems of modern gaming, and I strongly urge that anybody who hasn't already played it does. 

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