I hope you all have a great weekend!
I first played the original Bioshock a several years ago now. It was a game I enjoyed, but never got around to reviewing. I have both numbers one and two for the PlayStation 3 now as well, and keep meaning to go back and replay the first and then play the second and write them up - it just has not happened yet. However, a buddy at work loaned me Bioshock Infinite recently, and having beaten the game and given its mechanics as well as its storyline - in particular the ending - about a week to sink in, I want to talk about it.
There are a lot of things about Infinite that make it feel like a natural part of the series, with the use of special powers and the way combat works. There are other aspects which feel like the natural evolution of the series - like the roller coaster-like skyline moments. Like the first, there is a quality twist in the narrative near the end, though this one you can see coming much more easily. On top of all of this, Infinite also brings some new things to the table that help it to stand out as something new and different than the first game - allowing it to stand on its own legs as an exciting, imaginative gaming experience.
Graphics - 9:
The use of color and the overall art direction is outstanding. Up close, sometimes the detail in textures is a bit lacking, but that is a fairly minor quibble. When you are flying along on a skyline or standing on top of a building looking around Columbia, you realize just how impressively all of these locales were put together. The views can be utterly breathtaking at times. This is a large departure from Rapture, which often had an almost claustrophobic feel with its leaky, underwater passages. Rapture has always had a very strong visual appeal to me, and Columbia's aesthetics while very different much of the time, are no less impressive.
Sound & Music -10:
The voice acting is excellent throughout, and with such an interesting story to tell, this only further enhances the experience. There is a lot of music in the game, and all of it feels right at home when you are fighting and exploring your way around Columbia. Of particularly interesting note, some classic songs get an interesting facelift as well, with these new takes on established songs only helping to reinforce the idea that this is a similar, yet alternate universe than our own. Oh, and as an added bonus, the sound effects are quite varied, from special powers to enemy chatter and different kinds of weapons fire.
Gameplay - 8:
The controls feel tight and responsive in combat, which is where you will spend a lot of your time. The new skyline mechanic to get around from one piece of floating city to another is generally awesome, and the inclusion of an arrow to point you in the right direction (when you wish to use it) is helpful most of the time. There are times it seems to get confused - generally involving skylines and I did find myself running around in circles during two parts of the game, trying to figure out where to go or what to do. Sometimes enemies could get into slightly glitchy states during combat, and one particular high-action scene underground completely freaked out my version of the game. I was in fact a little worried at first, as it did an auto save as it pulled me 'out of' the game and had me falling from ceiling to floor, ceiling to floor, just outside of one of the buildings over and over again. I had to quick and return to the game and for some reason my checkpoint was a good 15-20 minutes back. That was annoying. Still, the overall experience was excellent outside of that moment.
Intangibles - 9:
You could almost argue for a ten here, but I stopped just short at this point. The promise of future DLC makes me wonder what we will see down the road, but currently Bioshock Infinite is an excellent, but somewhat short game. It rings in a few hours longer than the recent Tomb Raider - you can beat it in about a dozen hours or so, and with no New Game+ or online modes, the only real reason to replay is to try harder levels of difficulty (like the unlockable 1999 mode) and to try and catch storyline 'hints' you might have missed earlier in the game.
Those are the negatives, and they really are not that bad - I just wanted to get them out of the way. Bioshock Infinite tells an amazingly good story, and does something with Elizabeth that is almost unheard of in games - but she is a sidekick/escort you actually like and is a help, not a hindrance. Anyone who has ever had to do an escort quest in a game (I'm looking at you, MMO's) knows how lousy it is to try and keep someone alive through all of that combat. Here, Elizabeth stays out of the way and is never really in danger, though she sometimes talks like she is as she curls up and hides behind scenery. More than that, she is very useful in combat, replenishing your ammo, life or salts from time to time. During the parts of the story where she is gone, her lack of assistance is clearly noticed during combat.
Elizabeth becomes more than that, however. During the parts of the storyline when she is not with you, obviously you miss her assistance, but more than that the lack of her presence can almost be felt. Booker is far less interesting when he is exploring on his own. Elizabeth helps in other ways, like picking locks or sometimes pointing out items in the environment you might miss, but her character serves not only to help move the story along, but to draw out reactions from your character as well.
I noted earlier that Columbia felt much more wide open than Rapture, but there was another major difference I noted as well. Rapture often felt very empty - with signs of previous life here and there, but for the most part it was a shell of a prior civilization in the original Bioshock. Infinite, by very stark contrast, starts you off interacting with a world that is teeming with citizens and feels very much alive. Later in the game you are of course running and fighting with many of Columbia's inhabitants, but even then there are periods of time where you walk through areas filled with people not trying to kill you. Some people interact with you and even try to help you along the way, making Columbia feel very much alive throughout.
Overall - 9:
Bioshock Infinite is an excellent game. It could be longer - and I really wish it had been, but you can lengthen the campaign by exploring more. The storyline is excellent, with characters that actually feel important by the end of the story. There are some highs and lows in the story - emotional ones, not in quality - that really kept me invested with progressing. At times, the game can be incredibly violent - that is worth noting. There are some strange people and creatures, but they feel much more human than the Big Daddy's and Splicers from the first Bioshock, and the handsaw you get early on does lead to some brutal animations that are probably not kid-friend (along with the guns and occasional rough language). The ending is awesome, and already has been discussed on many a sight - for good reason as this is a fun, memorable game.