Hello all. Strormer here and this is the Redbox Review for Bioshock Infinite. So I'll admit right off the bat that I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to do this review. Bioshock Infinite is a game that has been reviewed an analyzed just about to death, but the redbox near my apartment basically left me with this or Medal of Honor: Warfighter. So Bioshock Infinite it was. I'm going to go ahead and shorten the title to just Infinite both for conservation of characters and to avoid confusion when the inevitable references to Bioshock come up.
So this review will be a little different. There are plenty of places to go and hear about the extensive meta-narrative, gorgeous visuals, and enjoyable gameplay that makes Infinite a superb game, and I wouldn't want anything I'm about to say make you think that this is anything less than a superb game. In fact, this is the first game I've picked up that I've seriously been tempted to keep it for two days, breaking what amounts to the one rule I set up for these reviews only three in. This is one of those games where everything is so seamless that you can easily lose a few hours without realizing it, and that's wonderful if you've got the time and no one to berate you for spending as much time on a video game as they spend watching Duck Dynasty. No, what this review is going to tell you is how Infinite doesn't live up to its name.
I know what you're saying. “If it's so good, then why am I about to tell you how it fails to do what it sets out to do?” Well, because that's just it. To quote a famous internet personality, “like a variant of the uncanny valley effect, the closer to Portal perfection a game gets the more glaring the flaws become.” And now that I've reached my quotation mark limit I'll tell you why. Infinite does not set out to be Bioshock. Yes, it sets out to be a massive, deep, philosophical romp through an alternate conceptual reality wherein we examine our own social structures, but it doesn't want to be a tense game of exploration and horror. Infinite is a daring adventure in the skies and aims to give a sense of swashbuckling action.
So where does that leave us? Well, as far as a sweeping concept, Infinite doesn't do too poorly, although there are a number of places where it could've gone further. This is also where it really suffers from comparisons to Bioshock. Andrew Ryan was such a wonderful villain and the world held together so nicely in context that it was difficult for anything to measure up, In fact, after Bioshock 2 came out I figured they'd just stopped trying. Well, they tried, and they perhaps got as close as they were going to, but you still can't shake the feeling that you're not fighting a sinister plot as much as you're in a shooting gallery where all the targets are racists. Yes, the race issue is the central tenet for much of the plot, and yes it is handled with all the grace and subtlety of a level 2 barbarian at a formal dinner.
But if this is an Errol Flynn-esque action adventure then what we're really here for isn't just the plot and setting, but the combat, and in that I can say that Infinite exceeds or at least meets Bioshock's standard. At least it does on occasion when all the pieces fall in place. There are some spectacular fights where you really feel like a dashing hero leaping into the fray to save the day. Unfortunately these are few and far between and the connecting linear corridors of endless generic foes is such a slog that it sometimes decreases the enjoyment I get from using my sky-hook to rend my foes into bits. Almost. The combat is still visceral and the vigors, reskinned plasmids for those who don't already know, are versatile and entertaining enough to keep me playing around with them. Here again though, we find some glaring issues. Firstly, you get to carry two weapons which basically means you carry around your primary weapon that you'll be using for 99% of the game, and your monstrous heavy weapon that you reserve for bosses, and make sure you pick well because if you don't you'll be screwed like nobody's business. Often times I simply stuck with the same pistol I'd had since the beginning of the game and kept a peppermill in my back pocket for particularly large and relatively stationary enemies. The sad truth is that this problem could've been solved by adding a vending machine for various weapons to the game, not just weapon upgrades. The vigors helped keep me engaged, but ultimately even those got reduced to my two standby powers, shock and possession. By the way, 2K, bees are better than crows, but thanks for giving me something. Also, the menu is clear for the most part, but how to change out your vigors should be a little more clear. I went far too long into the game before I realized that I could change which vigors were equipped and how to do so. Still, I thought “duh” when I figured it out, so take that how you will.
This is all benefited greatly, however, by the presence of Elizabeth, who represents my feelings towards this game perfectly. Elizabeth is generally pleasant and convenient, keeping me alive in combat when I need it most, and does a great deal to turn what could've been one monstrous escort mission into exactly what it should've been. Action. Not action like Chuck Norris, but action as in a series of intentional interactions with the world. There is very little downtime and it is used to particularly good effect, deepening your connection to Elizabeth and her plight. Unfortunately, Elizabeth is also where the game falls apart the most. Her power to open holes in reality, theoretically offering endless possibilities for creative play, usually breaks down into one of three choices, item caches, mechanical allies, or hooks and cover. Now, forgive me Infinite, but that seems very finite to me, and not infinite at all. Still, I love her character. There was one moment in the game where she began to cry in huge, obnoxious sobs and I thought, oh no, here we go, so much for a strong female character, and then she turns around and goes to town on her opponent's head with a wrench like Gordon Freeman on a particularly bad day. In fact, the only thing that I feel could've made her character feel more strong and independent is if she had been able to join in combat, but her support role is good enough, I suppose. Also, one last nitpick; why the hell does she not pick up lockpicks. That makes no sense at all, from a player or designer perspective. Can't have her be too effective I suppose. Still... :P.
This all still adds up to a wonderful game that you should go out and buy right now, if you haven't already, or even if you have just so you can give it as a gift to someone who hasn't. Still, there's one last complaint I have to throw at Infinite. The handymen are not big daddies. They evoke not of the emotions that came with the big daddies. I don't feel for them, even when you tried so hard to make them sympathetic with that whole “they're people” micro-plot. I'm not scared when I see one. I'm not excited at the impending conflict. I'm bored and frustrated. In fact, most of the boss-tier foes feel more tedious than terrifying. This is perhaps why I tried to find the most efficient means available to dispatch them. I want to move on. I don't want to deal with these guys. That, more than all the shooting galleries in the world, makes combat slow down. I won't talk about the whole ghost thing, it's not worth mentioning. Suffice to say, enemies should not be a choice between inconsequential until they cluster-fu*k you or time-consuming bores. Remember, with swashbuckling comes fluidity. Don't just let me be that way, let my foes do the same. That makes things interesting.
Please, please, don't let this confuse you. Infinite is a truly great game and deserves all the praise it has garnered since its release. I would recommend buying it as soon as possible. It's pretty, deep, adventurous, and creatively anachronistic. Is it a good rental. I would say yes, provided you're willing to pay for two to three days, not just one. Could you beat it in a day? Yes, easily, but this is a game that should be given time. It deserves exploration. When you're actually playing, the small issues quickly fade into the background, but every so often you'll catch yourself thinking “what the hell?” Still, on balance, the moments where you catch yourself thinking, or shouting, “HELL YEAH” or “WHOA” more than make up for it. A solid game and exactly what you should expect as a successor to Bioshock. Now let's all go and burn our copies of Bioshock 2 and agree that it never happened. Until next time, game well!