BioShock Infinite PC Hands-On: Give Me That Old-Time BioShock

Creating a Relationship

Booker and Elizabeth manage to escape, and they spend some time hanging out together. This is one of the more intelligent sets of mechanics in the game, as Irrational has worked to make Booker’s relationship with Elizabeth reciprocal rather than escort-like. Elizabeth has a number of skills: Provide her with lockpicks and she’ll open doors and safes; provide her with code books and she’ll crack cyphers; pay attention and she’ll toss you health, money, salts (the fuel for your Vigor powers) and ammo. She stays out of the way during fights and works to find ways to support Booker, making her a useful asset rather than a continual burden.

You also spend a lot of time just getting to know Elizabeth as you wander around, not fighting people on your way to get out of Columbia. Your path takes you through an arcade, where Elizabeth enjoys cotton candy for the first time and watches a puppet show, and she and Booker spend a lot of time conversing. A seemingly vast portion of my time with the game was spent exploring various areas — like a bar that was a secret hideout of the Vox Populi, a group opposed to Comstock, and was thrashed by a mini-gun wielding George Washington automaton — and listening to Elizabeth speak.

A little time is also spent explaining Elizabeth’s other ability, her access to “tears.” Columbia is rife with small portals to other dimensions, which play up the interpretation that the entire game is, in fact, happening in an alternate reality. Elizabeth can “pull” objects through from other realities, opening up new paths, bringing in health or salt supplies, and even changing the landscape of an arena. In one fight, I used Elizabeth’s tears to move to high ground to snipe enemies after she warped in some hooks I could access with my skyhook, after which I had her bring a turret to bear against our enemies as I fired down with a carbine.

Speaking of weapons, Irrational has gone out of its way to add a lot in the way of light RPG elements in customizing Booker. You’ll be upgrading your Vigors and weapons by spending money at vending machines, for a start, and you can also outfit Booker with four pieces of “gear,” which are basically special clothes. Each piece — head, torso, legs and arms — has a different boon or characteristic. A piece of gear I added to Booker’s legs gave him a larger melee lunge radius; another made people I smacked with the skyhook catch fire. Still another allowed me to control my rail acceleration more finely, or made my magnetic anti-bullet shield regenerate more quickly.

Familiar Territory

While there are a ton of new and deep elements to play with in BioShock: Infinite, all of which are satisfying in their own way, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is BioShock all over again (although, I think this is actually a good thing). The parallels are many, ranging from the feel of the powers to the primary villain in Comstock. A boss encounter in a “Hall of Heroes” exhibit in my demo smacked of meeting Sander Cohen at Fort Frolick.

So far, this works to Infinite’s advantage: The game is continually matching its familiar elements to its unfamiliar ones. And at the end of the day, it’s hard to tell exactly what is going on in Infinite, which is also to its credit. Does Columbia exist in some alternate reality? Is Booker crazy? Both are valid interpretations of what I’ve seen so far. The environments are incredible and just as fast and vertical as we’ve been led to believe. Perhaps the weakest part is the combat, because Infinite relies so much on existing FPS tropes — even ones Irrational created five years ago.

That said, the first two hours of Infinite were deeply satisfying and totally engaging. It was hard not to open every barrel and box and side-path in hopes of finding another audio diary, lockpick or silver eagle coin. Irrational has very effectively created a grandiose world that’s hard to convey in words, and while Infinite feels like another stab at the original BioShock, it effectively changes up just about everything in some seriously meaningful ways.

It’s hard to write previews in a way that is both skeptical as well as forgiving, but in the case of BioShock: Infinite, I’m genuinely very excited. Irrational doesn’t seem to have backed down from hard depictions like racial caricatures or religious demagogues, and at the same time, it’s crafting an extremely deep and, frankly, frightening but beautiful world in Columbia. Remember that first time you descended into Rapture? Visiting Columbia feels like that first descent into Rapture, in all the right ways.


Read more of Phil Hornshaw’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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2 Comments on BioShock Infinite PC Hands-On: Give Me That Old-Time BioShock

Nathan

On December 9, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Great hands-on with lots of interesting narrative! Thanks for writing!