BioShock Infinite Review: A Gleaming City of Unrealized Potential
In practice, though, tears are a gimmick that never pay off in a way that feels substantial. Sure, you can warp in a turret to aid you, and sometimes they’re useful, but most times they’re destroyed quickly, so you wait for the thing to respawn and warp it in again. You’re limited to one tear at a time, so while it’s cool to, say, zip around a battlefield on a skyline, opening tears that include medical supplies or mechanical allies along the way, in practical terms, it’s not often as big a strategic or tactical advantage as you might think. These resources feel like they’d normally just be available on the battlefield, with the tears putting a roadblock choice in your way.
It’s nice having Elizabeth in combat without having to worry about her acting stupid or getting killed, though, and Infinite does a great job of making her a solid, useful companion who often throws you needed health and ammo. The relationship between Booker and Elizabeth through the course of the game is one of its major strengths, and the more time you spend with her, the more invested you become when her safety is threatened or when she disapproves of your murderous methods. Elizabeth gives BioShock Infinite life it often so desperately needs, and her character is a monument to both effective AI companion design, and the ability of a game to create non-human characters with whom to enjoy an adventure.
And it should be noted that BioShock Infinite is beautiful, especially on PC, where graphical options can be pushed. Running on my ATI Radeon 7870, I was able to crank up the title to make its vistas of floating buildings and meandering zeppelins look especially breathtaking. It’s primarily a feat of art direction, as Infinite doesn’t really beat BioShock in the visuals department all that well, but you can at least be sure that the PC version outpaces its console counterparts. Irrational has not skimped on its PC love, allowing for all the bells and whistles one would expect from a solid PC title, like an FOV slider, a number of graphical adjustments, and a strong complement of keyboard and mouse controls.
For all that technical prowess, though, Infinite is a game hamstrung by its need to be a first-person shooter, which is arguably the worst way for it to portray what otherwise could be a deep and effective story. It’s telling that the ending portion of the game, which goes on for something like 30 minutes, includes zero combat; that there are no gameplay systems with which to interact with Columbia outside of exploding heads and setting people on fire seems like a missed opportunity, especially as the potential energy of the setting and narrative is never equaled by the kinetic energy offered by Yet Another Gunfight. Elizabeth could very well be toying with the very fabric of reality, not to mention actively effing up the very existences of the people who exist around her, but I use that awesome power to get extra shotgun shells in a pinch or to make an extra wall to duck behind. Though Infinite asks the question on several occasions of just what Elizabeth and Booker of are responsible for or what they’re haphazardly manipulating without full understanding, it always fails to pay off that potential. The answer is, you’re responsible for shooting things. This is a game about a city collapsing under its own ideological weight, and about the trust that forms between you and your companion, and yet your only way of contributing to it is to shoot or get shot.
The trouble is that, by and large, Infinite can get monotonous. This is gameplay you’ve already experienced, in a previous way that handled it a little better. The new ideas at work in Irrational’s new game are thin by comparison to what’s been rehashed or copied and pasted. In an industry that has no shortage of shooters, Infinite fails to break ground, with all its enemy encounters more or less bleeding together by the end. The part you remember is being on the skyline.
For all this criticism, though, it’s important to note that there are times when BioShock Infinite is borderline fantastic. The story itself, for one, is interwoven in a way that shows why Levine can be considered at the top of his field. While Comstock and other villains lack the fascinating immediacy of personalities like Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine, the Luteces — Columbia’s resident scientists and purveyors of information by way of weird riddles — are truly a joy to encounter. Elizabeth is an extremely well-realized character by the end of the game. Much of Infinite is twinged by an air of mystery that makes you want to uncover the secrets behind its plot, and the game’s near-ending twist is a sharp one.