You play Bioshock Infinite as Booker DeWitt, journeying through Columbia, a city in the sky over 1912 America run by religious zealots. Your mission is to bring a girl named Elizabeth back to New York for reasons unknown. Expect a lot of twists, side plots and pissed-off people with guns looking to take you out along the way.

There’s a great deal of complexity and richness to this game’s story, which is slowly revealed as you progress through the game and supplemented by finding audio logs and silent films along the way. People who have never played a Bioshock game before won’t suffer for it, since Infinite’s story is completely independent of the other games. It can be hard to put the game down, since every time you think you’ve figured something out, you realize the mystery is bigger than you thought.

Infinite is very similar to previous Bioshock games in many ways, with the combat system revolving around using a variety of weapons and ‘vigors’ (magic spell-like abilities powered by ‘salts’) to eliminate the many enemies you’ll encounter. There are a total of 8 vigors to find, and not only are they very useful, they’re pretty much essential on higher difficulties. There are a few unique ones such as the ability to turn an enemy to your side for a time and one that lets you reel in enemies from a distance (which is great for killing those annoying snipers with your shotgun), and there are a few that basically just stun enemies with a different animation and a slightly different mechanic. In addition to your health, which you can only replendish by using food or health kits, you get a shield that slowly refills if you can avoid taking damage for a few seconds, so using cover when your health is low will give you a fighting chance.

There are also passive benefits you can find throughout the game, in the form of Infusions which boost either your health, shield or salt level, and gear items in the form of clothing that you can equip to give yourself a unique benefit, such as the ability to get health by killing with your melee attack or becoming temporarily invulnerable when you consume a health item. There are only 4 slots for gear items but you can keep unequipped items with you and swap to them at any time. Some of the gear items are very clearly superior to others, but a few will actually require some thought as to which one to equip. Regardless, you get rewarded for exploring off the beaten path. The gear seems to be randomized too, meaning you’ll find different gear in different areas with each playthrough of the game.

Although every vigor you find can be used anytime you have the salts capacity to perform them, Bioshock Infinite only lets you carry two weapons at a time, which can pose a problem because you don’t know ahead of time which weapons you should be using for the situations you’ll run into, and there aren’t any hints given in the game at all. The ability to carry multiple ammo types, which was a staple of previous Bioshock games, is gone in this one. Sometimes the game provides appropriate weaponry, like a convenient sniper rifle when you’re being attacked from long range, and sometimes there’s nothing to be found other than whatever your enemies happen to be using. You can find money that lets you upgrade your vigors and weapons, as well as buy ammo, health and salt, although the vending machines that enable you to do this aren’t always around when you want them to be and even if they are, you won’t be able to afford everything you want so you’ll have to carefully choose what to upgrade. The weapons are standard FPS fare, with machine guns, shotguns, various explosives, and rifles and pistols.

The potential to be starved for resources and ammo is one big reason that you’ll like having Elizabeth around as an ally for most of the game. She has the ability to bring useful things through from another dimension, such as a mechanical ally, supplies, weapons, cover, or access to higher ground, the only catch being that she can only have one dimensional tear active at one time. She also finds ammo, health and salts for you and occasionally tosses them to you when needed. While she’s doing all these things, she stays out of your way and lets you do all the killing. She requires no babysitting during a fight since it’s impossible for her to take damage, and she actually moves aside when you point a gun in her vicinity to give you a clear shot, a behavior that more programmers of NPCs in first person shooter games should really be implementing. Even when you’re scrounging for supplies from the environment she’ll help you out by occasionally tossing you money, and she can pick locks (if you can find enough lockpicks) to access more rewards.

One thing that feels original in Bioshock Infinite is sky-line travel. Sky-lines are rail systems that you can latch onto using the skyhook (which doubles as your only melee weapon) that you get near the start of the game, and sky-lines can be useful in combat since you become much harder to hit while you’re on them and you gain the ability to perform sky-line strikes – special melee attacks done by jumping onto enemies from the sky-line, which usually results in an instant kill. The only catch is you can’t use your vigors while on a sky-line. There are a few epic battles in the game where you’ll have the option to use the sky-lines, and it can be a lot of fun to zip around the area blasting people.

Infinite has the expected easy, medium and hard difficulty levels, and it should be noted that unlike previous Bioshock titles, it’s actually a hard game when played on the hardest difficulty, and even less forgiving on the “1999 mode” that you can enable after beating the game once. On the easier difficulties you can just be respawned into the fight if you die with only a slight hit to your bankroll, and skilled players will find themselves tested on 1999 mode, since you have even less health and death is punished by losing a hefty amount of money and not being able to respawn at all if you can’t afford the fee.

Despite the well-balanced combat system, there were some battles in the game that just weren’t particularly fun to play on my Xbox 360 because the game suffers from serious framerate drops in larger areas that sometimes made aiming with any kind of precision nearly impossible. Even smaller battles can suffer from framerate drops. The graphics can also seem underwhelming, with plenty of cases of the scenery using low-res textures and switching over to high-res only after looking at it for a few seconds.

Another glaring weakness of this game is the terrible autosave system. The game doesn’t let you save your progress when you’d like, and checkpoints are infrequent so if you do end up reloading a save point you’ll likely have to repeat several minutes of content to get back to where you were, including all the time spent scrounging for items.

There’s enough variety in the weapons and vigors to provide a good amount of replay value and the story is great.

Overall, Bioshock Infinite is definitely worth picking up. There’s enough variety in the weapons and vigors to provide a good amount of replay value and the story is great. The main drawbacks are the flawed autosave system and the framerate drops. I give it an 8 out of 10 overall.

BUZ RATING

About the Reviewer: Graham