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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review: Bioshock: Infinite

Grade: A+

I went in to Bioshock: Infinite with a lot of hopes and expectations. Will this game be as good as I hope after being in development for 5 years? I love listening to him talk, but is Ken Levine really just blowing smoke? The marketing for the game is fantastic, but is this yet another case of the marketing writing a check that the game can't cash?

If it isn't already clear by the grade at the top of this review, the answer is an unequivocal yes, this game is amazing. To be fair, it's not a perfect game, but more importantly than that, it is a game that actually tries to push what can be accomplished by the medium and is on the whole successful.

The game is a first person shooter in which you play the part of one Booker DeWitt, and I say it in that way for a reason, as Booker is his own character instead of the voiceless and faceless avatar of most FPS games. The gameplay is very solid, offering a good mix of combat challenges with your weapon toolbox, consisting of guns and magic-power-like vigors, providing plenty of options to explore.

As solid as it is, the gameplay is actually secondary to all of the other elements of the game. The art design, the technical prowess, the writing, the voice acting, the sound are all simply outstanding to the point where just wandering around in the floating city of Columbia is a joy. It's just so easy to get lost in the surroundings, and I found myself constantly scouting out every portion of the map not only for secrets but just to take it all in.

And in that joy of exploration I discovered how Bioshock: Infinite really pushes video games as a medium for story telling, which is simply the act of exploration. It's one thing to read about racism, but it's quite another to actually stumble in to the servant's hallways and see firsthand the vast difference in Columbia's living conditions and the treatment of its peoples. The old adage in writing is show, don't tell, and Bioshock: Infinite exemplifies how this can be done in interactive media in a way that's yet to be seen.

All of this storytelling simply serves to amplify the main narrative, providing a unique empathy and understanding of the setting and the characters therein. Characters including Elizabeth, the young woman you are hired to "rescue."

The core of the game's narrative is centered around Booker and Elizabeth and how their interaction changes them both. Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper turn in at times stunning voice work the like of which is hard for me to find comparison in any media. Even fantastic voice work is not going to sell the story if Elizabeth can't sell herself as a person instead of some cold AI with a human voice occasionally spouting out of her.

Thankfully Elizabeth is an experiment that pays off in spades. She is incredibly well animated, not just in canned sequences, but rather even as her impressive AI reacts to the environment around her. Admittedly I had watched quite a bit of pre-release marketing material, but that still did not diminish my pleasure of simply watching her run around and react to the environment around her. She does have moments where it's clear she's an AI, but on the whole she engenders so much attachment I found myself thinking "Oh, silly Elizabeth," rather than "You dumb AI." She truly does breach that emotional barrier of becoming a lovable character, which is probably the hardest feat in video games currently and one seldom accomplished.

Oh and that ending. In a game that already encourages you to question everything - your surrounding, your actions, your relationship with Elizabeth and the other characters of the world - the last 20 minutes of the game will leave your jaw on the floor and immediately have you re-questioning everything all over again. I say with absolutely no hyperbole that it is one of the best endings in the whole of video games, and one that is important in how much it is needed for the medium.

In summary, just go get it and play it, you will be well rewarded for doing so.
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