Bioshock Infinite – A great concept let down by dreadful execution

This is my first attempt at a game review but I felt I had to put my feelings towards this game onto paper (so to speak). I bought Bioshock Infinite in anticipation of being about to play one of the greatest games of all time, backed by a compelling storyline and excellent graphics and gameplay. I leave, dreadfully unfulfilled. Whether that was due to all the hype or not is another matter, but I am certainly frustrated by this game.

After recently also being disappointed by games such as Dishonored, which was very well received by critics and fans alike, but which I found dissatisfying and dull, I was hoping for an improved experience with Bioshock Infinite but alas I think I am feeling even more disappointed than before. I have absolutely adored Tomb Raider and Far Cry 3 in the last year, with the former’s gorgeous graphics and gameplay and the latter’s compelling storyline and excitement. I finally got round to playing Bioshock (1) a couple of years late because it for some reason dropped in price quickly. I’ll admit being put off by the idea of the Big Daddies and how I generally dislike fighting creatures of superhuman strength, but I bought it nonetheless and it’s now clear to me that the Big Daddies were what made Bioshock a true classic game, scoring an exceptional 95%+ on many review sites. The audio on that game was the best of any I had played at the time, and that is still the case now. This is an odd thing to praise, but it created so much tension, realism and authenticity that I have to make a big point of it.

I enjoy shooters as much as the next gamer, but make no mistake, this game is no shooter – at least that’s what the creators must’ve been thinking when they made it. I’m going to run through a few of the things I don’t like about the game after a rather brief selection of things I do like about it, and feel free to comment if you wish.

Bioshock Infinite delivers very good graphics and a unique concept for a game – set in the clouds in the city of Columbia, ruled over by General Comstock – it’s basically satirical of American Imperialism, and generally I think this is done very well. You control Booker Dewitt, and your task is to rescue a girl called Elizabeth from captivity in a tower – a fairly cliché plot if you ask me. Similar to the first two games, the audio is exceptional, making the city of Columbia a very believable haven in the sky. The graphical team deserve an awful lot of credit because it looks stunning, even though it’s made in a semi-cartoon style, it looks like no other game.

Now I unfortunately have to move onto the negatives of this game, of which there are substantially more. The first and probably more prominent complain from me is that the developers seemed to forget that they were designing a game and not just a story and a gorgeous setting. They put so little thought into the actual gameplay that it became a drab and tedious affair to plough through the game. As a little example of what I mean, the combat is so dreadfully repetitive. You turn a corner and inevitably have to face another fight, signified by a change in the music which ends when all enemies are finished. The AI on the opponents is pathetic. I recall watching a blimp firing countless missiles at an unmanned bridge regardless of where I was. The rapid firing missiles never ran out (at least, not for the 15 mins I was there). You can run and hide from the baddies and they won’t come and find you, just wait for you to return, healed, to deal with them. Bioware made a huge deal of the ‘revolutionary’ AI of the main protagonist’s helper, Elizabeth, before this game was released. What this meant was that whenever you run low on health, salts (used for magic) or ammunition, she would magically conjure some out of thin air and awkwardly toss you it, helpfully reminding you that you need it. She also gives out money when you’re near vending machines. Conveniently she always seems to avoid any sort of damage whatsoever despite being amidst explosions and bullets galore. Finally, the weapons seem half-arsed, a few of them are considerably better than the others, which all feel weak and a waste of energy. And they have dramatically reduced the number of powers you can use from the previous games, with fewer customisation options for them, and for weapons and ammunition. The powers are relatively bland anyway, all basically doing the same thing except for Possession (the first one you come across, who knew?).

This takes me nicely onto my next point. The vending machines are used to upgrade weapons, buy consumables and upgrade powers. However, this is possibly the least satisfying upgrade system I have ever experienced. The upgrades appear to make next to no difference, without even a visible difference with them. You can also upgrade Health, Shield or Salt capacity by finding hidden potions dotted around the place, but even this is done without much thought, and there is no sense of development or reward for doing any of these things.

I am playing on the PC and every other time I play I experience terribly graphical glitches which render the game unplayable until I restart. This doesn’t affect everyone, but for someone who’s paid a decent amount for a good graphics card, it’s certainly a pain.

Bioshock Infinite has perhaps been praised most for its storyline. But I’m afraid I am just struggling to understand why it’s so amazing. I get the concept, and I like it, but it’s not compelling and it’s not a story I have found too interesting. I appreciate that this is a very subjective matter and for those people that did enjoy the storyline, maybe the game has been a much more enjoyable experience, but a game should be a game primarily – if I wanted just a good story I would have bought a book or film and a much discounted price. I cannot sympathise with the character of Booker DeWitt, he just seems to be a nasty protagonist with a dark past, and it’s incredibly difficult to get behind such a person in my opinion.

All of these things lead up to one overall thing that this game is lacking. It’s something that Bioware captured so perfectly in the first two (particularly the first) iterations of the game series, and indeed in many other great games. They were chock full of suspense and tension. There is absolutely none of this in this game. Action is predictable and tedious, and there is no creepy music playing or eerie corridors to explore, manic splicers that shock you from around every corner, and there is no Big Daddy patrolling narrow corridors forcing you to think carefully and devise a plan to take him out in order to actually improve your character. Ultimately, Bioshock Infinite lacks a depth to its gameplay that would make me hooked to playing it, that feeling of ‘one more level’ that so many games can offer, and I’m afraid this, perhaps not helped by the ridiculous amount of hype that the game generated, makes it one of the greatest disappointments in this industry that I can remember. 

Overall rating: 5/10

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PS Vita Update

I’m writing to give my feedback on the PS Vita system, which has been so heavily criticised by the public.

Firstly, the price is a little less than what it was at release. I didn’t think it was overpriced at release, it’s a beast of a machine. The games still cost an arm and a leg, especially on the PS Network, that’s the problem.

However, the games themselves have been very enjoyable so far. I have Uncharted, Rayman, Asphalt and Wipeout, and all have been very good. I have also demo’d Fifa, Unit 13 and a couple of PSN games, all have been impressive. Online features work well, and the trophy system is rewarding, although I’d like to have some sort of use out of the trophies, rather than just having them.

Anyway, the Vita is a solid piece of kit and I’m impressed by how much it can handle, some of the games are quite intense. The social app number is increasing, although one could argue that the Vita should be opened to the public to allow for more apps to be produced. But the present social apps are very impressive. Battery life is pretty good too. The ‘Near’ feature is a bit disappointing, as it hardly seems to do anything, whilst some of the downloadable mini games are very low quality. The Vita badly needs more releases if it’s to compete though, so they better get going!

I would recommend the Vita to any keen serious gamer. I am looking forward to Gravity Rush, it looks so good!

Oli M