Like most fans of the game, I was really surprised and pleased by the progression of the storyline and how well done the quantum mechanics were used as a way to make sense of the insanity that was the ending of Bioshock: Infinite, so I’m not going to beat a dead horse. The developers at Irrational Games deserve praise for a job well done, but I did find one component a bit rough that many games don’t seem to master. I wanted to approach the game from a somewhat (at least from what I have read) less talked about perspective in this review.
For those that haven’t played it, (Do it right now, your “job” and “family” doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things) the newest Bioshock has you running around with a companion, Elizabeth, who has the ability to open up ‘Tears’ in the space-time continuum (explained in a spoiler filled headache of awesomeness). These tears are used not just in the storyline, but also as a component of combat. The player has the ability to tell Elizabeth to use these tears that are fixed onto the map during a combat scenario in order to do things like bring in allies, gain health packs, grab weapons, etc.
As you progress through the story, you encounter various groups of different guards, rebels, abominations, and whatever else you happened to upset during the course of the game that attempt to kill you and kill/take Elizabeth. Being a first-person shooter role-playing game, you are in combat a hell of a lot. Combat steadily increases and becomes really fun and engaging as you have a variety of different weapons and abilities to dominate (or barely live through, if you’re playing 1999 mode) these scenarios that pop up frequently.
The problem that arises with games that have a strong and compelling story is finding the happy medium between boring gameplay, and frequent combat (or other elements, I’m looking at you Uncharted puzzles), that distract you constantly from enjoying the game. The boring gameplay doesn’t make you feel like you earned your “reward” (reward being the accomplishment of the game, in this case), and constant combat disrupts the story’s drive and removes the immersion from the player.
Bioshock has a great story, one with a uniquely intelligent mechanic and is supported by the discovery of recorded messages and videos. I loved the characters and the gameplay, I could not wait to figure out what in the fuck was going on, and the graphics are beautiful (I literally was awestruck when you first ascend to Columbia). Unfortunately, I found the combat scenarios, not the actual combat, to be a huge spoiler of my immersion. My character would enter a new area, and before me lay a shit ton of cover, weapon drops, and tears that were tactically set up across the map. You knew shit was going to get serious if there was a ton of sky-line around. I almost always knew when I was going to be in a fight, and I could tell how big or small it would be depending on what was laid out before me.
Combat in an FPS-RPG should be directly supporting the storyline. Immersion is just as important of an element to really drive the story for a player as any other component and removing a player from that can be what stops a good game from being great. Not to say that Bioshock: Infinite didn’t have this, it very much did. The overwhelming and increasing opposition that you must face as a result of your character’s status or choices is a huge accomplishment of the game. What I didn’t like was the removal of immersion that I got when I walked into every new area and knew if I would or would not be in combat. It happens so frequently that it really disrupts the story. In many situations the combat felt like filler rather than a means to invoke distress in the player, something you should expect a FPS that seems to pull from more RPG elements than action-adventure to do. This isn’t a run and gun game.
Fortunately, the story is so well done that you easily get re-immersed and forget how distracting these predisposed combat situations are, until you encounter the next one.
The combat itself is beautiful, and I don’t want to come across as hating the game or that Irrational Games dropped the ball in any way. The mash-up of the quantum mechanics from the story into the combat, along with your regular arsenal, adds a real kick into each fight, but I would have liked to see a smoother transition between regular gameplay and most of the fixed combat situations. Something as simple making you think you would enter combat without it happening just as often as you actually enter combat could have kept you guessing and trying your best to always be prepared.
As I said, the game is wonderful. Anything that may have been poorly executed is extremely eclipsed by the fantastic story and gameplay. I wish I would have had a chance to play it so much sooner than I did and I recommend it to all of my gaming friends, regardless if they are fans of the series or not. Can’t wait for the DLC: Burial at Sea.