While a few will remember the distant echo of System Shock from many years past, the modern Bioshock series is the pinnacle of mixing nostalgic periods of history, juicing them up with weapons that could never have existed in real life, and giving players godly powers as though they are as common as M&M candy.
Third in the series, today we review Bioshock Infinite. Already critically acclaimed by traditional gaming press, we put this title through its paces...in stereoscopic 3D!
So kick back that "vigor", put on those trusty 3D glasses, and let's see what this game really delivers!
One of the challenges with a franchise - even a really good one - is it can grow tired very fast. Taking place in the forties styled underwater city of Rapture, the first Bioshock was tremendous because it was a hugely imaginative environment, the story and characters were truly enveloping, and the game play was unique - significantly different than anything I had played before.
Bioshock 2 was also very enjoyable, except this time the environment was aged to an after-the-fact game, and even though the character perspective was dramatically changed, it just didn't have the same gripping story of the first. Armin Shimerman (DS9's Quark!) who played megalomaniac entrepreneur Andrew Ryan was such a rich character from the first Bioshock, his presence was deeply missed in the second. While well implemented, Bioshock 2 felt like a sequel because it didn't have the first-crack story of the original, and the environment was more of the same - though not as visually interesting as the first; I think they trimmed things back a bit.
Bioshock Infinite is a complete shake-up of the franchise. The underwater world of Rapture is put to pasture, and this new game is almost entirely played in the clouds. The futurized underwater 40's are replaced with an early 1900's American steampunk world that flies with blimps, grapples, and unbalanced forces of nature and particle physics.
You are Booker DeWitt, a detective from New York City who works as a private contractor. You have a dark past which is detailed in the game, but what matters most is your mission is to rescue a girl so you can "wipe away the debt". What that debt is...no spoilers!
With an eerie similarity to the first Bioshock, characters known as the Lutece twins row you to a lighthouse off the coast of Maine. The lighthouse is your portal to 1912 Columbia which is floating in the sky. Without giving too much away, Columbia didn't want to remain as part of the US, so their solution was to just fly away and do their own thing.
The first chunk of the game is mostly spent exploring the environment. It really has an old style carnival feel to it, though it takes some time before things look visually interesting. When I played the first Bioshock, I was amazed from the get-go with an underwater tour that I could play over and over. In this case, the environment seemed a bit simpler even though it is supposed to be a DirectX 11.1 game in the clouds. It gets a lot better though; you just have to be a little patient.
I also noticed that everyone looked the same. It's like they didn't have enough assets to go around, so the character diversity was spread very thin. It was so thin, in fact, I was wondering if the repetition was intentional as part of the story; but I don't think this is the case.
It's only after you make a moral decision that the action begins and all hell breaks loose. You're a marked target, and it's time to rescue the girl...or is it you who needs rescuing?
Second only to a standard pistol, the first weapon you get is a grapple. Best used for bonking people on...or through...the head, this also lets you jump to vantage points and ride rails ("the Skyline") throughout the environment. As I play more games, I find that concepts from one get translated to the next, and Bioshock Infinite is no different. In this case, it's a very similar idea to Batman swinging his way through the city in Batman: Arkham City, though you can't go across the environment the same way; Bioshock Infinite is far more abbreviated.
Before you know it, you will get your first "vigor". A vigor is an enhancement that gives you one of several super powers. Depending on what you drink first, it could be fireball grenades or the ability to take control of machines around you...eventually men!
Each time you use a vigor, you deplete your "Salts". You need to get these salts replenished on a regular basis, and that really isn't hard to do. The same with weapon ammunition; unless you're a terrible shot, it's very rare that you will be completely out of bullets or have difficulty finding something new to blast away with.
By the time you have the basics down pat, you will be introduced to a new game feature...a personal shield! Whereas before taking damage was almost permanent, you can now take one on the chin and quickly regenerate before absorbing any real harm. Things will get a bit harder as the game goes on, so you will need to gradually increase your maximum health, shields, and salts capacity as you progress.
Another enhancement to the Bioshock repertoire is apparel. Throughout the game, you will discover items you can wear that will give you constant benefits. What you wear can determine things like how much ammunition you can carry, how much health you have when you get revived, or you can even electrify your punch to really toast those nasties who would get in your way.
It's not really a spoiler if I tell you that you will rescue the damsel in distress named Elizabeth. Elizabeth isn't an ordinary girl! Locked up in a strange tower with countless security measures, safety devices, and scientific equipment, she seems to be cared for with the same concern as an armed hydrogen bomb with a loose connection. It turns out that Elizabeth has a way with...inter-dimensional physics...that adds yet another element to the game. Now a firm partner in this escape caper, Elizabeth will help you by picking locks, finding money you can use to buy new toys, and when things are really desperate, throwing ammunition and resources your way.
Your arch nemesis is Father Zachary Hale Comstock. The world's founder and equally revered as a religious prophet, Comstock is to Columbia what Andrew Ryan was to Bioshock's Rapture. He doesn't want Elizabeth escaping anywhere, and he will use every resource at his disposal to prevent that from happening.
While the range of enemies is quite varied with their own unique abilities, my favorite are "The Patriots". Imagine forefathers like George Washington turned into robots, armed with chain guns, and spouting rhetoric as they try to blow you to bits.
With the tried and true design of the previous Bioshock games, Infinite is divided in stages with mini-boss goals to overcome until you reach the big guy himself. While the story is on the rails, you often have the flexibility to go back to previous levels if there is something you missed, and there are instances where a future discovery like a key or password will make you go back to get a much needed reward and abilities boost.
While I admit to having to cheat a little with Wikipedia to understand things, the story and dialogue was well put together, and they did a good job with thinking of new elements to add to the game. Unfortunately, what they messed up with, they messed up with big.
First, the game is much too easy. The reason you don't run out of ammunition very often is it's far easier to just punch the heads off all your opponents. It's fun, but the stress of going from point A to B isn't as high as you'd expect, and this is on a mid-level difficulty setting.
Second, the ability to buy or acquire new vigors takes much too long. I'd estimate that it takes about halfway through the game before you start to see real diversity in the vigors you can collect and buy. Even the vending machines have limited offerings, and options to get excited about are few and far between. I was surprised by this because the first two Bioshocks understood the necessity for constant enhancements spot on.
Next, unless I missed something, your decisions no longer make huge differences in how the game ends. It used to be that there were three for four possible endings depending on how you played, and that no longer appears to be the case.
Finally, I really don't like their save-game system. It used to be that you could save the game instant to instant, whereas now they use fixed checkpoints. I found that the game occasionally crashes, and it was very frustrating to have to replay whole sections just because nothing got saved on exit.
I don't know if this was intended as a joke, but let me give you fair warning. Bioshock Infinite's developers invested a lot of time and effort to find the right voice, the right face, and the right body to make Elizabeth as beautiful as possible. This was important to them (there is even a video about it!). The game is played a certain way, the dialogue is written a certain way - I think every warm blooded man playing this game is going to pick up a vibe that there is supposed to be some sexual tension between the hero and heroine. Mmmm...maybe I shouldn't give you a heads-up.
So now comes the important question. How was Bioshock Infinite in stereoscopic 3D?!?
Dynamic Digital Depth is the ONLY option for playing Bioshock Infinite in stereoscopic 3D form. They clearly had the deck stacked against them with getting the game to work in 3D, and they did a decent job all things considered.
Gamers have the flexibility to control the game's convergence settings, so you can easily get a combined depth and pop-out experience. As usual, I recommend turning the auto-convergence features off in the drivers because it undermines performance. I even found that several game elements had their 3D polarity reversed with this mode active; so keep it off.
The performance was quite good with my Sapphire 7970, though I expect any mid-range GPU to do fine with this game in 3D mode; it doesn't seem to be all that graphics intensive.
The biggest problems are the HUD has the vigor indicator misaligned which is easy to ignore, there are brief instances where certain special effects don't cover the entire screen the way they should, and when certain guns are in zoom mode (iron sights), the separation is too high.
I found the best gaming experience was using the dominant eye mechanism so it was unnecessary to use DDD's laser sight add-on, and it made the gun separation tolerable.
ASUS G75VW 3D Laptop 12GB RAM GTX670M Processor Windows 7 64 bit
Don't even try. It's in Nvidia's "Not Recommended" category, and my experience with it is the drivers won't even inject into the game.
There is an option on the horizon, though. Indigomod is a DirectX 11 wrapper intended to help make PC games more compatible with Nvidia's 3D Vision products. I haven't tried it, I have no idea what it's limitations are, and I don't know if it requires removing or reducing game settings to work. However, it's an option. The only real caveat is it's not publicly available yet as they are trying to raise some money for it through Kickstarter.
Comparable to the first, and definitely better than the second, Bioshock Infinite was a much needed shake-up for the franchise. With a little patience, the game's environments grow more and more interesting, the story and character development is excellent, and it will give several hours of enjoyment to anyone who buys it.
I think its biggest hurdle is the game is too easy, and gamers can probably overcome this by dialing up the difficulty setting if they find they are progressing too quickly.
The best and only bet for stereoscopic 3D gamers are the DDD TriDef Ignition drivers. They did a good job with this given what they had to work with, and mid to high range GPU equipment should be good enough.
So good luck rescuing the girl, salt-up, and give Comstock a run for his money!!!