Bioshock Infinite

It's a box

Date Completed: September 15th, 2013

It’s been a whole month since I finished the game and It’s time for me to get this review done.  I knew it would be a difficult review to write because the game is so story driven.  There is a lot I could discuss here but I’ll try to keep it to my impressions while I played the game and avoid spoilers

Game play is largely identical to the previous Bioshock games.  It’s a First-Person-Shooter game where you run around killing things with guns.  Unlike the two previous titles the weapon wheel is gone and you are limited to only two guns at a time.  While this is more realistic that carrying an entire bunker’s worth of weapons with you wherever you go it was a great inconvenience as well.  I constantly found myself be to completely out of ammo for whatever two guns I happened to be carrying.

Fortunately firearms are supplemented by magical abilities called ‘Vigors’ (basically the same thing as Plasmids in previous titles).  There are several different Vigors but my favorites were Devil’s Kiss which causes explosions and sets enemies on fire, Bucking Bronco which launches enemies into the air (where they can be easily picked off with a pistol), and Return to Sender which sends bullets back at your foes.  Vigors can also be used to set traps which I found to be particularly useful when I was entering a large area.  I’d set several traps before heading in and try and maneuver enemies into them.

Bioshock Infinite takes place in a floating city named Columbia.  The various parts of the city are interconnected by a series of sky lines.  Early in the game you pick up an item called the ‘Sky hook’ that allows you to travel along the sky lines, or sever the heads off your foes in melee battle (It’s important that tools have multiple uses).  Riding on sky lines is a lot like riding on a roller coaster and is a lot of fun but the best part of sky lines were the battles. In battle sky lines can be used to escape enemies, quickly travel across the battle field, or to perform a sky line strike  where you jump off a sky line directly onto an enemy (often knocking them off Columbia and into the great beyond).  I understand that sky lines battles are the focus of a new ‘Clash in the Clouds’ DLC level pack has been made available and I totally intend to buy it.

Sky lines

Sky Lines : Fun

To Summarize the game play mechanics:

  • FPS
  • Always out of ammo
  • Vigors fun
  • Sky line fun

OK, now on to the story. What really sets Bioshock apart from normal games isn’t the game play, it’s the story.  After having played through the original Bioshock and having lived through the “OMG WHAT JUST HAPPEND” moment I was very careful to avoid any spoilers of Bioshock Infinite.  Mind blowing moments are rare in any medium and I was hoping that Bioshock Infinite would be as mind blowing as that original title (Spoiler: It is).

You play the role of Booker Dewitt, a former soldier who has been sent to the city of Columbia with the instruction “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt”.  It isn’t immediately clear what the debt is or who the girl is but you head to Columbia anyway because otherwise it would be a very boring game.

After arriving in Columbia I was immediately struck by how large it was.  There are several different districts including parks, fair grounds, factories, and hospitals.  The city has even been given a unique culture.  Patriotism is evident, although Columbia appears to have severed diplomatic ties with the United States.  The city is decorated in Red, White and Blue and statues of the founding fathers are found throughout Columbia.  Washington is usually found holding a sword, Jefferson carries a scroll and Franklin has a key.  Interestingly you will often find statues of Washington holding a giant Gatling gun.  These statues (Known as patriots) have the annoying habit of coming to life and trying to kill you.  Any game where George Washington ‘busts out his gat’ and tries to mow you down is OK in my book.

No one will shut the Government down with this guy on duty!

No one will shut the Government down with this guy on duty!

Racism is also evident and and from what I can tell is appropriate for the period that the game is set in.  While patriotism and racism are not especially integral to the plot they do help color Columbia with a layer of authenticity.  It feels as ‘real’ as any imaginary city floating in the clouds is likely to feel.

The Girl turns out to be a young woman named Elizabeth.  Elizabeth has imprisoned by a gentleman named Zachary Comstock, who is also known as ‘The Prophet’.  Comstock is the the spiritual and political leader of Columbia and for reasons that I choose not to go into doesn’t let Elizabeth out much.  After locating and rescuing Elizabeth you’ll discover the she has the somewhat unusual ability to open up doors to other realities called ‘Tears’.  When she’s on your team you can see various possible tears and direct Elizabeth to open them up.  In a combat situation you might want her to open a tear that brings a wagon of health or weapons to the battlefield or perhaps a different one that brings something to hide behind while snipers are shooting at you.  The mechanic works well and adds a whole new dimension (dimension, get it ??) to game play.

I thought it was a nice touch that your ability to manipulate tears was tied to the presence of another person on your team.  Periodically Elizabeth might be involved in some other shenanigans and your ability to detect and open tears disappears.  In some games (such as any Metroid title) they invent arbitrary reasons to take all your abilities away from you but in Bioshock it’s because it isn’t your ability to begin with.

The character of Zachary Comstock is described through various audio logs, intercom conversations and descriptions from other characters in the game.  He is a leader of a Christian based cult, but he’s very obviously involved in some extremely unsavory dealings and some other extracurricular activities that would leave most Christians looking to the sky for stray lightning bolts.  I understand that the development team make some adjustments to the story late in the process to make the character more believable.  After having played the game I think they did a good job.  By the end of the game you have a good picture of who Comstock started as, who he became and some of the transition between those two people.

Comstock : Normal, down-to-earth kinda guy.

Comstock – Normal, down-to-earth kinda guy.

My wife had been interested in watching me play the game because a blog she reads had been discussing how awesome it is.  We tried that once but the game made her motion sick (or maybe it was the way I play the game?) so I ended up playing mostly alone.  She did happen to be watching when I beat the game though, and after the ending I turned to her with my mouth open and said…nothing.  She looked back at me and said nothing in return.  The ending was shocking, surprising and completely not what I was expecting.  The ending made me want to play through the game again to see what I missed.  Right now, as I write this review, I wish I was playing the game.  Sadly I loaned the disk to a friend so that he could experience Bioshock Infinite as well.

I played the game on Hard but I recommend that anyone else starts on Easy or Medium so they can properly enjoy their first time through the game.  Unlike many modern games Hard actually means HARD and I died a lot.  Every time you die you lose some silver eagles (money) which are required to purchase the upgraded weapons and skills that help prevent you from dying.

Long story short, Bioshock Infinite is a fantastic game and is well worth the price.

Pros

  • Great story.
  • Great design.
  • Fun game play mechanics including (but not limited to) Vigors, Sky Lines and Tears.

Cons

  • None
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 10/10
Length: 12 hours
System: Playstation 3
Genre: FPS

Bioshock 2

Date Completed : May 6th, 2013

bioshock_2_box_artI made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t allow myself to play Bioshock Infinite until I had completed Bioshock 2.  I hadn’t heard great things about Bioshock 2 but the original was freaking amazing and it was selling for only 4$ on eBay so I said why not.

Gameplay is essentially identical to the original Bioshock.  You pick up various different guns and shoot bad guys with them.  In addition to guns you can enhance your abilities by purchasing Plasmids.  Plasmids modify your genetic structure and give you fantastic powers such as the ability to shoot electricity (or even bees) out of your fingers.

Bad guys in the game take the form of ‘Splicers’.  Splicers are insane humans with genetic modifications that grant different abilities.  If you’re not frightened by the concept of a bunch of insane super humans trying to kill you then there is something wrong with you.  Splicers take different forms but the teleporting Houdini Splicer and wall-crawling Spider Splicers are the freakiest.  Big Daddies (who appear as diving suit wearing monstrosities) make a reappearance and continue to serve as the guardians of the little sisters (who gather the ADAM that is required to use Plasmids).  In an interesting twist several little sisters have grown up and have now become Big Sisters.  Big Sisters are very fast and powerful and thankfully don’t show up very often.

bioshock2.01.lg

This Big Sister will kick your ass!

The story of Bioshock is what sets it apart from other FPS games.  Philosophical explorations are fused with compelling narrative and creates a truly memorable experience.  Ten years after the events of Bioshock the city of Rapture, former monument to secular humanism, is in absolute chaos.  A new leader named Sofia Lamb is keeping a young woman named Eleanor captive.  You play the role of a Big Daddy named ‘Subject Delta’ who is psychically bonded to Eleanor (who happens to be a former little sister).  There is an ongoing narrative told through radio transmissions but other pieces of the story can be picked up by listening to audio recordings.  Further details are made apparent by reading the scrawlings left on walls by Splicers on the walls.  It seems the protagonist of the previous Bioshock has been deified and ‘The Lamb’ is now being referred to as a Savior.  There’s a lot of interesting things going on and I can’t go into them all here.  I’ve often talked to a friend of mine about starting a ‘Bioshock discussion club’.  There is a lot of great discussion material in this game.

The only criticism I had for the original Bioshock was the darkness and sameness of the graphics.  Everything is dark, dirty and has the same blue ‘under the ocean’ hue.  Bioshock 2 is more of that.  It’s hard to tell one area apart from another.  Even though the areas weren’t very large I often had a hard time memorizing the level layouts because everything looked so much alike.

Bioshock-2-Minerva1

The entire game is dark and blue.

By the end of the game I was ready for it to be over.  Every time I thought I was getting close to the end another level showed up.  To be fair I was rushing a bit because I hope to get Bioshock Infinite for my Birthday next month (ARE YOU READING THIS SWEETHEART???).

Bioshock 2 also has a multiplayer mode which I didn’t try, and additional DLC which I didn’t buy.  There are multiple endings based on your actions and plenty of content to keep you busy for good long while.  The Bioshock series continues to offer the best narrative I’ve seen from first-person-shooter genre and is well worth your time.

Pros

  • Fantastic storytelling.
  • Multiple endings based on your actions.

Cons

  • Dark, blue, boring scenery.
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 8/10
Length:  12 hours
System: Playstation 3
Genre: First Person Shooter

Resistance 3

Date Completed : 4/8/2013

Early critics of the Resistance series complained that the game didn’t take enough risks.  It takes place in an alternate reality WWII era where a hive-mind controlled swarm of alien zombies (Known as the Chimera) are infecting the population of earth.  That pretty much hits the big three genres of first-person-shooters right on the head (Aliens, Zombies and World War II).  Unlike some critics I’m not going to fault the developer for designing a game to be appealing.

Resistance 3 plays identically to previous Resistance games.  You have a huge arsenal of unlikely weapons including (but not limited to) the Bullseye that can shoot homing bullets around corners and the Auger that allows you to shoot enemies through walls.  Most of the action is very fast-paced.  There are a few parts where stealth can be of benefit but for the most part you’re charging into new areas with your guns blazing.

My favorite tactic in the game is to shoot the bad guys in the refrigerator.  Chimeras have faster than human metabolisms so their body temperatures are higher and they have to wear cooling units on their backs to keep from overheating.  A refrigerator shot is just as effective as a head shot and is far more satisfying.  The refrigerator starts to spark and the Chimera freaks out for a moment before it explodes.  BOOM! REFRIGERATOR SHOT!

Look at all those yellow glowing refrigerators!

One of the best selling features of Resistance 3 is that it is a tech demo for many of the capabilities of the PlayStation 3.  It is both 3D and PlayStation Move capable.  I didn’t try the PlayStation Move control but I did play most of the game in 3D and it looks great.  I especially noticed the depth when I was running in wide open areas.  It helped to add a sense of scale, and a sense of how fast I was moving.  It also added a bit of eye strain.  The game was too violent to play with the kids around so I finished most of it during a marathon session while the kids were away at Grandma’s.  Sony isn’t joking when they say to limit your time with 3D.

The story follows Joe Capelli, the last known survivor of the Sentinels from Resistence 2.  Joe has retired from being a total bad-ass and is now married with a young son.  He’s trying to take things easy and but he ends up getting recruited for a suicide mission to save the world.  My boys are close to the same age as Joe’s son, so I found it easy to get into character and relate to what Joe was going through in the game.  I really wanted Joe to survive so he could see his wife and boy again.  Even my wife wanted to know if Joe Capelli would survived the game.

My only complaint about the game is that it is very dark.  You spend a lot of time inside of tunnels or ruins and I had a very hard time distinguishing details.  3D mode cuts the brightness even further so I had to crank the gamma correction way up.  Some games (such as ZombiU ) are more enjoyable in the dark but for a more action oriented game not being able to see is too dang frustrating.

While it may not be on-par with games like Bioshock it’s a lot of fun and well worth the attention of anyone who likes zombies, aliens, world war 2 and first-person shooters.

Pros

  • 3D and Playstation Move Capable

Cons

  • It’s very dark.
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 8/10
Length: 10 hours
System: PlayStation 3
Genre: First Person Shooter

ZombiU

Date Completed : 3/24/2013

ZombiU Box Art

ZombiU was the launch title I was most excited about for the Wii U but I wasn’t able to put a whole lot of time into it until recently.  Unlike New Super Mario Bros. U it displays different information on the Gamepad and TV, and it’s not kid friendly so I had to limit my play time to when my wife and kids weren’t around.  I wasn’t able to finish the game until my wife got a horrible migraine over a long weekend and started going to bed at 8 o’clock.

ZombiU is a survival horror first-person-shooter.  You use the Wii U gamepad as a communication device that allows you to talk with someone called ‘The Prepper’.  The Prepper has a safe house that serves as the base of operations for you in Zombie infested London.  At first he has you heading out on short missions to get supplies and guns but as you discover more about the Zombie plague you begin to look into the possibility of creating a cure.

The Gamepad is your life line in this game.  It displays maps of the areas you are in and it can show you where Zombies are located in each of the areas.  It can also be used to scan Zombies, Weapons, Ammunition and Medical supplies which is critical.  The game is very dark and it is difficult to see anything (even with your flashlight) but when you look through your scanner you can see the area quite well.  There are times when the scanner gets jammed and you can’t use it and when this happened I felt lost and I will admit a bit frightened.  You quickly come to depend on the scanner to tell you when Zombies are near.

The game is meant to be scary and it succeeds.  While I didn’t exactly wet my pants I did find the dark visuals and creepy sound effects to really set the mood.  In games like Doom 3 eventually you get to the point where you turn around every 30 seconds and shoot because there is always be something standing behind you that popped out of a hidden wall.  ZombiU mostly avoids the ‘There is something behind you’ gimmick and has some truly unique ways to surprise and frighten.  There were at least 2 occasions where I nearly jumped off the couch.

When you die in this game your character comes back to life as a Zombie.  It is then the job of the next survivor to go and retrieve your backpack full of goodies.  If I died it was usually because I was overwhelmed and an unarmed survivor would have a LOT of trouble getting my stuff back.  Most often it required 2-3 survivors which became a problem because of the load times.  Loading between levels takes quite awhile and when you die you start back at the Safe House which means you may need to travel between several areas to get back to your former self.

Get them!

Ammo is limited so use your bat as much as possible!

I went through about 30 survivors over the course of the game.  Some of them I was happy to see go but I became attached to a few of them and I was sorry to see them die.  I tried to power the Wii U down after a death to save my character only to find the game automatically saves when you die so you can’t ever go back.

Speaking of saving – save points can be several hours apart.  The quickest and most convenient way to save the game is let yourself get killed.  Once I was playing while the family was out and they came home so rather than let my kids watch me obliterate Zombie heads with a cricket bat I paused the game.  I left the game on pause for 8 hours until bedtime and then I found that the Wii U actually has a power down feature and it shuts itself off after an hour of idle time.  I lost about an hour of game play.

When I first started ZombiU I was a bit disappointed with it.  The story seemed a bit thin and the load times were frustrating.  After playing for awhile I really got into it and I’ve decided I’m keeping the game.  Now I’m hoping for a ZombieU 2.  There were a lot of problems with the game but with a little time, and a little love ZombieU could turn into something really great.

Pros

  • Lots of scares.
  • Zombie Killing.

Cons

  • Forgettable story.
  • Awful load times.
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 6/10
Length:  12 hours
System: Wii U
Genre: Survival Horror / First-Person-Shooter

James Bond 007: GoldenEye

If you owned a Nintendo 64 in the late 1990’s, chances are you owned Goldeneye.  The four player simultaneous gameplay made it a staple in dormitories across the world.  Hearing the name Goldeneye automatically summons memories of dorm rooms, crappy cafeteria food and many long nights spent avoiding study and playing video games.

Unfortunately there was no way this game could live up to the nostalgia.  Fortunately for the sake of this review I went back and played the original.  I was astounded to see how absolutely horrible the original actually was.  The graphics were horribly dated and the control scheme was almost unusable.  I can’t fathom how I found the original to be enjoyable.

The remake was packaged with a Golden classic controller.  I believe other control schemes are available but I made a point of using only the controller the game came with.  After experiencing other FPS games on the Wii I found that using dual analogs was a welcome change.  Sometimes you just want to sit and relax while playing a game.  Motion control can make that kind of tricky.

The game starts of in the same place as the original but quickly becomes unrecognizable.  It is apparent that this is a whole new game.  Characters and locales are the same but circumstances have been updated.  Some of the levels share similar landmarks but the layouts share few similarities.  The original game featured around 30 small levels.  This game features 12 much larger levels.  I found that each level would take an average of 30 minutes to complete with no ability to save mid-level.   I have two small children and I find it very difficult to play games that do not allow frequent saving.

The game has very high production values.  After beating the opening of the game you’re treated to the standard James Bond intro song complete with credits.  Several of the levels had the fine little touches that add personality to a game.  Unfortunately it was hard to ignore that all of this came from a standard definition console.  I found it impossible not to think ‘This would have looked so cool on my PS3!!’.

The game overall was good and I enjoyed playing it.  I wasn’t able to sample the multiplayer as much because I no longer live in a dormitory.   Unlike the original all of the multiplayer cheats appeared to be unlocked from the get-go so you won’t have to play single player any more than you want to.

This part looks familiar, the rest of the game not so much.

Pros

* A decent FPS multiplayer experience on the Wii!
Cons
* No mid-level saving.
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 7/10
Length:  8 hours
System: Wii
Genre: First Person Shooter

Portal 2

I finished up with Portal 2’s single player mode awhile ago but due to the unfortunate PlayStation Network outage I was prevented from trying out the new multi-player mode until more recently. Now that the PSN is back I feel that I am finally able to write this review.

I had to rush through Portal 2.  It’s not the kind of game you play once and forget, it’s the kind of game that stays with you. After you beat it you’ll want to talk about it with anyone who will listen, which makes it difficult for those of us who have kids and can’t dedicate copious amounts of time to finishing the game as quickly as possible. I was forced to rush through the game so that my experience wouldn’t be spoiled by overhearing any one of the hundreds of Portal 2 conversations going on around me.

The game takes off sometime after the original Portal game. A narrator with a memorably absurd sense of humor guides you through the game. Half of the story of Portal 2 is told through narration, but the other half is told nonverbally as you explore the Portal 2 world. The environments are detailed with items such as posters and video screens that won’t help solve puzzles but will tell the story. Hidden areas and carefully crafted level design tell the player more about the Portal 2 universe than the narrator ever could. This unique method of storytelling in a video game is what gives Portal 2 its mojo.

Several new gameplay mechanics improve on the original Portal experience. In the interest of not spoiling anything I will not discuss them here, however they do exist, and they are awesome.

Some of the puzzles are extremely clever and require you to work out a lot of complex details. Some of them might be as simple as exploring until you find the right surface to create a portal on. The more complex puzzles took time to work out but I never got so stuck that I had to resort to looking up a solution on the Internet.

Even with the time constraints imposed by my family duties I was able to finish Portal 2 in about a week. This may seem like a short game but by the time you get to the end of the game you are ready for the resolution. The new multi-player mode offers several more test chambers worth of content and endless opportunities for frustration and hilarity with your friends. Even though the single player mode is short I still feel the game is worth the money.

The PS3 version of Portal 2 comes with a code so you can get the Steam version on your PC for free. It’s a pretty great deal and if you have a PS3 you really don’t have an excuse.

Pros

  • Free PC/Mac version of the game with the PS3 version!!!
  • Clever Puzzle Solving using Portal Mechanics
  • Humorous Dialog
  • New Multiplayer Mode

Cons

-NONE-
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 9/10
Length:  ~8 hours
System: PS3
Genre: Puzzle