So, we’ve noted that Bioshock Infinite is an amazing looking game with outstanding art direction and plenty of graphic options to tailor to your system, but that’s only one face of the video game coin. The other is gameplay, and as a first person shooter we already have preconceived notions of what to expect from the get-go, so lets explore how reasonable those notions are.
First off lets acknowledge that there are no save slots and every save that the game performs happens at automatic points throughout. This will in many respects be the biggest bugbear for PC gamers, but as a consequence gameplay tends to flow naturally without the need for save points or frequent quick-saves. Quickload/quicksave also undermines difficulty, a factor that we’re sure Irrational had in mind when they made the decision to disallow them, but it does mean that you can autosave just before a big battle without the proper weapons equipped or ammo recharged, leading to an insurmountably difficult encounter.
When loading a game we were given access to the previous five checkpoints, generally amounting to around 60 minutes of gameplay. This should allow you to return to a point where you can stock up on health/ammunition with some foreknowledge of the tricky encounters to come, but not enough to Mulligan upgrades. Creating a new game in any difficulty will wipe all previous progress too, so if you're playing on a shared PC you might want to take it in turns.
The in-game menu provides a quick summary of the current quest
In terms of basic game mechanics there’s nothing new under the sun. You're directed through the game with a very simple questing machanic, aided by a directional arrow which paints the ground when you wish it to. Optional quests also exist but are few and far between, generally providing pointers towards uncovering a particular secret or cache of items.
Health is your base resource, and is replenished by consuming medkits or eating food (though in the latter instance very small amounts). There is also a ‘shield’ feature unlocked early in the game which is shown as a yellow bar in the UI, and regenerates mid-combat if you go for a short time without being hit. Interestingly for a game of this type, and a departure from the original BioShock, there is no means to store medkits for later use, meaning that if you fall low on health your priority will be getting out of the firefight rather than tanking the damage whilst chugging health pots.
Your other major resource is Salt, which takes the place of EVE in BioShock as the resource for your powers (AKA Vigors); your max salt is fixed at 100, but incremental upgrades can increase your efficiency in using these powers. Both Health and Salt can be regenerated at a Dollar Bill vending machine at a small cost.
When you pick up an infusion you'll be given the choice of attribute to improve
These upgrades are called Infusions, and take the form of a luminescent flask of liquid which can improve either your Max Health, Max Shield or Salt. They appear throughout the world, often in secret areas but sometimes out in the open, and when picked up prompt you for a decision. Note however that you don’t get the take back your decision, it’s permanent and irrevocable.
Elizabeth, Ally Till The Last
Though many of your battles Elizabeth will be a near constant companion, but not the sort of companion who needs your protection. She can take care of herself whilst aiding you in combat by providing medkits, salt and even ammunition which she scavenges throughout the course of your adventures. In some set-piece locations she will also provide you with a tactical advantage by generating cover, a stack of medkits, or even a turret through the tear mechanic. If you die in combat, it is Elizabeth who will return you to life.
A tear revealing medkits when opened. Most encounters allow you to cycle between one of three tears.
Throughout the game world you will also come across locked doors or safes which let Elizabeth demonstrate her lockpicking skills. You’ll need to provide the lockpicks (an scaling number dependant on the difficulty of the lock) but thanks to her will have access to more cash, advanced weapons, ammo and the most valuable reward of all: Voxophones. Truly, there will be no post-mortem of the game discussing how she ‘doesn’t pull her weight.’
Enemies and overall difficulty
It is said that you will know the measure of a man by the quality of his enemies, and so we move to the human tools of the antagonists. Your first roadblocks are of the ostensibly human variety, composed of the general police and militia force which patrol Columbia against the threat posed by the Vox Populi. Later you will encounter individuals powered by Vigors such as the fearsome Firemen, before eventually being set against the twisted technological monsters. One such reoccurring creation is the Handyman, an awful melding of flesh and machine which has one weak point and a lifetime of rage, whilst the Mechanised Patriot clockwork gear will remorselessly power its search for your blood.
The Handymen are tragic figures but no-less dangerous
Though normal human foes pose no real challenge, empowered humanoids and mechanised constructs will appear to be bullet sponges throughout most of the game, resisting massive punishment from both projectile and explosive weapons. In the main this doesn’t pose much more than a time issue, but the final battle’s difficultly spike is huge mainly thanks to this feature. Armoured humans pose a similar problem, with little opportunity to sit back and take them out from afar.
Ameliorating the impact of autosaves is the option to change difficulty at any time in Easy, Medium and Hard modes. It's not ideal, but can allow you to tweak your chances of getting past a particularly troublesome fight without the need to cheat or lose substantial progress. We'd suggest that you start out on Hard difficulty to prevent you from picking up any bad habits and force you to take to the air on Skylines early on, standing you in good stead later in the game.
Once you have completed a playthrough the 1999 Mode will be unlocked. This additional difficulty setting increases enemy health and damage whilst also reducing the ammo available as well as your own hardiness. Furthermore, the cash death penalty is increased and if you fail to meet the cash requirements you'll return to your previous checkpoint. Once you start you will be unable to change to a previous difficulty, so make sure you're ready for this challenge.