I’ve never been a big proponent of strategy guides. I’m a typical man: I’ll have a go making it up as I go along, then reading the instructions afterwards, if I see fit. If necessary. If at all. Begrudgingly. It wasn’t always this way mind. There was a time when a younger me would buy a game and eagerly tear into it’s packaging to read it’s manual for the lore and story hidden within. Those days, however, seem to have passed in a tide of increasingly small bare-bone inserts which succinctly describe an installation process and nothing more. So, when I was asked to review the BradyGames strategy guide for Bioshock Infinite, I was understandably dubious, but also intrigued. Bioshock Infinite was an interesting game for me. Long awaited, it certainly didn’t disappoint on the surface but when I was finished, I was left wanting more.
Armed with the strategy guide in hand, I decided to delve into the game’s much discussed 1999 mode. In the vein of the game’s spiritual forefather, System Shock, 1999 mode is brutal and unforgiving. Enemies hit harder, move faster, and strike aggressively. Furthermore, you deal less damage and dying carries a hefty fee. However, unlike the game’s normal difficulty, if you cannot pay the ferryman’s fee you taken back to the title screen without any option to reload. Brutal indeed. A fitting challenge for my new strategy guide.
The guide itself is beautifully presented, resplendent with the bygone-days art style that has become synonymous with the Bioshock brand. Every piece of artwork, both in this guide and in the game itself, are a joy to see. I’d love to have some on show in my home, if I could find a way to explain away the oft-racist undercurrents of Columbia. I spent some time reading the preamble chapters of the guide before I began my 1999 playthrough. Even having completed the game previously, I was blown away by how much detail there was regarding the weapons and vigors of Columbia. More so, I was shocked by how much I learned before even starting my game again. The guide provides you with the deepest, most technical aspects of the weapons, abilities and gear of the game, from rounds per minute to damage output and critical multipliers. It is enough to keep the avid theorycrafter busy for months.
The guide also suggests loadouts for your specific style of play, giving you a good couple of options to aim towards as you work through the game. This was a very handy thing indeed during 1999 mode where your choices can hang you. It certainly vindicated certain decisions I had made during my prior playthrough. One of my favourite parts of this guide are the direct quotes from the people behind the story and animation of Bioshock Infinite. Small drop quotes from the game’s lead writer and key animation staff really help to give a picture of the workings behind creating such an all-compassing world as that of Columbia. Of additional lore or background to the story, there is none, which disappoints me slightly, but then maybe that’s just the writer in me. The guide is very much grounded in the facts, stats & figures of the gameplay rather than the story. As the game is somewhat light on secrets and easter eggs, so too is the guide. This may give pause to strategy guide veterans who are used to the large side-quest sections found in the Final Fantasy guides of old.
As a tool, the guide is wonderfully informative and incredibly for useful to preempting what lies ahead, and weathering the games tougher difficulties. It certainly gave me the best possible heads-up as I progressed through the game’s nightmarish 1999 mode. Playing through the increasingly hardcore world, I found the guide came in handy in preparing me for what I would face before I entered an area. Of course, nothing, short of your wits, can help you once lead starts flying and the fireman start raining grenades on you. But the guide certainly helped.
In conclusion, as a ‘guide’ the book performs expertly. However, for those seeking to learn more about the world of Bioshock Infinite and Columbia, this guide may not be the right product. It all comes down to your playstyle and what you want from the game. That said, I challenge you to find a better way to prepare yourself to beat the game so completely. Next time I attempt a hardcore run through a game, I’ll definitely be hunting for a game guide in shops first.