BioShock Infinite: Clash in the Clouds Review
After a few months of anticipation, Irrational Games finally revealed its downloadable content plans for one of 2013's best games, BioShock Infinite. While some choice story-based content is coming eventually, the first add-on the developer delivered was a new challenge mode dubbed Clash in the Clouds. While it may not have been what everyone was expecting, Clash in the Clouds definitely offers more ways to enjoy Infinite's combat. That is, if the combat is something you already liked.
Clash in the Clouds is a wave-based challenge mode, akin to Gears of War's Horde and the dozens of clones since. There are four different maps, each with escalating starting difficulties, and with 15 waves of enemies to push through in order to "win." It's very much a mode you've seen or played before at least once. Irrational doesn't do a whole lot different here to make Clash stand out from the others, but there are a few flourishes of that BioShock flavor to make this DLC more than just another also-ran.
First, between waves, you are transported back to an armory area. There are a multitude of weapons to pick from as your starting armaments, as well as vendors for both vigors and weaponry upgrades. The weapons themselves are free, but using vendors costs money, which you earn by killing enemies, stringing together kill streaks, and looting bodies. Completing a wave the first time also earns you infusions or gear, which you can then use to make yourself a more formidable opponent. You only earn these items once per wave though, so you can't just keep replaying the first wave to earn upgrade after upgrade.
All of the arenas also have their own personalities, as they are ripe with tears and sky-lines for you to use. While each of the four maps is based on a locale from the game, these aren't just repeat sections from the story. The maps also gradually ramp up the challenge, with Ops Zeal being a relatively easy affair to learn and master, and the final map, Emporia Arcade being the most frustrating. The new levels are also unlocked by spending your hard-earned cash, and it actually makes sense to take your time and go slowly. The maps aren't just new areas. Emporia Arcade starts you off against multiple Motorized Patriots and rocket soldiers, while Ops Zeal just uses run-of-the-mill soldiers. The final map is made to be played once you've earned all the potential infusions and purchased all the weapon upgrades available.
You could fall back onto tactics you used throughout the game to achieve domination, but Irrational has included Blue Ribbon Challenges for each wave to get you to think outside the box. Instead of blowing through people with Bucking Bronco and the shotgun, the challenges may ask you to complete an entire wave using only sky-hook melee attacks or finish foes with the pistol only. Each wave has a specific challenge tied to it, and completing it will earn you more bonus cash at the end. Early on, these are fun ways to try and explore the game's combat a little more deeply than you had before. On later maps though, trying to worry about objectives becomes secondary to survival, and Blue Ribbons come few and far between.
There's also trophy room of sorts for you to update. The main hub offers a room filled with unlockable character models, concept art, music, and videos. The room serves as a testament to your skill as a combatant, but also gives you a reason to keep coming back to Clash in the Clouds for more. It's nice to see all the different versions of Elizabeth lined up in a row, and a few of the behind-the-scenes kinetoscopes are worth unlocking in their own right. Just remember this same pool of money you're using in the trophy room is the same pool you have to unlock items in the actual combat portion, so spend wisely.
Ultimately though, your enjoyment of Clash in the Clouds will come from how much you enjoyed the first-person shooting in the main game. The mechanics are all the same, and Elizabeth will be by your side tossing you ammo and health, though a bit more infrequently than in the story. Infinite's shooting isn't as tight as some other FPS titles, and during the campaign, it was a bit frustrating at times. Here though, the combat is doled out in small doses, and you can walk away without worrying about getting to that next checkpoint or story beat. It's actually a bit more liberating, and the concentrated combat is a bit more enjoyable this way. That said, it can get tiresome and even maddening on later maps, especially when you die half-way through and have to start over at the first wave.
Clash in the Clouds was announced as a bit of a surprise, but the mode is fairly enjoyable. It has its faults, but those are rooted in the core gameplay, not the mode itself. There's plenty to do and unlock, and the constant variations wave-to-wave keep the DLC from getting too stale. It's a solid expansion, but one that merely serves as an appetizer to a greater set of content in the future.
This review is based on a retail copy of BioShock Infinite: Clash in the Clouds for the Xbox 360.