It took me an embarrassing three years to complete the original BioShock, so with this new title I vowed not to get sidetracked.
Luckily the bright and colourful land of Columbia is a far more compelling and addictive setting than the murky and often spine-chilling corridors of Rapture.
A (sort of) simple tale, well told
BioShock Infinite is a game about Elizabeth. More than just a plucky young sidekick, Elizabeth is a well-educated teenager who has led a sheltered life in captivity. You, as American Booker Dewitt, must rescue her.
Don’t go thinking this is all cliché and sunshine though. First off, Booker’s motives are hardly pure – something he is up-front about from the beginning – and Elizabeth is hardly a helpless damsel in distress.
Gifted with the power to manipulate the universe through ‘tears’, doorways through space and sometimes time, Elizabeth can control reality as “a sort of wish fulfilment” (as she puts it), giving you access to munitions, provisions or even escape routes.
Your first introduction to Columbia is too good to be true. Wandering around this bright and bountiful place, a floating city filled with happy people, cheerful acapella groups and celebrations in the streets, your Spidey sense starts tingling immediately.
Getting your hands dirty
The game’s turning point, marking its inevitable slip into violence, couldn’t be more abrupt, and the bodycount grows from there. Luckily Booker is a war vet and has no trouble taking lives, which is more than can be said for your sheltered-life-d companion.
The gameplay will be familiar to BioShock players, but to a 2013 audience can be a bit clunky and slow, particularly aiming, which is relegated to a click of the right stick. The reason for this is that the left trigger is home to vigours, the Columbia incarnation of plasmids which grant special powers such as electric shock or the ability to posses enemies.
The vigours are what make this game different from other first-person shooters you might find lying around in the bargain bins across the country. As it does with its entire philosophy, Infinite commits entirely to making vigours work. Though limited to eight options, they can be upgraded and all have a secondary function – which generally grants the ability to lay traps – introducing a raft of different tactical options.
On the flipside are the guns, of which there are a reasonable selection, but since you can only carry two at a time you’ll find yourself getting comfortable with a pair and sticking to them. These can also be upgraded, and after a little while through the game you’ll find the majority of enemies a pushover.
Tried but not too trying
In fact, the difficulty (on normal at least) seems far easier than your standard modern shooter. It might be that the pace is slower than fans of Battlefield or Call of Duty multiplayer are used to, but the ease at which you can breeze through enemies at times borders on disbelief.
One aspect which gives you opportunities to try and do things differently are the skyrails. Huge rollorcoaster-esque monorails carving through the sky, you can zip along the rails and leap off onto enemies. They also provide a handy escape route if you do find yourself swamped. These, coupled with Elizabeth’s ability to call in a bunch of health kits from another reality, come in handy for staying out of trouble.
The story is a complex web, and something worth experiencing rather than explaining, but needless to say it is worthy of its widespread critical acclaim with equal parts pondering speculation.
An old-school spectacle
Visually the game is wildly inconsistent. In general it is stunning, beautiful and awe-inspiring, but if you look too closely you start to see the paint peeling in the form of low-quality textures and awkward animations – a sign that the next generations of consoles has a lot to offer.
The water effects in particular show this the most strongly in the opening scene when you see beautiful rain speckling on a rock next to the ocean, which, by contrast, looks like an odd collection of sprites leaping for freedom.
There are some missed opportunities, such as a fairly limited selection of enemies with few specific tactics needed, and less time having fun on skyrails than expected (though a scripted, literally ‘on-rails’ section would have been woeful).
From the mind of Booker Dewitt
Characters are the real strength which Infinite builds its legacy in. You wonder if it would have been as successful if Elizabeth had been a young man instead of a young girl, but you quickly dismiss these concerns as having little significance and enjoy yourself.
Elizabeth reacts quite believably to situations, investigates areas with you, and has the good sense to keep out of your line of fire in a firefight. There was one awkward moment when she entirely disappeared and didn’t shop up again until I loaded a new area, but its easy to forgive these glitches when her company is such fun. The journey between the two characters is as rich as their overall adventure and by the end you have respect and admiration for both of them.
Not to be missed?
Unashamedly ambitious and engaging throughout, Infinite is the icing on the cake for developers Irrational Games, who have worked up to this greatness from the already impressive heights of the original game back in 2007.
This is a game which should be played for the experience, and if you really want the challenge there is not only hard but ‘1999 mode’ on offer, the latter of which strips everything back to give a pre-millenium feel.
If you haven’t played BioShock, then you can enter this world without missing much, but if you have then there’s more on show here, as well as a couple of nods back to the past (as well as countless parallels).
A title filled with excitement and wonder, Infinite is a game to remind you why you got into gaming in the first place.
James Michael Parry