Every few years a game will come along that leaves you breathless: a title so incredible that it leaves you desperately searching for how to describe it in a manner that does it justice. BioShock Infinite is such a game. In fact describing it as a "game" is unfair, it is more of an experience as it immerses you in one of the richest and most vibrant locations ever seen. Quite simply you must experienceBioShock Infinite.
The game begins with Booker DeWitt being sent to search for a girl, Elizabeth, whose last known location was aboard a mysterious floating city known as Columbia. Arriving at a sinister lighthouse in the middle of the ocean, it is not long before Booker is among the clouds and on the streets hovering above them.BioShock Infinite boasts one of the most striking, emotional and intricate stories we have ever witnessed: this is in large due to the environments and characters you encounter.
Columbia is an astonishing creation, at once utterly immersive and supremely detailed. It is a thoroughly believable world and you find yourself drawn in instantly. Irrational Games have clearly worked incredibly hard, with the vibrant visuals and graphics being some of the best of this generation. Whether you are simply exploring the sun-soaked streets, mingling with the citizens or fighting a desperate battle on the Sky Lines (Columbia's aerial rail network) in the midst of a terrific thunderstorm the effect is never less than jaw-dropping.
So much about BioShock Infinite concerns its narrative and characters so it is supremely important many of these details remain secret to avoid spoiling the plot. However, we can say that Booker is both an interesting and complex character and while we were hesitant at the introduction of a speaking protagonist our fears were completely unfounded. The voice acting from industry veteran Troy Baker is sterling, being equally nuanced, emotive and believable. Elizabeth is also a testament to Irrational Games' writing and her expressions and animations are as good, if not better, than Alyx Vance from Half Life 2. She is a genuine person who you grow to care for, and relate to, over the course of the game. It is a performance full of subtlety and beauty and will not be easily forgotten.
The story itself is a sprawling, complex affair full of intrigue and twists, that is perpetually gripping and virtually impossible to be torn away from. In a bright, colourful city it is amazing how dark and sinister events can be with the colourful palette providing the perfect contrast to the horrors the player encounters. As the story progresses, events spiral and change with cliff-hangers and shocks woven artfully into the narrative. Ken Levine had a difficult act to follow from BioShock but manages to deliver something as intelligent and engaging.
Technically, BioShock Infinite is almost unrivalled with rich graphics and immaculate audio. As mentioned previously, voice acting is impeccable with deep and affecting delivery from the main cast alongside the world's NPCs although some of their shouts and phrases are repeated a shade too often. Musically, the soundtrack is superb with sound cues providing subtle gameplay feedback without feeling intrusive, particularly when distinctive notes alert you to enemies or the end of combat. The score itself is memorable and evocative, painting an aural picture of the early 20th century, including some unique devolutions of modern songs into the style of the time.
However, where BioShock Infinite truly impresses is in the refined gameplay mechanics. Taking the formula of gunplay and superpowers from the first titles and almost reinventing the presentation has created some of the most satisfying combat ever experienced. Booker is able to access a variety of traditional first-person shooter weapons, ranging from shotguns and rifles to rocket launchers and primitive Gatling guns. There is a healthy upgrade system in place for all these, with different modifications (including improved damage, reload speeds, clip size etc) available for purchase using money scavenged from the environment. There is a wider arsenal than any previous BioShock game with most weapons having different variants based on two factions present within Columbia.
Booker may also stumble across Gear which is usually well hidden in the more obscure corners of the city. These pieces of clothing come in the form of boots, hats, pants and shirts with one being available to equip in each slot. Their effects vary and their placement seems randomised but these act in a similar manner to Tonics in BioShock. Each item of clothing has a passive ability with effects ranging from boosting your shield recharge delay to automatically refilling weapon clips when they run low. They are a welcome inclusion, and while rather minor elements in the long term, help to keep you alive.
Alongside standard firearms Booker can obtain Vigors, essentially bottled supernatural powers, that act as a successor to BioShock's Plasmids. With eight in total, there is a solid variety, with each being pleasantly different and unbelievably satisfying to use. Ranging from fireballs to electric bolts and flocks of vicious crows to possession, using these abilities in combat makes you feel unstoppable. Vigors can be combined for greater impact, such as soaking someone in water from Undertow before electrocuting them for increased damage with Shock Jockey.
Combat is also bolstered with the inclusion of the Sky Hook, a device that allows you to explore vertical space and take advantage of elevated rails running around Columbia known as Sky Lines. These have an enormous impact on combat, which typically occurs in larger, distinct areas. Booker is able to traverse these freely; gaining a height advantage in combat, evading fire long enough to allow your new protective shield to regenerate or jumping off them onto enemies with a powerful strike. Enemies will typically also make use of these so it is important to control them as much as possible.
The final major addition to combat comes from Elizabeth herself, the ability to open "tears". Elizabeth can reach into these, created as a form of partial "wish fulfilment", and pull out valuable aids in battle. These can range from ammunition, weapons and health to robotic companions, turrets and even cover to recuperate behind. It is a relatively minor addition but makes an enormous difference, especially during the more frenetic pacing when any distractions are almost essential to success.
With all of these elements in place the end result is frenetic, but incredible, battles. Using Booker's and Elizabeth's abilities makes each fight truly unique and leads to often unforgettable moments. Swinging around a Sky Line only to leap off and execute an enemy with the Sky Hook feels liberating, as does flinging someone high into the air using the Bucking Bronco Vigor before blasting them over the edge of Columbia like a trap shooter. It is hard to imagine a game where combat is so varied and rarely repetitive. With so many tools and skills at your disposal there is never a dull moment.
Irrational Games has also created impressive AI, and enemies will routinely flank you and use the environment against you, especially the Sky Lines. However, aside from the more common enemies there are occasional tougher foes more akin to the Big Daddy opponents from BioShock. While they are encountered much less frequently fights with them are often particularly insane, especially those against the Handymen. These hulking metal beasts are oversized men with gigantic hands and a preserved heart in their chests that will try and pound you into the ground or electrocute you on a Sky Line. In many ways it is a shame not to have your skills tested by them more often, but by rationing the "Goliath" enemies the developers give them much more impact.
Once the story is completed, there is still plenty to do. Chances are you will want to jump straight back in and relive the action again. There are a host of collectibles that have meaning. Voxophones and Kinetoscopes provide backstory and further flesh out the history and key events that created and shaped Columbia. Searching for them can be tricky and challenging, but always satisfying. Completion of the game (or a cheeky use of the Konami Code) unlocks "1999 Mode" a tougher playthrough of the game that harks back to System Shock 2 with harsher penalties and fewer player aids.
BioShock Infinite is not quite perfect. There are some slight pacing issues towards the latter portion of the game and a slightly jarring segment that does not quite fit with the rest. The checkpoint system is also disappointing and a proper save function, akin to the previous titles would have been far more welcome. Finally, there are some minor graphical and gameplay glitches here and there though they are generally so few and far between not to make any significant impact. Bear in mind, these are general nitpicks and nothing that cannot be overlooked in the grander scheme.
Fundamentally, BioShock Infinite is incredible. It is an amazing single-player experience that redefines how narrative and gameplay interact. With a beautiful, artfully realised setting, believable and involving characters and refined, rewarding gameplay there is virtually nothing to fault. The biggest limitation is the very fact that it ends and the sadness that comes with the realisation that you can never play it for the first time again. BioShock Infinite is precisely what gaming should be about: the experience. Undoubtedly this is a title that will go down in history as one of the greats. Play this game.
BioShock Infinite (Reviewed on Windows)
Outstanding. Why do you not have this game already?
Every few years a game will come along that leaves you breathless: a title so incredible that it leaves you desperately searching for how to describe it in a manner that does it justice. BioShock Infinite is such a game. In fact describing it as a "game" is unfair, it is more of an experience as it immerses you in one of the richest and most vibrant locations ever seen.