BioShock Infinite will for years be discussed in the same breath as Half Life 2, the original Bioshock and other touchstones of the genre which have defined a sub-set of first person titles that built on a strong narrative, and rightly so. The first moments as you breach the clouds and feast your eyes on Columbia are spine-tinglingly good and exploration reveals that the city is exceptionally well realised. Little touches like city blocks needing to dock, complete with schedule, or a barge with a barbershop quartet are a joy to behold. The care and attention Irrational paid in the construction of the setting should be held up as a standard of excellence.
The world is so well constructed that discussing the characters would seem like an afterthought if not so well written. Elizabeth in particular leaps off the screen as a character with hopes, dreams and a particular innocence expressed by a cheerful demeanour, a demeanour which slowly erodes as violence appears to be her and DeWitt's only effective tools. She is however no dead weight in combat, as the game is happy to notify you she doesn’t need leading or protecting, at a stroke eliminating what could have been the games’ Achilles Heel.
Just like its franchise predecessors, BioShock Infinite does not shy away from social commentary. Whilst BioShock built the world of Rapture from the seabed up as a Libertarian playground which lost sight of its humanity, Columbia is also a deeply flawed paradise with a brutal underbelly shocking to modern sensibilities. Around 30 minutes in reality hits you square in the face and you’re left reeling as you realise the implications, a reaction which only great works of storytelling can achieve.
For all the effusive praise however, Bioshock Infinite is far from a perfect game. The highly linear story, although excellent in its own right, will disappoint those who were expecting a deeper morality system than Bioshock I & II and got none at all. Thanks to uninspired weaponry combat is also not as electric as it could be, with the Vigors just about elevating it to a level above ‘Skyrim with rocket launchers’. That makes sense from the point of view of the story, but it also serves to show how much gaming has lost in the intervening years. Widespread invisible walls also dog your every attempt at exploration, such that even though you’re not saved from a plunge to gravity-defined death waist-high desks still defeat your attempts at traversal. There’s little opportunity to break off the beaten track and explore, although that which there is rewards you mightily with juicy Voxophone recordings detailing more of the events preceding the game.
For $60/£35 you'll be granted an excellent 13 hours of dense story, twisting plot and appealing gameplay. It leaves you emotionally drained, replete and in no need for more. You’re not left disappointed in a hasty ending, or confused by a story which throughout its twists and turns is as complete as a Mobius Strip. More than that, it looks gorgeous and rewards those who have invested in their gaming rigs without making those with a more budget conscious system feel like they have come off second best.
BioShock Infinite will finish the year being a great contender for Game Of The Year for its awesome narrative alone, and if another takes this title then we’re in for an enormously rich 2013. Whilst titles of previous years have had more engaging gameplay, few have come close to the deep story-telling which prompts uncomfortable insights and an ever burgeoning feeling of dread. Irrational also have single-player DLC planned for the coming months; we have no idea what that could bring given that the main story was concluded so effectively.
If you like teasing your way through a story, making predictions as you go that delight you when they come up short, Play This Game. If you enjoy games from an artistic perspective, crafted by designers with a panache for unique aesthetics, Play This Game. If you enjoy gameplay which rewards tactical nous in its gun-based combat, Play This Game. And if you want to reward the creators of a game which will be held up as a standard for years, Play This Game.
Our thanks to AMD for sponsoring this review. You can purchase the PC edition from Steam or as part of the AMD Never Settle Reloaded graphics bundle.
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