BioShock Infinite Review
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Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 Reviewed On: Xbox 360

One of the great things about the modern era of video games is the way the technology allows the creator to craft an entire world around the player. There are limits, of course, but the most inventive game makers find ways to infuse every nook and cranny with a particular identity. In the current generation of games, none have done it better than Irrational Games’ 2007 hit, BioShock. A lackluster sequel by another company (not uncommon in an industry with long development cycles) came and went in 2010, but now Irrational has come back with guns blazing in BioShock Infinite, a narratively unconnected but spiritually perfect successor.

BioShock introduced players to Rapture, an underwater city in an alternate-history version of the ‘60s that had devolved from an Ayn Rand-style individualist’s paradise into an art deco graveyard full of murderous psychopaths and genetic mutations. BioShock Infinite resets the date to an alternate 1912 and turns its gaze to the skies, where an ultra-nationalist (and extremely racist) businessman has created the flying city of Columbia.

The player takes on the role of Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent and gambler presented with a simple proposition: “give us the girl and wipe away the debt.” In an echo of BioShock’s opening sequence, he’s shot up to Columbia and sent to retrieve Elizabeth, daughter of the city’s founder. Of course, nothing is ever that simple, and Booker soon finds himself in the center of an insane religious prophecy and a full-blown civil uprising.

Anyone who played either of the previous games will notice that the gameplay is clearly of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” variety. It’s a first-person shooter/RPG combo with a heavy emphasis on exploration. Combat is a combination of melee, guns, and magical abilities called Vigors (essentially the same as Plasmids in BioShock). A new ability to zip around the city on rails is a nice addition, but it doesn’t shake up the core game play that much.

A far better addition to gameplay, somewhat surprisingly, is Elizabeth herself. Companion AI have been notoriously wonky in shooters like this—usually getting in the way or getting killed more often than helping. Elizabeth not only stays out of the way, but she’ll also occasionally toss you helpful items—a godsend in some of the game’s more pitched battles. Best of all, she never once complained when I spent an extra five minutes going over every detail in an area before moving on.

And trust me; that’s time worth spending. Columbia is simply gorgeous. Where Rapture was eerily beautiful in a claustrophobic way, Columbia is wide open, with bright blue skies and buildings bobbing in the clouds. Environmental details like old-time kinetoscopes that dole out snippets of backstory will keep you checking every corner. There’s not only a sense of place but of the particular moment in the city’s history and how your intrusion fits into it.

BioShock Infinite hits all of the marks that it needs to—gameplay, visuals, and story—to make it a game worth playing. That it exceeds those marks makes it worth playing through to the end and then returning to Columbia for a repeat visit later.

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