BioShock Infinite review: ambitions fulfilled
With BioShock Infinite, developer Irrational Games has the daunting task of creating an experience that is as engaging as its genre-defining predecessor, BioShock. Through its fleshed-out characters, believable performances, and thought-provoking themes, Ken Levine and company have created an emotional roller coaster ride that's not unlike grabbing onto a Skyline.
As I wandered through this alternate-history 1912, I was immediately inundated with the breathtaking awe of the city. As Booker DeWitt enters Columbia for the first time, I easily shared in his audible gasp as he floats down to begin his journey. The architecture and innovative nature of life in this vision could have easily come from a fantastic Jules Verne dream. It's easy to get caught up in exploring the shops, listening to some of the old ragtime music, or eavesdropping on conversations--the latter which reveals the sinister intolerance that hides beneath Columbia's idyllic setting.
The game's social and religious themes are overt. However, whether you agree with Vox Populi leader Daisy Fitzroy, or the purist views of prophet Zachary Hale Comstock, both are ultimately obstacles to finding the object of your visit: Elizabeth, perhaps the strongest and most impressive triumph of the game.
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Elizabeth is a compelling character that gives you reason to care about her plight. Although she may not be playable, BioShock Infinite isn't an elongated escort quest; Elizabeth is an integral and necessary part of your adventure. Sure, she will help find ammo and money, and she'll patiently wait as I plundered every desk and barrel I could find. But the game proves she is not a mere sidekick, as she reveals her frailties and inner strength throughout our journey.
She'll also serve as a guide during combat, shouting when new enemies may enter the fray. She can also use her ability to open tears into alternate worlds to change the battle: forming a wall for cover, spawning additional weapons and medkits, or even creating new places to latch your Skyhook to get above and around enemies. Flying through the Skyline will also let you knock unsuspecting guards off an edge, or bury the Skyhook in a skull for a rather gruesome end.
Like previous BioShock games, you can also use magic (called vigors this time, instead of plasmids). While the usual fire and lightning throwing from previous BioShocks were there, BioShock Infinite adds some new ones. One of my favorites was the Bucking Bronco, which could throw multiple enemies into the air, allowing me to kill them as they flailed helplessly. Another that I used quite often was Charge, which catapulted me forward to inflict massive melee damage with the Skyhook.
However, I found I could make it through huge segments of the game without swapping powers, and only occasionally changing weapons. Ultimately, taking cover whilst constantly moving proved the most effective strategy.
But all the good will that BioShock Infinite builds up in the first three-quarters of the game gradually starts to deteriorate as the story nears its climax. A twist at the end was to be expected, and when it happened, I found myself with even more questions. Although a few loose ends are tied up, the ending ultimately seems a bit too contrived, and is a radical departure from the endings of the previous BioShocks. But, as a friend told me, the journey is more important than the destination. And this journey was an incredibly gorgeous ride with a partner that was as interesting as she was complex. Irrational's ambitious take on a new dystopian society does its predecessors proud, with Comstock and Fitzroy worthy of sharing their place of enmity with the likes of Andrew Ryan, Frank Fontaine and Sofia Lamb.
This BioShock Infinite review was based on a pre-release PC version of the game on Steam provided by the publisher. The game was tested on a system featuring an Intel i7 2600 3.4 GHz quad core CPU, 64-bit Windows 7 OS, 16 GB RAM, and an nVidia GeForce GTX 660. All graphics options were set to "ultra." The game will also be available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.