Shock Of The New
One of the trends of this console generation is that shooters have become as disposable as sports games, quickly forgotten and discarded every Christmas in favour of an updated model. Not so BioShock. Irrational Games' thoughtful and haunting take on the genre dominated by Call of Duty has outlived most of its rivals in our memories thanks to an incredible setting, a fascinating and surprising story and, of course, great action. About the worst thing you can say about BioShock Infinite is that it only achieves the same things.
This time the action takes place in Columbia, a city suspended in the sky by the same mixture of science fiction, magic and imagination that kept Rapture from collapsing under the weight of the Atlantic Ocean. You play Booker DeWitt, a mercenary of sorts who is sent into this unlikely setting to retrieve a girl called Elizabeth. "Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt," you're told - a hint at your past but scarcely enough instruction to prepare you for the dozen or so hours of action that lie ahead of you when you wake up in the city.
Initially, you're just mesmerised by the place you're in. It's a weird, romantic sort of religious paradise, a pleasant and very beautiful distortion of what America looked like under a clear blue sky in the early 1900s. You turn over every stone you find (well, you rifle through every bin) in order to learn more about your surroundings, listening to audio diaries and paying close attention to what people are saying and doing.
It isn't long before all hell breaks loose and once it does you're quickly thrust into combat mode, getting to grips with fairly standard weaponry (pistol, shotgun, machine gun, etc) and magical abilities called vigors that bear more than a passing resemblance to BioShock's plasmids and let you do some of the same things - blasting people with fire and lightning - as well as a few new ones, like reflecting projectiles back at the enemies who fire them at you.
The combat is less claustrophobic than BioShock's, and the presence of skylines - overhead rollercoasters that you hook onto with your melee weapon - means that combat is much more about dancing and flying away from your enemies and attacking them from middle or long distance than it is about clobbering them at close range. Initially it feels over-familiar, but once you grasp this distinction it's suitably invigorating.
It's the story that really sets BioShock Infinite apart from other shooters, however, as well as its own predecessor, and that's thanks to the person you spend much of the game accompanied by: Elizabeth, the girl you've been sent to retrieve. She's a fantastic piece of programming, if nothing else - never getting in your way, helping throughout the game and anticipating your actions - but of course she's much more than that; she's also a way for Booker to make sense of Columbia and the enemies he encounters, like the fundamentalist leader of this strange society, Zachary Comstock, and the local resistance fighters.
The story they get wrapped up in is told at a fair old lick - through scenes you witness and take part in and information gleaned from diaries and other things you infer from your surroundings. It's done with a novelist or a screenwriter's grace and a magician's guile, and some of the tricks it pulls in the final few hours will leave you staring open-mouthed at the screen and desperate to jump online and talk it over with your friends. Like the original BioShock, this is a game you desperately don't want to spoil in advance.
Afterwards you'll argue over whether it all hangs together - I think it does, but there's plenty to discuss - and you will inevitably want to go back and test your conclusions and assumptions. It's just one of those stories. But BioShock Infinite is not just a clever trick; it's also a wonderfully complete game that takes you soaring through breathtaking combat, head-spinning storytelling and another wonderfully memorable world, and delivers one of the most convincing companions ever seen in a game. It can never replace BioShock in our hearts, but it certainly deserves to bear the same name. A must-buy.
- Elizabeth is the most believable and affecting AI companion in years
- Columbia's an incredible setting that sits comfortably alongside Rapture
- The ending will leave your head spinning and you won't want it to stop
- Some of the weapons are a little unimaginative
- Vigors aren't that different to plasmids
- It lacks a knock-you-down "Would You Kindly?" moment, although it comes close.