Welcome to Columbia, a floating city in the sky that's as fascinating and mysterious a place as anything that has come before. As you walk its streets, travel it's skylines and breath in the atmosphere, it's clear that a loving amount of care and attention has been given to every small detail of this beautiful city. It's a familiar experience that warms the heart, yet at the same time rips your heart to shreds with the unfamiliar, bizarre and unpredictable. Bioshock Infinite is a difficult game to describe, one that tackles mature subjects that are often seen as no-go areas in gaming, such as racism, slavery and religion. It's brave, brash and beautiful, and most certainly worth your attention.
On the face of it, one might not be blamed for jumping to the conclusion that Ken Levine and Irrational Games were 'playing it safe' with Infinite. There are noticeable similarities to their previous works throughout, especially in regards to gameplay. You are Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent whose debts have forced him to take on a task most challenging, that being the rescue of a girl called Elizabeth, locked up in the floating city of Columbia. The city is ruled over by Comstock, worshiped by the more privileged of the city and who finds himself at odd with the less favored citizens, most noticeably the Vox Populi, lead by Daisy Fitzroy. It is here where the player (DeWitt) finds himself. What develops is a story filled with intrigue and mystery, one worthy of sitting side by side with the greatest tales told in any form of entertainment and proof enough that video games are a viable source of mature storytelling.
Combat will feel familiar to those who ventured into the underwater world of Rapture, with the basics of gameplay consisting of vigors (similar to plasmids) functioning on the left trigger while guns are operated on the right trigger. So it's nothing out of the ordinary and it doesn't need to be. Whilst combat is standard, it's still fun, frantic and at times challenging, especially at the higher levels of difficulty. Vigors might not be as new nor exciting as they were when we were first introduced to plasmids in Bioshock, yet they're still fun to experiment with and provide a nice variety of ways to tackle combat situations and I certainly found myself experimenting more with what's on offer. That's not to say there aren't any niggling issues with combat, it can be a little too easy on the medium difficulty (though if you're coming for the story, than medium will more than suffice) and some of the weapons whilst varied are less useful than you feel they should be. Weapons can be upgraded by visiting mechanical vending machines that are scattered around the world, allowing you to upgrade ammo capacity, the power of a weapon and the scatter of the shot, so once you've found your preferred choice in weaponry, you'll most likely upgrade and stick to it, though certain moments in combat require you to experiment now and again.
So whilst combat feels familiar, it's not to say there aren't some thrilling memorable moments throughout the games satisfactory length. Elizabeth will contribute to combat as well, providing helpful support though not in an offensive manner. She'll throw salts (used to fuel vigors), ammo, med kits and even cash your way as you travel and battle your way through richly detailed Columbia. Speaking of travel, another are of note are the skylines, these being rail like systems that Booker and his enemies can glide on to reach destinations. They speed up the frantic pace of combat, providing a useful method of escape when overwhelmed by enemies or giving you the chance to attack from high if need be and to be honest, there just a blast to glide around on. now if only we can get a rollercoaster version of the skylines and we're all set.
But combat isn't what makes Bioshock Infinite so memorable, so delightful and so forward thinking, it's all down to how everything Infinite as to offer in some way contributes to the story. It's never quite what you expect, small details in the world reveal truths and revelations and it's forever surprising you in fresh and exciting ways. Audio contributes an essential role in how the story is told with a wonderful sense of sound throughout, from the cheerful jolly music that plays throughout the city to the eerie yet beautiful music that scatters the darker tones of the story. Voice-work is outstanding to, with Troy Baker (DeWitt) and Courtnee Draper (Elizabeth) both putting in great performances that helps sell both the characters and the world around them. There are other performances worth mentioning, but than I'd most probably venturing into spoiler territory. Needless to say, I've found myself listening to the sounds of Bioshock Infinite a great deal the past few days.
The world of Infinite is a beautiful one, in Columbia you have a city that often leaves you breathless with it's expansive views and architecture that's as rooted in some bizarre reality as it is fantastical. There's such care given to the small details that sometimes you just have to stop and take it all in. On PC Infinite runs smooth, though loading causes some stuttering here and there which can be a tad off-putting, but it still appears to be the version to go with in regards to performance, though I cannot speak for the console versions. Needless to say, Infinite is a gorgeous looking game, one whose art contributes to making Infinite such a richly detailed world and keeps you in awe throughout.
Ken Levine and Irrational Games always faced a challenge to surprise and excite players who were purposely expecting surprises, yet somehow they have done just that, surprised us all. Many said they wouldn't be able to recreate the atmosphere and intrigued that made the original Bioshock so beloved, they were wrong. In Infinite they've creating a world just as rich and fascinating as anything seen in the underwater city of Rapture, whilst also molding an experience that feels both familiar and yet so very strange, toying with your expectations till the very end. Bioshock Infinite is a game that'll be talked about in weeks, months, if not years to come. It's an experience that will leave you knowing that you just plays something very special indeed.