A story that needs to be experienced.
Bioshock Infinite is an experience. I was hooked from the opening, watching Booker Dewitt find his way into Columbia, where I remember my first time heading to Rapture, the awe and wide eyed wonder at all the things happening around me. Atmosphere has always been Bioshock's key feature in my opinion - something that Infinite has no problem keeping up with. I am itching to go back through the game another time to watch itself weave its beautiful world and story again.
I hadn't seen much of the lead-in press spots for Infinite, trying to keep myself out of spoiler land and being able to see as much of the game as fresh as possible. I am happy I took the time to be careful in my searches, watched what blogs I read and trailers I autoplayed in playlists. Bioshock Infinite found interesting ways to convey its themes of religon, humanity and dystopia. That's right kids, it's not all blue skies in Columbia, but without divulging anything story related, Infinite is an example of what games should aspire to deliver in terms of plot and character development. There aren't many titles that do this well, especially first person shooters.
The scariest thing as a player (and likely as a developer) is the AI companion, Elizabeth. The game gives you kind of a heads up, saying "Elizabeth can take care of herself," which she does thankfully. Like many single player companions, she helps with certain tasks, locates items and has unique combat abilities that set her apart from Dewitt. And no joke, this is the best AI companion I've ever played with. She is helpful in combat, stays out of the way when navigating the environment and most importantly, helps build emotion in the story.
Elizabeth is as much of a "real" character as I've encountered recently in video games. Her range of wonder and compassion, anger, sadness and frustration... and man, at one point she gives you this look like you're a piece of trash. I don't think I've ever felt like an NPC was shaming me before, but I looked away. There are moments in this game where Elizabeth harnesses the Disney Princess vibe so well, but don't forget she also has her own troubles and as her companion you are there to be a part of all of it.
Graphically, Infinite's art direction holds up all the way through the experience. The sound is really the glue in the seams - everywhere you go in Columbia, there is enough ambient sound and music in the world to get lost as you explore the Boardwalk or Battleship Bay. The game makes you aware of the underbelly of Columbia, and the audio journals help paint a different picture from the pristine cityscapes seen through the game.
In terms of gameplay, aside from Elizabeth's NPC role, Bioshock's shooting and powers combo feel just as smooth as ever. There are enough weapon choices for any type of player and plenty of mods and upgrades for them so players can tailor as they see fit. I found myself sticking to one or two of the combat powers, but there are enough combinations to find new ways to kill enemies. I am a big fan of the ground pound attack that sends enemies floating into the air (like Bulletstorm) for my focused fire attacks. Electrocution, fire and water attacks are all here and some other powers are gained through the game. The skyway combat is cool, there is a sense of speed and control achieved here, control being the key thing. I did not feel for one second that I was on a rails sequence that I was not controlling. I will be going back for more runs through those environments to see what other exciting combat situations I can encounter.
Overall, this gets an automatic placing on my games of 2013 list. Irrational has outdone themselves. Play this game.