Bioshock Infinite has entered a world of extremely high expectations.
Over the course of six years the first person shooter has grown stale, and Irrational Games are being looked to as the saviors, with a hope of reinvigorating the entire genre just like they did with the original Bioshock in 2007.
Developer ambitions and public aspirations, much like the in-game city of Columbia, are sky high. This amount of hype would ultimately lead to disappointment, as expectations would transcend any ordinary game.
But this is no ordinary game.
You are cast into the world of 1912 as Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent who enters a lighthouse (sound familiar?) with the mission to bring back a girl called Elizabeth. Strapped into a chair at the top of this lighthouse, you are fired into the stratosphere, where you are given your first sight of Columbia.
Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt.
As a floating city created to show off the success of America to the world, forced to secede from the USA by political strife over their questionable actions, you are welcomed to a beautiful yet disorientating oxymoron of a location. It incorporates the classical architecture of the 1893 Columbian Exposition, with the Columbian flags flying from every tower, and buildings as white as the population's racial structure. Humane moments are shaded with inhumanity, shock and awe is discoloured by horrific imagery. It's an amazing place to explore, which rapidly turns dark under the flash flood of bright colours in the city.
Through this world is a deconstructive commentary of modern political thought and religious extremism, contrasted with morals from the turn of the century to make something truly original. Misplaced American exceptionalism is dissected in the face of imploding social order, out-of-place pop culture references are made and past games are alluded to. All of this in such a vague fashion that you can't help but immerse yourself, desperately finding answers to all the questions raised immediately upon playing. But, of course, this is only half of its beauty.
A plot such as this, so intertwined with the very atmosphere you are traversing, should not be discussed in any further detail than what I have given above. The one gripe with the story would be my expectations of it. Many gamers who have played the original Bioshock will be waiting for the big twist, so the element of pure surprise when the bombshell drops is sort of subdued, as this is a trademark of Irrational Games. Without ruining key plot details, the twist does come; but you will not be prepared for its timing or magnitude.
It's an uneasy time, that will play with your expectations and create tension at every turn. Simply put, it is an exceptional piece of storywriting combined with a brilliantly creative and atmospheric location, making for one of the most attention-grabbing experiences of this generation.
On all platforms, Bioshock Infinite is a beautiful game.
This immersion is aided greatly by the presentation, and it's fair to say your senses are in for an absolute treat. On all platforms, Bioshock Infinite is a beautiful game. Every moment, from the vibrant moments of a cloud city in its renaissance (that almost feels too clean), to a failed paradise of disturbing undertones has a significant artistic flair and attention, accompanied by a pitch perfect soundtrack for every moment.
Speaking technically for a brief moment, the graphics do well to stretch the ageing hardware of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3; but as is the usual case, you will get the best visual experience on a high end PC. On any format, this high quality adds to Columbia's sense of place, rather than feeling like just a game map.
But what's more fascinating about what Ken Levine and his team have created is it's functionality in telling a crucial part of the story. As explained before, the plot is deeply connected with the location, creating a unique sense of give and take between the semantic subtext of Booker's story and the mass of complexity in the place you explore, that slowly begins to fold away at just the right pace.
So far, so FPS with simple RPG elements.
There is a first person shooter underneath all of this attention to storytelling, and those familiar with the original Bioshock will feel immediately at home. Unique interplay between traditional weaponry and your Vigors (the 'Plasmids' of Columbia) sum up the range of your combat abilities, which can be upgraded at various mechanical vendors. Open every single cabinet and loot every single body for currency and supplies to upgrade your loadout, in a parred down version of character development. So far, so FPS with simple RPG elements.
The surprisingly impressive of the Skyhook shakes this up considerably. Implemented from the very start to feel like a natural part of the world, and promoted by the exemplary enemy AI utilising them makes for a series of hectic battles, waged on both a horizontal and vertical base. Plus, the Skyhook's more sinister use as a melee weapon makes for a series of satisfyingly gory finishers; though they slightly contradictory to Booker's 'reformation from a bad past.'
However, with all of these implementations, it does wear thin in the middle section. The setup of a particular scene leads to a series of battles which feels extremely dragged out to the same extent as The Library in Halo. I feel this will be a detrimental point of shooters in general, as the mechanics are so universally narrow in their variation of gameplay that it's near impossible to not make a game feel overdrawn in such long sections. But these particular moments are truly outshined by epic moments of combat, equally weighted with moments of emotionally tense silence, and a finale which left me in absolute stunned silence.
World renowned movie critic Roger Ebert once said that video games can never be art, as the construction of such a piece is grounded in an infrastructure of competition: a game is something you win, not experience. Bioshock Infinite is one of, if not the best contradictions of this in our modern age of gaming. (I know he contradicted this at a later time, saying games CAN be art; but this has been a commonly quoted statement for debate).
It's a difficult game to shrug off for all the right reasons, Bioshock Infinite will be on your mind indefinitely. A beautiful fictional world, embroiled in the dark moments of American history. Uncomfortable topics such as racial profiling, racial and political extremism stain the world you explore with disturbing imagery, contributing to an all round disorientating experience that you are truly eager to find out more about.
The subtle crossplay of place and being is key to the perfectly composed story arc, combined with fantastic gameplay mechanics make for a near perfect action game.
Bioshock Infinite has entered a world of extremely high expectations, and it has well and truly lived up to these.
I am the Founder and Editor-in-chief of New Rising Media. You can follow me on Twitter @MrJasonEngland.