Launching worldwide today, BioShock Infinite is the third title in a series that has helped to define current-generation gaming. The original BioShock was a step ahead of the first-person adventuring that had gone before, taking the lessons taught by Metroid Prime and expanding upon them with a flourish of modern technology, and its sequel was also well received despite initial misgivings. So this third title then, back in the hands of the original’s creators, would seem to b a sure fire recipe for success; and thankfully that’s exactly what it is.
Playing as Booker Dewitt, a detective fallen on hard times, the player enters the floating city of Columbia in search of Elizabeth. He has been contracted to find the girl and return her to his employers in exchange for wiping the slate clean; removing the financial debt he has unwisely got himself into. But things aren’t exactly straight forward: even overlooking the fact that you’ve arrived in a secret floating city above the clouds, you’ll quickly discover that this isn’t as simple as a ‘missing persons’ case may initially sound.
The first quarter of the videogame is a lonely experience. Gruff and unrelentingly cynical, Dewitt isn’t the best company for himself. Elizabeth, however, has a mood that is as light as air and a deep sense of caring for her fellow man despite having spent her entire life held captive within a tower. She’s a contradiction whose opening is arguably poorly devised – perhaps a constraint of the necessity for interactive gameplay and limited hours available for exposition – but once entering the final half of the experience her companionship is the most endearing part of BioShock Infinite; you genuinely want to ensure that she makes it out of Columbia alive, and her tenderness is surely the catalyst in softening Dewitt’s rough edges.
In between all the bonding and character exposition are the two key components of BioShock Infinite’s campaign: exploration and combat. The exploration element is simply a constant push for greater wonder: beauty, decay, indulgence, poverty, war and peace all exist side-by-side. During your travels you’ll find that many of the original BioShock’s mechanics return – the collecting of items, supplies and money, audio logs, vending machines and interacting with items in the environments all feel familiar – and this coupled with the framing of the characters that you meet will hammer home the fact that, though sitting entirely separate in the world this is most definitely a BioShock experience.
The combat however, has had a greater overhaul. The player is only allowed to carry two weapons at any one time, though may stockpile ammo for weapons not currently in your possession, and the videogame features a shield system akin to Halo’s; health does not automatically recharge, but an ‘overshield’ does. The videogame offers equipment that can be place in a specific slot and offer wildly varying affects, such as boosts to your health upon killing an opponent or the control of your speed when riding Columiba’s skylines. Players will find vials on their travels that will upgrade the maximum capacity of your health, shield or the fuel for your Vigors, but only one of the above per vial.
The Vigors are of course a unique selling point of BioShock Infinite, but in play they’re a compliment to the experience rather than a key component. The dual purpose attacks can stun foes, damage them, bring them towards you or dash you towards them, but as only two can be equipped at any one time players will quickly find their favourites and stick to them. It’s a shame really, as the amount of experimentation available between Vigors and guns is wonderful, but at no point is the player encouraged to look beyond what is right in front of them; the vast majority of fights can easily be win by a simple case of attrition.
BioShock Infinite’s highlights will be obvious to almost anyone: it looks great, sounds amazing, offers variety in its gunplay and a unique city to explore. Riding the skylines is genuinely fun and some of its executions are exceedingly brutal. The characters are wholly believable and the twists in the plot, though occasionally ham-fisted, are enough to keep you moving through the videogame at pace, forgetting what time it is or how many hours ago you started. Just two or three of those qualities would normally be enough to sell a videogame on, but BioShock Infinite wraps them all up into a cohesive whole, capably setting a new standard for first-person adventure titles and further supporting the argument for interactive storytelling.