Bioshock is back, and I am happy to report that this is the game everyone has been waiting for.
Bioshock Infinite differs from the original Bioshock in several ways. Rapture: the dark, murky, underwater world of Bioshock 1 and 2 is replaced with Columbia, a world that is a vibrant, colorful, air world.
Bioshock Infinite is a political game. This is a game trying to say something. In fact, I cannot think of any game in recent memory that was trying to say something. Many games try to tell stories, but Infinite is doing much more than that, and it succeeds. The political landscape never leans in any direction, and you're more of a witness than a participator to all of this, but it really allows you sympathize with the protagonist and his companion.
The character you are, Booker, has a debt which much be paid, which lands him in the world of Columbia, and Elizabeth is your companion who helps you along your journey after you rescue her. Elizabeth is extremely helpful in your journey. She will throw you health potions, vigor, coins, and point out hidden areas or lock picks scattered on the floor. Elizabeth is a true companion, and she exudes personality. At first, Booker is stoic. He feels a bit like a silent protagonist, but once Elizabeth enters the picture, Booker comes to life and you'll enjoy their interaction.
What makes Bioshock Infinite special are little moments that make Columbia feel alive. From a quartet that floats by, to listening to a seemingly innocuous conversation, and even to an auction that is occurring, these moments add up to a bigger picture and it really allows you to feel as if Columbia is a real place. The best part is these conversations have meaning and you can spend as little or as much time watching the events unfold. The game is filled with dozens of these moments, and they'll fill you with actual emotion. Bioshock Infinite is Americana. This game is really saying something about Americans. Everyone should perk up their ears and pay attention because this isn't just an amazing game, this is an important game (at least in terms of story telling).
Graphically, you are going to be impressed with Columbia. The world is gorgeous, and I hear the PC version is outstanding. On the consoles, you'll be impressed, but you can see this old hardware chug. Screen tearing occurs from time to time, character models are nice, but could be better, but where you see the game struggle the most is textures. Oh the blurry, muddy, ugly textures - this generation is over graphically because these games have reached their limits. This doesn't make Bioshock Infinite in an ugly game; the art direction is outstanding and hides most of this. You're also usually too excited to pay attention to these little graphical qualms, but it is when you're trying to read - literally - the writing on the wall, that you'll start to notice that the textures and models are not perfect. It may be different on PC, but for console gamers - you'll see these little moments and they detract a bit. Enemy models have the graphical attention you expect. Whether it is the much talked about Songbird or another peculiar large baddie, the game feels graphically cohesive, and that is more important than a handful of ugly textures.
Gameplay wise: you have your guns, and you have your vigor (special power), and you can use them however you see fit. At the beginning of the game you may feel a bit under-powered In fact, the first hour of gameplay took me by surprise with its difficultly level (I played it on Medium/Standard). The game seemed unrelenting, and I groaned every time I saw another battle. Eventually, you get a shield that replenishes itself and you get more viable vigors than possessing your enemies. The best part of Bioshock Infinite gameplay is you play how you want. After reading several people's different play methods it surprised me how different everyone's play style was. Many talked about using the pistol (a weapon I never picked up) mixed with possession vigor, while I tended towards the water vigor which can pull your enemies closer and then blowing them all away with the shot gun. Your powers quickly become more powerful and you're switching between different guns and vigors with ease. It is fun and action packed and I looked forward to each new group of enemies.
Dying doesn't necessarily hurt you, but the compromise feels worthy. Your enemies you killed are still dead, but you lose some money (a necessity in Columbia), the enemies you were shooting gain some health, and you start out with half health. It feels like you've been penalized, but it doesn't disrupt the game in any way nor does it feel as if the game is holding your hand.
Columbia's sound is beautiful. Everything sounds the way it should, and whoever worked on the sound mixing should be applauded. I rarely struggled to hear dialogue, even among gun shots, but the gun shots still sounded loud; furthermore, phonographs play the musing in the distance adding to the overall atmosphere. Often times, the phonograph, shooting and dialogue is occurring in tandem, and you'll never struggle to hear anything. It really seems to be an achievement in sound design.
I cannot help but gush over Infinite. In many ways, I tried to get my hopes up so I wouldn't be disappointed, but I wasn't disappointed. The game has remarkable pacing, it plays like a dream and I love Columbia. I want to visit Columbia again. If anything, the game is over just a tad bit too soon. I cannot imagine I clocked in 12 hours of gameplay. That said, nothing outstays its welcoming, and minus one peculiar "Find three of these!" mission, the pacing is near perfect. Is Bioshock Infinite the game of the decade, only time will tell - but it is certainly early contended for Game of the Year. Go - buy it, love it, and be charmed with Booker, Elizabeth, and Columbia.