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Bioshock Infinite Review

Cart: Bioshock Infinite
Cab: Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC / Mac
Coin: Irrational Games

What makes a great story? Be it film, book, television, theatre or radio; a truly great story is underpinned and defined by a truly believable world. But it only takes a few chinks in the armour for that world to seem unconvincing.

Aside from Half Life 2 and its Orwellian City-17, I can’t think of another game that’s completely and utterly nailed the concept of ‘world’. Even Rapture didn’t. Too much seemed contrived and conveniently placed. Too many short-cuts were taken too soon that shattered the illusion. Close, then, but by no means perfect.

Unlike Columbia.

Whereas Rapture thrust you into its combat and ‘logic’ almost the very instant you stepped out of the bathysphere, Columbia takes its time to ease-you-in gently and is unbelievably convincing as a result. Achingly beautiful in every respect from concept through to execution; Columbia wisely opens by focusing on its regular citizens doing their regular things. It’s in these first few moments that you fall hopelessly in love with the world, giving-in to it completely.

Bioshock Infinite Review gameplay

Columbia: a world you’ll be only too happy to embrace

Just as you’re lulled into this dreamy, false sense of security, things turn sour – at an alarming pace. We live in a world that, to its shame, struggles to hammer-home the true horrors of racism; Columbia manages to do it with aplomb, setting-up perfectly the reasons for which you would be willing to murder its inhabitants. And murder you do. A brutal game by any measure; the dark horrors of Rapture have been implanted into a floating garden-of-Eden. It makes them all the more shocking. Murder in Rapture was appropriate, predictable and welcome. Here it feels abhorrent, as well it should.

Just as it would have ruined the experience of Rapture to discuss plot, so too would it ruin Columbia – safe to say that you won’t be disappointed in the slightest. Yet it’s not simply narrative that has seen refinement and improvement. Almost every minor criticism that you could have levelled at Rapture has been addressed in Columbia: combat feels like an FPS should; environments mix the tight and claustrophobic with the wide and open; weapons feel better-balanced with abilities; the game-engine produces some truly stunning lighting and visual effects and, would you believe, the PS3 version is actually playable. Nay, it’s a revelation.

And yet underneath, it’s all still very much a Bioshock experience: something that’s as much a curse as it is a blessing.

So stunning are the opening few moments, so much promise do they hold, that you almost feel deflated when Infinite resorts to the blueprint of its forebears. As if the opening re-interpretation of Rapture’s lighthouse wasn’t familiar enough; it’s the underlying mechanics that anchor this amazing sense of escapism down. Ironic really, seeing as the game is based upon a floating world. Plasmids by another name; Handymen where Big-Daddies once were; the incessant searches through bins and boxes; collection of the dreaded audio-diaries of old; insta-re-birth refuses to die (albeit this time with the support of a logical, narrative underpinning) and irritating machine-gun turrets and mediocre enemy AI feature once again. Too many old faces for what initially promised to be a truly fresh and ground-breaking experience.

Bioshock Infinite Review gameplay

The sense of liberation and possibility in Columbia is truly stunning, held back by only the mechanics of the series upon which it is built

But these criticisms should not overshadow in any way what is a profoundly accomplished achievement. Infinite not only attempts to address all of its predecessor’s faults, it is almost entirely successful in doing so. All this whilst forging its own remarkably distinct identity; one born of a sense of protectionist companionship. Considering that its predecessor is one of the most significant games ever made, that’s no mean feat. Irrational Games and Ken Levine are to be applauded.

This is a title that hints at the true future of gaming: a future where we’re not just witness to a virtual world but are a living, breathing part of it. It hints at a world where games aren’t just art, but have elevated themselves to something so much more.

Are games art right now? On rare occasions: hell yes.

Check out all of our Bioshock Infinite coverage at our Bioshock Infinite Central

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3 Comments

  1. This is gonna be a big one

  2. Playing through it myself right now- this review is spot on. I was hard on Bioshock 2, and wasn’t as blown away by 1 as the rest of the world, but this game is sublime, although it does feel like the dev has transplanted the basics wholesale and renamed them, I can forgive them.

    • Simon Burns I was slack-jawed in awe and wonder for the first half-hour, just wandering around staring at everything. I was like THERE man! And then the Bioshock part of it kicked in, and I wished I could go back to being somewhere else. A magical experience, even if it only lasted for a short while. Still an amazing game, but the beginning was so much more than mere game…

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