In a clever touch, the opening of BioShock Infinite subtly parallels the first moments of the original BioShock. In both games you find yourself adrift in an angry ocean, slowly making your way towards a lighthouse that juts proudly from the sullen sea. The key difference this time is that you don’t plunge into the frigid depths of the Atlantic, but soar far into the heavens above in search of Columbia, a rogue city-state that seceded from the US in an alternate-history version of 1912.
In both games, things are not as they first seem. BioShock’s undersea city of Rapture ran on ambiguous agendas cloaked in philosophy and punditry, but was clearly in its death throes from the first moment you set foot in its haunted hallways.
Columbia’s sickness is also terminal but lies deeper, eluding immediate detection. In fact, your first 30 minutes in Columbia are warm and peaceful, almost idyllic. The glow of countless candles lights your way into the city, while angelic choirs drone pleasantly in the background.
It pays to move slowly in order to better soak in the game’s dazzling eye for detail, whether it’s the throngs of citizens crowding the local carnival, hummingbirds buzzing busily from rosebush to rosebush, or children splashing in the spray of an opened fire hydrant. Columbia is alive.
Of course, this being BioShock, you know there’s a snake lurking somewhere in this Garden of Eden. That snake may well come in the form of Father Comstock, the self-proclaimed prophet of Columbia who preaches racial purity and feuds endlessly with the Vox Populi, a diverse rebel force sporting different but perhaps equally questionable beliefs. As in BioShock, the battle between these two philosophically disparate forces is the impetus for much of the game’s plot.
If you haven’t followed the development of BioShock Infinite, know that you play the role of former Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt, an experienced but haunted investigator. DeWitt has been pressured into infiltrating Columbia in order to evacuate Elizabeth, a teenage captive who possesses the astonishing power to open tears in space-time.
Elizabeth is a frequent companion, and Irrational Games has gone to considerable expense and effort to make her presence a welcome one. She’s smart enough to duck out of sight when the lead starts flying, and helpfully lobs healing items and ammo when you’re in danger. Better still, she adds a delightful glimmer of humour and innocence to a game that tackles some extremely dark and disturbing themes.
Compared to 2006′s BioShock, Infinite’s shooting fundamentals feel more confident and satisfying. I played with a variety of weapons – pistol, SMG, carbine, sniper rifle, and RPG – and they all proved to be potent, versatile death dealers. Though the game has shifted to a two-weapon system, you’re still able to upgrade your weapons via vending machines scattered around Columbia, enhancing accuracy, damage, clip size and much more.
The revamped control scheme wisely re-assigns some key actions, including a dedicated melee attack via the Triangle button and a handy sprint activated via L3. Overall, the DualShock 3 controls feel solid, familiar, and reliable. While the final version of the game will support the PlayStation Move motion controller, we weren’t able to try it out this time – we’ll be looking to do so as soon as possible.
Vigors are Infinite’s answer to Plasmids, and they’ve also received greatly enhanced functionality. Each Vigor can be used in two different ways; tap Devil’s Kiss and you’ll lob an explosive fireball, charge it up and you’ll drop a fiery mine. Murder of Crows proved to be a particularly devastating but energy-intensive Vigor, while Bucking Bronco catapulted enemies out of cover and into the sights of my trusty Repeater.
My favorite was probably Possession, which enabled me to remotely hack enemy turrets and score extra coin at vending machines. As with BioShock’s Plasmids, you can upgrade Vigors to add additional effects and benefits, though the upgrade path here seemed more varied and flexible.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the PS3 version of the game looks sharp and runs smoothly, even when the scenery soars past in the game’s vertigo-inducing Skyhook segments. Load times were infrequent, too.
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