Outside of the skyrails the other major innovation in the game is realised in Elizabeth. Once you team up with her she remains with you for the majority of the game and your interactions with her, and the way she navigates the world, stepping in to assist you in battle (the game is very clear that she can take care of herself and you never have to worry about her heath) is incredibly naturalistic. It makes the game into a sort of shared experience and it's a testament to the writing and performances that she rarely feels anything but a fully realised and fascinating character that pulls you through and ties together many of the games more abstract ideas and moments. The campaign itself is almost perfectly paced, constantly changing up locations and atmosphere with barely a wasted second and whilst it remains a linear adventure there are enough hidden secrets and open-ended locations to make it a world worth taking your time with and investigating. It is coupled with some excellent writing and performances from all the memorable characters you encounter and unlike the original game Infinite doesn't fudge the ending, instead wrapping it up thrillingly and poignantly in a way that shirks some answers, but also offers thematic resolution in a way few games manage.
Story is at the heart of Bioshock Infinite and the various mysteries the game presents to you arrive thick and fast with resolutions never quite coming as you would expect. There is a certain amount of leeway you have to allow in order to fully run with it – this is after all a world in which you shoot magic powers from your hands atop a floating city whilst accompanied by big-band renditions of 80s pop hits – but it is this mix of the absurd and the serious, the shallow and the deep that make Infinite so fascinating. As in Bioshock the game is hardly subtle when it comes to layering ideological imagery into its locations or through the mouths of the cities inhabitants, but it is done with such clear purpose, to inform and underpin the story, but never to overwhelm it, that it gets away with it. In fact, often it is the somewhat rote familiarity with the game-play mechanics that allow the game to be so out there in its concept; those who just want to take away a solidly built shooter in a unique and interesting world can do so, while still servicing those who want to dig a little deeper into the implications of the story.
This approach does have its downsides however; it is a shame at times to be presented with such a sumptuously realised world and have your interactions be so limited, to a blow to the head or a bullet to the chest of the enemies with whom you re so frequently faced. It is a world in many was that cries out for exploration and yet asks you to press on through, often a spectator more than a tourist. If you do linger then the cracks in the façade start to form, the carefully constructed diorama’s are revealed to be just that, bystanders repeat stock phrases or simply pause after their line is fed. Like automatons in a theme park, the illusion is brittle and almost risks breaking at times. But then you get swept up in the story, a mystery powerful enough to overcome any nagging doubts and which propels you forward through stunningly crafted set-pieces and visage after visage of breathtaking sights. It is hard to criticise a game for the genre it inhabits, it is just disappointing at times to find yourself shooting your way through such an interesting world filled with people whose stories you would love to hear.
When it comes down to it though Bioshock Infinite is a labour of love, a staggeringly impressive achievement and an example of the invention and singularity of vision that so many big budget games lack. It is a game everyone should play and that will be written about and analysed for years to come. A worthy step up from the original Bioshock it is a title with weighty subjects on its mind, but that doesn’t forget to be fun and silly and really push the envelope out on the fantastic. It’s an engaging and mind bending adventure wrapped in a hail-fire of bullets, where robotised George Washington’s come face to face with sonically controlled robot birds, all to a backdrop of fundamentalist religion and deep philosophising about the nature of reality. If only more games were this ambitious, this well crafted and this brave, then this industry would be all the better for it.
Game reviewed on PlayStation 3; game purchased by D+PAD.
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