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BioShock Infinite. Courtesy 2K Games
BioShock Infinite. Courtesy 2K Games
BioShock Infinite. Courtesy 2K Games
BioShock Infinite. Courtesy 2K Games

BioShock Infinite: Hollywood-style fun

Floating cities powered by megalomaniacal leaders and early 20th-century philosophies might not sound like the ideal setting for a first-person shooter. But BioShock Infinite isn't an ordinary first-person shooter.

BioShock Infinite
2K Games
PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac
*****

 

Terrorist attack; kill the terrorists. Be it in space or a sprawling European metropolis, so goes the very basic gist of pretty much every first-person shooter around. With the exception of BioShock, which swaps terrorists for philosophical theories – well, kind of. Before you run for the hills, do be aware that this curious mix of metal guns and metaphysics is quite brilliant. The first in 2007 tackled the objectivism of Ayn Rand in an underwater paradise-turned-bad. Infinite – which has been some six years in the making – turns the clock back further to American Exceptionalism, the conviction that the US has a unique role in human history that rose to prominence around the turn of the 20th century. Still here? Good, because it’s worth it.

The setting for this beard-scratching shoot-em-up is Columbia, a vast floating city held aloft by blimps and balloons, designed almost as an airborne World Fair to spread the American message across the globe. Much like the first, however, things have gone awry, and Columbia – led by its self-described prophet “founder” Zachary Hale Comstock – has broken free from US control and is now roaming the globe inflicting its will wherever it pleases. The story puts you in 1912 as Booker DeWitt, a detective tasked with finding a girl called Elizabeth held captive in this divided police state. But this mission is blown to pieces almost the second you land and – this being Bio-Shock – the plot quickly takes a sharp turn from “already a bit odd” towards “all-out insanity”.

Dystopian villainy aside, there’s likely to be a part of you that wouldn’t mind spending a long weekend on Columbia. Blending Gilded Age architecture with an almost Disneyfied Paris-in-the-spring feel, the floating city appears permanently bathed in a picture-postcard worthy early afternoon sun. Sadly, you’re not given long to marvel at your surroundings before Booker becomes public enemy number one and all hell breaks loose.

Despite the increasingly intricate plot, the game largely revolves around a series of battles across the city as you and Elizabeth attempt to escape. As you progress, your weaponry will expand, as will your “vigours”, the supernatural powers fans of the first will remember. And as the enemies – robotic and human – grow in power and number, you’ll be required to mix and match this arsenal, perhaps using a fireball or spot of levitation on one baddy, while a cheeky machine gun on another. Elizabeth is on hand to help, too, lobbing you health or ammo when she can and, most impressively, using her ability to open dimensional tears (don’t ask) to bring extra firepower into the fight. Getting around Columbia is achieved via connected roller-coaster-esque skylines, which you could happily spend several hours gliding along using a handy magnetic hook.

The actual shooting aspect arguably isn’t the most advanced around. You can’t – for example – peer cautiously around corners or do the Gears of War-style duck and shoot attacks. But where BioShock has always excelled is combining fine gameplay within some of the richest, most challenging storytelling on offer. In Columbia, the developers have created a vivid and deeply complex world worthy of any Hollywood franchise. And with Booker and Elizabeth we have two of the most cleverly constructed characters ever made.

All together, BioShock Infinite is quite simply astonishing and if it doesn’t feature prominently on “game of the year” lists, fully expect developers to take to the skies aboard their own rampaging -warship.

 

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