"Bioshock Infinite" is a masterpiece. It's as breathtaking a game as I've ever played in terms of ambition, storytelling, gameplay, and pure visual beauty. It's why I love video games.
Sounds like hype, right? By now, you've heard the rapturous praise and the backlash is probably already beginning in your mind. "It can't be THAT good. They delayed it so many times. The PS3 generation is ending. Games like this never live up to the buzz. I hate it already." Just play it. From the very opening scene on a stormy night at a mysterious lighthouse, "Infinite" gets its hooks in you. With storytelling elements that recall "Alice in Wonderland," "Dark City," "Metropolis," "Memento," "Les Miserables," and "Blade Runner" and a visual confidence that may be unmatched in gaming, "Infinite" is simply mesmerizing. It will be hard to imagine it being topped for 2013 Game of the Year and I can't wait until my schedule clears enough to play it again.
- Publisher: 2K Games
- Developer: Irrational Games
- ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
- Genre: Action
- Release Date: March 26, 2013
- Pros: Complex Storytelling Blended with Riveting Gameplay, Breathtaking Graphics, Perfect Audio Mix
- Cons: Absolutely Nothing
"Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt!" It's a repeated phrase that keeps coming back to you in "Bioshock Infinite" like a compass point when you've lost your way. You're Booker DeWitt, a man who has seriously gotten in with the wrong people and now has to travel to the cloud city of Columbia to find a very special girl. Honestly, telling you more than would ruin many of the surprises in the fantastic story of "Infinite." This is a video game script that isn't just smart on a surface level but really plays with elements of gaming in general. The girl in question has an amazing past and unique ability, both of which speak to the way we game in the modern world -- making choices that allow for alternate paths from point A to point B. It is about changing worlds, tearing new realities, which is what gaming attempts to do. And the script doesn't just serve "meta" purpose in terms of what it says about gaming's overall goal but features fascinating historical context as well. It is Americana, Steampunk, fairy tale, and Phillip K. Dick in one captivating tale, and it concludes with one of the most chill-inducing, brilliant set of final scenes that I've ever seen in a game.
The lack of immediate action in "Infinite" could throw off some modern gamers, itching to use their trigger finger from glazed nights playing "Call of Duty: Black Ops II." The first hour or so will largely be spent looking at the scenery, which is stunningly realized. After you reach Columbia, you find yourself in a church. A choir sings a gorgeous song and it echoes through the halls, lit by candlelight, as you progress toward your baptism. Already, this is not your normal game. By the time you get to the barbershop quartet singing The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," it should be clear that typical gaming construction is not to be found in Columbia.
Don't worry. This is not "Myst." There will be plenty of action for you to handle. Like "Bioshock" (which is included in its award-winning entirety on "Bioshock Infinite") and the great-but-slightly-disappointing "Bioshock 2," action in "Bioshock Infinite" is two-handed. With your right hand and the right trigger buttons you choose from two weapons (I was a fan of the quick-shooting pistol, upgraded as quickly as possible through vending machines, and a carbine or machine gun for heavier combat) and your left hand is free to deal damage with a collection of "Vigors" or special powers. The Vigors reveal themselves through the game and can also be upgraded and altered through vending machines, making for a game in which the combat never gets repetitive. Mostly, I rocked with the awesome "Murder of Crows" Vigor but I kept the game fresh by experimenting with "Devil's Kiss" and "Shock Jockey" as the action got more intense. As you master the one-two punch of Vigor and firepower, you'll feel as powerful as you have in any game in years. Action junkies will be satisfied.
And then there's the swinging, hurling, flying element of a city in the clouds. Columbia contains a number of rails on which you can ride, jump, fly, zip, and leap to destroy your enemies. It makes for a game that often feels chaotic but not out of control. We've all played games that try to replicate the chaos of combat only to get lost in clunky controls or poor camera design. The developers of "Infinite" found a way to make it feel like you're not completely in control as you zip along a line or swing a 360 trying to find who's shooting you without sacrificing gameplay coherence at the same time. It makes for a game that's honestly heart-racing at times and truly scary in a few of its darker moments. That truly fine line where the gameplay is refined enough that it can feel unpredictable without feeling random is what separates the honestly great games from the good ones.