In a clever touch, BioShock Infinite subtly parallels the first moments of the original BioShock. In both games you find yourself adrift, slowly making your way towards a lighthouse that juts proudly from the angry 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 U.S. 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 the world was clearly in its death throes from the moment you entered its haunted hallways. Columbia’s sickness is also terminal but lies deeper, eluding immediate detection. In fact, your first 30 minutes in Columbia are almost idyllic. The glow of candles lights your way into the city and 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 colorful citizens crowding a 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. And that snake would seem to be Father Comstock, a self-proclaimed prophet of Columbia who preaches self-righteous racial purity. Comstock feuds with the Vox Populi, a rebel subculture with different but perhaps similarly questionable motives. As in BioShock, the battle between these two philosophically disparate forces is the impetus for much of the game’s plot.
You play the role of former Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt, an experienced but haunted private 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. No combatant, she’s smart enough to duck out of sight when the lead starts flying and will helpfully lob healing items and ammo when you’re in danger. Better still, she adds a delightful glimmer of humor 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 reassigns some key actions, including a dedicated melee attack via the Triangle button and sprinting 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, I wasn’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’re a bit more multifaceted here. 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 devastating mine at greater cost. Murder of Crows seemed particularly well suited to crowd control, while Bucking Bronco catapults enemies out of cover and into your sights. 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 paths here seemed more diverse.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the PS3 version of the game looked sharp and ran smoothly, even when the scenery soared past in the game’s vertigo-inducing Skyhook segments. Load times were infrequent, too.
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