Friday, March 29, 2013

Review: Bioshock Infinite (PS3)

I sincerely hope that Bioshock Infinite changes the way that developers approach sequels. Too many companies, in their haste to release a new incarnation every year, constantly re-release the same game over and over again with the most minor of improvements. That gets dull very quickly and offending games begin to feel more like DLC than a AAA release. Thankfully, that is not the case here. Bioshock Infinite is the complete opposite: a self-contained story that captures the spirit and innovation of the first game and pushes it even further, quite literally rocketing it into a massive new world. The stakes are high and its goals are lofty. Infinite is a work of art that shouldn’t be missed.

More shameless gushing... after the jump!

It’s hard to narrow down what exactly it is I love most about my adventure to cloud city, Columbia, but one of the first things you realise is that Infinite is ambitious. There are no cut corners in Columbia and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen such a loving attention to detail while building a world. There are so many marvelous sights to see, objects to interact with, and secrets to discover that initially you’ll be quite content to just breathe in your surroundings and explore. Some of these design choices are bombastic and yet are balanced by decisions that are refreshingly subtle. Visually, it never feels repetitive either. As the story propels you forward there is always something new to see.

This total immersion is aided by the fact that are very few cutscenes that wrest control from you. Most dialogue occurs while you are actively playing, allowing you to place yourself in the action and choose your own camera angles via your own viewpoint. It’s an effective tactic because - while the story is linear - you always feel in control, an active participant instead of a passive bystander. Not an innovation by any means, but I wish more games did this. I hate pausing from my game to watch another movie. Let me play. Let me create a story around me as I go.

And as for the story? Well... there’s not much I’m going to say. That is something you really need to experience for yourself and I’d encourage you to avoid as much information about it as possible. You play washed up detective Booker Druitt who is sent to columbia to collect a girl to repay a debt. Booker’s memories are hazy and much will be unravelled along the way. All I’ll say is: stick with it, and trust it. It’s confusing as times but it all comes together in a rather  jaw-dropping way.

So how does it stack up the original game? I think that overall it’s better. It’s certainly more confident and doesn’t lag in the middle like the original did, plus I think it offers more variety. Don’t be put off by the fact that Columbia, on the surface, looks like a pristine, Disneyland version of an American town - it isn’t all as perfect as it may at first seem. The underwater city of Rapture was dark and hostile from the beginning, so when I started Infinite and walked through the breathtakingly beautiful city streets of Columbia - with its parades and barbershop quartets - I found it hard to imagine how I would segue into any form of combat or conflict. Rest assured the solution is not only great but it’s unexpectedly bold and confronting. It’s a strong catalyst for action and instantly kicks the game into gear.

And the combat is every bit as great as the first game and then some, utilising a mix of firearms and superhuman powers (called “vigors” here). You have a whole new range of “magic/science” to choose from including possession, watery tendrils, and the ability to cast a murder of menacing crows. You also now have the option of leaping onto one of the city’s many skyrails during combat, transporting you quickly from area to area, however the varied enemies are more than happy to pursue. And once you’ve teamed up with Elizabeth she has her own ways of altering the ways in which you fight, meaning that every battle is huge and expansive, often spreading across large areas of city and providing you with a near infinite number of possible methods of approach.

At times it’s all a strange mix. Infinite is grim, gory and brutal and yet Elizabeth glides through it like a perfect Disney princess. She’s the real heart of the game and you’ll do anything to protect her. Or should that be, protect yourself from her? She’s an enigmatic and memorable character and your developing relationship with her ties everything together. Any game that can make me so invested in the characters and their outcomes is a winner for me. It’s that extra level that far too many games fail to attain. It's definitely a game that will linger with you once you've finished and it's already generating a lot of discussion.

Damn it! I've already said too much! Seriously, just pick this one up. The best game I've played in a long time, and one of the absolute finest examples of this current generation. This is the one to beat and I hope it paves the way for all developers to make better, more ambitious, sequels in the future. 

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