Sometimes it gets chilly up in the clouds.

I am flying, falling through the air, tethered to this metal lifeline by a contraption of leather and magnets. A rocket screams past me like a demonic eagle, soaring up, up, and over my shoulder, missing just barely due more to luck and velocity rather than skill. The track slopes up and to the right. Ahead is a spatial rip, a Tear in the fabric of reality, through which I can see a turret. I call to Elizabeth – “There, the turret!” and she brings it forth through the barrier of worlds. Mechanisms clank and rotate, and bullets begin stinging the air between my turret and my foes – I watch as the last several fall to the initial onslaught. It’s just me and him, now. Another rocket whistles by me, its doppler wail refocusing my attention to the insistent target. I am nearly there. The track slopes down. The wind roars louder. The third rocket’s impact rips through my electro-magnetic shield, cracking my amber shell and leaving me vulnerable to the next rocket. I look. There will not be a chance for a fourth rocket. I have reached my goal. I smile.

The gold star appears underneath the heavily armoured rocket trooper and I am finally within range, and I know that it’s all over for them. I plunge from my perch and strike with full force, sending the rocket trooper over the edge and out into the vast void and he falls, with nothing to catch him but cloud.

Such is life in the floating city of Columbia, where steel and fire is tempered by the threat of falling off the edge of the world.

But not always.

Booker DeWitt is a former Pinkerton, a war veteran, an ex-thug, a gambler, a debtor. It seems his days of sin have left him in a bad way with some bad people, and, in exchange for a clean slate, all he has to do is bring them the mysterious Elizabeth. His journey begins in a familiar way – in water, towards a lighthouse. There’s always a man and a lighthouse. A brief, stormy climb and, within minutes, Booker is rocketing into the sky; a direct inversion of Jack’s descent into Rapture.

Some very bad people.

Some very bad people.

Booker’s initial moments in Columbia are significantly more peaceful than his predecessor’s first steps into Rapture, though. Columbia is a working utopia: a literal heaven hanging above the clouds. And Columbia takes full advantage of this religious imagery, with the city’s self-styled saviour Zachary Comstock elevated to the status of prophet. Comstock is a loved, charismatic figure, much like Andrew Ryan. In fact, Columbia gives the impression of a successful Rapture, an early Rapture, an Eden before the fall.

Booker finds a city peaceful and carefree, celebrating the anniversary of its succession from the America of below. Light shines, and the streets sparkle white gold. The inhabitants are congenial, enjoying their day of celebration. Booker is left to explore the surroundings at will, eating sandwiches and picking up silver dollars. Indeed, you begin to really feel comfortable with Columbia and its happy peace.

The shattering of that illusion is like a brick in the face.

I really don’t want to spoil anything, but Booker’s is a baptism of lead. His 12-15 hour quest to procure Elizabeth is a journey of morality and self-discovery, and does not disappoint. The world begins white and black, and degrades into a dirty shade of grey along the way. That last sentence is only part metaphor, by the way – you’ll know what I mean when you play it.

It's not all honey and sunshine in the land of Columbia.

It’s not all honey and sunshine in the land of Columbia.

Infinite’s commentary and narrative delivery is beautifully nuanced, told mostly through background details and the environment. Background story is absorbed through little details – the placement of a discarded dress, graffiti on a sign, a peculiar turn of phrase shared between two NPCs. Audio logs play a big part in creating the world, too, only vary rarely resorting to blunt exposition. It’s a world brimming with life, a setting triumphant. The core narrative as Booker experiences it is compelling, drawing the player along at a very wisely considered pace.

But the heart of the story is in the relationship between Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth. I’ll confess – I am possibly embarrassingly in love with Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a triumph of characterisation. Strong, believable, excited but not naïve, vulnerable but not weak, she is perhaps the greatest reason to play BioShock Infinite. Courtnee Draper delivers a flawless performance as the believable heroine, hitting all the correct beats to manipulate ours, and Booker’s, emotions at will. Elizabeth’s character arc, and Booker’s participation in it, firmly cements the pair as one of the great duos in gaming.

Booker and Elizabeth tell each other’s stories and complement each other amazingly well. An early example of their chemistry is a scene just after Elizabeth and Booker meet and escape, where Booker and Elizabeth are ambushed in a train station. Comstock’s goons shoot up the place, and, naturally, Booker shoots back. When the shooting is done, Elizabeth does what any sane person would do upon seeing her saviour turn into a mass-murder – she runs the hell away from Booker as fast as she can. Elizabeth has never seen death, living a sheltered life locked in a tower. Booker comes from an entirely different world, where death is commonplace, especially at the end of his gun. When these two lives crash into each other, the conflict is natural and believable. Elizabeth thinks it wrong, and Booker is more pragmatic: “draw first, or not at all.”

The game is full of tiny moments between Elizabeth and Booker. A shared conversation, a song, her asking your advice on a necklace. The way Elizabeth runs ahead, seeming to know where you want to go next, or occupies herself when you feel like exploring the room, or flips you a coin she’s found, or even the way Elizabeth slouches against a vending machine to pass time. It’s special, and it’s real, and it’s rather magical.

Sharing a touching moment like this is why Elizabeth will capture you.

Sharing a touching moment like this is why Elizabeth will capture you.

Likewise, you know when you disappoint Elizabeth – tense shoulders, folded arms, a defiant fire in the eyes. Likewise, her gradual acceptance and forgiveness of Booker feels genuinely wonderful to be on the receiving end of.

As promised, you are never stuck escorting Elizabeth as a companion character. In combat, Elizabeth is invaluable, and invulnerable. She’ll take cover and get out of the way, and disappear out of the way until you’re running low on health or ammo or salts, and then she’ll throw you something she’s managed to scrounge. This can be a lifesaver in a pinch. She’ll follow you along a skyline and you’ll never be stuck looking for her. Elizabeth is also designated door opener, picking locks using either found lockpicks or her hairpin.

Elizabeth’s most potent ability, however, is to open up Tears (rip and tear, not cry and tear). These allow access to vital supplies in combat, like health or salts, or a particular weapon that might come in handy, or a hook to hang from, or environmental hazards like oil spills or water puddles, or a friendly Mechanised Patriot. Or, my favourite, an array of turrets – fixed or floating gun turrets, or the powerful rocket turret. Elizabeth can only open one tear at a time, but each tear can be reopened after a short cooldown. This adds a depth to combat that keeps each arena fresh and ups the variety of approaches.

"Hey! Let's see Star Wars!"

“Hey! Let’s see Star Wars!”

Combat itself is the typical gunplay. Guns are the usual fare, with pistols, machine guns, shotguns, grenade and rocket launchers, rifles, and sniper rifle all making an appearance. Some weapons come in two flavours, such as the Founder’s four round shotgun or the Vox Populi’s one round incendiary spread-shot Heater. Guns feel and sound like they should, and much improved over the previous BioShock games, feeling overall much slicker and smoother.

To spice it up is Infinite’s answer to BioShock’s Plasmids – the Vigors. Vigors are powered by salt, which can be found in containers around the world. The eight powers on offer provide an array of tactical options. Early on you gain the ability to possess turrets, serving as an insta-hack that comes in useful. The abilities are doled out generously and obviously, and, besides two provided as part of quests, are entirely optional. Each vigor has an alternate trap mode, which turns, say, a bolt of electricity into a proximity shock trap. Or (my favourite) changes a flock of crows into a nest that unleashes hungry corvidae upon unwary enemies. Some vigors can be combined to enhance their effect, such as charging an electrified enemy, providing a damage boost. The combinations aren’t mentioned anywhere, so experimentation is key.

Guns and vigors are handled similar to BioShock 2’s dual wield system. Guns are fired with the left mouse button, and vigors handled by the right mouse. You can only carry two weapons at a time, and, likewise, you can only have two vigors equipped for quick-swap at a time. You can fortunately change your equipped vigors at will, though, so it’s not a huge deal. Overall the system is slick, if a little restrictive. Smaller ammunition pools do require you to swap weapons rather often, which breeds variety, but I do miss the ability to carry all the weapons at a time.

Guns and vigors can be upgraded at vending machines found plentifully around the world, albeit in a rather linear fashion. Each weapon has four, and only four, potential upgrades that can be bought as they unlock. Vigors offer two upgrades, which again unlock as you progress. Upgrades are expensive, however, which limits the number you will be able to acquire each playthrough.

Guns are messy.

Guns are messy.

Another set of enhancements that are available to Booker is the clothing system. You can equip a hat, shirt, pants, and boots, which offer a range of additional enhancements. Early on I found a hat that gave me a 70% chance to SET THINGS I PUNCHED IN THE FACE ON FIRE. Suffice to say, I never looked back. Other enhancements make attaching to a skyline reload your weapon automatically, or a quicker shield recharge time, or larger weapon magazine capacities. Gear is usually well hidden, or locked behind some optional doors, meaning completionists will have to search hard to find everything.

You may have noticed “shield” being mentioned a few times. That’s a large addition to the series, which provides Booker with a rechargeable barrier that protects his health. It works exactly like Master Chief’s, with the shield taking damage until it breaks, then Booker taking non-regenerating health damage. It works as well as expected, and compensates Booker’s lack of pockets.

Yes, the ability to carry health packs and power recharges around has disappeared, replaced by the recharging shield and more numerous health and salt drops. Well-hidden potions are scattered around the game, enabling you to increase either your shield, health, or salts permanently. Also, the conclusion of each big feature battle in an area will refill your health, which is a nice touch.

Candy floss also partially refills your health. Yes, really.

Candy floss also partially refills your health. Yes, really.

Enemies come in a variety of types, from basic melee goons, to those carrying basic infantry weapons, and sniper rifles. Next up are the armoured rocket or grenade launchers, which sport metal plates and a helmet, and usually bombard with explosives from a distance. Firemen are more difficult to handle, heavily armoured and lobbing explosive fireballs and often charging in a burst of flame. Another interesting enemy is the rather morbid-looking coffin-carrying crow, which teleports and hits with melee weapons.

Then are the fabled “Heavy Hitters” – souped up mini-bosses that pack extra punch. The most common is the gattling-gun wielding Motorized Patriot – a clockwork propaganda soldier that chases Booker unrelentingly. Think steampunk Terminator, except killable. Next is the Handyman – a rarer and much nastier affair. These hulking apes are fast, powerful, and capable of taking damage. They’re very mobile, leaping around the arenas, electrifying skylines and, if you’re unlucky, Booker. The Handyman is a sympathetic beast, with its tortured cries evoking pity for the creature. Elevated to true boss status are the eerie Boy Of Silence and the haunting Siren, who both only appear in one area each.

Heavy hitters are not overused, which is pleasing, making every encounter special. In fact, overall the pacing is top notch. There are long stretches of gameplay where you’ll find yourself free to explore the world in peace, observing the lives of the people of Columbia. The ceasefires come at key points, and serves as ample punctuation to the shooting sections.

Who can? The Handyman can!

Who can? The Handyman can!

Combat comes in two main flavours – corridor or gallery sections and vast open arenas. The corridor sections are sufficiently entertaining, and often fulfil their role in maintaining momentum where necessary. Combat really shines, however, when the world opens up. Columbia occasionally offers you large arenas, frequently smattered with tears, platforms, and the exhilarating skylines. These open arenas reward rapid movement and manoeuvrability, and provide a real sense of velocity to the combat spectaculars.

Graphically, Infinite is brilliant. The almost caricatured models are stylistically familiar for BioShock fans, but everything has received an extra lick of detail. Facial animations, especially Elizabeth’s, are wonderfully expressive. Lighting in particular plays the biggest part in creating the stratospheric atmosphere. Clear shafts of strong light drift through windows and around statues, and everything seems to glow gold and white. As the game progresses, shadows take over, thickening the mood somewhat. It’s all very grand and stylised, and the expert art direction conveys its lofty ambitions. It is, without a doubt, spectacular.

Sound is also exemplary. Troy Baker keeps up with Draper’s performance, adding a distinctly experienced voice to Booker. Ambience is rather well-delivered, creating a believable soundscape for the city in the clouds. Effects follow familiar BioShock patterns, with coins clinking and vending machines all recognisable. But best, best of all is the music. Authentic turn of the century tunes and hymns are mixed in with spectacularly covered modern songs that do not feel out of place in the 1912 setting. Those handful of modern songs are truly something special, and when you recognise one – a hint of ragtime Tainted Love, a lilting Fortunate Son. I could listen to the barbershop quartet rendition of the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows forever. There is even a particularly special musical moment shared by Booker and Elizabeth that left me smiling for the next few hours.

And astoundingly, the existence of modern music is explained through narrative. And it makes perfect sense!

And astoundingly, the existence of modern music is explained through narrative. And it makes perfect sense!

Many thematic similarities link the BioShock games – the importance of water, the exploration of predestined fate and free will, the emphasis on biological manipulation. While Rapture fell due to indiscriminate anger, Columbia’s rage is targeted. Rapture was anarchy, Columbia is civil war. The distasteful undercurrent of racial supremacy, and the equally hideous retaliatory genocide are wonderfully critiqued, all while avoiding moral polemics. Up above the clouds the light is clear and pure, illuminating the worst in human nature and cleansing it in the running waters of redemption.

BioShock Infinite is rich and full, a triumph of interactive entertainment, and will undoubtedly go down as one of the best games of this generation.

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(Reviewed on PC. PS3 Review Copy provided by 2K)

ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE

Story – 10/10

Gameplay/Design – 9.5/10

Visuals – 9.5/10

Sound – 10/10

Lasting Appeal – 10/10

_______________________

Overall – 10/10

(Not an average)

Platforms: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360

Developer: Irrational Games

Publisher: 2K

Ratings: M (ESRB), 18 (PEGI)

Lachlan Williams
Former Editor in Chief of OnlySP. A guy who writes things about stuff, apparently. Recovering linguist, blue pencil surgeon, and professional bishie sparkler. In between finding the latest news, reviewing PC games, and generally being a grumpy bossyboots, he likes to watch way too much Judge Judy. He perhaps has too much spare time on his hands. Based in Sydney, Australia. Follow him on twitter @lawksland.

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5 Comments

  1. i LOVE the style of it but ive heard the ending is suckish *haven’t been reading much about the game do not wanna get a spoiler :D*

    1. I loved the ending. Don’t want to spoil it, but it’s surprising.

      1. does it pay homage to system shock in any way? i know that *spoiler* you visit rapture for a teeny bit when elizabeth teleports you (thanks internets) which is cool

        1. I didn’t notice any obvious references, beyond 1999 mode, although it does take a certain thematic depth from System Shock.

          The whole game is very cool, not just any references to Rapture. In fact, I found Infinite very thematically similar to Rapture in many ways. I won’t go into them because spoilers, but Infinite is definitely a Bioshock title.

  2. This game is getting every where 10 scores.Ken levine should make ps vita bioshock as quikely as possible

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