I decided to wait on doing this review until I actually finished the game, but my workload backed up, and playing games took a backseat to… everything else. The sad part was that I was so close to completing it, had I pushed on for another two hours, I could have finished weeks ago. But finish I did, and here is that review.

Bioshock Infinite doesn’t take place in the underwater city of Rapture as found in the first two titles. While I was surprised to see a revisitation in the second game, this one takes to the air in the floating city of Columbia, and is set even earlier in the timeline. For the third game in the series, the relation to the first two games is not apparent for a long time. Sure, there are upgrades that alter your character’s DNA with unnatural abilities, and the game itself plays out as a first person adventure, but the similarities seem to end there… at first.

Booker DeWitt is a detective sent to find a girl named Elizabeth. There are mentions of “wiping away debts”, and a sense of vaguery found in the previous two titles. When Dewitt finally reaches the lighthouse and the boat containing a rather mysterious pair sail away, the player is treated to some absolutely beautiful visuals of a stormy, rain-soaked lighthouse. Unlike the bathysphere that leads down to Rapture, a rocket takes you up to Columbia. Again, the trip and the first few steps in this new city are mesmerizing. The visuals instantly fill the screen with beauty and color, and a barbershop quartet version of the the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” immediately hits the ears. Honestly, the version of this song would likely pass completely by you, were it not for that weird sense of familiarity and instant realization that you’re in an “alternate reality” of our world, and a history that never happened. While I will spoil nothing further, there are several other contemporary songs that edge into the game’s soundtrack, albeit with a 1910 flair. It’s crazy and delightful.

As with other games in the series, you learn that something is not quite right with this idyllic paradise, and once things hit the fan, there’s no turning back.

The biggest difference between Bioshock Infinite and the other titles are two major features, one so incredibly well-implemented, I wouldn’t want to play the game any other way.

That “feature” is Elizabeth.

AI controlled NPCs are nothing new to games. They join up with you, the offer some things, get in the way, annoy you with repetitive comments, do stupid things that force you to restart missions…. Not Elizabeth. Once you find this girl (who bears more than a passing resemblance to “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast), the game experience becomes a true partnership.

Elizabeth carries on natural sounding conversations with you as you progress through the narrative. She’s lively and energetic and innocent in her behavior until things in the story take an even darker turn. In the heat of battle, she has more than enough sense to get out of your way so there’s no fear of harming her in combat. During combat, she gives you extra ammo and health kits and salts (to restore your vigors), and brings you back to life. She will toss you extra money when you are short on making a purchase. She will point out useful items in rooms. She picks locks. She opens “tears” to even more alternate realities.

Yes, Elizabeth is useful. And incredibly vital. The moments that she is not around makes the experience seem more vulnerable… and yet she is dependent on you to protect her. She is easily one of the most realized AI characters I’ve ever experienced in any game.

The other feature is the Shyhook. All over Columbia, there are rails that are used for travel from one point to another. This leads to fast, near vertigo-inducing travel, some wild variations in combat, and even when not zipping around rails, the Skyhook can be used as a rather gory melee weapon.

The story itself takes some wild turns, especially when Elizabeth taps into her potential to open the aforementioned “tears”. Worlds that are, yet aren’t. Dead in one world, alive in another…. I can’t really make too many comparisons for fear of spoiling vital plot elements, but when you start realizing the implications of what the potential of these tears are capable of, the story beyond the “Let’s kill Comstock” theme becomes utterly unpredictable (if you haven’t spoiled yourself, and please don’t), as you watch this amazing city fall into ruin throughout the course of the game through various themes of politics, religion, racism, revolution, and even redemption.

I should also mention that there are no true enemies like the iconic “Big Daddy” in this game. Patriots and Firemen come close, but the real threat comes from “Songbird”, a bio-mechanical flying creature Hell-bent on protecting Elizabeth and destroying anything that comes between them (sound familiar?). While more of a narrative threat, the beast still adds an air of dread when it comes to claim what belongs to it.

As good as this game is, there are a few unfortunate issues I had to contend with that, while small in the larger scheme of things, were issues that could have been dealt with.

One of the larger annoyances are the moments where you are forced to fight hordes of enemies. I’ve nothing against the “1 Vs. 100” mentality. In fact, I normally welcome the challenge. But these instances felt more like an endurance round of surviving while somehow managing to not fully deplete your ammo and powers in the process. For example, there is a section in the game where you have to square off against an incredibly tough ghost character that resurrects other dead soldiers during the skirmish. All the while, the ghost can take several rocket launcher rounds to the face and still keep going. Not exactly practical ghostbusting. To top it all off, I fell into a gravesite, and got stuck, which forced me to restart the section. Some group battles are actually fine, but the ones that don’t have the good sense to quit boil down to surviving sheer numbers than clever strategy and good use of abilities.

The other issue is “pixel hunting” for an item. Again, while not always an issue, there were instances where I had to turn my body, step forward, step back, look down, step to the side, twist, etc. to find the right angle (or collision box) to pick up a simple item. One of the biggest problems came from trying to pick up lockpicks. I had to abandon one or two along the way simply because I just couldn’t find the right “sweet spot” for the game to recognize that I was trying to pick up something that was right in front of me.

Minor issues, but it really took me out of the moment, and should hopefully be addressed in a future patch.

As for the ending…. The previous two games had endings based on the choices you made: good or evil. It would be a great disservice for me to describe the events of this particular ending, but when it happened, it so neatly ties up any and all loose plotlines from Bioshock Infinite, its connection to the first two titles, and did things that actually shocked me when I realized that “Oh my God, the answers were in front of me the whole time”. There was no need to define a choice based off your actions. The whole game is all about choices, and it took me a moment to wrap my head around the events of the ending before I realized it was one of the best, most stunning, and perfectly wrapped up endings to a game that I’ve experienced in a long time. It was an ending that is incredibly bold in its conceptualization, but simply makes sense.

Despite some tiny flubs that briefly pull the player out of the experience, Bioshock Infinite is a worthy successor/prequel to the series, opening up concepts that could take the next protagonist to all sorts of new destinations, whether it’s Rapture, Columbia, or somewhere entirely new. Between interactions with Elizabeth and the finely crafted story elements, this beautiful world with a dark soul is well worth the visit.

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