After two games submerged in the watery ruins of Rapture, BioShock Infinite takes the series skyward into the gravity-defying world of Columbia. As disgraced private eye Booker DeWitt, you are tasked with liberating the mysterious Elizabeth from a city in the sky in exchange for having your slate wiped clean. Unsurprisingly, events in the heavens turn hellish rather quickly. Thrust into the middle of a civil war, relentlessly pursued by a giant mechanical bird, all the while trying to deal with fissures in the space-time continuum – vertigo is very much the least of your troubles here.
It helps that Infinite unfolds in a setting that is more than the equal to the iconic Rapture of the original game. Columbia is a meticulously and passionately crafted world that deserves your time and attention, rewarding those who stray from the obvious path to truly immerse themselves in this airborne metropolis. Propaganda posters, fairground stalls, audio diaries, and lovingly-rendered Kinetoscope films reveal fascinating details about Columbia’s troubled existence. As much as you can, walk, don’t run.
Eventually you WILL have to tear your eyes away from the wonders of Columbia and turn your attention to its violent inhabitants. Those familiar to the series will ease into the familiar mixture of firing weapons from your right hand and unleashing powerful Vigors (BioShock’s Plasmids rebranded) with your left, while newcomers will need to retrain their iron sight hand. Quick thinking is essential to surviving the worst Infinite throws at you, so ride the city’s Sky-Line rails to swiftly dominate enemies from above or use Elizabeth’s reality-bending powers to summon defensive cover or a gun emplacement. With Elizabeth by your side, combat takes on an enjoyable new dimension thanks to her astounding A.I. that refreshingly makes her a helpful partner rather than a hindrance.
Unfortunately, combat is also the area where Infinite falters somewhat. In a world where cities can float thousands of miles in the air and fire can be launched from your fingertips, you can still only carry two firearms at once. While discarding and picking up new weapons is relatively painless, one must persevere with an awkward radial menu to scroll through Vigors. In the middle of a frantic duel with a rampaging Handyman, the jarring pauses imposed by this design kink sadly harm the sense of immersion previously built up during your interactions with both Columbia and Elizabeth.
It is the journey you take with Elizabeth that provides the heart of Infinite’s ambitious narrative. This is elegant and sophisticated storytelling that weaves together issues of slavery, religious fanaticism, free will, and the ugly side of patriotism to create an experience that goes far deeper than merely completing objectives. Fearlessly juxtaposing fantastical gameplay with profound themes, Irrational Games’s uncompromising vision will satisfy in ways other games can only aspire to. Just don’t look down.