fri 18/08/2017

BioShock Infinite | reviews, news & interviews

BioShock Infinite

BioShock Infinite

Thematic depth, great characters and a lot of fun run-and-gun

'BioShock Infinite': Metaphysics, morality and masses of shooting

We're at a moment of change in games – new consoles, new ideas, new ways of playing. And what better game to usher out one era and in a new one than BioShock Infinite?

This first-person shooter is still wedded to the core mechanics of traditional big-budget console gaming, but layered on top of a core of classic run-and-gun is a series of innovations in terms of character, script, gameplay and scope of theme that point to exciting potential future directions for the next generation of games.

BioShock Infinite explosive actionThe result is both hugely satisfying to play from a hind-brain, hand-eye coordination point-of-view, but also hugely satisfying as a piece of art to get your front-brain chewing on too.

Perhaps its only real let-down is that some of what makes BioShock Infinite so brilliant has been seen before, in BioShock – the original game in the series. That delivered a spectacular sense of place with the city of Rapture, a drowned and ruined art deco utopia-gone-wrong under the sea. BioShock used its setting to muse on Ayn Rand's Objectivism.

Infinite uses the similarly spectacular, if slightly less immersive environment of a floating city in the clouds to muse on capitalism, American "exceptionalism" and racism and metaphysics. The two games link in many highly satisfying ways, but occasionally Infinite comes across as an echo of the original.

That said, it still delivers far more thematic depth than 99 percent of all other games (and most other art forms too). And some of that depth comes from player agency – your choices in the game, your interactions, directly reflect on the themes being explored.

What BioShock Infinite does deliver that is far superior to the original game is a companion. The game revolves around you first rescuing, then increasingly collaborating with an unusually-talented woman called Elizabeth. Her presence in the game elevates Infinite above most games instantly.

Elizabeth is one of the key ways the game expounds on the theme – contrasting her views with the views of the player character, highlighting what's going on around you. But this is always done with such delicacy and smarts that Elizabeth, despite being computer-controlled, comes across as a brilliantly realised, real person.

She also avoids the common and cardinal sin of computer-controlled companions – she never feels like a burden – she feels vital. On the few occasions she isn't by your side, helping you push forward, the game gets a lot tougher, and also lonelier. As attempts to create believable female characters in games go, she's better even than the new Tomb Raider reboot and Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2. And the relationship between Elizabeth and DeWitt, your character, is handled beautifully – avoiding cliche, and delivering real emotional connection and surprise throughout.

BioShock Infinite Elizabeth and handymanUnderpinning all of this thematic and narrative innovation is a rock-solid shooty series of setpiece first-person action sequences. And on that count too, BioShock Infinite delivers – with freeform arenas littered with tactical options, explosive and fast-paced combat and brilliant enemies. They may not match the terrifying hulking presence of the Big Daddies in the original BioShock, but Infinite's robot George Washingtons and gigantic mechanised ape-men are certainly both tough and memorable.

It looks like the current console generation are going out with a bang or two rather than several whimpers. Thematic depth, great characterisation that emotionally connects and itchy trigger-finger fast-paced explosive action – BioShock Infinite delivers on all fronts.

Robot George Washingtons and gigantic mechanised ape-men are certainly both tough and memorable enemies

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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