They might be first-person shooters but the Bioshock games are as likely to fling some political philosophy your way as a hail of bullets. That probably makes it sound pretentious, but as anyone who dived into the deep-sea dystopia of the first two Bioshocks can tell you that’s actually a very, very good thing.
Now Bioshock is relocating to the skies but can its aerial ambition deliver enough bang to match the 200 million bucks it apparently cost to make?
After the decaying Art Deco wonder of Rapture, the floating city of Columbia needed to be something special and by jove Bioshock Infinite delivers on that front. Columbia is not your bog-standard floating metropolis though. It’s a mish-mash of aerial city blocks linked by rails that twist and loop like rollercoaster tracks. It is also a sightseers’ paradise.
There are sun-kissed beaches in the clouds, nightmarish factories, beautiful squares and some truly over-the-top museums to visit. The result is an imaginative tour-de-force that is Rapture’s match.
Bioshock Infinite is as much about its story as its shoot outs. The basis of the tale is that the player’s character, a Pinkerton detective called Booker, has come to Columbia to rescue Elizabeth from the crazed Christian fundamentalist who rules the city. But this is no simple boy-rescues-girl yarn.
As the tale develops it dabbles with religion, the contradictions of revolutions, American self-image, racial segregation and some head-spinning metaphysics. The story doesn’t always deliver on the ambition but the result is one of the most intelligent stories ever to grace a game.
Story might be integral but Bioshock Infinite doesn’t scrimp on action. In fact it’s entirely impossible to ignore the story and focus on the action although we’ve no idea why you would want to do that when the story’s this good.
Previous Bioshock games confined the action to tight corridors but many of Bioshock Infinite’s clashes take place in sprawling city streets. Another great addition is the SkyHook. It’s main use is to allow players to ride around Columbia’s sky rails during fights, which is great if dizzying fun, but it also doubles as a particular vicious melee weapon.
The trigger-happy action is further enhanced by vigors, Columbia’s answer to Rapture’s plasmids. These arm the player with supernatural abilities such as the ability to shoot fireballs, grab foes with watery lassos or freeze bullets in mid-air before unleashing them on your enemies.
They can also be used to lay traps, such as a murder of crows that furiously peck foes to shreds. Ouch. Talking of enemies, Bioshock Infinite lacks a foe to match Rapture’s Big Daddies but it does offer the chance to battle robotic bat-winged George Washingtons.
For much of the game you’ll be accompanied by Elizabeth. She doesn’t carry a gun but she does perform a vital support role by digging up health packs and vigor-restoring salts in the heat of the battles to fling your way if you want them (which you will).
She even helps scour the environment in quieter moments, rooting out voice recordings and coins to spend on upgrading your kit. Best of all she can open rifts in space and time during the fights so that give you access to supplies, killer robots, cover and aerial hooks to grab onto.
Bioshock Infinite’s imaginative setting, clever story and rapid-fire action is a near perfect combo. Its tale might, at points, fail to deliver on its ambition but even at its worst it is 10 times better than average game. The action is fast, fun and varied, maintaining all that made the Bioshock series great while livening up the proceedings with Elizabeth’s support role.
And as one of the last big releases for the current generation of consoles we couldn’t ask for more. Its place in the top ten best games may be slipping but it should still be on your shortlist for your next £50.
Review by Tristan Donovan