Fee, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of a small wo-man…
UK Release Date: 26 March 2013 RRP: £39.99 Format reviewed: PC Also available on: Xbox 360, PS3 Publisher: 2K Games
Columbia is an airborne city powered by propellers and floating on a cloud of hubris. Its imperial architecture gives the impression of wealth and prosperity, but as you’ll come to discover this is a state bankrupt of morals. Reeling from a messy secession from the United States, Columbia’s founding fathers have grown weary and suspicious of the outside world and this has led rise to a number of nationalistic policies aimed at keeping Columbia for the Columbians.
As a result the scent of revolution is in the air, courtesy of Daisy Fitzroy and her Vox Populi group of anarchists. All in all, it’s a terrible time for a heavily indebted New York investigator to have to appease his creditors by rocketing up to the skybound city and stealing the heir to the throne from under her adoring public’s noses. And did we mention that she’s being guarded by a metallic songbird with a 30-foot wingspan? Because that becomes an issue later on, too.
As you may have gathered, the BioShock series isn’t like other shooters. The first game sent us to the underwater dystopia of Rapture and won plaudits for its unusual setting, polemical narrative and way it fused the RPG and shooting genres. BioShock Infinite‘s storyline is every bit as brave and memorable as that of its predecessor, but it moves the gameplay needle a little closer to the all-out shooting we see in titles such as Call Of Duty – for better and for worse.
As before, you can kit out our hero (Booker Dewitt – no, really, that’s his name) with a number of fancy magical powers – known here as Vigors - but whereas in the original BioShock they were used for experimentation and mischief, here they’re mostly ancillary weapons for combat. There are no benevolent creatures such as the first BioShock‘s Big Daddies up here in the clouds, you see – this time, the entire city’s out to get you.
The straightforwardness will doubtlessly disappoint some, but in having the freedom to concentrate on making a more orthodox game, Irrational Games have been able to construct a tighter, more exciting experience. Combat felt a little wonky in Rapture but here it stands up to the best in the genre. Plus, the game hasn’t totally abandoned its RPG trappings – you can still power up your weapons and Vigors at the unnervingly cheery vending machines, and the scarcity of money in Columbia means you’ll have to pick a speciality and stick with it.
In the end, it is a character who was nearly cut from the entire script who steals the show – the naïve heiress Elizabeth, whose precarious relationship with Booker fluctuates and evolves as she comes to learn more about her ability to tear holes in space and time – and as she comes to learn more about Booker’s true calling, too.
The story is enthralling from start to finish, although the ending gets carried away and perhaps doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny. You’ll also recognise the big reveal as being a riff on the shock ending of a film released in the past ten years – see if you can tell which one. In all though, this is a strong shooter with one of the most fascinating settings in all of games. Columbia’s air may be thin of oxygen, but it’s thick with tension, twists and turmoil.