A couple of months ago, you'd be forgiven for having forgotten about Bioshock Infinite. While it's an obvious highlight on this year's scant release calendar, it's protracted development period has done little to engender goodwill.
A three hour hands-on session with Infinite though, and long simmering misgivings quickly fade away. For two reasons: a) because now we're 100 per cent sure this game is actually happening (we held it in our hands!), and b) because Bioshock: Infinite is a gorgeous game. What follows are the five strongest impressions our hands-on time left us.
The world is beautiful
This is probably a no-brainer, but it's worth reiterating: interacting with Columbia is nothing like watching it in trailers. The city is in constant motion: airbourne skyscrapers literally bob in the air, barbershop quartets sing from parked zeppelins, and NPCs try their luck at turn-of-the-century carnivals. The colours of Bioshock Infinite are awe striking. Bright, luminescent blues, gorgeous deep purples, Shiraz reds.
When Booker DeWitt first emerges into Columbia proper, it resembles a quiet, peaceful civilisation seemingly oblivious to the propaganda emitting from ubiquitous loudspeakers. There's tension bubbling under the surface, but the carnivals, beaches and bricked promenades have a faded, nostalgic quality that is mesmerising. It's so... soothing, that when you finally execute your first kill it's a genuine shock to the system. It's ugly and brutal. It feels totally at odds with the environment. In a word, it's a powerful death.
The set-pieces are genuinely breathtaking
During our session, not once did Booker DeWitt hang desperately to a ledge while an edifice collapsed around him. A huge monument did collapse in flames, but only once we'd safely evacuated it. One highlight involved a brief but intense sniper battle in a Museum of (alternate) American history. In a display for the Boxer Rebellion, cardboard cutouts of shrubs, boulders and soldiers acted as cover as we fought against forces on the other side of the display. All the while primary antogonist Comstock barked a twisted version of history over the loud speakers, retrospectively implicating himself in the Allied forces' victory.
The game is genuinely weird
There's a strong sense of the uncanny laced throughout Bioshock Infinite's world. Mysterious yet eerily familiar figures emerge in the most unlikely places, and with obscure agendas. Popular music, such as The Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows', emanates from Columbia's streets in strange new forms: in this alternate history, media is cribbed from the future and distorted through a dreamy lense. The world is never still: nearby buildings bob like massive balloons, and the distant suburbs of Columbia prick from distant clouds like apparitions. The world often feels vague and illusory - like it could vanish if focused on too intently. The last three seconds of our hands-on time hinted at an enemy confrontation straight out of the Wizard of Oz.