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BioShock Infinite review: Cloud nine

Irrational Games' latest creation is bold, beautiful and as far from God as heaven is wide...

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It's a bold and intelligent storyline drenched in connotation and unafraid to touch upon subjects which are traditionally seen as taboo in games. Although the ending gets a little carried away with itself, it has something very clever to say about moral choices in games - we'd love to elaborate more, but that'd be the biggest spoiler this side of Xzibit's garage. One thing we will say is that you shouldn't necessarily go into it expecting the replayability of previous BioShock titles. Part of that is because of the way the story plays out, and partly because of a greater focus on combat.

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Infinite leans more heavily on gunplay than BioShock or BioShock 2 ever did

Because, despite its outlandish setting, BioShock Infinite is quite a mainstream game at heart. There's no equivalent to the 'ecosystem' of the Big Daddies - benign factors who can be your greatest ally or most fearsome foe depending on how you engage with them - up here in Columbia everyone's out to get you. There are still moments of repose, yes, but it leans more heavily on gunplay than BioShock or BioShock 2 ever did.

That's not such a bad thing, of course. Indeed it makes for a shooter that pulsates and thrills in a way its predecessors never could, albeit at the expense of some of the more intricate forms of mid-battle experimentation. The Vigors, Infinite's answer to Plasmids, are (comparative to the original's) a conservative collection of powers best used as ancillary weapons.

SKY ANOTHER DAY

That's not to say that there aren't some crackers amongst them. Our favourites are the Bucking Bronco, which launches targets in the air, and Return to Sender, a deployable shield that absorbs projectiles and, well, returns them to sender. They can be powered up and expanded upon at vending machines, and the scarcity of money in Columbia means you'll still have to focus on your favourites and specialise. All the same, there doesn't feel like there's the same potential for mischief or customisation as there is with, say, Dishonored's runes.

Elsewhere, there's a nice spread of firearms, but they're disappointingly generic. Carbine, pistol, RPG, Repeater - rub away their opulent 1910s finish, and you've got a set of weapons that could have been plucked from any old Call of Duty clone. Does the setting not call for a something a little more off-beat and inventive? Despite all this, the guns are satisfying, meaty, weighty, and the combat feels well put together, with loads of scope to vary your approach from battle to battle.

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Rub away their opulent 1910s finish, and here you still have a set of weapons that could have been plucked from any Call of Duty clone

The skyward setting is used intelligently to give Booker more tactical options. Where BioShock's Jack was bound to the floor, Booker is free to soar, thanks to a magnetic hook that enables him to latch on to grapple bars and overhead railings, allowing for fluid movement across the battlefield. It's a more kinetic game than the plodding BioShock and you need to play it as such, because some of the more fearsome enemies will pummel static players into the ground in seconds.

But does death matter? It didn't in BioShock 1 thanks to the auto re-gen chambers, and BioShock Infinite repeats this mistake to a certain degree. Enemies replenish some health and your wallet takes a hit every time you die, but there's still not enough punishment for death. Infinite has the capacity to be a very challenging game but with the set-up as it is it's too easy to just tank your way through the campaign through bloody perseverance.

Question is, is BioShock Infinite a great shooter with a fascinating setting, or a fascinating setting that isn't fully exploited thanks to its obsession with being a great shooter? We'd lean towards the former, but we can see long-term fans who have followed the series back to its System Shock origins being slightly disappointed that the series has regressed towards the shooting norm rather than kicking on with the peculiarities that made it so different in the first place.

Columbia is one of the most intriguing, best-realised settings of the generation

But the standout element of both System Shock and BioShock were their grimy, oppressive atmosphere, and Infinite pulls an impressive trick in repeating this, even though the setting takes the series outside of its comfort zone of dank corridors into sunstreaked boulevards and parks. Columbia is one of the most intriguing, best-realised game settings of this generation, and the characters it houses are as captivating as the blimps and parades and artificial beaches that line the streets.

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Squeeze that combination into a robustly-built shooter capable of trading shots with the very best in the genre, and you've got gaming heaven. Or the closest we'll get to it, anyway.

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The verdict

Sky-high with character, conspiracy, controversy and chaos. A great all-round shooter, even if it doesn't innovate as much as expected.

  • Brilliantly-realised setting, with a real sense of foreboding
  • Razor-sharp shooting - the best in the series
  • Bold and intelligent story
  • Lacks some of the magic of the original BioShock
9.1
Format
Xbox 360
Developer
Irrational Games
Publisher
Take-Two Interactive
Genre
Action, RPG

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