BioShock Infinite is one of the best games I've played in years.
Yes, I said it.
It's a smorgasbord of dynamic action, breathtaking visuals and engrossing narrative that kept me on the edge of my seat and perpetually wanting more.
I suppose you actually want to know why I think this don't you?
Well let's start with the concept of BioShock. There was a great deal of confusion around this when it was announced that BioShock: Infinite would not be set in the same location as BioShock and BioShock 2, the fictional underwater city of Rapture. Some of the themes and concepts are the same but Infinite is set instead in the floating city of Columbia. The characters and storyline aren't the same, but the idea of BioShock, the parallel multiverse is still evident throughout the game.
The game's creator, Ken Levine, has avoided answering questions about whether or not Rapture and Columbia exist within the same universe, but has discussed the idea of BioShock as a concept joined by the exploration of a fantastical setting and the use of tools and abilities in a creative manner in order to survive.
The BioShock Infinite universe is greatly influenced by events at the turn of the 19th century, and the mood is set not only by the look and feel of this game, but by the ever present soundtrack, which is as haunting and poignant as you would expect from Irrational Games.
The floating city of Columbia, named for the female personification of the United States, is an homage to the 1893 World Fair, which became a symbol of the emerging movement of American Exceptionalism, the proposition that the United States is different to other countries in that its world mission is to spread liberty and democracy. Although this term does not imply superiority, many American conservative writers have promoted it in that sense, and you can see this conservative streak combined with the notion of the "pure American" running through Infinite quite strongly. The Founders are promoting equality for "pure" Americans, and there is an obvious perversion of the concept here that results in the breakaway group, the Vox Populi, who are more concerned with equality for all.
Unlike Rapture, which was developed secretly, Columbia was built and launched in 1901 by the American government under President McKinley's instructions. Meant to symbolise the idea of exceptionalism, on the surface Columbia appeared to be a floating World Fair that could travel the globe. In reality however, it was revealed that it was in fact a well-armed battleship and after being involved in an "international incident", Columbia broke away from the US, and the location of the city was lost.
A civil war broke out as different factions tried to seize control, and at the time of the game's events, only the Founders and Vox Populi remain. In addition to the civil war, Columbia is also being ravaged by tears in the fabric of space-time. You become aware of this when Booker is watching a scene and a strange shimmering effect reveals momentary changes of pictures, banners and people, indicating the presence of a tear.
Now that my tangent has provided you with substantial backstory, lets get down to the characters.
The characters in this game are well developed and with the superb voice acting there is no sense of a flagging performance at any point. You empathise with them, have an interest in their backstory, and are completely invested in their fate throughout the game.
Booker De Witt and Elizabeth are the main characters in this saga. Father Comstock serves as the primary antagonist, a religious fanatic who founded Columbia, and revered as "The Prophet". Comstock claims that Elizabeth is his daughter, born after only seven days in the womb in a miraculous manner to his late wife, the Lady Comstock.
Elizabeth is "The Lamb" who will lead Columbia into the future. Columbia under Comstock's leadership has bred sexist and racist attitudes, with minority groups being subject to all sorts of unlawful practices and torture.
The other character worthy of mention (there are many but a few primary ones that are vital to the story), is Daisy Fitzroy, leader of the Vox Populi. Of African-American descent, Daisy journed to Columbia to start afresh. Unfortunately for her she took a position as the housekeeper in Comstock's mansion, and was pinned as the scapegoat in the murder of Lady Comstock. The Vox Populi harbour a bitter hatred for the Founders, and resort to extreme lengths in attempting to overthrow the ruling class.
Booker is hired to recover Elizabeth from Columbia in exchange for the elimination of a debt. He manages to make his way into Columbia all but unnoticed, until the initials AD are noticed branded on to the back of his hand and he is identified, apparently through prophecy, as the False Shepherd that would bring about Columbia's downfall. After freeing Elizabeth, they must now try to escape, pursued by multiple enemies.
Although the game is still a First Person Shooter, you now control Booker De Witt, a former Pinkerton agent who is sent to Columbia to find Elizabeth, a young woman who has been held captive there for most of her life. Booker rescues Elizabeth and as the two of them attempt to escape they are pursued by warring factions within the city, the Founders, an extremist group of racist white supremacists that are attempting to keep the city for "pure" Americans only, and the Vox Populi, a group of rebels that represent the common people fighting for equality.
Although you control Booker throughout the game, you eventually work with Elizabeth as she harnesses her strange powers to manipulate rifts in the space-time continuum. It might sound like a bunch of sci-fi rubbish when you hear that, but this is so beautifully handled that you'd be hard pressed to find fault in its implementation.
Elizabeth can open rifts and bring in objects from other eras to assist you, aggravating the tears that are destroying Columbia, but assisting greatly in battle. She can also toss you ammunition when you're in a bind at the simple press of a button, and is not only invaluable to the story, but as an AI co-op battle companion.
Similarly to the previous games which employed the use of "plasmids" to grant you special powers, in Infinite you can pick up "vigors" which grant psychokinetic powers such as electricity manipulation, animal control or telekinesis. You require "salt" to use these vigors, which in essence amounts to mana.
Columbia is much more spacious than Rapture, so you'll find yourself fighting hostiles that not only take place on the ground, but also aboard Columbia's Skyline, a roller coaster type system that you can use to traverse the city quickly. You use a tool called a Sky Hook, which is a kind of grappling hook, to attach yourself to hooks strategically placed around the city. These can be used, obviously, to get from place to place fairly quickly, but also to escape from sticky situations when necessary.
The game still has role-playing elements in a similar manner to the previous BioShock games, so the vigors have upgrade paths that can be purchased vending machines.
In addition to being pursued by numerous enemies, Booker and Elizabeth are also chased by Songbird, who has been Elizabeth's guardian. The guardian will periodically try to snatch Elizabeth away from Booker as they attempt their escape.
There are a number of larger mechanical enemies created by the Founders, including the Handymen - robot like monsters with a human heart and head.
Motorized Patriots who will attack with an automatic machine gun, and wear a wax mask of a Founding Father of the United States.
The Boys of Silence are humans who are blind, but locked inside a metal helmet with large ears. The helmet has super-human hearing and acts as Columbia's security system.
Lastly there is the Siren, a mysterious female figure who can revive defeated enemies during combat.
These enemies act as mini-bosses throughout the game and you will need to adjust your tactics accordingly in order to defeat them.
The gameplay is incredibly dynamic in Infinite, and although you have a sense of where enemies are, you need to continually adjust your tactics in order to defeat them. Sometimes annihilating everyone in your path is not the best option, especially since the process of revival is a costly one, granting you extra life but costing you money in the long run.
Visually this game does not disappoint, and the attention to detail is magnificent. Those who have played the first games will recognise the art style, but the music is the thing that gets me every time. Always eerie, always relevant, always beautiful, the music and sound design make this game for me, and I have already decided that I need to get the soundtrack.
I am quite simply, in love with BioShock Infinite. Amazing, beautiful, magnificent in so many ways. This is a must buy and will certainly be a strong candidate for Game of the Year 2013.