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In 2007, Ken Levine and the team at Irrational Games brought us BioShock, heralded by many as one of the most defining games of this console generation. Levine and his team did not work on the sequel, BioShock 2, a sequel that, while decent, did not live up to his predecessor, due to the fact Levine was crafting the next big thing for the BioShock franchise: BioShock Infinite. Is BioShock Infinite a worthy successor to the Bioshock franchise? Does it succeed in ways that BioShock 2 did not? Read on to find out!

Set in the floating city of Columbia in the early 1900s, Levine sets out to craft a different tale than he did with the original game, set in the underwater city of Rapture. The main plot is relatively simple: as Booker DeWitt, your job is to infiltrate Columbia to rescue Elizabeth from a city that is crumbling under the weight of its own people. While Rapture focused on the class divide between the wealthy and the working class, Columbia has a different schism among those same lines: the divide between the races, namely the Caucasian and the non-Caucasians. BioShock Infinite places this story at the forefront early on in a scene that can best be described as chilling; you'll likely have never experienced pure racism like this in a video game. With those first steps, BioShock Infinite seeks to explore a concept that sadly, still exists in the world today, one that is still volatile but is handled with the grace and class of a professional so while the game is routinely shocking, it is never offensive, rather serving as a vehicle to make the player think. With this, BioShock Infinite achieves the ultimate form of immersion, as it makes you think about the choices and concepts of the game long after the game has ended.

As previously noted, Bioshock Infinite provides multiple choices with real consequences far beyond the paper-thin moral dilemma of harvesting a little sister or not as seen in the original BioShock. Each choice you make has weight to it with Elizabeth, your constant companion, weighing in on each choice. For reasons that can't be listed due to spoilers, Elizabeth is very much an open book, sheltered from the world at large. She'll interpret your actions through innocent eyes; perform the wrong action and expect to generally feel regret as Booker fumbles his words to justify his abhorrent actions. In many ways, Elizabeth is the moral voice of reason or the non-gamer girlfriend over your shoulder, gasping each time you perform a gruesome kill and wondering aloud if all this violence is truly necessary. You'll reconsider your actions not just for your sake, but because perhaps this isn't the life you want to expose Elizabeth to. You'll wonder if your actions really are the right choices even when it is the only choice available. In this way, BioShock Infinite succeeds in its narratives much in the same way that the original game did, which is to say nothing of the shocking twist at the end. This is one of those once in a lifetime games that has the ability to transcend its gaming roots and is absolutely worth a playthrough for the story alone.

But as gamers, we know that story is only one overall part of the experience; without good gameplay to back it up, you're better off watching a movie if you want to experience an amazing tale. If you've played Bioshock 2, Levine and his team have implemented the best part of that game into Bioshock Infinite: the combat. DeWitt has a gun in one hand and powers, called Vigors in this game and instantly recognizable to any Bioshock fan as Plasmids, in the left. This versatile combination enables fluid, fast gameplay giving you a wide array of methods to dispatch of your enemies. Want to electrocute your enemies and then send them to the moon with a well-placed rocket? Go for it. How about sending a flock of crows to peck your enemies to death while you peck away their flesh with your submachine gun? Sure. You can upgrade each vigor and weapon as well, so at the end of the game what you start with isn't what you end with, as even the lowly pistol can be upgraded into a miniature weapon of mass destruction. Unfortunately, Booker can only carry two weapons into battle at a time ala Halo, prompting you to frequently adjust your strategies depending on the armory available. Elizabeth proves useful in battle as well, summoning tears in reality to provide you cover, health and even allies to help join the fight.

You'll need all the help you can get too, with BioShock Infinite throwing everything at you including mechanized George Washington robots, a cult of John Wilkes Booth worshipers and armored men of fire simply called Firemen. The action is fast and frequent but with multiple opportunities to stop and catch your breath and admire Columbia at large. This mix of action and exploration helps keep the game fresh along with the ever changing scenery, ranging from boardwalks to factories to museums. You're never in one place for very long which helps keep the game fresh even as you near the 20-hour mark.

The game is powered by a modified version of the Unreal Engine 3, which, while looking graphically superior on the Xbox 360 compared to most other games, is starting to show its age. While BioShock Infinite looks and runs great, it's obvious we've reached the tail end of the console generation in terms of the types of graphics games can output. If you have a capable PC, that version of BioShock Infinite is the one to grab if you're looking for the best looking version of the game. Otherwise, the Xbox 360 version handles great and is serviceable in all other aspects. The game features a rousing score that compliments each scene perfectly with proper sound effects to match. You can feel the care and attention that Irrational Games put into all aspects of the game.

BioShock Infinite features no multiplayer modes but this does not mean the game has no replayability; once the game is finished “1999 Mode” unlocks. As the name states, this mode is a throwback to 1999, the date of Levine's first breakthrough release System Shock 2 and a year when games were known for the brutal difficulty. In “1999 mode,” your enemies take more damage, ammo is reduced, upgrades are irreversible and each encounter will make you think instead of going in guns blazing. It's the perfect mode for players who claim that today's game are too easy for them.

If BioShock Infinite has one flaw, it's the save system; checkpoints are few and far between. While you instantly respawn at the location you died in, upon shutting off the game you will reload at the most recent checkpoint instead; when checkpoints are twenty to thirty minutes apart, BioShock Infinite is a game you need to section off a bit of time before you play it. There will more than likely be times you want to quit but will need to play for longer than anticipated just to hit that mythical checkpoint.

But this is just one tiny flaw in what is otherwise a masterpiece. If you only play one more game before the next console generation, make it BioShock Infinite; you won't regret it.

tags pcinfiniteXbox360BioshockPS3

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