There's a real difficulty in reviewing a title such as Bioshock Infinite. Irrational Games' follow up to 2010's Bioshock 2 is less a direct sequel and more a spiritual successor despite falling firmly in the Bioshock franchise.
This can make it tricky as the game simultaneously needs to be evaluated as a distinct title, as well as part of a greater body of work. So going into our play test, we were extremely keen to see if Bioshock Infinite worked as both a standalone game and as part of the Bioshock world.
For many fans of Bioshock 1 and 2, calling the games first person shooters seems almost sacrilegious, falling far short of describing the full experience. But like it or not, Bioshock games are first person shooters — and adept ones at that.
The new guy
Bioshock Infinite puts us in the shoes of Booker DeWitt, an ex-Pinkerton detective with a troubled past (because let's be honest, how many games want you to play as a character with a happy home life?), who is sent to the city of Colombia to find and rescue a girl, Elizabeth. Do this, we are repeatedly told, and wipe away your debts.
Infinite's cold open, without going into details, sets the tone perfectly for the game. Unlike previous Bioshock games, DeWitt is a chatty protagonist, taken to talking to himself and those around him. His regular utterances of confusion and awe (and later, rage) are a big change from the hulking silence of Bioshock 2's prototype, Big Daddy. With any vocal first person character, there's always the need to balance the force of the characters personality in such a way that the player still feels involved, and Irrational's treatment of DeWitt seems to do this extremely well.
In terms of straight game play, for the most part, Bioshock Infinite follows the "if it ain't broke" model. DeWitt will find a variety of weapons throughout the game, which can be upgraded in different ways at special upgrade stations to provide bigger clips, better damage, etc. Vigors replace Plasmids, but functions in much the same way, drawing on Salt instead of Eve. The role of Tonics are played by Gear — that is, clothing you'll find on the way that can enhance combat and other abilities in a variety of ways.
The big new feature with combat is DeWitt's regenerating shield that he gains a little into the game. It's a fairly inoffensive and none-too-surprising feature, but adds an extra layer of durability. Like Salt or Health, it can be upgraded through the use of special potions found in the game.
Exploration is still key with DeWitt, following in his forebears footsteps and devouring food and slurping down drinks with reckless abandon any time you get near them. You can't stockpile any Salt replenishing tonics or first aid kits, either — frustrating at first, although this is less of an issue later in the game, which we'll get to in a bit.
You'll also find Voxaphones liberally spread around Columbia, voice recordings from NPCs and citizens that flesh out the incredible history of the floating city.
The skyline adds a new exploration angle as well. DeWitt can use his sky-hook grapnel to ride this personal travel rail at high speed, as well as a freight hook to reach different levels of Columbia quickly.