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BioShock Infinite is in a class by itself

BioShock Infinite is another masterful achievement in interactive storytelling and provides gamers with an overall experience unlike anything else.

Jeff Bakalar Scott Stein
Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
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Watch this: BioShock Infinite (trailer)

To call BioShock Infinite a hyped game is simply an understatement. For a title that some have called "The most important game of the last five years," there's a seemingly insurmountable amount of pressure riding on it.

All this was compounded by a series of delays, which saw the release date get pushed back more than an entire year. Nevertheless, BioShock Infinite has finally arrived and right off the bat it delivers -- living up to the hype as much as one could expect.

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This is the second BioShock game from the team at Boston's Irrational Games (2K Marin developed BioShock 2), and Infinite starts nearly identically to the way the original did. BioShock Infinite is the brainchild of Irrational Games co-founder Ken Levine, a man quickly becoming the medium's best storyteller. He and his team's vision for the underwater city of Rapture in the first BioShock game won audiences and critics over for its unique shooter-meets-RPG fusion and a mind-bending storyline that dazzled all who played it.

In Infinite the year is 1912 and you play as Booker DeWitt, a man in debt. Told he can repay those he owes by locating a girl, he's sent to the fictional floating city of Columbia to locate her whereabouts. However, we learn very quickly that Columbia isn't the perfect utopia we're meant to think it is.

Irrational Games

Andrew Ryan had the perfect vision for the underwater city of Rapture in BioShock, and the "prophet" known as Comstock is Columbia's savior. Rapture had gone mad with all-empowering science, whereas Columbia has an obsession with a racist and sexist superiority complex, worshiping the founding fathers of the United States but then adamantly opposing the nation's shift toward tolerance and equality. America moved into a world where all people are created equal, and Columbia left to pursue a more segregated reality. In the end, both Rapture and Columbia collapse under the weight of their insane idealism.

I'm not sure I've ever played a game with such a distinct identity or commitment to unfolding a narrative story. The staggering attention to detail and meticulous placement of triggered dialogue creates a world that is way too easy to get lost in. To gloss over the character interactions or resist the story being told is doing the game's makers -- and yourself -- a disservice.

There are different ways to play BioShock. You can shoot and race your way through the game and reach the finish line in about 10 to 12 hours. But for the best experience, make sure the intricate tale being woven becomes a major part of your play. In other words: take your time.

Irrational Games

My best advice is to play BioShock Infinite as if you were a detective. Try and open every drawer, poke around each room, and read anything that's on the walls. Listen to what everyone has to say and overturn every stone in this world.

Very rarely does a video game's story outshine the actual gameplay, but BioShock Infinite is absolutely one of these anomalies. That said, as a first-person shooter, Infinite would likely trump most titles with ease, but there's such a concentrated vision going on here that it rises above everything else.

Irrational Games

While there are a lot of similarities between the original BioShock and Infinite, there's a good amount that is different as well. I'm not sure BioShock Infinite has the same instantly iconic characters that the first boasted. The now-legendary Big Daddy has been replaced with the Handyman, a tragic half-man half-machine monster of experimental science that doesn't play much of a big role in the campaign. Also, the element of choice is barely even a mechanic, totally the opposite of how important it was in BioShock.

Ammo conservation and customization of your loadout takes a backseat in Infinite, as does upgrading your weapons. Vending machines just list out two dozen or so items for unlimited purchase (provided you can afford it), unlike the satisfying discovery of a rare one-time upgrade machine in Rapture. There's also no hacking minigames, either. In addition, BioShock veterans may be surprised with how "shootery" the game can get at times, where it seems like you're just fending off wave after wave of enemies.

Graphically speaking, BioShock Infinite makes consoles seem inferior, whereas another recent game like Tomb Raider seemed to reinvigorate them. If you have the means, it should absolutely be played on a PC. The performance jump that's possible over Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 is extraordinary.

Irrational Games

If the first BioShock had your head spinning, the ambitious -- and often cerebral -- story being told in BioShock Infinite seeks much more complex aspirations. There is a lot going on in the floating city of Columbia. It seems the more you play, the more questions get raised. This of course is a great thing because it incentivizes you to push on. Be forewarned, though: Infinite is ripe for the spoiler, so make sure you put blinders on before finishing it. It's safe to say the end will have you and everyone you know talking for a while.

Simply put, BioShock Infinite is the reason to be proud that you play video games. This is the type of game that should be exposed to not just every gamer out there, but for those who still might write the medium off as a substandard vessel for composing a compelling narrative.

BioShock Infinite sits on another level in the realm of storytelling in games and sets a new standard that other pieces of interactive software should always strive to achieve.

Irrational Games

Why do we play video games: for the gameplay or the story? BioShock Infinite is the supreme achievement proving the need for the latter, and a reminder that, even though stories in video games can seem hackneyed or secondary, at times the story can be everything. Sometimes the story is the journey.

I try to think back to how I felt when the first BioShock was released six years ago. The Xbox 360 was only a year and a half old; BioShock was astonishing not just for its story, but for its atmospherics, graphics, and gameplay, all of which influenced first-person shooters for years to come. You’d come for the dual-wielding weaponry and jaw-dropping lighting effects, and stay for the Ayn Randian tale of dystopia.

With BioShock Infinite, it’s the other way around. I anticipated this game like a sequel from a great director, and it’s the storytelling flourishes and grand ideas that elevate this game above what’s a familiar set of controls and gameplay. The Xbox 360, the console I played Infinite on, shows its age. But the art direction and the vision shine through the limitations of the hardware. Just like the PC version, which far outshines in terms of graphic polish, we may see the ultimate version of Bioshock Infinite still to come on next-gen consoles. But it’s worth playing now because that dreamlike universe still enchants, like a great film screened on a garage door.

Irrational Games

This game, along with Journey, were the games I most looked forward to over the last two years. They both have something in common: they let the moments unfold and wrap you in a story all their own. BioShock Infinite feels like something dreamed up among Terry Gilliam, David Lynch, and Paul Verhoeven after a trip to E3, because it becomes great from within known gaming conventions (the shooter, via BioShock) and uses that form as a stage to tell the oddities of the story. The impossible floating city that’s Columbia seems even harder to suspend disbelief on compared with Bioshock’s Rapture, but that impossible grandeur is a huge part of this game’s magic charm.

Yes, the hype on this game has been so thick you could build castles on its foundation. It’s often been like the video game equivalent to James Cameron’s "Avatar." And, like "Avatar," it delivers on expectations. But now I’m throwing that analogy aside, because what BioShock Infinite really did was excite me, invigorate me, inspire me. It made me want to read books related to the research and history dripping through its veins. It’s a mystery box, a game full of half-truths and could-have-beens, like a trip to the Museum of Jurassic Technology, a dream museum in Los Angeles that specializes in presentations of dubious reality, clothed in the exhibit structures of the age when museums were just curiosity cabinets in a rich man’s house. The "kinetoscopes" and various stage shows, automata, and theme-park dioramas studded throughout the impossible world of Columbia will remind you of the genius in BioShock’s broken-down undersea utopia. The themes, ideas, and art are enough to fill novels, some of which I might even read. There’s certainly room for follow-up games, and I hope there are; there are already DLC packs coming throughout the year.

Irrational Games

It’s also just a game, and it’s a single-player one, at that. No co-op or online servers, an idea that’s almost more revolutionary than the game’s miasma of American exceptionalism, quantum mechanics, zip-line hopping, and robot assassins dressed as presidents. This is a game for you and you alone, and a pair of headphones. The last games that sent me to such a personal landscape were Journey, and before that, Myst and Riven. They all involved the fantasy-nightmares of gods among men, and Riven and Myst shared a similar love of world-hopping.

BioShock Infinite doesn’t last forever, but I wanted to lose myself in every detail, wandering each hall. Not for achievement points, but for discoveries. That, alone, is worth the journey.

Irrational Games

CNET verdict: Hands-down must play

BioShock Infinite is on a different level, in a class all by itself. The inventive first-person shooter is a challenging experience that ultimately rewards the player with one of the best stories ever told in a video game.

There's no multiplayer or co-op offering to vary up the package, but BioShock Infinite's epic campaign is well worth the price of admission and will probably have you going back for seconds.

For another take, check out GameSpot's review of BioShock Infinite as well.

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