Irrational Games – a studio that’s made a name for itself in eschewing predictability and is known for pathological cybervillains and brutish Big Daddies who earned our sympathy in their staunch protection of Little Sisters – somehow makes a city built on the clouds seem plausible. It's a place that feels alive. Townsfolk bustle in the plaza streets, birds flit about almost everywhere, and propaganda extols the local prophet's racist, ultra-nationalist beliefs. Columbia has its own history and hierarchy, to a degree that most shooters – or games of any genre, for that matter – can’t even aspire. It's created using a vibrant color palette and a unified vision of a twisted, jingoistic take on America. Simultaneously, no two of its many diverse areas ever feel alike. All these elements give this fantastical city a sterling sense of genuine place.
This world is easy to buy into because its characters believe in it so convincingly, chief among them our player character, war veteran-turned-PI Booker DeWitt. He's a reluctant hero on a mission, vaguely referred to as a less-than-virtuous man with a shady past. The first hour chronicles DeWitt’s unusual journey to Columbia under orders to recover a teenage girl named Elizabeth so that he might “wipe away the debt.”
One thing that evolve Infinite past its predecessor, is Elizabeth. Our mystery girl rarely leaves your side once she joins you a short time into the campaign, and unlike the vast majority of AI companions throughout the ages, she requires zero babysitting. To the contrary, she'll take care of you, tossing you ammo and health in the heat of battle, randomly throwing you money at idle moments, and even bending the layout of a combat area to your will using her dimensional-portal-opening abilities.
Elizabeth herself, in fact, plays a central role in BioShock Infinite’s story, and in the moment-to-moment experience. Once she’d established herself at my side, any period of separation was noticeable. Not only does the action revert to feeling very much like BioShock 1, but it made me feel as if something was genuinely missing: emotional depth. Over our time together, Elizabeth's expressive performances elicited everything from sympathy to fear and even guilt.
After the original’s mind-blowing “Would you kindly?” twist, you’re probably expecting a similar “Gotcha!” this time. Will I spoil it? Of course not. But will it come? Yes. Will it catch you off-guard? It got me, and I'll be surprised if it doesn't wow most people. The moment it happened was, for me, every bit as stunning as Andrew Ryan's reveal in the first BioShock. Unlike the vast majority of other games, Infinite's ending will give you something to talk about with your friends for hours and days afterwards.
If you haven't played BioShock Infinite yet, here's what you're in for. You juggle guns and superpowers in a seemingly never-ending series of firefights with increasingly tougher opponents.