More games should be like "Bioshock Infinite." It's a smart sci-fi shooter with a deep foundation in American history, amazing art design, a well-written script, great vocal performances and an interest in character development that even most movies can't match. It's an enthralling piece of work that will demand your utmost attention for a dozen hours. It's also a slight disappointment.
Don't overreact. "Infinite" is more thoughtful and mature than perhaps any first-person shooter since "Bioshock" (or at least "Far Cry 2"). It dives headfirst into shady patches of America's history that are most often ignored, uprooting the racism, classism and cavalier disregard for human life that were pillars of the American ex-peri-ence of the Gilded Age. The game's floating city of Columbia, constructed in 1893 as a traveling beacon of the American Dream, is a cult that mythologizes the founding fathers and blindly follows the word of the would-be evangelist Zachary Hale Comstock. Between the provocative subject matter and gorgeous art design, "Bioshock Infinite" is an aesthetic marvel.
Still, "Bioshock Infinite" doesn't quite soar, for two reasons. There's just too much "Bioshock" in "Bioshock Infinite." Irrational's 2007 masterpiece might be the most important game of this generation, and its core combat of shooting with one trigger while casting de facto spells with the other is still manually satisfying as revisited in "Infinite." This brave new world of Columbia promises new sensations, though, and the actual play doesn't deliver.
The story eventually collapses in on itself. The thorny plot twists around itself during the game's last two hours, subjugating the themes and character work to overly convoluted story machinations. The science-fiction elements initially ramp up the game's tension and excitement (there's no shortage of what the British comic "2000 AD" would call "thrill power"), but with each new turn, I found my interest diminishing. It eventually enters "I'm My Own Grandpa" territory. Even the meta-commentary (the narrative highlight of the original "Bioshock") lands with a tired shrug.
To its credit, "Bioshock Infinite" only disappoints in comparison to "Bioshock" and the expectations that have built up over the last six years. The medium would be much stronger if more shooters were like "Infinite," even if "Infinite" itself isn't what it could have been.
(c)2013 the Boston Herald
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