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BioShock Infinite is the third game in the BioShock series. The first two were set in the underwater city of Rapture; Infinite is mostly set in Columbia, a floating city in the clouds. In many ways, it recalls the original BioShock, which is still one of the smartest and most engaging video games.

The game is dazzling, but also familiar. It’s clear that the creators set out to make something truly ambitious. It’s also clear that they felt constrained by the work they had already done, so you get a game whose narrative and mechanics are (much like the in-game vistas) seemingly limitless, and carefully bounded.

The game is essentially a first-person shooter, but like its predecessors, the action is overshadowed by the ambience. The world building that went into creating Rapture was an incredible feat—to see it repeated with Columbia is exhilarating.

The game begins with the protagonist, Booker DeWitt, a man with a dark past, being offered a job—to travel to Columbia, kidnap a girl and bring her back to erase his debts. It’s a tired trope at this point, and once the game is in motion, the developers do well to create something truly unique.

The first part of the game lets you gently explore the world of Columbia and take in the sights, but you’re quickly propelled into the action. This time there’s a lot more action. You’ll get to use a variety of weapons to get through these sequences, but you can also drink “vigors" which grant you a variety of powers—pyrokinesis, a swarm of attack crows, even control over machines. You need to find “salts" to power your vigors, which act as a limit on these powers, and require tactical thinking.

The weapons you get are also designed well—the sounds in particular bear mention, and while the enemies you face aren’t intelligent, the action gameplay falls into neatly satisfying loops.

Then there’s Elizabeth—the girl you were sent to kidnap. You do come to rely on each other and help each other escape certain death, but that’s the only part of the cliché that Infinite holds on to. Elizabeth starts off the game as a Disney princess, a cartoon. She certainly looks the part, and behaves like one too. She gains depth and pathos over the course of the game, in a way that also ties together the game’s narrative, and is easily one of the best things in this game. At the same time, in gameplay terms too, Elizabeth is useful, and not a liability—you don’t have to protect her during combat and she can keep up with you even when you’re zipping along on the skyhook.

While there’s a lot to like about Infinite, it feels lacking when compared with the first BioShock. Even when everything is new, it feels familiar—in place of vigors you had plasmids, and in place of salt you had EVE in the original. One of the troublesome type of enemy, the Handymen, is reminiscent of the Big Daddy.

Infinite tries for greater scope, with more philosophical themes driving the narrative, and wider vistas driving the gameplay, but this lack of focus weakens the game. While there’s no denying that it’s a remarkable feat, and a highly enjoyable one, it feels a little worn despite a clear effort not to.

BioShock Infinite is available now for 2,499 for the Xbox 360 and PS3, and for 999 for the PC.

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