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Infinite's trump card, which makes the game so memorable and enjoyable to play, is it's second lead character Elizabeth, the girl Booker is sent to Columbia to rescue. Locked away by the prophet, the first part of the game is spent trying to find her, and once she and Booker meet, Infinite becomes a vastly better game. The pair's dynamic is real and emotional, with Elizabeth interacting with her environment -- sitting on benches as I studied a poster, cowering behind pillars in firefights, or staring out at a spectacular vista as we passed a window. It makes her feel less like a computer-controlled addition and more like a second player, assisting you in battle. She scours the environment, throwing Booker ammo, salts, money and health, as she tries to keep him alive and fighting. If you are killed, Elizabeth will revive you -- and this ties into her supernatural powers. Elizabeth is special -- she can control the fabric of time, creating ''tears'' in the world which open windows to other places, and bringing objects into the game. In battle, she can produce cover, ammo dumps or automated cannons for Booker to exploit, and in later levels, her abilities take on greater importance and influence the world of the game even further. The brief moments spent without her company feel genuinely lonely, with her help in fights and conversation as Booker advances through areas sorely missed. That such an emotional connection is formed with her is testament to the writing and acting. She's not perfect, though. She occasionally wanders off or fails to provide assistance, though this is rare -- one amusing mishap in a late stage of the game sees Booker and Elizabeth enter a jail cell, whose lone inhabitant had long-since succumbed to a grisly death. Blood coated the walls, human waste soaked the bed and his beaten body lay broken on the ground. Elizabeth's response? ''Oh.'' Not the most sympathetic of reactions.
I completed Infinite in about 20 hours, but I spent a lot of time wandering away from the main plot. For those who choose to barrel through the game, a lot of enjoyment will be had. The story is incredible, with more twists and turns than a twisty turny thing, gradually getting darker, deeper, more emotional, more exciting, more intriguing. It completely sucked me in, and fighting through some of Infinite's more laborious firefights was justified with further nuggets of plot or narrative.
Choose to explore the world, on the other hand, and you'll be rewarded. Scattered around locales are Voxophones, which are recordings of certain characters voices, left as notes which Booker can listen to, gaining further insight into the motives and actions of those in the world. Even more enjoyable are the pieces of propaganda known as Kinetoscopes, which offer a short, silent film providing a fascinating -- if biased -- glimpse into Columbia's history. Secret rooms, posters, signs, conversations between citizens, songs played by certain characters, news bulletins broadcast over the radio, PA announcements to citizens and side-quests all ensure that any further exploration away from the game's core plot will be richly rewarded, and I strongly urge you play the game at a slow pace, drinking in Columbia. At one point, in the bottom of a pub in the game's poor district, Booker finds a guitar and, as he plays, Elizabeth starts to sing to a frightened, starving boy. It offers no additional plot or reward, but it's a beautiful, emotional encounter that less-thorough gamers will completely miss.
I'm finding it hard to quantify my feelings for Bioshock Infinite. A game this incredibly complex demands more than mere adulation and criticism. It demands in-depth analysis, long conversations with friends who've also experienced it, hours spent scouring internet forums trying to gain further insight into the game's backstory and plot. Infinite isn't just another FPS, and it isn't just another adventure game. It's a world, a lifestyle, an entity so consuming and engrossing that it absorbs the player into its narrative and doesn't relinquish them to their lesser reality until the final credits start to roll. The last half hour, which is all story and follows on from the game's biggest battle sequence, is astonishing. A mind-blowing, gut-wrenching, puzzling, wondrous, ruinous ending that left me staring at the screen in disbelief. I finished the game physically and emotionally drained, and yet still I wanted more. I wanted to return to the world that Infinite presents and find more, do more, see more. It's an intoxicating elixir of rich backstory, deep character development, incredible writing, beautiful graphics, exciting gameplay and an ending that will continue to haunt you long after you've turned off your console or PC. Bioshock Infinite isn't just a great game, it's one of the great games, and you can't call yourself a true gamer until you experience it.
Go. Now. Columbia is waiting.