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Plugged In

Perfect scores abound for ‘breathtaking’ BioShock Infinite

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BioShock Infinite (Credit: 2K Games/Irrational Games)

How do you improve a classic? It’s a question that haunts anyone attempting a sequel or reboot to a beloved franchise, and more often than not, it’s answered with a resounding “you don’t.”

But don’t tell that to game design auteur Ken Levine and his team at Boston-based Irrational Games, because they’re not really listening.

Instead, they’ve been working on making BioShock Infinite, releasing Tuesday for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, as good a video game as humanly possible. For well over four years they’ve been at it, hoping that time and a budget of over $100 million yields a title that compares favorably to the groundbreaking 2007 shooter BioShock -- something the first sequel, the underwhelming BioShock 2 (crafted by a totally different team), couldn’t quite manage.

It certainly isn’t an easy task. Levine recently admitted as much, telling the New York Times that “it’s getting harder to ask someone to spend $60 on something that’s merely a good effort,” and that it has to be “different and really special.”

As it turns out, that adequately describes BioShock Infinite. Reviews are slowly rolling in, and they’re as lofty as the flying city in which the game is set. Currently averaging a hefty 95 on Metacritic, it’s the highest-scoring video game in ages and the early frontrunner for Game of the Year.

“Infinite is more than a new setting, story, and characters; those elements are seamlessly integrated with complex themes, a mysterious plot, and entertaining combat to create an amazing experience from beginning to end,” gushes Game Informer’s Joe Juba in a 10/10 review. His favorite aspect is the game’s storytelling, which culminates with “one of my favorite game endings in years.”

The game is set in an alternate version of 1912 in the flying city of Columbia. Players take on the role of Booker DeWitt, a former detective tasked with rescuing a teenage girl from the floating metropolis. Things quickly spiral out of control, of course, lending the game – and its world – some much needed weight. Where the original BioShock riffed on Ayn Rand’s visions of Objectivism, Infinite references America’s complicated relationship with racism, religion and empire-building.

“The world that Irrational has built is one of BioShock Infinite’s greatest assets,” asserts Polygon’s Arthur Gies while doling out another perfect score, adding that the game “lives up to the promise of its legacy.”

Destructoid’s Jim Sterling agrees, particularly when it comes to the game’s co-star, Elizabeth. Compared to the often brain-dead helper bees in most video games, she’s a veritable Einstein.

“Elizabeth's uses as an ally are extensive and go toward making her more than just a stereotypical rescue prospect,” he writes. “She becomes an impeccable example of how gameplay can be used to further the narrative. She is as crucial to the player as she is to the story, and both aspects of the character work together in harmonious synchronization.” His score? Yet another 10/10.

A scan of other sites yields the kind of praise usually reserved for Oscar-winners. There's USA Today, ("spectacular"), The Toronto Sun ("boundlessly rewarding"), The Telegraph ("arguably peerless"), The Escapist ("breathtaking") and Joystiq ("simply cannot be missed"), to name a few. And though a handful of sites stray from such adoration, it’s pretty clear that anyone with a pulse and a console or gaming PC should drop everything and give it a whirl. Shocking? Not remotely.

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