Bioshock Infinite is an exceptional example of the medium as a powerful storytelling device
After several hours of pondering, I have concluded that there is nothing quite like it. There never has been a game so experiential — there have been more original games, yes, but nothing that transcends description or labelling (the best one can do is 'first-person shooter'), and nothing that requires the player to interact with it to really understand the essence of its gameplay and storytelling philosophies as Bioshock Infinite does. But it is a game. There are no attempts to mimic film, no failed attempts to pseudo-Hollywoodise the narrative, or as games often seem to do these days, make you watch cutscenes that can be tediously long. Bioshock Infinite plays to the medium's strengths, using it as a tool to deliver an immersive story that you get to experience from a first-person perspective, very rarely losing control of protagonist and former Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt. Bioshock Infinite is a game (often proudly), and that's not a bad thing.
The setting is Columbia, a city-in-the-sky, a Steampunk universe for 'pure' Americans, led by Zachary Hale Comstock an all-round evil-as-evil-can-be bad guy who is masquerading as a father figure and faultless leader. Columbia is a racist, fascist, jingoistic and xenophobic society with zero tolerance for pretty much everything that doesn't conform with their ideology — all thanks in no small part to their leader, Comstock. Information on its rich history and culture is available on demand in-game via Voxophones (audio logs) and Kinetoscopes (film projectors). But your place is not to judge. Playing as Booker DeWitt, your goal is rather simple. Get the girl, and your debt is cleared.
The 'girl' is Elizabeth, Bioshock Infinite's wonderful AI companion. Booker feels he's got it all sorted out — all he needs to do is break her out, and hop on the next Zeppelin to New York. But as you would expect, things go awry, and he's forced to get to know Elizabeth over the course of the next ten-or-so hours. But this is probably the best thing to happen to him, and you, the player. It is her presence that drives the story forward, and it is her presence that prevents your premature death in combat — aiding you with ammo, health, and multidimensional portals. There are so many layers to Elizabeth, each unravelling in tandem with the story's progression, all the way to its truly incredible finale.
As a shooter, Infinite remains highly competent. Combat is intense, and often challenging, with the game throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you at any given opportunity. The larger enemies are not easy to take down (the Handyman in particular, is quite the chore) without Elizabeth's help, but not unmanageable. There are a variety of weapons, each with their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s the ‘Vigor’ system (akin to Plasmids from Bioshock) that makes things interesting. Booker can play with fire and electricity, possess enemies and inanimate objects alike, summon crows, and more. It would also appear that Ken Levine and Irrational Games have recognised the appeal of a quasi-loot system and displaying floating damage numbers over enemies' heads when hit, and they've given them to us. The RPG-inspired elements add only a superficial depth to the gameplay, but a great deal to Bioshock: Infinite's “proud to be a game” philosophy. Irrational has also nailed the Sky Line traversal system which lets you use an electromagnetic Sky-Hook (this doubles as a mêlée weapon) to skip around Columbia with ease.
In terms of production values, Bioshock: Infinite is up there with the best. The game's exceptional voice acting is matched by a soundtrack that features a bizarre collection of inappropriate music that just happens to fit like a glove. It's visually breathtaking, not just because of a robust graphics engine, but the art — in concept and aesthetic. Infinite's campaign, if nothing else, is quite the ride. There's just so much to absorb, and so much to experience — all of which is possible only in an interactive medium such as this. Bioshock Infinite is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.