A steampunk epic, BioShock Infinite is as good as the hype surrounding its release, and then some, writes John Walshe.

Describing BioShock Infinite as a first person shooter is like classing Lionel Messi as a five-a-side footballer, having Francis Bacon paint your front gate or casting Daniel Day Lewis in a supermarket advert. Yes, of course it does the FPS thing, and does it very bloody well, and I’m sure Danny would make a fine job of buying rashers and eggs in his local Centra, but it’s so much more.

To enter the world of BioShock is to immerse yourself completely in another reality, one that’s eerily similar to our own, or at least an early 20th century version of our own. Well, as similar as you can be when your reality is a floating city in the clouds!

Where Rapture, the setting for the original BioShock adventures, was submerged Atlantis-like beneath the waves, Columbia exists high in the US sky. Like its predecessor, it is also ruled by a less-than-benevolent dictator in the shape of Father Comstock, whose vision for a more American state led to Columbia’s formation and subsequent secession from the Union.

Following an unsettling prologue set in a remote lighthouse, our anti-hero, former PI, Booker DeWitt finds himself in this sky city, searching for a mysterious girl. Booker has built up some rather heady debts and finding Elizabeth and bringing her to his benefactor will wipe the slate clean. But things don’t work out that easy: when it comes to BioShock, they rarely do. It isn’t long before Booker and Elizabeth have to form an uneasy alliance, as they fight for their lives against Comstock’s minions and the Vox Populi, the would-be freedom fighters who seek to overthrow the city father.

Everything about this game oozes class, from the stunningly created pre-WWI cityscapes, both the broad expanses of the rich and the cramped lanes and filthy hovels of the poor, to the period advertising posters, the myriad characters you encounter, the intriguing plot and the incredible sounds. The voice-acting is superb, but it’s the rich musical accompaniment that really serves to set the tone, from the repeated religious codas that permeate many levels to stumbling across a barbershop quartet version of the most perfect pop song ever written, The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows (even if it wasn’t actually released until 54 years after the game’s 1912 setting).

The combat might not be relentless enough for some – some of the firefights are pretty intense but you can often go for reasonably long periods without having to kill anyone – but the weapon system is a joy. As well as the standard pisols, carbines, machine guns etc of the period, you also get a host of Vigors, essentially super-powers which let you turn enemy machines and soldiers to your cause, summon a demonic murder of crows and zap bad guys, Zeus-like, with a bolt of pure electricity, amongst other skills. Both the standard armaments and Vigors are upgradable, too, allowing you to fine-tune the killing system that suits you best. Elizabeth, meanwhile, can open tears into alternate realities, and can also drag handy items, like health packs, ammo, remote gun turrets etc. into your world.

The scale and ambition of BioShock Infinite is incredible, with a stunningly involved story about society, religion, the race and class struggle, power, corruption, propaganda and so much more, all wrapped up in an outrageously good steampunk adventure on Zeppelins and ziplines. Brilliant.

Platform: PS3, X360, PC
Publisher: Irrational/2K
Cert: 18
Score: 4.5/5

John Walshe