Bioshock Infinite's greatest crime is the first word in its title. I only recently played it, meaning I came to the game having heard half the world tell me this is the greatest game in history, a masterpiece, the final proof that games are art and the other half telling me not to believe the hype, this game's a bit crap, don't bother with it. Much like Marmite itself, its actually entirely possible to feel kind of ambivalent.
First thing's first, this is an undeniably beautiful game. Crisp edges, shiny reflections, astounding water and immaculate lighting serve a wonderfully realised, dreamy cloudscape and expressive, stylish character models which wisely steer clear of attempts at photorealism. From the lashing rain of the game's opening to the wonderfully abstract ending, by way of stunning skytop vistas, every moment in Columbia is sumptuous to look at.
Unfortunately, Columbia is far from the living, breathing city Rapture was. Whereas that environment dripped with a perfectly realised 1950s aesthetic, this game attempts too many things with its multi-dimensional plot for the 1920s vibes to shine. Whereas Rapture felt like a lived-in place the player could explore, Columbia is a loosely connected series of shooting setpieces and corridors full of exposition.
Overall, the plot is never as clever as it thinks it is, nor as clever as the game's predecessor. Bioshock was a very human story; Ken Levine knew the philosophies inside out and spun a meaningful story from them. There were science fiction elements but they rose naturally from the objectivism gone mad. Infinite weaves a complex tale of quantum physics and multiple universes but it struggles to find the human element that separates the really great science fiction.
That said, the relationship at the heart of game, between exceedingly cool-named player character Booker Dewitt and Disney princess Elizabeth is, though generic, well-acted and touching. Having a talking, fleshed out player character is an odd change from the previous Bioshock games but luckily Booker is likeable and never grates in the way many protagonists do. It almost seems the full allocation of interesting characters was used on those two. Elsewhere, there's an uninteresting main antagonist and a bizarre unexpected boss fight with a ghost. Recurring enemies like the Handyman never compare to the Big Daddies and Little Sisters that made Bioshock so memorable.
Songbird, who might have been something special, is criminally underused. As are Elizabeth's all-important reality warping superpowers. While early trailers made it seem like anything was possible, the final game boils down to giving you the option between extra bits of cover or extra things to swing on with the admittedly fun sky-hook. Unfortunately, other elements of the combat are repetitive and the Vigors feel shoehorned-in just as an excuse to slap the Bioshock name on the case.
I can't say this was a bad game. Occasionally, the game gives you a gunplay segment with enough flexibility and tension to keep you excited. Sometimes the world is just beautiful to look at, the acting is touching and the music catches you by surprise.
At the same time, I can't say this is a great game. It simply doesn't live up to the Bioshock name. Too much of the gameplay boils down to repetitive, linear shooting galleries. The world and the plot feels artificial and never quite as clever as it thinks it is. Plotlines are introduced and dropped carelessly, elements like race are never explored as meaningfully as they might be.
Overall, this is a game I'm glad they tried to make and one that I'm glad I played, but I'd be far more likely to return to the other Bioshock games than this one. Also, I like marmite on toast but not really in sandwiches.