Bioshock Infinite has a strikingly realised portrayal of the floating city of Columbia in 1912, complete with social mores at odds with what is acceptable today

READERS with decent memories may recall that, ooh, ages ago I had a preview of Bioshock Infinite.

After taking a great deal longer in development than expected, and having taken a few sidesteps along the way, the keenly-awaited title has finally arrived – and, boy (or girl), was the wait worth it …

Infinite is the spiritual successor to the critically lauded – and commercial smash-hit title – Bioshock, from a few years ago.

As with Bioshock, Infinite is “just” another first-person shooter, where you wander through the game, shooting this and that on your way to the ending.

However, where both titles (I’m skipping past the slightly undercooked and underwhelming Bioshock 2) greatly impress are not just in their gameplay and graphics, but with their story and characterisation – things rarely done well in the FPS genre, yet mastered once again, here.

It is 1912, and Booker DeWitt has been sent to somehow gain access to the mysterious floating city of Columbia – a vast city of state-of-the-art everything, encapsulating the very best of American ideals of the time.

Booker’s task is to find a young woman, Elizabeth, and spirit her back to the world below.

However, Columbia – a stone, steel and glass marvel that celebrates art, science and progress – is far from the happy utopia that it at first appears.

In fact, Columbia is a society sharply defined by ultra nationalism and isolationist policies; it’s a city that’s only meant for “proper” folk (basically, American, caucasian, God-fearing and rich).

The floating city’s endless posters and propaganda rail against the menace of “foreign hordes” and the corrupted world below, with all of the “normal” standards of its prim and proper 1912 setting.

It’s also a place where the rich cavort gaily in the sunshine on the surface, while the poor toil and languish in the city’s underbelly, below – and it’s all ruled over ruthlessly by Father Comstock.

Somehow, Elizabeth – an isolated young woman who has seen almost nothing of Columbia, let alone of the world below – is key to the city’s future, and possibly a great deal more, besides.

The only problem is, how on earth can Booker  and Elizabeth be expected to escape a city that’s on the edge of a social revolution, when all of Father Comstock’s forces are determined to stop them, and to keep Elizabeth there?

Like I said, Infinite is anything but a standard FPS, which have too often descended in recent years into noisy, chaotic and rather forgettable setpieces.

By wandering through Columbia, using a range of upgradeable “Vigours” (basically, near magic powers) alongside conventional weapons of the era, Booker and Elizabeth run into some terrific setpieces, all presented with great design throughout.

Elizabeth deserves particular praise, as fears of the game being little more than an extended escort mission are soon set aside, due to her help.

With such a particularly accomplished world setting – even if it’s a deliberately provocative one, at that – great graphics, interesting characters and a singularly memorable setting, the long-delayed title deserves to be the smash hit that its chart sales suggest it is.

Bioshock Infinite is available now on PC, XBox 360 and PlayStation 3; as always, look around for the best price.