- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2013

One of the most critically acclaimed video-game franchises returns with a less macabre but still violent adventure in Bioshock Infinite (Take 2 Games and Irrational Games, Rated Mature, reviewed for Xbox 360, $59.99).

A single player finds himself turned into a gruff but lovable scoundrel visiting a city in the clouds while on a mission to rescue a fair damsel in distress locked in a tower. What could be a more basic fairy-tale narrative for this first-person shooter?

Well, it’s always the devil in the details, eh? As a U.S. Calvary veteran turned private and public investigator, Booker DeWitt is not what he seems.

Helping the fair Elizabeth escape the clutches of the Prophet and city visionary Zachary Hale Comstock and his minions is first a kidnapping rather than rescue mission

However, I found myself falling deeper into an outrageous interdimensional rabbit hole of a story mixing Wachowski Brothers insanity with Christopher Nolan intrigue.

Action takes place in a fantastical world in the year 1912 and mostly within the airborne metropolis of Columbia.

The intricate story pulls no punches while exploring societal issues such as religious zealotry, class warfare, fanatical patriotism and horrendous racial bigotry as the 15- to 20-hour epic plays out.

However, Columbia is really the star of the show here.

It’s a meticulously constructed, steampunk version of Disneyland for the brainwashed masses complete with a vibrant main street, carnival rows, animatronic characters, wondrous museums and an overhead, railed transportation system (characters use a Sky Hook on their arm to attach) called the Sky-line.

Much less shocking than stuck in the underwater horror show of Rapture starring Big Daddy and the Little Sisters, the city is a manageable-to-conquer, retro-urban paradise loaded with babbling citizens often barely aware of the pair’s presence.

Just visit the lair of the Order of the Raven, a society devoted to the accomplishment of John Wilkes Booth, or the Hall of Heroes, with its exhibits on Wounded Knee and the Boxer Rebellion, or view massive statues of the prophets Father Franklin, Father Washington and Father Jefferson to see some spectacular visual design.

Moments such as watching the Dimwit and Duke marionette shows (propaganda for the kiddies) or a demonstration of Jeremiah Fink magical Vigors sucks a player in this world as well as odd random instances such as listening to the Floating Barbershop Quartet sing “God Only Knows” (they are Columbia’s gayest quartet, don’t you know).

Suffice to report; Immersion Games really delivers on its moniker.

Of course, stealing Elizabeth from Comstock is not a good idea, and DeWitt and his new companion become outlaws, hunted by coppers, an incredible creature called the Songbird and Motorized Patriots (heavily-armed robotic versions of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln) to name a few of the twisted creations.

As far as an arsenal for DeWitt to protect Elizabeth, this is a first-person shooter, so look for plenty of guns as well as the use of magical Vigors.

These consumable, powers replace the super-powered Plasmids from previous Bioshock games while fueled by ingesting salts rather injecting the blue liquid EVE.

DeWitt can eventually produce fire bombs at will to attack enemies, levitate them, call upon a flock of crows to attack and even more diabolical — possess an opponent to attack his own team until the emotional stress on the body causes the foe to commit suicide.

And don’t consider Elizabeth simply a Disney Princess, although she sure looks and sounds like one. She is a survivor and does not need protection. Rather, she helps DeWitt by tossing out the occasional health-restoration packs, ammo and salts and uses her time rift powers to beat foes by revealing weapons and escape routes — a key component to the later stages of the game.

As with the Bioshock universe, the imaginative detail combines with a treasure hunt of the highest order,

Meticulously check every corner of a location as well as corpses to find items including American Eagle silver coins (to buy upgrades from vending booths), ammunition, lock picks, bottles of alcohol and salts, and all types of food to restore health.

Additionally, and very important, find and listen to Voxophone recordings from characters and locate booths to view Kinetoscopes (“beware the false shepherd”) to dive deeper into game’s mythology.

2013 has already been a banner year for the video-game lover with top-notch titles such as Tomb Raider, Gears of War: Judgment, God of War: Ascension and Crysis 3.

Bioshock Infinite is the current icing on the cake. It may not be the best game of the year, but its meticulous devotion to interactive detail and layered storytelling make it a strong contender.

Parental advice: The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), after watching Booker DeWitt unleash a flock of crazed ravens on a police officer until he is reduced into a bloody pulp, decided to label this game “M” and that stands for mature — adults 17 years and older need only try to control a Bioshock Infinite. So don’t let your 15–year-old convince you that “it’s just a fantasy game about saving a tough girl, learning about bigotry and fighting for freedom against the smothering effects of a dystopian society.” The game contains gratuitous, brutal and bloody combat against humans with heads exploding off of bodies and enemies being burned down to their skeletons.

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