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Is there too much shooting in BioShock Infinite?

BioShock's guns and Vigors get in the way of exploring its world

You've probably played the opening ten minutes of BioShock Infinite, by now. If not, well, what are you waiting for? Booker DeWitt's introduction to Columbia is - almost literally - a heavenly experience, as you ascend through the clouds and a golden, gleaming archipelago comes into view, floating in the sky.

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The game has the confidence not to rush things, too. Rapture chucked a splicer in front of you almost as soon stepped out of the first bathysphere, but Infinite bides its time, it lets you wonder around Columbia and soak up the convivial atmosphere, beautiful sights and obscure details of this weird, mysterious city. The carnival's a stroke of genius, here, walking you through the game's combat controls in an entirely non-violent context.

I think I spent an hour absorbed in these opening scenes: soaking up the atmosphere of the echoing cathedral where Booker disembarks, poking round the shops and stores where Columbians go about their ordinary lives, and more than once, simply pausing to take in the view, watching as two floating islands would join up or pull apart

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Then things got a bit nasty, and then they got very bloody. And they pretty much remained that way for the rest of the game.

There are still moments, however, where the game slows down - such as when you meet Elizabeth for the first time. Or during the infrequent interludes where you're able to wonder unmolested through civilians who don't realise who Booker and Elizabeth are. These are moments worth savouring, moments where you get a glimpse of Columbia the city, as opposed to Columbia the series of first-person shooter levels.

Infinite isn't just an FPS, after all, it's a mystery game. Columbia's a weird place - and figuring exactly how it's been shaped into its current form is a huge part of BioShock's appeal. How does the city fly? What are its origins? Who made those Big Daddy wannabes and the beautifully terrifying Songbird? And why the hell is that barbershop quartet singing a cover of the Beach Boys' God Only Knows?

The really big questions are answered over the course of the game. The smaller ones are too, if you know where to look. Audio diaries and environmental details help fill in the blanks of the game's story, and there are times when I'd rather just be exploring, piecing together the story of Columbia than sending whole platoons of Columbians to an early grave. There's no escaping the fact that, no matter how hard Infinite tries to justify its violence and show the impact of all the bloodshed upon Elizabeth, Booker's killcount is ludicrously large by the end of the game, and this punctures the believability of its world.

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Elizabeth heightens this feeling. As well as being one of Infinite's biggest mysteries, she's also one of the most human seeming videogame companions I've ever been accompanied by. The way she explores environments alongside Booker is so subtle you could easily miss it. She points out paintings, reads books, diaries and ledgers and generally engages with the world you're picking through rather than simply tagging mutely by Booker's side. She makes exploring feel less lonely than it often can. And she makes me want to do more of it.

Don't get me wrong, I like zipping about on skyhooks and shooting bad guys - but imagine if Irrational had held back during some of those encounters, reined in the powers and provided fewer, more significant enemies: perhaps then we'd have some drama worthy of such a beautifully constructed stage?

If you haven't already, check out our spoiler-freeBioshock Infinite Xbox 360 review.

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