For six years, Ken Levine and Irrational Games have worked under high expectations. In 2007, they released BioShock, a massive critical and commercial success. Succeeding what is widely considered the best game this generation is tough- one need only look at the mediocre BioShock 2 as proof.

A flawless combination of FPS and inspired storytelling 
Stylized and gorgeous. Columbia looks amazing. 
Perfect voice acting. Music fans should also listen carefully to the records playing in Columbia. 
Even the ziplines are easy to use
An excellent PC port with a solid framerate 
Low. DLC is on the way, but this is very much a one-time experience. 

That's why BioShock Infinite impresses. While perhaps nothing can surpass descending into Rapture, Infinite is a marvel in its own right and stands as one of the best games of this console generation. It checks every box on the list. The story, gameplay, characters and setting are superb.

I noticed the city first. Columbia is a marvel of engineering and the human imagination. Buildings linked by bridges and cable cars float atop strange engines. Because the city flies above the clouds, its streets are always drenched with sunshine beneath clear skies. The scenery is jaw-dropping.

Infinite nails what BioShock 2 did not-that sense of wonder and astonishment at a world one can scarcely comprehend. The city is amazing and fascinating and terrifying all at once.

Columbia is darker than its sunny environs let on. Zealots who venerate the Founding Fathers as demigods rule the city. The citizens are racist, fanatically religious, xenophobic and brutally capitalistic. Cut off from the rest of civilization on the ground, the city has grown into a monster.  

Despite its inhumanity, Columbia is steeped in fascinating lore. Little touches like a one-star flag (for Columbia) and posters for imaginary products show the amount of care that went into crafting the player's surroundings. I often searched each environment, trying to soak up as much of the city as possible. Every poster, line of dialogue, person and audio diary helps tell a compelling story.

That story is the kind of complex tale one would expect from the people who popularized the phrase, "Would you kindly?". Booker's quest to rescue Elizabeth is convoluted and goes to unexpected places.

Irrational deserves a real tip of the hat for Elizabeth. She is best AI companion in years. Levine's writing breaks from the usual damsel-in-distress tropes and makes her into someone interesting, dynamic, lively, likeable, powerful, and above all, believably human. Elizabeth is a breath of fresh air in a genre stuffy with blow-up doll love interests. By the finale, I felt a real attachment to her.

The protagonist, Booker DeWitt, must keep Columbia's wayward princess from Comstock, the Vox Populi and the monster Songbird. The resulting tug-of-war propels the plot forward to its strange conclusion. Players who obsessively collect voxaphones (audio diaries) and explore every nook and cranny will understand the ending, but everyone else won't. Deciphering the final moments takes time.

The story follows many of the same themes as the first game. Levine always said BioShock was about extremism rather than Ayn Rand, and Infinite is proof. Columbia is a case study in what happens when the lunatics run... well, a floating city armed with futuristic quasi-steampunk weaponry.

The player uses those weapons to repel insurgents, soldiers, and intimidating mechanical monsters. By the end of the game, Booker has left a trail of bodies across the city. It's a sign of Infinite's quality that this is presented without illusions. Booker DeWitt is a vile man, and the game doesn't shy away from that.

The killing takes place within first-person shooter gameplay. Combat is similar to previous games with mixed improvements and setbacks. Booker's new recharging magnetic shield improves on the old health needles. Weapons and powers are also dual-wieldable.

Unfortunately, BioShock Infinite drops the weapon wheel in favor of a Halo two-weapon loadout. This decision baffles me. The old system worked fine. The game tries to get around this by scattering weapons throughout the environment for pickup, but this is an awkward solution to an unnecessary problem.

The difficulty is similarly mixed. On one hand, Irrational removed balance-breaking Vita-Chambers. On the other, the game is noticeably easier. Experienced FPS gamers should play on Hard.

Overall gameplay quality is still high. Gunning down bad guys in Columbia is fun, especially with a wide selection of upgradeable weapons and powers. You'll need them to beat the aggressive enemy AI. Taking down an arena full of bad guys and a Handyman is no mean feat.

Combat is easier with Elizabeth's help. She can open "tears" in reality and create allies and weapons. She also scavenges money, health, salts and ammo during battles. Her timely intervention saved me more than once.

Players in trouble can also escape on any of the handy ziplines around Columbia. The player can even shoot at enemies while riding the rails, which is every bit as awesome as it sounds. Zipline gunfights are one of the coolest things I've experienced in a game.

BioShock Infinite is imperfect. However, it's imperfect on a level few games reach. This is the best game I've played since the original BioShock. The story, gameplay, setting, and characters combine flawlessly into something far greater than the sum of its parts. Infinite is a rich, complex tale wrapped around a great first-person shooter. It's the best kind of game, one that doesn't compromise gameplay or story.

In the end, the most powerful part of BioShock Infinite wasn't a plot twist or gun fight. It happened when I wandered off the main path into the basement of a bar. A lonely guitar stood propped against a box.

"A guitar?" Elizabeth wonders.

Booker sits down, picks up the guitar and strums a few chords.

Elizabeth looks away and begins to gently sing.

Will the circle be unbroken

By and by, by and by

Is a better home awaitin'

In the sky, in the sky?

That small and very human moment spoke to me more than all of the explosions and revolutions and death. It represents everything that makes BioShock Infinite so powerful. All the hopes, dreams, schemes, conflict, and emotion in the game are neatly summarized by a simple four-line song. That's amazing.

Is there a better home awaiting in the sky? Maybe... it's just not Columbia.