Bioshock Infinite’s combat revolution: “matching your approach to specific scenarios is important”

New Bioshock Infinite PS3 screens

The first of Bioshock Infinite’s firefights kicks in just after I’ve been identified via a marking on Booker’s hand as a prophesied ‘false shepherd’, here to take away Columbia’s prize citizen, Elizabeth. As I’m pretty much bang to rights in this regard it seems going full-on combat is the only recourse, so with vigor in my left hand and pistol in my right it’s time to fight.

New Bioshock Infinite PS3 screens

Combat immediately flags up the biggest gameplay distinction from Bioshock’s past: this is no longer corridor-based, now there are large open areas filled with vertical spaces to explore. It’s such a departure for the series that approaching my battle with city guards as I would have in previous games leads to Booker fairly swiftly slumping dead against a stack of crates. Oops.

The key is quickly taking stock of your surroundings and – something that’s rarely been necessary before – making sure that no-one’s on your six (that’s some damn fine military speak right there). You also need a keen eye to spot and commandeer any turrets as quickly as possible, and only hunker down behind cover if you’re sure you can’t be flanked.

The combat opportunities evolve greatly as the range of available vigors and weapons increases. I was able to experiment with four: Possession (turns robots and turrets friendly, or recruit enemies to briefly fight on my side before a suicidal end). There was Devil’s Kiss (fiery grenades), Murder of Crows (release a flock of angry birds), and Bucking Bronco (a shockwave that launches enemies into the air). Each has a primary and secondary attack mode – the latter almost always lays a trap of some kind – but they primarily differ from the previous games’ plasmids in that they are, by and large, area attacks.Whereas Incinerate and Electro Bolt affected single enemies (initially at least), all of these first four bar Possession do their work on groups.

This plays into the more open combat spaces so, for instance, you can climb to higher ground, throw out Bucking Bronco onto a gaggle of enemies below, and then fill them with machine gun bullets while they’re airborne. Or, if you find yourself getting pinned down, send out some hungry crows to give yourself a window to jump onto one of the city’s many skylines and zip to a more advantageous platform.

It may not be open and emergent to the same degree as something like Far Cry 3, but it does address one of the criticisms levelled against the first game: that it was possible to rely on a single gun and plasmid and simply one-two punch your way through pretty much every scenario. While you’ll undoubtedly have your favourites here (my preference was to possess one guard and then lay down as many Devil’s Kiss traps as possible), the increased variety in the type of environments in which you fight means that matching your approach to specific scenarios is more important than ever.