I picked up my copy of Infinite earlier today and have been playing it pretty much since. It's fantastic. Bioshock created a flooded cavern of love in my heart and I have to admit that I was a little worried the sequel wouldn't measure up. Great news, I was wrong!
Elizabeth is great. Hands-down the best AI partner I've ever seen in a game. If every AI tag-along could be as unobtrusive, handy, and touching I don't think I'd complain about an escort mission ever again. The number of things they got right with her is simply staggering. From the important story elements of being a character you care about and actually enjoy spending about 80% of your time with, to the neat game-mechanic stuff of her tossing you weapons or tonics when you run dry, to the little tiny details. There has never been a time I've noticed yet of Elizabeth blocking my path, or getting stuck on a rock, or pulling some creepy ass Watson teleporting shit.
- Seriously dude, you're creeping me out.
It's an amazing technical and artistic accomplishment, and you can feel it reverberate through the entire game. One thing I think Elizabeth allowed them to do was make the game MUCH harder. I'm playing through on the default difficulty and the enemies have not hesitated to mess me up. While the original Bioshock hesitated to send more than three goon at you at a time, that's the norm with Infinite, often times more. Mix in some nasty heavy dudes or one of those jerk-ass motor launching guys, add the much more expansive and complicated terrain that doesn't just funnel guys down a corridor at you but lets them intelligently move and take cover, and things get out of control fast. Despite that, I haven't died too often, a result that is largely due to Elizabeth pulling my ass out of the fire with a last-second med-pack or reload, time and time again. It's a pretty neat trick – the action gets crazy hairy, but you have a reliable helping hand to make sure you don't die too often.
To me, the slickest part of this new Bioshock adventure might be Levine's ability to resist the temptation to try for another "would you kindly" moment. Rather than betting the narrative on one big crazy plot twist that makes you reevaluate the entire concept of the game, Infinite starts weird and builds from there. From the opening quote to the frequent reappearance of a pair of character who clearly have no business showing up everywhere they do, down to the uncertain nature of Elizabeth's powers, it is very clear that not everything is as it seems from the get-go.
I think it was a very smart piece of writing. You just couldn't shock people again like the original Bioshock, it's expected now. People would be looking for it. Any big single twist would have been inseparably compared to Bioshock and probably unable to live up to the hype. Instead, Infinite has a very groovy story steeped in weirdness that lets its mysteries and twists unfold one at a time at their own pace.