Being a huge fan of the original BioShock, my expectations were sky high for Infinite. I have longed for another metropolis that could offer the same level of immersion as Rapture. However, hopes were squandered time and time again by generic titles long after BioShock left its thought-provoking mark. An isolated city hovering in the sky is a direct juxtaposition of one bedded at the bottom of the ocean, and the idea seemed unimaginative, but the assortment of trailers depicted Columbia as a capital thriving with intricate detail. Structures loom above the clouds, acrobatic sky lines link each alluring area, and posters (reminiscent of the propaganda in Rapture) hint at a much deeper, more demented world. Now, after completing BioShock Infinite twice, I can say execution does not get much better.
''Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.'' Such a simple phrase, but these words convey the reason for your journey to Columbia, the utopia in the clouds. Elizabeth is the all-important damsel trapped in a picturesque tower, and as Booker DeWitt, bringing her back to the Sodom below will relieve you of the gambling receipts you've appropriated over the years. But ushering back to BioShock, Infinite starts with a single lighthouse isolated by the vast ocean. Dropped off by two uncanny and bickering characters, the bathysphere becomes an ascending pod instead, launching you skyward. The panic sets in, but the clouds, mist, and rain cut back. The brightest blues and whites replace dark, gloomy oceans; gargantuan whales are exchanged for aerial Zeppelins; and practical, metallic domes give way to the beautiful architecture hovering about the clear, crystal skies. ''Where am I?'' Booker asks as he descends into a vast chapel. ''Heaven, friend,'' a nearby disciple replies, though he is not far off.
First impressions do not get much more spectacular.
Infinite capitalizes on detail wherever possible, especially the 1912 Fair, which presents the player with some truly magical delights. Hints of the game to come are cleverly demonstrated by the various stalls: Fink's show of the wondrous vigors (plasmids by all accounts) displays their creative possibilities, a lumbering Handyman (a huge metal monstrosity) looms over the enthusiastic crowds, and 'target practice' minigames become skillfully disguised tutorials. The developers are masterful with their design, but look beyond the immediate buildings and the scope of the city becomes instantly recognizable. As far as the eye can see, stunning islands await, filling the player with shock and excitement. Of course, other first impressions are also breathtaking, from the serenity and solitude of the church praising Father Comstock, to the bustling city streets where "Columbia's Gayest Quartet" sings the Beach Boys on a floating stage.
Father Comstock deserves little acclaim, however. Very much the Andrew Ryan of Columbia, Comstock governs the narrative, his threats becoming more and more significant as the game progresses. But as the city's prophet, the people see their leader as a godlike figure and worship him because he can see their past, present, and future. As a result, a new hyperbolic religion has been cast over society, with beliefs that are controversial and disputable. Peeling back Columbia's glossy curtain reveals the pool of collective racism underneath, where a distinct hierarchical structure reduces colored and Irish folk to mundane labor and targets for social anger. Most prominent is Battleship Bay, in which neglected underclass bathrooms are separated from the exciting buzz of the arcade.
Battleship Bay is home to beautiful scenery, quirky music, yellow sands, and racism.
Topically, BioShock Infinite touches on subjects which few games dare go near, not only making the story more compelling, but giving characters like Comstock a greater villainous persona. Likewise, every part of Columbia feels deliberate as the sights elaborate upon a world the player will no doubt be devoted to after the first hour. For example, the lighthouse features framed pictures harboring such calculated quotes as "From Sodom I shall lead thee." While players weave their way up the tower, similar sentences set the atmosphere and tone for Infinite perfectly, with a style that continues throughout. Vigor advertisements, secret printing presses, Vox Populi propaganda, bigoted banners, and collectible voxophones breathe life into Columbia, ensuring your visit will not be a short one.
Inevitably, though, Booker finds Elizabeth and frees her from the grasp of the tower she has been confined to all her life. At first glance she appears to be a typical, young woman with a distinct love for Paris. But do a double-take and you will learn Elizabeth was hidden from society for a reason. Opening tears to another dimension appears second nature to the girl, a power which she developed during her extended isolation. Elizabeth's unique ability, however, allows players to change the environment and create interesting combat scenarios that were not applicable before. Instead, firefights that could have been familiar fare become dynamic and engaging once you bring turrets, ammo, and health into the world. Elizabeth's constant detachment from Columbia also gives her character through endearing naiveté not found in many game-related females. When she first hears music outside of her seclusion, Elizabeth cannot contain her excitement. She rushes off to dance, but the innocent depiction makes the player care for Elizabeth and her interests, much like she cares for Booker's by throwing him ammo, money, and salts as she finds them.
Wonderfully naive, but infinitely powerful, Elizabeth grows throughout the narrative as a force to be reckoned with.
Booker will need all the extra help he can get, too. Labeled the "False Shepard," Columbia's residents believe Mr. DeWitt to be leading Elizabeth astray, snatching her from the destiny Father Comstock has established for her. It would seem Comstock also knew of Booker before he arrived in Columbia, but as the prophet rains down his armies upon you, the combat mechanics come to the forefront. Similar to BioShock, Infinite encourages players to take advantage of various powers, named vigors, and consider their use carefully. Bucking Bronco – while brilliant for crowd control with its levitation attributes – falls flat when confronted with mechanical Patriots, and Murder of Crows stuns most enemies – a go-to vigor in a Handyman fight – but fails to inflict much damage. The gameplay still values creativity through possible vigor combinations, yet much like previous titles, players will find themselves establishing favorites and keeping to them despite the myriad temptations. However, those willing to pay the price can happily enjoy the slightly broader spectrum available. Booker finds himself limited to two guns at a time, on the other hand, so calculating which weapons to equip means anticipating fights to come.
In addition, sky lines weave among Columbia's buildings, serving as metallic roller coasters to mix up battles and exploration. When not leaping between overhanging rails, though, the Sky Hook enables players to strike unsuspecting opponents from the air, propelling them backwards and causing massive damage. But sky lines also remain a key form of traversal, allowing easier access to vantage points among the carnage. Swooping descents and steep inclines satisfy with each harrowing ride too, adding another edge to the gameplay and reinforcing the fact that only a floating city lies between you and the ground, ten thousand feet below.
From dark oceans to bright skies, BioShock Infinite never shies away from pushing racial and religious boundaries, making Columbia as enthralling – if not more so – than its Rapture counterpart. The narrative remains the shining star, hosting twists and the ending sure to leave players pondering its connotations long after the credits have rolled. The deliberate nature of the scenery, voxophones, and art establish the world as something special too, a place that begs to be explored and experimented with. But Elizabeth provides the character-driven glue that binds Infinite together; you care for her, and in return she provides new gameplay possibilities not found in Rapture. While the game can slow to a minimal pace at times, it only serves the story, giving greater impact to shocking events littered throughout the final hours. Wander the streets of Columbia, get lost in the intricate world, and in the new Eden soil, BioShock Infinite shall plant thee.
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Irrational Games
Release Date: March 26 2013
Number of Players: 1
Platforms: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PC