Welcome to Columbia. Amongst the clouds floats a city of pure and unbridled beauty. It’s Gilded Age architecture purposeful scattered at varying heights as Zeppelins and blimps coast across the illuminated skies. Suspensions bridges, churches and shops all give it a sense of ordinariness that, if it weren’t for the fact it’s stationed tens of thousands of feet from the ground we live on, it would feel calming and serene. The colossal angelic statue in the distance exudes a grandeur and purpose to Columbia.
It’s a city only matched in marvel and detail by that of Rapture – with an adventure to the underwater not required to scale cloud nine, but recommended for the additional throwbacks and nostalgia that it’ll bring with it. Irrational Games created an exception to the norm with the original BioShock; first-person shooters didn’t traditionally have immensely encapsulating worlds and stories that boggle the brain. Yet, here we are again, and at it again they are.
Columbia is a thriving city with vibrant landscapes and a populace as enriching as any. Vistas are breathtaking, whilst buildings are magnificent and, at time, empowering thanks to their decor. The attention to detail is remarkable, as is the diversity, and it creates one of the most impressive sights to behold in an entire generation. It’d be difficult to overstate just how adroit an experience it is, if it weren’t for Elizabeth.
A delightful blend of Disney princess and mysteriously powerful, Elizabeth steals the show as she increasingly becomes the star as Infinite’s expertly paced outing advances. When you, Booker DeWitt, have the delight of first meeting her somewhat naive and innocent character, to imagine you’d go on such a powerful and magnificent journey would’ve been hard to fathom. She not only becomes the perfect co-op partner, but also manages to become one of the most interesting and well-rounded personalities that the videogame industry has ever had the pleasure of crafting.
Our protagonist, Booker DeWitt, arrives at the dystopian city eleven years after it launched as it’s on the cusp of a civil war between the ruling class and the Vox Populi – a resistance group opposed to the ultranationalists. A disgraced former agent Pinkerton National Detective Agency, DeWitt is sent to Columbia with a solitary objective: “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt.”
The chemistry as a result between Elizabeth and Booker is excellently portrayed by the wonderful animations and facial expressions, as well as some terrific voice work from Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper. As Elizabeth accompanies you throughout most of the game, she is never a hindrance, instead offering her unique abilities and even helps to keep you stocked of ammo, health and salts – the latter used for one of the game’s mechanics, Vigors.
When consumed Vigors inflict a genetical modification that grants the use of particular powers. Possession, creation of fire, murderous crows and shocking electricity are just some of the eight strong Vigors available throughout the campaign. It’s their combination with a vast array of weaponry that opens the door to a hugely exciting combat system that constantly reinvents itself, adding new dimensions hour after hour.
In the early days, a pistol and a Vigor or two are your only means of attack; in the final battles though you’ll be leaping from skyline to skyline, picking off foes whilst whistling around vast locations, and combining Elizabeth’s powers and your own to devastating effect. You enemies get progressively more inventive and different as times goes on as well, with the likes of the hulking Handyman and evasive Crowman a stark change from the pipe-wielding citizens of early days. The Songbird, a creature akin to the original BioShock’s seemingly impenetrable Big Daddies, plays a big role, but his appearance and scary destructive capabilities are balanced perfectly.
Skylines are accessible thanks to the Skyhook which opens up the battlefield tremendously by adding verticality and a quick and easy way to maneuver. You can attack enemies whilst on it, or drop down to hit them from above – but watch out as they can do the same.
Although the clear power struggle between religion and science is as much a core thread as it is the day-to-day struggle of a select enigmatic few – as is the racial segregation in a deluded world built from an early 20th century America – there are some mightily interesting personalities involved. Whether that be preachers, shopkeepers, quantum physicists or prophets they all add to the flourishing cityscape.
” Infinite has all the key ingredients to be one of the great classics”
BioShock Infinite treads a line between science-fiction and steampunk, utilising elements from both that seem most appropriate for the time period. It’s a slow and thoughtful crescendo with a mind-blowing payoff; questions remain, but that’s the hallmark of a great narrative. Voxphones (audio recordings scattered throughout Columbia) are used to explore more of Infinite’s backstory and help flesh out a more comprehensive understanding of the quantum levitated world. Such acute topics are a refreshing turn of pace and more complicated and thought-provoking subjects allow for great discussion on completion and really makes you think.
There’s next to no downsides to Infinite. It’s the first game is as long as I can remember that not a single bug reared its disruptive head, and although it seems as though the PlayStation 3 version is stretching to its limits in order to deliver a rock-solid performance it does occasionally fall fractionally short. It’s almost completely flawless but it does mean that the odd graphical blemish (normally a low resolution texture) stands out more than usual.
One thing’s for sure, BioShock Infinite is a title few could aspire to be. It is intelligent and astoundingly comprehensive, with a world that is essentially unparalleled with a well thought out history and fantastic storyline. Elizabeth is the crowning gem though as a character as strong as we’ve ever seen. Infinite has all the key ingredients to be one of the great classics: enjoyable gameplay, a rousing soundtrack, strong voice work, a magical world and characters that we constantly crave. Thankfully, it still manages to go further still with jaw-dropping scenes and a plot that is up there with the best. One of the greatest games of all time.