The settings appear to be polar opposites: while BioShock and BioShock 2 were set in the crumbling underwater paradise of Rapture, Irrational Games has moved BioShock Infinite into a city in the sky. Columbia, as the city is called, is a bold show of American strength constructed to impress the world – “a kind of early Apollo program,” according to the game’s producer. This being BioShock, it turns out to be nothing but trouble.
When it’s discovered that the city is less technical masterpiece and more floating battleship, there’s an international incident of sorts and it’s not long before Columbia disappears into thin air (no pun intended.) With it goes a young girl named Elizabeth, apparently abducted and held captive on the missing ship for 12 years.
This is where you, as disgraced private investigator Booker DeWitt, step in. DeWitt has been hired by a secretive client to bring Elizabeth back, and this secretive client just happens to know where Columbia has vanished to. Finding the girl – who’s revealed to be quick, cunning, and endowed with powers that border on magic – turns out to be the easy part of DeWitt’s mission. It’s getting her off Columbia that’s going to be tricky.
As the opening paragraph shows, Columbia seems to have been designed to be different to Rapture in almost every way. It’s open in all directions rather than cramped and claustrophobic; there’s plenty of light as opposed to an oppressive darkness, which lends a brighter feeling to the neglected city; you’re surrounded by fresh air rather than cold water; and the people initially appear to be friendly. (Well, they appear to be something other than openly murderous, at least.) So, yes, the whole setting has been massively revised. There’s still plenty of Rapture-esque decay, though in addition to heavy-handed political messages and advertising posters scattered around.
Escaping from this environment isn’t going to be easy for our protagonists, either (plural, as you’re accompanied by the AI-controlled Elizabeth for much of your journey.) Once again, you’re in a surreal environment with little clear idea of who you can trust; characters that seem confused and harmless can suddenly shift into drooling, grenade-hurling lunatics. These are the points where you really see how much more freedom Columbia offers when compared to Rapture.
The action in BioShock and BioShock 2 was largely confined to two dimensions, with the occasional foe scrambling along the ceiling or firing at you from a nearby rooftop, but the open-air environment on offer here gives DeWitt a lot more in the way of options. The most noticable is the grappling hook, which can be used to escape if victory is less than certain, and with foes attacking in larger groups than in the first games, this is likely to be important.
Elizabeth is responsible for most of the other changes to combat, though. You and she both have powers akin to the Plasmid-based “magic” from the first game, and the two can be used in conjunction. Your sidekick can, say, create a small rainstorm to soak a group of foes, and you can then follow up with electricity to conclude the battle shockingly quickly (sorry.)
While BioShock Infinite looks in many ways to be completely different to its predecessors, at its core, it still feels like part of the series. For everything that’s different, there’s something familiar: the propaganda posters, the animations, the Plasmid-esque powers unleashed from the left hand. There’s still the familiar BioShock atmosphere that mingles wonder and dread, too, but everything’s got a bit of a new tinge to it, thanks largely to the shining city in the clouds which differs so much from the dark and secluded Rapture.
So yes, it’s BioShock, but it’s BioShock in a setting that rises above the clouds and is flooded with light. We’re excited to see how Irrational deals with the extra dimensions and the extra space, and we’re excited to see if BioShock Infinite can bring back the wonderous atmosphere that ebbed away from Rapture in BioShock 2. So far, thumbs up.