Watching the plane go down in the middle of the ocean during Bioshock’s opening sequence was one of my first experiences with modern triple-A gaming. The game that followed was one that took a hold of me and hung around in my memory long after the credits rolled – those dilapidated corridors, the shrieks of the splicers, that once ornate city of Rapture sleeping beneath the waves. Bioshock Infinite‘s opening is not quite as hectic – the game begins with you in the back of a rowing boat as two mysterious figures talk amongst themselves as they paddle. Then you see it – the lighthouse. That beacon that immediately takes you back to that first game in the series, and images of Rapture come running back to you. Infinite is then explicitly tied to its predecessors from the very beginning. It starts to show its differences though when, instead of entering a submersible and heading back down into the depths, you climb higher and higher before reaching a cubicle looking very reminiscent of those bathyspheres from the original game. But then, it launches you up. You are surrounded by cloud before, finally, you break through, and Columbia spreads itself out before you. It’s truly glorious, and one of the most stunning scenes I’ve experienced in a game. Infinite continues to build on this as you begin to descend into a candlelit church, the floor covered in water, Will The Circle Be Unbroken echoing through the halls. It’s magical.
This magic does eventually get ripped away as the game descends into madness as you try to rescue Elizabeth from Comstock and effectively wage war on the Columbian infrastructure. It’s basically your first little foray into the ideals of the game – these perfect worlds hide dark secrets, just waiting to be brought out into the light. Columbia at first seems idyllic and tranquil, almost too much so. That feeling of unease that sits in the pit of your stomach soon turns out to be justified as you uncover the truth of this place – this is a racist, puritan world, where people who don’t fit the mold of the classic American dream are ostracised, made into entertainment for their white superiors. It’s horrible to watch. This racial injustice becomes a big part of the storyline as opposing forces in the Columbian world come head-to-head, the supporters of Comstock and the Vox Populi, a militant group led by Daisy Fitzroy who reject Comstock’s puritan and racist ideals. While the game uses this racial conflict as background for its story, it isn’t actually the main thread that the story takes.
The narrative of Bioshock Infinite is looping, mysterious, and full of wonder as you slowly uncover its tale of parallel universes, past selves, alternate timelines and family ties. Infinite is a game that goes all in on the multiverse theory, with some interesting lines that have garnered almost as much fame among Bioshock fans as the original’s ‘a man chooses, a slave obeys’. You’ll find ‘constants and variables’ emblazoned over a variety of Bioshock Infinite merchandise, a line from the Luteces which sums up Infinite’s view of parallel universes – while some things may change, some things are always the same – ‘there’s always a man, and there’s always a lighthouse’. Those similarities you noticed at the beginning of the game? Infinite has a canon-reason for them, and even ties them together with you visiting Rapture again towards the end of the story. Running through universes in an ocean of lighthouses will forever be a scene that lingers in my memory. In fact, the whole of Bioshock Infinite is something that I find genuinely quite difficult to forget.
The gameplay is strongly reminiscent of the first game as well – gunplay is still relatively simple, and we have vigors in place of plasmids, allowing the designers to continue exploring their creativity as they create some interesting powers. The enemy designs are also very cool – Songbird is now iconic, and the Motorised Patriots (Infinite’s answer gameplay-wise to the original’s Big Daddies) are genuinely pretty intimidating and tough to beat (at least they were for me, someone who isn’t exactly skilled in the ways of the first-person shooter). The design of the city is also marvelous – while Rapture was dark and dank, an oppressive atmosphere hanging over every moment, Columbia is bright and colourful, blue skies spreading out before you as you explore wider environments and roads. It’s a great way to help you feel like you truly are exploring a city in the sky.
The whole Bioshock series is brilliant, but I have to say that Infinite holds a special place in my heart for how it ties the games together and how much my mind was just blown by its ending. I remember clearly thinking that this was just about the best story to be told in gaming, and while I think now that there may be some competition for that title, I still believe that Bioshock Infinite has something totally unique in gaming to offer and should be played and enjoyed by everyone.