A lighthouse gleams in the murky distance, choppy seas accompanying your progress towards the dimming light. Clues to your identity are to be found in a wooden box offered with little explanation. Once inside a journey starts to a fantastical world… Bioshock Infinite plays fast and loose with the parallels to the original Bioshock in ways you might expect, and then, as the game progresses, in ways which play on this very expectation. But like everything in this meticulously crafted game nothing is done without purpose or meaning; this is no re-tread merely transposing the ocean for the sky, but an evolution of everything the original game did so well with enough surprises to keep the game feeling fresh throughout.
Rather than a descent to a ruined metropolis, this time you ascend, through the clouds, to Columbia, a floating city in the sky, a vision as strikingly realised as it is metaphorically apt for the vision of the city’s ruler, Comstock, or as he is more frequently referred to: the Prophet. You play as Booker DeWitt, a guy at the end of his rope, offered a chance for redemption as a simple mission statement; bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt. The girl in question is Elizabeth, the daughter of the Prophet who has been locked away in a tower for her whole life. As you enter Columbia the game feels overwhelming, deliberate disorientation coupled with a barrage of imagery and ideology leaves you stumbling through the streets of this seeming paradise struggling to take it all in. And what a creation it is. Simply put Columbia is one of the great videogame worlds, an idea so fantastical that it shouldn’t work is realised spectacularly from the moment you enter right up until the end. Monuments and entire neighbourhoods sway on beds of clouds, Zeppelins drift high above and all the while the rest of the city stretches out into the distance. Bathed in sunlight it is a vision, a refreshingly unique creation but one that is more than a gimmick. It soon become apparent that all is not as it seems in Columbia, and like the first Bioshock there is a taciturn understanding required of the player; things are going to get pretty weird and you’re going to have to try and keep up.
At its heart Bioshock Infinite is still a shooter and retains many of the mechanics from the original game, though here the plasmids that infused your left hand with powers in Rapture have been replaced with vigors, which do essentially the same job. From sending out fireballs or electric bursts to a swarm of crows these remain a fun and inventive way of mixing up the games combat. You can equip two vigors at once, and two weapons, allowing you plenty of combinations to experiment with as you come up against the various foes of Columbia, These range from your standard troops to mechanised Patriots and even the fearsome Handyman, and there is enough variety in type and setting to prevent the combat from getting stale.
In fact combat feels a lot tighter and more enjoyable than in the original game, and this is in part due to one of the games strongest gameplay innovations: the skyrails. Early on you acquire a hook that allows you to graft onto rails that run through areas of the city, opening up combat scenarios to take place in large, spacious multi-level environments allowing for some wonderfully enjoyable situations. Key to this is that the controls for the skyrails work perfectly; the game lets you dismount at any time, even allowing direct attack onto unsuspecting enemies and I never once fell to my death. Once you get the hang of it, it really does feel like something genuinely new, and there are few things as satisfying as using the lines to zip around a series of levels taking out enemies as you go, all the while mixing up your vigors and weapons in such a fluid manner. The only real shame is that there aren’t nearly enough of these situations, and you are often restricted to indoor combat, or more standard level design, which pales in comparison to the larger encounters.