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From Rapture to Columbia: The changes in Bioshock Infinite
by Chris Hawke

By now, you've seen the excellent 15 minutes of Bioshock Infinite. There's no need to beat around the bush; it looks stunning, and you know it. After all, Rapture was such a hauntingly unique experience. Why would Columbia fail to be? Well, look beyond the Bioshock title and there's surprisingly little to connect the two worlds. What's different to the frightening shadows of Rapture in this new, floating dystopia?

While Rapture was a sodden, dank and murky-blue mess of rust, Columbia is unmistakably beautiful. Classic American architecture gently baked in soft sunlight, surrounded by clear blue skies; you wouldn't expect Infinite to be scary. But rather than mysterious shadows and sudden sounds, Bioshock Infinite takes a new direction; the frightful nature of Columbia comes from the fact there's blood in the streets, dead bodies piling up, and all in what looks to be a perfect holiday resort. That juxtaposition - combined with the explicit, in-your-face fear from the crazed Vox Populi - create an entirely new mood for Bioshock; Columbia was built to fanfare and celebration, rather than pieced together underground. Now, the dream is going wrong before your very eyes.

The original Bioshock was a solitary game. Fleeting accompaniment from friendly robots couldn't do much to stave off the heavy weight of loneliness; the sole survivor of a plane crash, you creep in the shadows as a lone wolf, with only the dulcet Irish tones of Atlus to guide you. It created tension, an eerie atmosphere, and meant you immediately formed a strong bond with your only friend. Which is why it hurt so much when he betrayed you.

Infinite is the polar opposite. Elizabeth is a constant companion, able to both shout out help and magic up some cover whilst in combat. Booker himself spouts more than a few lines of dialogue, acting as a narrator whilst also channelling the feelings and opinions of the player, be that "let's help the horse" or "LEMME SHOOT IT IN THE EYE". The increased human interaction in all forms, from saving distressed postmen to staring down a Vox Populi henchman, means Columbia feels more alive and vibrant, but even more terrifying to most; a crazy lady sweeping up leaves next to a burning building is a far more haunting image than a Splicer in a dark corridor.

Combat in Bioshock was always chaotic and messy. Even with the many steps forward in Bioshock 2, allowing you to handle both guns and plasmids, you'd spray your Tommy Gun fire all over the room and lay down a constant stream of zaps in the hope of pinning the agile Splicers. Enemies took quite a bit of damage, and thus needed a good beating in order to put to rest for good.

Maybe it's the thin air up in Columbia, but these enemies are far more susceptible to lead. The gunplay is now more tactical and finely-tuned; headshots produce grim blobs of brain matter, while a single shotgun blast is enough to send someone flying. Plasmids also seem to have undergone a silent overhaul; in the past, electricity and fire flew freely around the battlefield. Now, plasmids are sparingly used to great effect, and Elizabeth can alter the environment to your advantage. The Murder of Crows is thrown into a crowd as a distraction for a quick escape, alongside a new ability that seems to lift the Vox Populi and leave them hanging in the air for an easy headshot.

Do you want to save some slightly creepy little girls, or shoot them right in their ugly little faces? That was pretty much the only choice you had in Bioshock, and you had to make it about fifteen times over. If you'd chosen one way, you'd probably choose that same way throughout the whole game, unless you wanted to forgo a happy/evil ending and an achievement or two. As far as choices in games go, it was bog-standard.

Put an animal out of its misery, or attempt to save it? Stop an innocent man getting lynched, or let fate play out? Do you want some cover, more weapons, or a quick escape while being attacked? Every minute, it seems, you have a decision to make in Infinite, whether it be minor or major. The effect of this is not only a unique experience that allows you more space for personal play, but also distracts from a clear good/bad ending or rewards. Infinite wants you to make quick decisions that truly reflect how you want to play.

Why was Just Cause 2 an absolute pleasure to jump in to? Was it the outrageous destruction, the mental physics or the beautiful tropical setting? Those certainly helped, but the key reason for the smile on your face was the fact that it was so easy to get around. You zip from mountain to valley in a matter of seconds, blissfully free-falling as you go. It's just fun.

Columbia's big. And it's sprawling. And it's so beautiful you want to see as much of it as possible. The new Skylines allow for rapid movement in between towering American architecture, giving combat a sense a scale not usually seen, least of all in linear FPSs.

Do the meanacing streets of Bioshock Infinite make your blood run cold, or would you rather be stuck under the sea? Put your comments below and make sure to follow our Twitter for all the latest.

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- Chris Hawke

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