Last week’s reveal of BioShock Infinite didn’t just catch us by surprise – it took the BioShock universe in an entirely new direction, sending us not to Rapture in the ‘60s or ‘70s, but to the skybound city of Columbia in 1912. A floating wonder held aloft by hot-air balloons and giant propellers, Columbia is apparently home to another pack of crazies who’ve let their technology grow out of hand and become paranoid savages as a result. Into their midst strides Booker DeWitt, a former detective for the Pinkerton agency hired to rescue Elizabeth, a woman abducted to Columbia 15 years before.
What we’ve seen of BioShock Infinite so far promises to do things with the series that have never been done before. We know it’s possible to telekinetically disarm enemies and shoot them with their own guns. We’ve seen a gigantic monster of a boss. And we’ve seen a co-op feature that enables Booker and Elizabeth to combine their Plasmid-like powers to unleash massive destruction against their enemies.
As impressed as we are, we still know relatively little about the game. And we hope that, when we find out more, at least a few of the following things are part of the package:
A city in the sky opens up all sorts of possibilities that simply didn’t exist in Rapture. Although it was founded to foster absolute freedom, the irony of Rapture was its absolute confinement. You were at the bottom of the ocean, with only Rapture’s prisonlike walls to protect you from cold, liquid death. (That was less true in BioShock 2, but the point of confinement still stands.) Escape wasn’t possible. Traveling beyond the walls eventually was, but only in a very limited sense. And everything was cemented in place where it stood, a pressurized bulwark against the elements.
Above: Freedom? Hardly
Columbia, meanwhile, has the potential to be a much more open environment. Sure, it’s still a hostile one – the place is thousands of feet off the ground, and a fall from any of its buildings could mean certain death. But the sky’s literally the limit here. The demo has already shown us that it’s possible to manipulate the environment (which Booker and Elizabeth do by working together to tear apart a bridge), but we suspect that’s just scratching the surface of what’s possible.
Because Columbia isn’t a single, floating platform, but a series of interconnected airships, there’s no real reason why the place couldn’t completely transform its layout at the drop of a hat. Buildings could float above and below each other, forming vast vertical playgrounds across which to fight Columbia’s paranoid, superpowered thugs.
Or, at the very least, feature some interesting levels and puzzles built around huge, moving pieces of floating scenery.
Columbia’s own potential to shift and transform would only partly fulfill the promise of freedom its aerial setting can offer. The other half would come in the form of actual flight. We’ve already seen a blimp-like personal vehicle trundling slowly through the trailer; who’s to say Columbia isn’t hiding something a little faster? Maybe even something fitted with guns?
Above: Maybe something like this?
After all, in 1912, biplanes were only a few years away from entering service in World War I – and that was in a world that can still only dream of a city suspended in the clouds. If Columbia is really the armed camp creator Ken Levine says it is, then it makes sense it’d have some sort of combat aircraft for Booker to use.
The counter-argument to that is that BioShock isn’t a game that needs “obligatory” vehicle sequences, and it certainly doesn’t need to become an open-world sandbox. But if handled right, a flight-combat sequence or two could potentially add a lot to the game, even if it's just a momentary reprieve from the tension built up by creeping around in dimly lit rooms patrolled by murderous cyborgs. At the very least, they could make it feel as though the big, open sky that surrounds Columbia is more than just a backdrop.