a portfolio of videogame writings
Columbia, Bioshock Infinite’s floating city in the sky, is a vividly imagined place, a marriage of impossible engineering and incredible artistry. Its buildings sway amongst the clouds buoyed atop huge zeppelins of air; its streets are lined with rose gardens, picnics, statues of the founding fathers and candy floss stalls, and its population is drunk on the religious and xenophobic preachings of its founder and self-styled prophet, Zachary Comstock. It’s a lavishly detailed landscape, a picture of early 20th century America at its most opulent, optimistic and frightening, and it’s an utter joy to simply soak in.
The same could be said of many videogame settings, but what sets Columbia apart is Irrational Games’ realisation of the impossible as an interactive environment. Take Columbia’s transportation network, the Skylines for example. A less ambitious title would have used them in one or two tightly controlled set-pieces. Irrational has made them a fundamental element of Infinite’s gameplay, employing this snaking series of undulating rails as a useful tool in your combative arsenal. They’re not only a world-fleshing piece of imagination, but a strategic aid to reach higher ground.
Infinite consistently integrates ideas and exposition that could have been consigned to a tutorial or cut scene into its in-game world. It’s the natural progression of those first-person storytelling techniques established by the original Half-Life – your viewpoint is never abandoned and environmental details such as posters, graffiti and the chattering of passers-by build a picture of the place. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in Infinite’s opening sequence, which succinctly establishes the games’ setting, story and gameplay through a mesmerising hour-long sequence of events.