“The mind of the subject will desperately struggle to create memories where none exist…” – Rosalind Lutece, Barriers to Trans-Dimensional Travel, 1889
Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt. As you soar into the floating city of Columbia for the first time you see exactly where Irrational Games’ ambitions lie; Amongst the clouds with this incredible city. The game manages to achieve all of it’s ambitions and more, with a story the likes of which we haven’t seen since the original Bioshock, varied and new first person gameplay and a stunning, truly realised world for the player to explore. This game does what it’s predecessor did in 2007; it changes and challenges the gameplay and story of this console generation and reinvents them to become a truly incredible experience.
The game world is in almost direct contrast to that of Irrational Games’ original Bioshock, we see a rich and colourful city in the prime of it’s existence whilst also involving the player in Columbia’s breathtaking descent. Columbia has it’s own set of rules, it is a fully realised world with a vibrant cast of characters that really make the world feel real. People walk around, reacting both to the player and surrounding events, with clever and involving conversations that reflect the world around them. The game is set in alternate reality 1912 and shows off the views and values of an America steeped in religious rule, patriotism and severe xenophobia. The content in game is quite harsh in contrast to the vibrant city and challenges the player to look at society today with reference to the game. Every area of the game feels different and diverse, from the squalid Shantytown to the opulence of the streets above and then into the skies of Columbia aboard the many airships and floating platforms, never ceasing to pull the extraordinary narrative along with each detailed environment.
The streets of Columbia
As the player enters Columbia they are introduced to the basic gameplay elements of Vigors (akin to the original Bioshock’s Plasmids) and the variety of weapons through a carnival, set up as part of the celebrations for Comstock, the game’s antagonist. In your first hour you will experience combat with some basic guns, vigors and the transport method doubling as a melee weapon; the skyhook. The skyhook allows for some incredible firefights and a new mobility unseen in gaming. Just hop aboard a skyline and you can drop behind enemies, into cover or zip around the area quickly all the while returning fire from attackers. The game’s AI is also quite clever, with enemies and “Hard Hitters” (different, more tough enemies such as the handyman and motorized patriots) able to use the skylines and move around like the player. Then the game takes it up a notch, in story, gameplay and emotion with the introduction of Elizabeth.
Elizabeth. This one character serves as the core of the story and gameplay. From the moment you meet her she barely leaves your side, constantly adding to the game. In combat she will help you by finding health, salts and ammo and also cash outside of combat. She also has the ability to open ‘tears’ in the environment, pulling items from other worlds and reality into being in the locale. She also adds real emotion to the gameplay. You begin to rely on her and think about combat situations with her abilities in mind. In the few short absences she has from the player you genuinely miss the character. Her powers and dialogue always make the player feel more invested in the story, her presence never once takes anything away from the experience. Her AI is also incredibly well done, she will explore and interact with the environment, once again bringing areas of the game to life and you will want to sit in one spot and see all the animations and dialogue the developers have crammed into each of the game’s areas.
I have talked about the story a lot so far, the narrative really pulls the whole experience together. The story crafted by Irrational Games masterfully weaves the setting, values and original story together into a story that will keep the player invested in the game’s fifteen plus hours of gameplay. Without revealing too much, the story centres around the protagonist, Booker Dewitt, tasked with travelling to Columbia to rescue Elizabeth to pay off his gambling debt. The city is ruled by “The Prophet” Comstock, who has kept Elizabeth locked away for years. Bring in the Vox Populi, a resistance movement of the lower classes and racial outcasts, fighting against Comstock’s extremely one sided rule. The story has the occasional lull in sections, but they always followed by something amazing soon after, only increasing the effect of the succeeding event. Once you dive into the narrative the tale morphs and evolves at a cracking pace up to the jaw dropping finale, where players will be left thinking long after the credits roll.
Overall the game is an amazing experience. Irrational Games have done an amazing job of bringing the world of Columbia to life. The story, gameplay and above all the work that went into Elizabeth help this game to exceed all expectations and in turn reinvent the FPS genre amongst it’s many more stale counterparts. The game is incredible in scope and story, well worthy of any gamers time, earning it’s well deserved place amongst some of the finest games of the generation.
In my mind, this game deserves no other score than, Go and Buy it NOW!