Bioshock Infinite: Three hours in Columbia, Irrational’s brave new world

Goodness, doesn’t Booker DeWitt look dashing? The changes aren’t obvious, but BioShock Infinite’s lead has had a subtle makeover since we saw him last. His expression is more resolute, his hair less floppy, and his muscles strain against an outfit that makes American Victoriana look supremely fashionable. He needs to look the part, of course, since he’s a more fully drawn character than BioShock’s blank slate.

Our first proper three-hour journey through Columbia is also the first opportunity to spend some quality time with Booker, and to gain a measure of how much impact a fully voiced player character with a backstory and motivation of his own will have on the series. After being dropped off at a suspiciously familiar lighthouse at the start of the game, we discover Booker’s quest to save Elizabeth has a selfish motivation. Unspecified figures are hunting him for unknown deeds, but if he saves the girl, reads a note scrawled near a masked and mutilated body found in the lighthouse, then the debt will be wiped clean. This isn’t just Columbia’s story, then, nor is it purely Elizabeth’s – DeWitt is known to certain key figures within the city, while infrequent dream sequences transport him to a monochrome office where an unseen figure bangs thunderously upon the door.

“What’s interesting about Booker is that you both know him, but he’s also a bit of mystery to you,” explains creative director Ken Levine. “That’s why you see his office. Part of it’s a narrative element: a flashback, or dream, or something to that effect. But some of it is a way to fill you in on Booker. And as you go through [Columbia], you learn a bit more about him. He’s another layer, another world you’re exploring.”

It’s Columbia we’ve come for, of course, the floating city in the sky that parallels and mirrors Irrational’s last piece of high-concept urban development. Like Rapture, Columbia is an isolationist utopia explicitly shaped by one man’s guiding hand and vision. Unlike Andrew Ryan’s city, however, Columbia is a city state that’s been built along fervently nationalist and evangelical lines. Rather than a Libertarian paradise, this is a twisted version of the America that Fox News commentators pine for and lament. It’s also devoutly and explicitly Christian; Booker must be baptised before he can truly enter the city, where hot dog stands and angelic statues of the founding founders line the dazzlingly clean neoclassical streets. But it’s not quite America as a turn-of-the-century New Englander would recognise it. The horses drawing its carriages are mechanised contraptions powered by an energy source that appears to be fulfilling a similar role to Rapture’s ADAM.

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