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The last time
my feet touched
the streets of
Columbia – the
city floating in
the skies of North
America, rather
than a misspelling of Shakira’s
homeland – the main feeling was one
of disappointment. That was six years
ago, when BioShock Infinite was still
a newly released sequel to one of my
favourite games of all time.
I’d been thrilled by the game’s
first trailer, which leapt from the
familiar undersea setting of BioShock
games past and into this brave new
airborne world. From the dark, an
explosion of colour, sunlight and
flowers. It was a startling introduction
to Columbia, but when I finally got my
hands on the game, it failed to live up
to that promise.
But it’s time to put the past behind
me, and revisit Comstock’s floating
folly. Like that trailer, BioShock Infinite
opens with another clever nod back to
the original game – a lone lighthouse
in the middle of a stormy ocean, filled
inside with the sound of crackly record
players and a demagogue shouting
slogans at you – and then flips it on
its head. Literally, in this case: instead
of diving underwater into the
depths, you ascend high into
the heavens.

Rising above
And so I once more
touch down in Columbia.
And look, I have to admit:
it might actually be a
more interesting setting
than Rapture.
It’s like if the elderly balloon
enthusiast from Up had built an
entire city – and that Disney quality
runs throughout its streets. Between
the barbershop quartets, hot dog
stands and ornamental trims on
every building, it could pass for the
Main Street USA area of any given
Disneyland. If, that is, you don’t look
too closely.
But BioShock Infinite is very keen for
me to take a deeper look at Columbia’s

ugly side. The charming Americana
of the city’s posters and billboards
quickly turn to racist propaganda.
Early on – and I’m uncomfortable even
typing this sentence – I’m encouraged
to throw a baseball at a mixed-race
couple for the sin of ‘miscegenation’.
Shortly afterwards, in gruesome
close-up, I cave in a man’s
head with a piece of
industrial machinery.
Columbia certainly
goes for the throat of
America in a way that’s
only become more
potent in 2019. It’s not
subtle about depicting the
darkness behind the white
picket fences. Later, I fight a cult
which canonises John Wilkes Booth
for assassinating Abraham Lincoln. I’ll
just say that they’re dressed
in pointy hoods and robes,
and leave you to fill in
the blanks.
The ways BioShock
Infinite goes about this
are far from perfect –
there’s a heavy
reliance on using

racist caricatures to prove this is a
xenophobic society – but the contrast
between Columbia’s shiny happy
presentation (at least initially) and the
horror at its core probably elevates
it above Rapture, which is exactly as
grim as it first appears.
The rest of the game, though? I
can see why I felt so let down back in


  1. A lot of the systems borrowed
    from its predecessor simply don’t
    fit the setting. Rummaging through
    dustbins, eating entire pineapples to
    heal up, feels odd in an apparently
    prosperous city. The levels might be
    set among open skies, but there’s
    generally a single route through them
    that feels just as claustrophobic as
    any undersea tunnel.
    So once I turn off the Xbox and
    come tumbling back to earth, there’s
    nothing pulling me back to Columbia.
    Nope, I’m happy with my feet
    planted safely on
    terra firma. Q


extra


“There’s a heavy reliance on using


racist caricatures to prove this is a


xenophobic society”


Revisiting BioShock Infinite ’s Columbia to see how its


skewering of the American Dream holds up in 2019 ALEX SPENCER


PUBLISHER 2K GAMES / DEVELOPER IRRATIONAL GAMES / FORMAT XBOX 360, XBOX ONE / RELEASE DATE MARCH 2013

WHAT IS IT?
BioShock’s mix of
shooting, story and
exploration, dredged up
from the seabed
and applied to a city
in the clouds.

More Xbox news at gamesradar.com/oxm THE OFFICIAL XBOX MAGAZINE 099