Not The World I Know

The disarming nature of BIoShock Infinite's Columbia.

By: Ryan Winslett

Filed Under: Editorial Reflections Shooters Story-driven

The world feels like it’s falling to pieces around me as the clouds finally part and I am greeted by the sight of a pure white angel, arms open wide to accept me into this glorious kingdom of heaven. “Hallelujah.”

While my journey into BioShock Infinite felt like something of a homecoming at first, this shining, monumental city of Columbia could not be any further removed from the dark, flooding hallways of the doomed civilization of Rapture. There is light here. Life, really. A sense of a world still breathing; its citizens serving as the lifeblood, pumping through its alleys and avenues as they carry out their day to day lives, keeping the floating skyscrapers moving steadily onward.

In my time here, I know I will discover a cancer or two; deadly splotches of corruption and greed with the ability to tear Columbia apart from the inside. These afflictions will likely take the form of some silver-tongued politician or zealot but, as I take my first stroll through the city, the mumble of prayer and the chatter of passers by are the only sounds to greet my ears.

And like any good BioShock game, I realize that I myself will become a sort of sickness to this strange new world I now find myself in. I walk these streets as a virus, smiling and playing nice with the locals knowing full well that this peace, this too-perfect normalcy, must soon come crashing down. And no matter how much I hope to remain unnoticed by the folks who call this city in the clouds their home, I know that my actions will soon enough turn them against me. And then the killing will begin.

For now, though, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the view as I explore every inch of this magnificent paradise that’s so far removed from what I’ve come to expect out of the BioShock series.

I stroll down the street and listen in on conversations, each one giving me a little more information about the way of life in this metropolis that couldn’t possibly exist. They’re excited for a fair and a fireworks show, as American as apple pie. They discuss politics, even if the names they pass so casually between them are still unknown to me. They talk religion, even if their faith is currently a mystery to me. They talk about how annoying it is when a bridge doesn’t connect on time and makes them late to work. They talk about household chores. They spread rumors and giggle at gossip.

This is not the world I was expecting. Even the brief glimpses of Columbia I have allowed myself to experience in the months leading up to Infinite’s release were unable to prepare me for this journey. The people here are average Americans, not deranged party-goers hopped up on too many gene-altering chemicals. My view is of a never-ending landscape of meticulously crafted buildings floating in a sea of clouds, not murky glimpses at a watery grave through corridors that are falling apart around me.

About an hour in and I haven’t even been shot at. What kind of a first-person shooter keeps my finger off of the trigger for so damn long? Were I in Rapture, I would have been mowing down a barroom full of mask-wearing splicers at this point. But the people of Columbia don’t seem interested in bashing my brains in with a wrench in order to suck the Adam from my dying body. They instead occupy themselves with watching children play or discussing the benefits of hiring a mechanized horse to haul their groceries.

I don’t believe I’ve ever been so disarmed by a video game world. My skills have not yet been put to the test. I haven’t had to reload or debate between which super human power will work best against the two enemies on the left and three moving up on the right. I haven’t been asked to make a decision or answer a question. I’ve been given a chance to walk these streets free of threat which, in its own weird way, is just as unsettling. It turns out that waiting for the other shoe to drop can be every bit as tense as having a cloud of bullets flying overhead.

But after a while, I finally let my guard doen. I know that the violence and the bloodshed will have to begin sooner or later but, for now, I’m happy to experience this world as it exists. For once I get to enjoy the calm before the storm, a storm that I know will be orchestrated in no small part by my own hand. A hand that, for the moment, isn’t even carrying a gun.

Filed Under: Editorial Reflections Shooters Story-driven

About the Author:
Ryan Winslett is an Arizona-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a contributing writer for Gaming Blend and his work has also appeared on Joystiq, Gamasutra and Joystick Division. His only crime is loving too much.

18 Responses to “Not The World I Know”

  1. Realbiasedgaming

    Very well said. I could not agree more. Even after the combat and killing begins, the first several hours of the game often find Booker and Elizabeth fighting for their lives one moment then hiding amongst a crowd the next.

    I have to say i was more than disappointed that the life and vivacity of the city pretty much disappears about halfway through the game. I understand the plot leads the city down a certain path, but it removed some of that unique feeling when playing BI once that gorgeous initial view of Columbia started to fade.

  2. RyanWinslett

    Those quiet moments between the fighting are some of my favorites, too. And yeah, the story needed to go to a certain place and that resulted in those quiet times fading into the background, but maybe it’s best that way.

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