by Josh Butler
previewed on PC
Elevating the series
Game design is like real-estate in surprisingly few ways – and yet, in both, location is everything. In a good game it is not merely the backdrop for your adventure but a key factor to be wrestled with or otherwise used to your advantage. In the best games it provides context as integral to the experience as your character and their motivations. In BioShock it is arguably more important than that.
So when Irrational Games announced that not only would they not be involved in BioShock 2, but that their glorious return to the franchise wouldn’t even be set in Rapture… well, it seemed they had thrown the Little Sister out with the bath water. What could BioShock be outside of Rapture? What gameplay environment could they deliver that would be as compelling as a city hidden miles below sea-level? It turns out the answer was in the question.
Death from above
Columbia may be a city floating in the sky rather than 20,000 leagues under the sea, but it owes its creation to same origins that birthed Rapture – namely, hubris. A monument to the pinnacle of American achievement at the turn of the century, Columbia was built to be a kind of flying World’s Fair; visiting foreign nations to benevolently grace them with all the spectacle of Western accomplishment before moving on to the next. As is the way with these things, human weakness and shady motives soon erode the foundations of the city’s civilised society, bringing about a civil war between the ruling class of ‘Founders’, and the ‘Vox Populi’, an underclass of immigrants and servants looking for revolution. This is around the time our protagonist, Booker DeWitt, arrives in the city.
Booker is a Pinkerton, or more accurately, an ex-Pinkerton agent – thrown out of the notoriously unpleasant security agency for ‘unacceptable behaviour’. He has been hired by a shadowy collective to locate and return Elizabeth, a similarly mysterious young woman who has been imprisoned on the city for the last 12 years (interestingly, the game takes place in the year 1912).
Finding Elizabeth proves simple enough, but Booker soon finds himself caught between the Founders and the Vox Populi as both factions attempt to take advantage of the girl and her strange powers. There is also the small matter of dealing with ‘Songbird’ – Elizabeth’s giant clockwork guardian who acts somewhere between a Big Daddy and an abusive spouse. Songbird has helpfully been programmed with emotions like love, hate and betrayal, and will hunt you down tirelessly to reclaim Elizabeth for his own. Naturally, this wouldn’t be a Ken Levine joint if every NPC wasn’t out for your blood.