Combat in Columbia in “BioShock Infinite”

Bioshock Infinite

With BioShock Infinite’s combat-centered DLC “Clash in the Clouds” available today, my mind has been on the main game. It’s become one of my favorites, and unlike a lot of people, I genuinely enjoyed the combat once I got used to it.

Going back to the first BioShock games… I’ve had a love-hate relationship with them. I love the story, the setting, the philosophy; everything about the games and the city of Rapture fascinates me. But when it comes to actually playing the games, I just haven’t enjoyed them all that much. The combat feels clumsy, and that horror genre vibe in dark environments makes me too nervous to really enjoy the experience of being there, video game-style.

But BioShock Infinite was on my radar for a long time before its release, and I wanted it for more than the spirit and philosophical ponderings of the original BioShock gamesNow that I’ve devoured it, I can say that Infinite did not disappoint; it’s an utterly thought-provoking game. I won’t spoil details about the imaginative story or the inspired ending, but you can read a thorough rundown of the ending and its meaning here, by the brilliant minds behind At the Buzzer Show.

For me, what makes Infinite vastly more appealing than the originals are the new and absolutely stunning setting, as well as a combat system that grew on me the more I engaged with it.

A City in the Sky

At first glance, the city of Columbia is the antithesis of Rapture in color and atmosphere. This is what made me fall in love with it. Instead of a city deep in the ocean, we now have a city that literally floats in the sky, with sky-lines linking city squares and buildings that often float yards away from each other, mingling with the clouds.


When you first arrive, most of Columbia’s shops are closed for a holiday celebration, the sun is shining, and the streets seem to pop with the heat and the happy atmosphere hanging in the still air. I have never experienced a video game environment that made me feel this sense of presence, and in my opinion, it trumps the first BioShock game for atmospheric realism – and we’re talking about an improbable floating city here.

The production quality is astounding. Playable character Booker DeWitt first launches into Columbia in a rocket, peering out an oval-shaped window at the city floating into view through the clouds. At this point, Booker is stationed firmly in his seat, but the player can shift his gaze around as he looks through this window, causing light to play and glare naturally on the glass as the angle subtly changes. When I saw that, I knew that playing BioShock Infinite was going to be an extraordinary visual trip.

Exploration is at the heart of this game. Within minutes of entering Columbia, the game introduces collectibles such as voxophones (audio files) and kinetoscopes (old-fashioned reel movies) that provide backstory if you activate them. As you collect them, the game tracks your progress on your way to their corresponding achievements, such as Eavesdropper and Sightseer. And natural props in the environment, like apples and packets of crisps, work essentially as med kits and mana rejuvenators.


The first time I played, with every turn I made, I checked the navigator – not to follow the arrow that pointed the way to my destination, but to move in the opposite direction first. I did not want to leave any corner of Columbia undusted. Despite this, friends and online playthroughs have already turned me on to places I missed, such as detours off the beaten sky-line path, and I’d like to go back and visit them all.

And in addition to all the restorative items and collectibles, the game rewards exploration with details and life. I watched fireworks burst over monuments floating in the clouds. I passed children playing hopscotch on the streets. I sneaked into a chapel where hooded cultists prayed to the American founding fathers, paused to read propaganda posters, looted trash cans for silver eagles (the in-game currency). Even standing in a room to admire the turn-of-the-20th-century décor made me feel like I was making memories, as if I were really there.

Weapons, Vigors, and Sky-Lines…

For some reason, I enjoyed the combat much more this time around. Although it’s very similar to the original BioShock system at first glance, the fighting feels fresher and more fluid than I remember it being before. It definitely veers into traditional FPS territory with most enemies packing heat, which leads to chaotic shoot-outs everywhere you turn. But the combat also feels free – which again may come down to the new setting.

BioShock Infinite skylines

Part of that is also the incorporation of sky-lines to get from place to place. Sometimes it’s necessary to whip onto one and access another level of a building or move from one floating platform to another. They’re also there for quick getaways during intense shoot-outs, and one battle in particular emphasizes the way you can whiz past enemies and aim at them from a distance as you sky-line past them. This involved shooting at enemies who were on a distant blimp. I didn’t realize I could jump down and tackle them up close, so I rode the sky-lines on a loop shooting at them from the clouds each time I passed — a frustrating experience at times, but all part of what makes Infinite‘s combat and setting mesh together in such a fun way.

I also enjoyed the makeshift tutorials when you wander to the faire to play at the shooting gallery and aim vigors at a pop-up devil. Although tutorial screens do explain the weapons and vigors as you go, the faire is a fun, inventive way to approach mini-games and tutorials – and it’s yet another way the game rewards players for looking around.

Still, the aiming system isn’t my favorite, and as someone who doesn’t play many FPS games, the open-world combat and lack of a cover system was a major challenge for me in spots. It’s not a combat style I initially enjoy, and it can feel utterly overwhelming when enemies are shooting from all sides and their locations aren’t easily visible as you try to flee or return fire.

crank gun bioshock infinite

But that’s all right, because by the end of the game, I’d fallen in love with several of the weapons options and learned which to use in various combat situations. There are also a few weapons I hadn’t encountered in games before, such as the ridiculously fun (but not always feasible) crank gun. Each weapon also has a distinctive feel, which is something I always appreciate when it’s pronounced in games. By this, I mean that it would be possible to tell which weapon you’re carrying just by the way it feels when it fires, almost as if you’re really holding it.

But the vigors are much more interesting to me, and when I wasn’t increasing my shield, I took most leveling opportunities to increase my vigor (or salt) bar for more explosive playtime. I’m always a fan of shooters that have some type of “magic” – whether it’s called that or something more scientific – and I prefer to specialize in that (hence my sentinels and adepts in Mass Effect).

vigors and weapons

Early in my game, the most wickedly useful vigor was Murder of Crows, which conjures crows to attack and distract opponents. This gave me extra time to aim and shoot – a valuable treat for a mediocre FPS player such as myself. Later, Bucking Bronco was even more helpful for crowd control as it lifts enemies into the air, and Return to Sender shields Booker and can fling incoming damage back at enemies.

The difference between the shooting and vigors was that while I got used to the weapons in Infinite, I loved the vigors from the start. Fortunately, the latter elevated and diversified the gameplay for me, making Infinite’s combat experience a genuinely fun romp throughout.

The intense battling also creates a contrast that saturates the BioShock Infinite world. In the original BioShock, the decaying glory of Rapture is fascinating in a rather gloomy way, and the dirty desperation of the combat system goes hand in hand with that. But in Infinite, you almost feel as if you’re tearing up a picture-perfect world as you battle your way through it, depending on where you are in the game. Infinite’s violence is a stark and stunning contrast to Columbia’s unspoiled dreamscape, which is exactly why I loved it.


Still, learning to love Infinite’s combat has made me eager to revisit Rapture… if not by replaying the original, then definitely in the upcoming two-part Infinite DLC “Burial at Sea,” which will be narrative-driven and set in Rapture during the city’s prime.  And in the meantime, I’m eager to dig into the good old Infinite combat and new Columbia maps in “Clash in the Clouds.”

— Ashley

13 thoughts on “Combat in Columbia in “BioShock Infinite””

  1. I love a good city in the sky-type world, so have always been intrigued by the setting of this game. But I never really got into the earlier games in the series for whatever reason. Based on your impressions here, it seems I might enjoy this regardless. It’s probably the one big game I’ve missed so far this year, I’d like to make sure I play before year’s end. Also the sky-lines look pretty fun.

    1. It sounds like you’re a lot like me then! Infinite still feels like a BioShock game, but it also has a different atmosphere, and the story is amazing. I do love the city in the sky thing too! I found the sky-lines kind of tricky sometimes, but they’re a lot of fun.

  2. Great post and I completely agree about navigating through Columbia. I’d check the waypoint marker and the made sure to move away from it. Exploring the city fully was part of the fun for me.

    The skylines and diverse vigors also were a big high point and felt less generic from the typical fire, ice, electric variants.

    Plus, the Lutece twins. Awesome and quirky characters.

    1. I agree! I think exploring the city was probably the best part of the game, besides maybe the story itself. I also liked the vigors being a little different than what you typically see. And to do “fire” magic, you had to use one of the explosive weapons, which was also cool.

  3. I got BioShock the same day I got my PS3 (along with five or six other games), and it was actually the first game I beat on PS3. I loved it. I still haven’t finished the second one as I just didn’t enjoy it nearly as much.

    I went back to the first game with the intent of trying to mop up some trophies before Infinite came out, and I didn’t like it as much as I originally did. The combat wasn’t doing it for me anymore, and I think a lot of that maybe I had to do with losing interest in first person games. Revisiting the first one actually tempered my expectations for Infinite.

    Of course I ended up loving Infinite though. It’ll be high on my GOTY list (I don’t see anything topping The Last of Us for me though). Just a spectacular game from start to finish. I much prefer Columbia to Rapture, and the combat in Infinite to the original. There’s a subtle difference in the combat and feel of the character/weapons, not to mention all the cool stuff like the skylines, the rifts, and the better vigors.

    The last battle in Infinite was really something else and it took me quite a few tries (I screwed up majorly by going to into that battle, not knowing it was coming, with two crappy guns and no more than three bullets for each). I was stoked when I finally got past that final battle.

    I will definitely be getting Burial at Sea DLC, even though I’d rather see more of Columbia than Rapture. The Clash in the Clouds combat arena DLC sounds interesting and is cheaply priced, so it’s on my radar. Let me know if it is any good. I really need to go back to Infinite and beat it on 1999. I only have three trophies left to get the platinum, and two of those are for completing 1999.

    Great write up Ashley!

    1. Thanks! It sounds like we agree about Infinite vs the original quite a bit. I’d also be interested in exploring more of Columbia, but I’m excited to see Rapture in its prime via the DLC, too. I might enjoy the setting more that way! I haven’t attempted Infinite’s 1999 mode yet either, but I really should try it and get my ass kicked that way.

      I also need to play The Last of Us… I have sooo many PS3 games to catch up on in the next few months, actually.

  4. Great post! I absolutely loved the setting as well. Columbia was staggeringly beautiful and I totally agree with you, all the bloodshed felt like tearing a beautiful oil painting in half. I know a lot of people didn’t like the brutality, but in general I really liked the contrast.
    BioShock Infinite was one of the few games that I did feel completely immersed in and like you, I savoured the exploration aspect of the game. I took my time exploring every part I could access, although I somehow managed to miss some things as well. There was just so much to see! Everywhere you looked there was something going on and like you said, the world just looked so full of life!
    I didn’t feel quite the same way as you about the combat. To me, it felt a little unpolished compared to everything else about the game and the controls felt a little FPS-generic to me, but anyways, that’s just how I felt about it. I did enjoy the combat though. It just felt like the comparatively weakest part of an exceptional game to me and it might just have been the contrast that made me a little less impressed with the combat.
    Anyways I’m really excited about all the DLC coming out for it too! :D

    1. Exploration really was the best part of the game, along with the story! I totally agree that it was just so immersive. I mean, I know you were agreeing with me on that, but now I’m agreeing with you about it, so we can just keep on agreeing… =)

      I can definitely understand you and many others not digging the combat. It was the weakest part of the game, for sure, and it took a while for it to grow on me although I did love the vigors from the start. However, I came to really like the weapons options in the game, which were different than what I typically see in shooters. Even being more traditional FPS than the originals, I think Infinite’s combat has its own style and I grew to like it a lot.

  5. I loved the beginning of Infinite probably more than any game I’ve played this past year. Like you said, the setting is amazing. Everything feels detailed and elegant, but as the game progressed I found myself extremely underwhelmed by what I would call a very bland attempt to portray a run down version of Columbia. If you look back at E3 footage from 2011 it’s staggering to see versions of Columbia from the second half of the game with a much more refined feel and a whole lot more character than what I personally witnessed when playing the game. It still baffles me that some of the cooler looking scenes from E3 did not end up in the game. Still, Infinite does not disappoint and I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said. Personally, I loved the original Bioshock a lot more than Infinite, but only because I am a big fan of survival-horror and Rapture definitely played on those types of elements. Infinite felt like a re-skinned version of CoD or any popular FPS by todays standards, which doesn’t make the game bad in any sense, but I did find it to be way too full of firefights. For me, this was disappointing because I thrived on the intense atmosphere from the first game in the series, especially since there was a lot of enemy diversity partnered with close quarters combat. In Infinite it felt like every single enemy had a gun, which made it easy to neglect using vigors at all. Part of this was because I played through on the toughest difficulty, which made getting close to enemies extremely difficult, but it still felt dry from a strategy standpoint whereas in the original Bioshock I used the hell out of my plasmids (for obvious reasons). But, from a story standpoint I found myself much more involved in Infinite’s narrative as opposed to other games. This game was definitely a delight to play!

    1. Yes! It’s funny, I agree with all of what you’re saying, but I guess I took a positive spin on it. Infinite certainly is more of an FPS than the original BioShock, and it lacks the survival horror that made Rapture so creepy. But those are the things that made me prefer Infinite. Unlike you, I’m not a big survival horror fan — it’s too intense for me! (I’m a wimp.) However, even though most enemies in Infinite had guns, I still found vigors extremely useful. I supposed they were a little more Mass Effect powers style to help in the midst of firefights, instead of aiding stealth or anything like that. Different style, more FPS-ish still!

      Anyway, it’s awesome to hear your viewpoint, because I definitely agree… I just liked some of those things! I think I’m probably in the minority, though. Most people I’ve talked to seem to prefer the original Bioshock. But yeah, Infinite’s story makes it soooo fantastic, and like you, I was really immersed in the narrative.

      1. Different strokes for different folks I always say. They really are two very different games despite being in the same series. I wouldn’t say you’re in the minority at all! I know a lot of people who really enjoy the mechanics and style of gameplay you referred to. In fact, I enjoy a lot of them too. Given a choice though, I prefer the more rugged gameplay offered in the original Bioshock.

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