As the dramatist Caryl Churchill famously once argued: "playwrights don’t give answers, they ask questions". In 2007, Irrational Games’ FPS BioShock responded to the philosophy of Ayn Rand with one bloody big question. Through the underwater dystopia of the city of Rapture, it challenged Atlas Shrugged’s idealistic vision of a world exclusively populated by self-interested super-capitalists by simply asking "REALLY?". The turbulent civil war caused by the discovery of ADAM, a sea-slug that could create genetically enhanced super-powers, provided a backdrop to the story that proved what the world would be like if we all practiced "the virtue of selfishness" argued in Atlas Shrugged. BioShock offered no answers to the great sociological questions of our time, but by asking such a question, it demonstrated that Rand didn't half chat some bollocks back in the 50s.

A Brave New World

 photo bioshock-04-columbia_zps228ab7e7.jpgFive years later we have BioShock Infinite which, in spite of 2010’s BioShock 2, acts as more of a sequel to the original due to lead developer Ken Levine’s lack of involvement in the latter title. Mirroring the murky constraints of Rapture is the new setting of the floating city of Columbia: a bright, art nouveau metropolis in the sky that mimics Eden before the fall. It is a literal manifestation of the "sky is the limit" attitude of American Exceptionalism, the idea that at the dawn of the 20th century, the United States began to develop a deep sense of economic, military and perhaps even racial superiority. It is set in 1912 after all, and the game does not shy away from the ideological contentions of the time. Racism is rife throughout Columbia, with bathrooms designated for ‘Black and Irish Use Only’, while the relationship between institutes of power and their control of the people is highlighted through the antagonist figure of Zachary Hale Comstock.

As the founder of Columbia, Comstock fashions himself as its prophet and leader, but as the game progresses, it becomes increasingly Orwellian how he manipulates information and history to control the thought of the population. Without managing to fully condemn religion, Infinite also illuminates the hypocrisies and power benefits of institutionalised religion. Like Rapture though, Columbia is a beautifully designed, imaginative and, dare I say it, believable setting. Its ideological connotations add a lot of food for thought, but if you’re less interested in thinking and more in simply playing, then its politics also serve as an environmental backdrop that only makes the city more convincing.

Mr Dewitt, I presume?

 photo bioshock-08-booker_zps5ef8ff71.jpgEntering the story is ex-Pinkerton agent Booker Dewitt, a shady character with a mysterious past that involves the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, the last conflict of the American Indian wars. While he might sound a little cliché, his character is actually realised in a very fulfilling and interesting way, and plays a far more proactive dialogue role in comparison to the always silent, but eager to please, Jack of BioShock. He visits Columbia via a recognisable lighthouse under the simple encouragement of "bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt". The girl in question is Elizabeth, a Rapunzel figure trapped in a tower for nearly all of her life. However, much like the far more feminist friendly version of the fairy-tale in Disney’s Tangled, she proves not to be a damsel in distress. Instead, Elizabeth has mysterious powers that create multi-dimensional ‘tears’ in the fabric of reality.

 photo bioshock-02_zpsc9b42e5d.jpgAs she joins Booker, there is a great sense of mutual dependence, which also transfers to the combat scenarios. She’s a very interesting character, and one of Infinite’s more impressive achievements is her realism. Not only is her character model expressive and beautifully voice acted, but her behaviour around the environment is noticeably interactive. In addition, seeing her develop from the innocent girl of the tower shocked at Booker’s ability to murder, to something more world weary, plays a huge part in making BioShock Inifinite’s story engaging. As does the monstrous, yet fascinating Songbird that stalks the "False Shepherd" Booker in order to keep him away from Elizabeth.

The Handyman

 photo bioshock-09-handyman_zps54ba0fbb.jpgAs an ex-Pinkerton agent and battle veteran, you can imagine Booker is pretty damn handy with a gun. Well he is, and there’s a suitable amount of weaponry ranging from the contemporary guns of the 1910’s, to the Hell Fire - a kind of grenade launcher that shoots balls of incinerating glory. Keeping the tradition of the Plasmids of BioShock are Vigors, commercial drink products that manipulate the mind and body of the consumer, allowing Booker to do some seriously outlandish stuff. There are abilities that effect enemy behaviour like Possession and Murder of Crows (described as a hooligan deterrent), then there’s the more offensive Shock Jockey (lightning hand) and Undertow (which makes you a kind of Man-Krakken). These can all be used with a second ‘Trap’ function. In addition, the Sky Hook that you receive early on in the game serves as a means to fly across the skylines of Columbia’s landscape (or airscape, if you will), but it also serves as a melee weapon with some seriously violent execution moves. I’m talking about spinning blades to the face.

Fighting Round the World

 photo bioshock-07-vigors_zpsbe6c2e05.jpgCombat is noticeably similar to previous instalments and perhaps relies too much on old conventions, but the action moves nicely between various environments and narrative set-pieces: making it consistently interesting and full of variation. Likewise, there are less powers available, opting for a small but concise range, but weapons and Vigors can be upgraded with cash and combined for different effects. While most enemies are pretty similar, the inclusion of the ‘Heavy-Hitters’ usually keep things fresh. This is particularly noticeable with The Handyman, who’s deadly and agile assaults force you into a more athletic form of defence, taking influence from the Big Daddy encounters of the original BioShock.

 photo bioshock-06-skyline_zps6d0bb11c.jpgMany encounters throughout the game allow you to use the skyline to flank, shoot and generally harass enemies from the sky: including a brilliant aerial attack that does a lot of damage. Similarly, Elizabeth helps the player by finding health, ammo and salts used for Vigor’s, but more importantly she can use her Tear ability to bring in useful objects and machinery to aid Booker. It is in these two aspects that the combat of BioShock Infinite truly feels fresh, providing distinctive and unique ways to tackle enemies. It’s also mind-meltingly fun to rush through the sky with a massive pistol in your hand. There are less puzzles and exploration than previous titles, but the many voxophones (audio diaries) and kinetoscopes scattered across the city, as well as important gear and infusions that effect combat abilities, encourage you to see everything Columbia has to offer and understand its history.

Infinite Thought

 photo bioshock-05-songbird_zps34bf72ba.jpgIt sounds ridiculous, but BioShock Infinite really is a masterpiece of story-telling, gaming and imagination. It can be flawed in places; it gets a little slow just after half-way in the story, while the textures on certain objects look a little outdated for this-gen and it perhaps has a tendency to be a little too easy at parts. However, whether you like the combat and the world or not, it is undeniable that so much thought, intelligence and sheer brain-power has gone into the game. Each aspect of the city of Columbia and the game overall, whether in voice acting, script or design, is done so professionally, and with so much character, that you could write a review based on the audio diaries alone. The narrative is complemented by a thrilling score that both moves you and then hits you with hard drums; with one moment, featuring Songbird, resembling that bit in Inglourious Basterds when Hans Lander walks into the room. There is a wealth of ideas portrayed throughout the game, but as it reaches its unforgettable and surely-to-be-forever-dissected ending, it raises themes of identity, redemption and the impact of an individual’s choices in the world. For all of its flaws, BioShock Infinite deserves complete appraisal because the game's setting and story literally forces the player to consider and ultimately question the world around us, but again doesn’t offer any answer to the problems raised. The result is a game that is epic, fun and filled with adrenaline, yet defined by its contemplation of existence.