A city in the sky. Can you imagine? Well, if you’ve taken part in the wonder that is the Bioshock series since the release of the first game back in 2007, then you’ll certainly be able to try. Bioshock Infinite carries on the tradition of inventive set pieces by being ‘up there’ instead of ‘down there’, taking place in the suspiciously self-righteous city of Columbia that happens to be located several thousand feet above sea level. An interesting juxtaposition from the previous games’ setting of Rapture – a decaying city built on the ocean’s seabed, populated with insane drug-addled ‘splicers’ amongst other charismatic people you wouldn’t like to invite to an office party. Garry Schyman, composer of the series’ soundtracks, did a fantastic job with the previous two games, winning 7 individual awards for his work on the original soundtrack. 6 years later he’s succeeded again. Whilst the environment and story of Bioshock Infinite is a different kettle of fish to the original game, the soundtrack accompanies this change excellently through a wide variety of soundscapes.
Over 28 tracks, Schyman explores the plot and themes of Bioshock Infinite intimately. Set in 1912, you might expect some ridiculously old-time period music to condemn you to hours of frustration through their catchy themes. However, Schyman embraces both old and modern aspects of orchestral music in order to build the world through audio. A prominent example of this is featured on the first true song ‘Welcome To Columbia’, an initially fast paced scramble of violins collectively growing louder and higher in pitch for 12 seconds before a suspenseful pause. The silence is masterfully broken with some innocent and slowly played piano chords that just give off this inspiring sense of adventure and wonder. The gentle strings of a violin are quietly plucked at as if you were soaring through the air yourself. Across every song on the soundtrack, Schyman freely utilises modern ‘cinematic’ (as it were) techniques to actively engage the listener, but also brings in the elements of the period in which the game is set. So you’ll find some rapid, almost comic tinkering over the intimidating undertones of ‘Lions Walk With Lions’ and the mystery themed ‘Lutece’ also incorporating some accordion sections to further aid the nostalgia. However, at parts Schyman goes all out with the period music. ‘The Readiness Is All’ & ‘Solace’ both find comfortable positions in the setting, ‘The Readiness Is All’ highlighting the unique xenophobia of Columbia in the somewhat humorous lyrics sung with vigour. ‘Pop your pistols, load the cannon, make sure bayonets are fixed or else we’ll rue the day when the races intermix!’
But it’s not all racism and bizarre early 1900s music. There are some fantastic songs that shine the true beauty of Columbia and the plot line. Melodies interweave consistently, notably on my personal favourite track ‘Lighter Than Air’. The song gives the first impression of the city as an idyllic utopia with a beautifully played lead violin euphorically tugging at the listener’s heartstrings, whilst underneath a very creepy trilling of bells and unnerving sounding orchestral base quietly play, making clear to the listener that something still remains peculiar about this ‘paradise’ city in the sky. These both work excellently well in presenting their scenery, and this is repeated for different effects on the tracks ‘The Girl For The Debt’ & ‘Doors’ amongst others. And speaking of better places in the sky, there are three versions of ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken?’ – the beautiful vocal harmonies of Courtnee Draper, voice actress for the character Elizabeth, melding with the sombre tone of an acoustic guitar appear twice – whilst a third captures the nature of Columbia as a peaceful haven in a choral version, the lyrics being more suitable than ever – ‘is a better home awaiting in the sky?’ And whilst these tracks, as well as others, resonate the beauty of Bioshock Infinite’s environment, the soundtrack also captures the intensity and mournful nature of the plot at its suitable moments. The I-V installments of ‘The Battle For Columbia” back the fight sequences with a satisfying and abruptly aggressive tone, however at times repeating too much for my indefinite liking. But ‘The Songbird” takes the cake as the best song for the high octane moments in Bioshock Infinite, with the pounding drums taunted by the whining violin strings before an intense technical blur of bells and drums form fantastic chase music.
The true emotion of the plot is captured in the final 8 tracks, as the tragic elements of the story unfold. The soundtrack takes a much darker tone as revelations unfold. ‘The Girl For The Debt” exhibits this well in the mournful melody of the track slipping downward into a frighteningly malevolent whine of violins. This then carries on as a lurking undertone beneath ‘Back In The Boat’ & ‘Smothered’ effectively and in a mysterious fashion, drawing the listener in through the fear it creates in its twisted beautiful harmonies. The final track ‘Baptism’ is much like ‘Welcome To Columbia’, combining both elements of modern and old to create an intense level of drama before an almost innocent tone concludes the game’s main music.
If you’ve never played Bioshock Infinite, then I heartily recommend it. Sadly, the soundtrack does not include the fantastic period covers of the modern day songs such as ‘God Only Knows’ in barbershop quartet form, this being a relatively big negative for me. If you grew as invested into the plot as I did then you’ll most definitely take note of the superb soundtrack. It challenges Garry Schyman’s previous efforts massively and sets a new standard for immersive video game soundtracks, as the genuine emotion aches in the strings, terror shrills over the drums’ thumps and wonder reverberates throughout all tracks. There could be no better soundtrack to accompany a game this superb and the unique environment the music embodies.
2. Welcome To Columbia
3. Will The Circle Be Unbroken? (Choral Version)
4. Lighter Than Air
6. The Battle For Columbia I
7. The Girl In The Tower
9. The Songbird
10. Rory O’More/Saddle The Pony
11. The Battle For Columbia II
12. The Readiness Is All
13. Lions Walk With Lions
14. Will The Circle Be Unbroken?
15. Unintended Consequences
16. The Battle For Columbia III
17. Family Reunion
19. The Battle For Columbia IV
20. The Battle For Columbia V
21. Let Go
23. The Girl For The Debt
24. Back In The Boat
28. Will The Circle Be Unbroken? (Full Version)