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BioShock Infinite by Garry Schyman (Review)

posted Mar 31, 2013, 5:39 PM by Koray Savas   [ updated Mar 31, 2013, 5:42 PM ]

BioShock is one of those rare game series where all elements of storytelling and gameplay meld together to create a near-flawless masterpiece. BioShock Infinite is the culmination of those elements; it is as perfect as a game can be, and like always with great films and games, a large chunk of that credit lies with the music. Garry Schyman is the voice behind the scores for the series, and Infinite proves to be a much different though equally effective effort.

The first two BioShock games occurred in Rapture, the city at the bottom of the ocean built and run by Andrew Ryan. What makes a BioShock game so unique is its atmosphere. Those games were built around dark, seeping wet corridors overrun with citizens driven mad. Horror was a big element in the mood, and Schyman's scores played to that greatly with screeching strings and haunting lullabies. Infinite takes the essential ingredients of setting and atmosphere and flips it on its head. Infinite is set in Columbia, a city suspended in the sky that is run by Zachary Comstock. Things are bright and colorful, and still quite maddening, but the mood changes. Horror is no longer an element, at least in the form of flickering lights and suspicious shadows. Now it is embodied in overarching themes of religion, racism, and slavery. Schyman is working in a much sparser and selective mode here in terms of score, but the emotions and colors his music evokes is all the more powerful because of it. He utilizes a handful of short melodic passages that work more like motifs musically, but grand themes figuratively within the game. Screeching violins are gone, and in their place we get full-bodied percussion that fuels the action. These can be heard in "The Battle For Columbia" cues, of which there are five in total. The true highlight of Schyman's percussion writing, however, can be found in "The Songbird," which comes crashing in with your first encounter of him. It is primal, unsettling, and oozes adrenaline.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the achingly beautiful melodies for Elizabeth and her journey with Booker, the game's protagonist. "Will The Circle Be Unbroken," though written by Ada Habershon and Charles Gabriel, works as an all encompassing theme for the story. There's a wonderful choral version that opens Booker's first arrival in Columbia, there's a short passage from it utilized as diegetic music when the game reaches its lowest and most dire point roughly halfway through, and finally the album is closed out with its full version as performed by Booker and Elizabeth. More directly, though, is the yearning and hopeful cue "Elizabeth," that actually scores Booker's desire to get the girl and wipe away the debt, which will later be echoed in "Back In The Boat" and "Smothered." Moreover, there is a playful motif for Rosalind Lutece and Robert Lutece, the mysterious twins that seem to hold all the secrets about Columbia and appear and disappear at will throughout the game (hear "Lutece" and "Lions Walk With Lions"). Once you hit "Let Go" on the album, the rest of the music scores the final moments of the game as everything falls into place. It is only about 8 minutes in total, but this 'suite' is all you need to understand how integral Schyman's music is to the story being told, "AD" and "Baptism" being the score's absolute standouts.

BioShock Infinite is gaming at its finest, and the musical palette that Garry Schyman builds around the narrative and characters is what grounds it to reality for the player and listener.  Among all the fantasy, the motifs and beautiful melodies infuse a great amount of humanity into the experience, and that is what will keep me coming back to this score. It is just a shame there is so little of it.