At least during its first few hours, Bioshock Infinite does not attempt to distance itself from its predecessors in terms of gameplay. And, as far as my judgment goes, that is just fantastic. The smart blend of the arsenal of fire weapons with the borderline magical powers has given the series quite a unique twist in terms of combat. Not only has it allowed the design of enemies that require the devising of clever strategies to be defeated, but it has also opened up many possibilities regarding the creation of attacks that, by being occasionally ridiculous, work towards lightening-up the game's overall heavy mood by a few degrees.
Still, as fun as the gameplay is, Bioshock's flagship has always been its setting, and here - as it should be - it easily steals the show. Diving back into Rapture, though an alluring idea, would not have allowed this third game to soar to altitudes consistent with the talent of the team behind it. Bioshock Infinite would have been grounded by the inevitable comparisons to the original Bioshock, and regardless of what mad plots the people at Irrational Games may have been able to spin, the game's impact would not hold a dimly lit candle to the sheer spectacle of the players' initial descent into that underwater madhouse. It would forever live under a large shadow.
Columbia is a whole lot like Rapture, but at the same time it is not. Although both locations have grown to be isolated from the world, the former was built out of nationalist pride and held tight ties to the government; the latter, meanwhile, was - many decades later - constructed out of spite and disgust towards a different version of that same executive power. As a consequence of the tone of the feelings that originated them, Rapture was dark, sinister and it seemed as if people with evil conducts were lurking at every corner; Columbia, on the contrary, in spite of the seemingly lunatic that controls it, the bizarre personality cult that has been forged above the clouds, and the conflicts within its society, looks as bright as a patriotic carnival.
Another interesting contrast between the two cities, and one more characteristic that further separates the titles, is that players arrive in Rapture long before the party is over; the place has turned into a dark projection of the shadows of its past. However, DeWitt sets foot in Columbia when an overall feeling of normality still surrounds the city, which is miles away from the apocalyptic vibe that was oozing out of every corner of Rapture. In a way, the present of Columbia that is shown on the early stages of Bioshock Infinite is somehow like the invisible past of Rapture that the first two Bioshock titles merely hinted at, which makes discovering where Bioshock Infinite's plot is going a very interesting process.
The result of those differences is that while the first two Bioshock games feel like a slow-paced lonely journey into the unknown - much like a Metroid game, Infinite comes off as a more action-packed title with a lesser degree of exploration. Surprisingly, though, when stripped to their bare bones, the structures of both games reveal themselves to be very similar, which only brings to the forefront how effective and powerful the construction of the games' settings have been, as their different nature comes to affect and transform the gameplay itself.