"It looks every bit like the Irrational Games staff will have created another excellent, genre-shaking title with this release."
Voted Best of Show for E3 2011 by the Game Critics Awards, it is already clear that BioShock Infinite is going to be one hell of great game when it comes out in 2012. The characteristically intense and surreal gameplay witnessed in the exclusive (and now public) E3 demo has already been detailed by a number of gaming sites, and the fervor around the game continues to grow every day. Irrational Games and creative director Ken Levine have been very vocal about their ambitious goals for the title, and players old and new to the series can look forward to more brilliant story-telling, new gameplay, and other experiences unique only to the BioShock universe.
BioShock Infinite is not a true sequel or prequel to the events that take place in BioShock 1 or 2. Although the idea of a utopian paradise gone very, very, wrong still remains, the dreary and dark underwater setting of the previous games has been replaced with one filled with the vibrancy and vivid color of the sky and early 20th century America. The game takes place on the floating air city of Columbia (named after the American Liberty figure) and features a great deal of far-out gameplay ideas to go with it.
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According to Levine, Columbia was built in the 1890’s as a sort of a floating World Fair (and secret Death Star-like fortress) by the American Government in order to assert the ideas of American exceptionalism on the rest of the world. Of course, a floating city during a time of massive immigration into the United States is quite susceptible to cosmopolitan invasion. And when the xenophobic powers-that-be who manage the city attack Chinese citizens during the Boxer Rebellion conflict (a true-life period in world history), the United States government decides it is best to disown Columbia and leave it to its own fate. Of course a power vacuum ensues and a violent struggle amongst the city’s differing factions begins.
Only two factions emerge from this bottleneck event: The Founders and the Vox Populi. The Founders are the ruling class of Columbia led by Zachary Hale Comstock and seek to keep the city under the control of the American-born citizens who first occupied it. It would seem the mentality of this group is comparable to that of “The Natives” in Gangs of New York. The other faction, the Vox Populi, are led by a woman by the name of Daisy Fitzroy and are violently opposed to the type of jingoistic government sought by The Founders. Actually composed of several surviving factions with similar ideologies, the Vox have suffered greatly from disorganization and times of internal strife. Levine characterized the increasingly chaotic struggle between these two factions as the product of years of escalation by both sides. The sides have fought for so long, that they themselves have lost sight of their original causes and fight now solely out of hate for one another. Different events like being able to interrupt executions and trespass into restricted gatherings really help add to the feel that you are in the middle of an unruly civil war. Surely, there will be all kinds of crazy events the player can choose to get involved in, or avoid entirely.
In BioShock Infinite you play as Booker Dewitt, an ex-agent of the Pinkerton Detective Agency fired for unacceptable behavior. Throwing caution to the wind, the 37 year old Dewitt takes up a shadowy job offer to recover a young woman by the name of Elizabeth who has been imprisoned for twelve years on the air city of Columbia. Of course, after her rescue, Dewitt quickly realizes Elizabeth is no ordinary girl (she’s got some badass superpowers) and that she is quite central to the war that is taking place within the air city. To make matters more complicated, Elizabeth has her own questions she wants answered before she leaves Columbia and all the while a huge, extremely menacing, robotic bird-thing named Songbird, who served as Elizabeth’s imprisoner and former friend, is scouring the city eager to return Elizabeth to her Rapunzel-like prison tower.
The mind-blowing storyline Irrational has in store for BioShock Infinite is not the only reason to already be captivated by the title. Infinite will also feature a number of unique gameplay experiences not found in other shooters. To begin, as Booker you will play alongside Elizabeth for much of the game. Elizabeth has the power to experience and utilize different “tears” in the fabric of space-time to the advantage of the player. For example, in the midst of a heavy firefight, you can call on her to bring in some kind of obstacle for cover or make a different choice and she will provide you with a turret to take down aircraft and large groups of enemies. Players will often have a choice in what they can request from Elizabeth, and this means she can help you play according to the style you favor most. Using some of her powers in conjunction with your own power and abilities is main benefit of this system, as the player can call on Elizabeth to set-up enemies for your own powerful attacks. These attacks are called vigors and include the ability to use telekinesis to disarm and shoot a foe, electricity manipulation to burn your enemies, and mind control to do things like command a flock of murderous crows against your enemies. In addition, the player can find different ability enhancing items called nostrums which provide permanent bonuses to different traits for your character in RPG-like fashion.
Another significant gameplay addition to note is the Skyline system. The engineers that designed Columbia put in place a number of roller coaster-like rails called the Skylines which traverse the entire city in order to facilitate movement of cargo. The player (and enemies) can use skyhooks (a wrist attachment) to jump onto the rail system and coast throughout the city. The video footage already released shows how fast and exhilarating a trip on the system can be as the player can jump between different lines to flank enemies or even fall down large heights with the chance to catch onto a line on the way down. Add the fact that certain shootouts will be taking place on these rail systems and it is clear that they will provide lots of astonishing moments to swash about.
Bioshock Infinite has been in development for a long time (over two and a half years) for good reason. It looks every bit like the Irrational Games staff will have created another excellent, genre-shaking title with this release. Numerous other changes, like the addition of a vocal (and not silent) character, more sandbox elements, branching NPC interactions, and a fantastic damn new art direction should mean BioShock Infinite will not feel in any way to too similar to its predecessors. While multiplayer is still in doubt even at this point in development, all gamers should be looking forward to the release of this title on PS3, Xbox 360, and the PC in 2012.
Previously press-only E3 demo: