previews\ Jun 23, 2011 at 8:00 pm

BioShock Infinite Preview


Anticipation is high for Bioshock Infinite as Ken Levine and his crew of developers over at Irrational Games build the next stage in a game series that deconstructs ideologies and erects worlds around them. The flying white city of Columbia is a beautiful place, and even caught in the middle of an ethnocentric American ideology and the chaotic ideals of the Vox Populi, players will see both sides of early twentieth century political beliefs torn asunder.

Beliefs and identities are always going to be integral to a Bioshock game, and Bioshock Infinite is no exception. The core of the game, however, requires that the whole experience actually be fun, and it seems that Irrational is creating a game that can once again straddle the line between intellectualism and fun gameplay.

Bioshock Infinite

Players step into the shoes of Booker DeWitt, a Pinkerton agent, who, in 1912, is sent to rescue a young woman named Elizabeth from the long-lost airborne city of Columbia. It's a difficult task, and in the region we were shown, the two are working toward their escape.

Columbia is being torn apart by two rival factions: the Founders, the remaining original leaders of the city, and the Vox Populi, a group opposed to the extreme patriotism of the Founders. Neither group is necessarily good or bad. The Founders are pure ultra-nationalists and the Vox Populi exemplify an almost extreme form of proto-communism (proclaiming that all belongs to them, even wives and children). It is these two factions that Booker and Elizabeth are trying to flee from, and both pose a threat to their safety.

In this region, players are brought forth to a shop full of Star-Spangled everything. It’s like Fourth of July exploded in there. Booker and Elizabeth explore the shop, and Booker picks up some of the vitals, one of them shaped like a horse. (Shown later is the most popular vital, a “Murder of Crows” that allows Booker to summon a flock of demonic birds.) While the two investigate the shop, a huge mechanical beast swoops around outside, causing Booker and Elizabeth take cover.

Bioshock Infinite

The beast leaves, and the characters go back outside. Now is probably a good time to discuss Elizabeth. An idealistic young woman, Elizabeth has been locked up for most of her life by the Songbird, a mechanical avian beast that had been hunting Booker earlier. They have a complex relationship, as the Songbird has been designed to protect and hold Elizabeth, but she’s trying to escape its grasp. Elizabeth even goes so far as to request that Booker kill her instead of letting her be taken by the Songbird.

Irrational hasn’t gone on the record as to why she had been imprisoned, but speculation is easy. Elizabeth has control over tears, which can be seen all over the world of Columbia. These shimmering tears reveal doorways, piles of weapons, and other objects, and while at first Elizabeth cannot control what will materialize, she slowly gains mastery over this incredible ability.

At one point she tries to restore an injured horse. Her powers go awry, and they are summoned temporarily to 1983, almost run over by a car, and then summoned back. In gameplay sections, Booker can order Elizabeth to materialize turrets, guns, entrances, and more as ways to deal with enemies. It’s pretty impressive and works great in some of the more massive firefights, such as summoning a series of crates along the skyline railways--perfect for slamming bad guys--or manifesting a carriage for protection.

Bioshock Infinite

Booker will be doing a lot of combat along those skylines. As though riding a rollercoaster, Booker can swing himself along these aerial railways for transportation and combat. Jumping between these lines is easy, as a small circular reticule shows where Booker will land. In our segment, Booker had to destroy a blimp raining hell from above while Vox Populi goons tried to kill him from the ground and skyrails. There are many ways to deal with the blimp (shoot it outright, attack it up close from the rails, or destroy it internally), but our guide brought Booker inside. Destroying the blimp is only a short-term solution, as the Songbird quickly comes back.

Throwing Booker down, the Songbird seems poised to kill the man, but Elizabeth jumps in the way. She begs the Songbird to spare his life, but it takes her away, indicating Booker’s next major task. It was there that the E3 demo ended, leaving us with a strong desire to see more. The 2012 release date couldn’t be any further off, and gamers should be excited to see what else comes from the minds of Levine and his crew.

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