BioShock Infinite Preview

Five years ago, players were introduced to the dark, genetically-modified world of Rapture, an underwater utopia gone mad. Featuring innovative gameplay and a unique story, it was no surprise that BioShock became a hit, resonating with gamers in a way few games have been able to replicate since.

Internet buzz surrounding BioShock lit up again several years later, when developer Irrational Games announced that a new installment in the series was currently in development and set to be released in 2012. Now, after numerous interviews, reveals, and a demo at E3 2011, we’ve gained more insight into the new game. It’s clear to see that if it lives up to the hype, we can count on Infinite to be the most engaging title in the franchise yet. Here’s a complete run-down of what we know so far.

The year is 1912. As the country begins to realize its position as a major world power, an attitude of Nationalism and American pride runs strong within the nation. In an attempt to harness and demonstrate the sentiment, the government has commissioned the construction of Columbia, a floating city in the sky whose sole purpose is to travel around the world and serve as a testament to the greatness of the United States.

Somewhere along the line, however, Columbia is lost to a power struggle between the ultra-nationalist Founder party, and the communist, worker-based Vox Populi, two major political factions vying for control.

When Founder Zachary Hale Comstock rises to power, protests rapidly escalate, gradually mounting from petitions to an organized civil war. Both sides are relentless, spreading propaganda, looting homes and shops, and resorting to an ends-justify-the-means approach to gaining power.

In the midst of the conflict, players take control of Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent who was once in charge of breaking up Union strikes, now disgraced and kicked out for his extreme on-the-job methods. Now employed as a private investigator, Booker is tasked with rescuing a young woman named Elizabeth who has been kept captive in Columbia since she was five years old.

From there, we learn that Elizabeth is central to the conflict of both factions, since she alone has powerful abilities that could be used to benefit both sides.

Elizabeth stays with Booker throughout the game, interacting with the main character by talking to him and helping him along the way. In an effort to avoid making Elizabeth a burdensome AI character who merely follows you around and contributes nothing to gameplay, developers have worked to enhance her and make her just as strong as the player, promising that you won’t have to monitor or rescue her. She can take cover and warn of enemy movements, but her most important contribution is her role in combat. Drawing from the scientific studies of physics from the likes of Einstein and others of the time period, players will encounter “tears” within the world, or rips in time and space that allow access to people, items, and places not currently existing in present-state Columbia. With multiple options like large items that provide cover, allies, ammunition, weapons, and doorways that serve as routes of escape, players will be able to direct Elizabeth to manipulate the tear, making the object appear in the world, giving more opportunities to customize the combat experience.

Of course, Elizabeth is not the only one with special abilities, and it wouldn’t be a BioShock game without the main character having the chance to electrocute or launch enemies themselves.

Booker will have access to Vigors, a type of serum similar to the Plasmids of BioShock that is consumed rather than injected, and grants the drinker a wide range of abilities from telekinesis to sending a horde of crows at enemies to distract them. Different from Plasmids, however, Vigors must be re-charged and have a limited number of uses. Permanent upgrades to Booker can be obtained by using Nostrums, Infinite’s equivalent to Gene Tonics.

Elizabeth’s involvement with Booker becomes an integral part here, as she can augment Booker’s powers to make attacks even more powerful. Be warned; onne must be wary of how much they ask Elizabeth to do, since using her abilities will physically drain her in battle.

Described by creative director Ken Levine as a character in and of itself, the environment of this game is ultimately what makes it truly unique. Even while in the midst of conflict, the city rests suspended in the clouds, surrounded by blue skies and sunshine, a stark contrast to the horrors that take place below.  With a steampunk feel and a dark, yet whimsical atmosphere, gamers will get around the floating city by way of Skylines, rollercoaster-like railway tracks that act like suspended roads and allow inhabitants to travel from one end of Columbia to another at high speeds. While Columbia is a much larger and open world than that of Rapture, the game remains narrative-driven and linear, yet encourages players to explore as they play to learn more about the world and its secrets. Just don’t expect any side fetch quests from random NPCs you might encounter.

Weapons are standard to the time in which the game is set, consisting mostly of revolvers, shotguns, and heavy machine guns. The larger, more open world also allows for the use of sniper rifles, and heavy artillery is made available through manipulating tears when they appear in combat.

Probably one of the most intriguing facets of the game, however, are the new enemy types. While Booker will face off against human enemies of both political factions, developers wanted to also include more enemy variety to pose a new challenge to players. Dubbed the “heavy hitters,” players will face off against the likes of Motorized Patriots, a mechanical George Washington armed with a heavy gatling gun called the Pepper-mill; Sirens, a supernatural entity who can raise enemies from the dead with her song; the Handymen, tragic behemoths trapped inside a metal body with surprising agility and gigantic hands; and the Boys of Silence, blind men trapped in masks who rely on a heightened sense of sound to find Booker. Each enemy offers something new to the game with their eerie, twisted abilities and presentation.

Although several months from its release, it’s hard to argue that BioShock Infinite is already very polished. Visual are sharp, the deep, well-researched narrative is gripping and immersive, characters come to life from great writing and expertly-delivered voice acting, and the game appears to do a good job of bringing players into a new world while still holding to the aspects that made the previous BioShock games work so well.

With a fascinating plot, compelling characters, and political themes that hit close to home in even our modern day, it’s a safe bet that you can expect to be wowed once you get your hands on the game and begin your journey through the floating city of Columbia.

Rest assured, it’ll be one you won’t want to miss.

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