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Five Things BioShock Infinite Must Get Right

After months and months of enduring bad news on the development team, skepticism, and waiting for new footage, Irrational Games finally gave us another glimpse at their upcoming epic BioShock Infinite last week with a new trailer.

In the trailer, we saw new gameplay footage and some additional scenes that  gave us an idea of what we can expect from the game upon its eventual release.

Being a big fan of the orignal BioShock, I find myself a little more than jazzed after seeing the trailer and officially can not wait to jump back into the crazy universe from the minds of Ken Levine and company. But since it does follow in the footsteps of a remarkable and revolutionary title, there’s more than a little pressure riding on Infinite to make sure it lives up to the standard set by its predecessor. Here are five things BioShock Infinite must get right if it aims to do just that:

1) CREATE A UNIQUE WORLD

In BioShock, gamers were whisked away to Rapture, a beautifully tragic utopia gone mad. With its insane citizens and heavy atmosphere, the world created within the original BioShock was one so different and stylized it wasn’t easily paralleled by other games in similar genres. Historical references, period decor, and the constant mix of the whimsical and the macabre made for an imaginitive world that was difficult to distance yourself from once you entered it.

We’ve already seen hints that the development team gets this and is going to not only try to make lightning strike twice; they want to completely re-create it and maybe even upend themselves by taking things a step further.

Infinite is set in Columbia, a floating city in the sky meant to serve as a beacon for American nationalism. With it, we see a return to the same highly-stylized art design as the original BioShock, but with a much more airy, brilliant feel. The difference in setting is a refreshing change, and it opens up new opportunities for both story and atmosphere. In Columbia, we need to have a chance to hear the stories of citizens, see the world in all its tragic beauty, and have the chance to experience the same heart-pounding action that only comes from smart design.

And just from what we’ve seen of the game, it’s safe to assume that developers are well aware of the necessity to create a new and robust world with just as much depth and atmosphere as Rapture. Despite its more innocent look, Columbia is shaping up to be just as twisted, which gives fans a great reason to be excited for the game’s release.

2) GOOD CHARACTERIZATION

In Infinite, the main protagonist Booker DeWitt will be a voiced character with his own emotions and motives, rather than the silent protagonist seen in the first game.

Now, there are obvious advantages and drawbacks to both the silent and voiced protagonist. With a silent protagonist, you allow the player to essentially “fill the shoes” of the main character, taking on a much more personal role as they assume the character’s identity as their own. There’s a different level of immersion inherent in the use of a silent protagonist that, when implemented right, works well.

With a voiced character, however, you get more of an effect the likes of which we see in movies. You don’t necessarily take control or feel quite as connected to the character as you might if you were playing them as a silent protagonist, but you do empathize with them and, when they’re written correctly, you do feel a connection to them that helps to keep you motivated and interested in the character’s struggle.

The idea of adding a voice is a big change to the feel of BioShock. However, if they can manage to have great dialogue and voice acting, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be just as hard-hitting as the original. With a voiced character, characterization is key, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’re able to do this well.

3) STORY

Ken Levine is one to take elements of history and embellish them a bit in order to create unique lore within a universe. He did it with BioShock and the ideas of governance and public unrest alive during the mid century, and he’s looking to do it again with Infinite.

Which is good, because at its core, BioShock is a narrative-driven game often credited with having a phenomenal story.

In Infinite, Levine points to people’s fascination with magic and science at the turn of the century as a major source of inspiration for different story elements and conventions within the game. The city of Columbia itself is a scientific achievement flaunted by America and essentially used to assert American dominance over other nations. Sound a bit bullish? Yeah, a little…but, this is something that does, in fact, go back to the social ideas of the time, when nations the world over would puff out their chests and try to prove how much better they were than others.

Consequently, it’s the use of this notion that gives rise to the epic conflict taking place on Columbia between warring political factions the Founders and the Vox Populi. Here is where things have the potential to get incredibly twisted (and not too distantly removed from certain political movements and ideas we have even today).

In this time of nationalism and pride, emotions ran strong and ideas of how Americans should act and be viewed were a total mixed bag that often led to heated debates between citizens and politicians. This idea gives a lot of credibility to the conflict between the factions of Columbia and their war. Sure, it’s been embellished and fairly blown out of proportion for story’s sake, but there’s still the very real undertones that could make for a gripping and interesting tale, should Infinite go about telling it the right way.

4) POWERS

The use of Plasmids and Adam in the original BioShock was a convention that helped make the game such a unique FPS in a very crowded genre. Not only were you armed with an arsenal of weapons, you also had the chance to wield superhuman abilities that could be used to combat enemies and navigate the world.

We’ve seen and heard about the ideas developers have to give Booker the chance to return to using super abilities in Infinite, and have even had glimpses at what they plan to bring in, including the familiar abilities like fire and even the new introduction of powers, such as the ability to conjure up a murder of crows to attack enemies for you. Powers will be available through the use of Vigors and Nostrums, and have been said to be just as varied as they were in the original BioShock.

Powers are going to be important in Infinite. With powers, we need to see a wide range of abilities that each serve a specific use in combat and can be used to solve or access certain areas within the game, much like the ones found in Rapture. And having to make moral choices about the use of your powers such as the Little Sisters and Atom in the original are another staple that the game needs to return to if it wants to recapture the same hard-hitting decision-making that made many of the moments of BioShock memorable.

5) BOSSES

Everyone remembers their first encounter with a Big Daddy. Built like tanks and just as dangerous, Big Daddies were juggernauts who weren’t afraid to do whatever it took to protect the Little Sisters and maintain order in Rapture. Since the game’s release, the titanic scuba-men have become something of an icon, being an image synonymous with the game BioShock itself. They were so unique, so original, and so powerful that it made them into one of the most interesting bosses to appear within a game.

Infinite wants to and needs to recapture this with a new set of bosses. We’ve already had sneak peeks at what we can expect to see from the game’s varied “heavy hitters”, and they appear to be just as varied an multi-dimensional as the word they’re set in, each of them appealing to different ideas and notions popular at the time.

This is important. Whether it’s the Boys of Silence or the Handymen, Infinite has to re-create the eerie and powerful feel once seen in the Big Daddies in order to have bosses and enemies who are just as dreaded and frightening as their spiritual predecessors.

It’s no secret that Infinite is coming with lofty expectations to live up to, especially if it wants to exceed the precedents set by the BioShock. But if the images and footage serves as a good indicator of the game’s progress and direction, then I’d say it’s pretty safe to assume that Infinite is well on its way to being an intense and engrossing experience on par with the original.

Look for BioShock Infinite on February 26th, 2013.

 



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