E3 2011: BioShock Infinite Preview - Off The Rails
Written Tuesday, June 14, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
As gaming stories go, the original BioShock really raised the bar in terms of what you could achieve within the confines of a first-person shooter and BioShock Infinite looks to be no different, with all of the key elements that made BioShock so great all firmly in place. Columbia is every bit the doomed dream that Rapture was, except there's quite possibly a lot more going on than meets the eye in Infinite's cloud-bound society, with warring factions tearing up the streets and more chaos and anarchy than Rapture could ever muster. Suffice to say, the blistering gameplay demo of BioShock Infinite was one of the highlights of E3 2011 and Columbia is looking like a hive of thriving hostility and xenophobia, rife with mystery and intrigue.
Columbia's history is a frightening one, with the sky city disavowed by the USA at large when it fires upon Chinese civilians. Now, having disappeared into the clouds and entered the realm of myth and legend, Columbia is a bizarre dystopia, and as Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt, you're charged with rescuing the captive Elizabeth who is being held hostage by her mysterious protector Songbird, who's like the biggest Big Daddy you've ever seen and ten times more imposing. Throughout BioShock Infinite, you'll find yourself on the run from Songbird, but he's not the only one out to kill you, as Columbia is infested with murderous factions, and they're all completely insane.
Chief among these factions during our startling hands-off demo are the Vox Populi, a once peaceful group who have grown increasingly violent over time, turning their ranks into red face-painted feral extremists who shoot first and ask questions later. DeWitt will also face the wrath of the xenophobic Founders during his journey, but it's the unhinged Vox Populi who form the focus of the freewheeling gameplay demo, which begins in the heart of the tranquil shopping district of Emporia, where as the name implies, there's a host of whimsical emporiums including a gift shop where the demo kicks off.
Exploring the gift shop with Elizabeth, DeWitt roots around looting drawers and cupboards, stumbling upon a pistol that will no doubt be invaluable later on. “Hello Roscoe!” DeWitt exclaims as he grabs the weapon, while Elizabeth amuses herself by trying on a papier-mâché Abe Lincoln head and dancing around. Unearthing other useful items, Elizabeth and DeWitt enjoy a few moments of levity before the ground starts to shake and a piercing screech rings out. It's Songbird, who shines his bright searchlight through the windows while Elizabeth cowers and hides from her captor. Soon, it gives up its search and flies away, leaving the way clear to leave the shop.
“I will stop him,” DeWitt promises Elizabeth before they exit onto the streets of Emporia. “That is an oath you cannot keep,” she counters. “Promise me, that if it comes to it, you will not let him take me back.” Elizabeth takes DeWitt's hand and places it around her throat, simultaneously raising a nervous lump in ours. Clearly Songbird is not to be trifled with. On with the task at hand, and the duo look to their destination in the distance: the Comstock tower where relative safety hopefully awaits. “It's a cakewalk,” DeWitt cockily assures. Oh, if only...
Around the corner, we get a first look at Elizabeth's unstable, burgeoning powers that she's scared of and unable to fully control. A horse lays on the scorched ground bloodied and dying, which prompts DeWitt to reach for his pistol and put the poor nag out of its misery. “No!” cries Elizabeth, who wants to try and save it. Using her powers, she strains to bring the horse back, but after several attempts and some words of encouragement from DeWitt, she manages to resurrect the horse, transforming it from a dying brown equine mess into a proud white stallion. In doing so, she reveals a modern rain-slicked city street - where 'Revenge of the Jedi' is playing at the movie theatre - through what appears to be a huge tear in reality. An ambulance thunders down the street towards her and Booker and she's forced to collapse the portal before they're run over, returning the horse to its dying state, and the flourishing grassy knoll returns to its former muddy, barren appearance.
This is the first indication that all is really not what it seems in Columbia, hinting at something deep beneath the city's bizarre veneer. Of course, the answers will have to wait until the full game releases, but it's hugely intriguing nonetheless. Continuing with the demo, DeWitt and Elizabeth find themselves in the middle of a town square where the fearsome Vox are shouting their propaganda and threatening to execute a civilian. “Your homes are ours!” the speaker shrieks. “Your lives are ours! Your wives are ours! It all belongs to the Vox!” It looks as though you'll be able to make decisions as you're able to rescue the innocent party or ignore the situation, but for the purposes of the demo, Booker pops the orator and all hell breaks loose.
DeWitt is able to levitate items using his plasmid-style powers, and raises a group of Vox for Elizabeth to smash with freight carriages attached to the aerial rails. Taking to the skyline rails using his retractable skyhook, Booker manages to grab the 'Murder of Crows' vigour potion and adds a machine gun, shotgun and rocket launcher to his arsenal, while leaping from rail to rail amid an intense gun battle as the Vox give chase. A subtle circular reticule is projected onto surfaces where you can disembark from the skyline, but how you'll know the correct route to take is unclear. Booker reaches a high platform, takes out a group of Vox as they screech down the rails and glide in terrifying numbers, as a gigantic Vox zeppelin with the words “our voice will be heard!!” emblazoned across it in red paint, cruises into view before unleashing a huge volley of missiles at DeWitt.
Booker uses a combination of crows and machine gun fire to reduce the number of Vox firing at him from all sides, as he traverses between the skylines looking for the safest place to attack. Firing a few rockets into the zeppelin, DeWitt then takes the skyline up to the massive flaming blimp, where inside he dispatches a few Vox guards before destroying the engine and making a hasty retreat with a daring jump from the plummeting airship. Deploying his skyhook at the optimum moment, Booker is still under the duress of gunfire from the angry Vox, but he somehow manages to make it to the bridge leading to the Comstock tower with Elizabeth, where safety seems tantalisingly close.
It's at this moment that Songbird swoops in with its otherworldly scream, his eyes blazing bright red as he grabs DeWitt in his talons, dropping him to the ground before preparing to pound him into oblivion. “I'm sorry!” Elizabeth shouts, staying Songbird's enormous fist. “I shouldn't have left. Take me back. Take me home.” Elizabeth is then snatched away by Songbird, reaching out to DeWitt with tears streaming down her cheeks. As Songbird takes to the skies with Elizabeth, Booker is quick to his feet and leaps to the nearest skyline, at which point the demo ends and we have a chance to finally get our breath back.
According to Irrational's Tim Gerritsen, who leads the demo presentation, this sequence is roughly a third of the way into BioShock Infinite's narrative, but clearly this is the beginning of something truly pivotal within the overarching story. Predictably, we're completely blown away by BioShock Infinite's latest showing at E3 2011 and with so many questions raised by this demo coupled with the frenetic nature of the gameplay, with its skylines and frightening encounters with Songbird, we can't see how the game could possibly fail to deliver on so much promise when it launches in 2012. It seems somewhat ludicrous to say this with a year to go before the game releases, but what the hell. BioShock Infinite could very well be 2012's game of the year if it can maintain the kind of quality we've seen thus far. It simply looks completely and utterly stunning. Can we play it now, please?
BioShock Infinite is out sometime in 2012 and can't come soon enough.