Surprise only begins to describe the reaction to developer Irrational Games' announcing the return of the Bioshock name to its next game. At the press event in New York City its official unveiling played out in high drama. Studio head Ken Levine gave a brief introduction, coyly leaving off the name, before showing the trailer (which you can see for yourself below).
As it begins we're given glimpses of Irrational's previous work, a Big Daddy statue sits at the bottom of an aquarium before being crushed under the foot of a new behemoth; one of many scattered throughout the cloud city the game is set within. And with that, BioShock Infinite took the stage.
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Although BioShock Infinite shares some of the same core concepts of the original BioShock, the motivation of the characters and the world itself are drastically different.
While Rapture was built away from civilization in secret, the city in BioShock Infinite was built to publicly showcase the ingenuity and progress of America. Rather than a city submerged like that in the original BioShock, Infinite features an advanced city built to float in the sky.
It's the late 1800's when Columbia, a city built to rise up and sit among the clouds as an expression of great American democratic ideals, is born. Although the city was formed to show the world how advanced America has become both in industry and political stature, there are dark secrets that plague the world. "What started out as the Apollo Project became the Death Star," Irrational Games boss Ken Levine says, describing that Columbia is soon discovered to be "armed to the teeth" before thrusting itself into a violent international incident. Soon after this "incident," the city escapes view into the clouds and is never seen or heard of again.
In BioShock Infinite, players take control of Booker DeWitt, a man living on ground tasked to find a woman named Elizabeth who had been kidnapped and taken to Columbia fifteen-years prior. Using information from a man in a small office above a bar, Booker discovers the location of Columbia and sets off on his mission to save Elizabeth.
Elizabeth, however, is no ordinary woman. She has immense power and, for this reason among others, she is being held captive in the Columbia, which is comprised of multiple island like structures in the sky connected by thin rails.
Our guided single-player demo of the game began with imagery familiar to the original BioShock. Posters featuring propaganda glorifying the city line the stonewalls as Booker makes his way down a cobblestone street. After passing a man on a mechanical horse, another nod to the society's advanced grasp on technology, he comes across a deserted rally for a man named Saltonstall, one of the political figures in the game.
While he gives a rousing speech to a crowd of zero, Booker walks to a barrel filled with weapons and takes a sniper rifle. Immediately, Saltonstall stops his speech and begins screaming at Booker, his face and voice becoming distorted as if he were possessed. In one quick moment, Saltonstall summons a civilian who is feeding a large group of crows away from the rally. Rushing to Booker, the civilian points at the protagonist, sending the aggressive swarm of bird attacking. In retaliation, Booker fires a few rounds at the man before sending him over the edge to his death on a small structure below. Sensing he has lost this battle, Saltonstall unhinges a hook from his arm and rides a rail to another floating island in Columbia, away from Booker.
The demo continues with Booker using telekinesis to grab a tonic sitting next to the fallen man. After drinking it, he gains the "Murder of Crows" ability, allowing him to summon the vicious flock of birds on command. On the other side of the city, Saltonstall begins firing a massive warship cannon at Booker. Outmatched, Booker decides the only way to survive is to confront the political figure. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained," he cries, before unhinging his own hook and riding the rail toward the politician.
After knocking out an oncoming civilian poised for attack on the rail, Booker lands and scatters into a bar, away from Saltonstall who aims the giant cannon at him and fires into the dirt. In the bar, patrons look suspiciously at the man, but do not attack. In BioShock Infinite you aren't an immediate threat to the people, but they will attack at the first sign of violence. The bartender holding court however, does threaten Booker, firing a shotgun in his direction--subtly informing him he is not welcome. Booker makes quick work of him; he takes the weapon from the bartender with his telekinesis ability, turns the massive gun and fires it in midair--all with his mind. Now, the filled room becomes violent, attacking Booker before he uses his newly acquired ability to summon crows, which peck at each patron as Booker makes his escape.
As soon as he makes his way outside, Saltonstall fires the massive cannon in his direction again. This time, with his telekinesis ability, Booker catches the burning shell, turns it and hurls it toward the cannon, destroying it. As the entire area has now become hostile for his actions, Booker runs from the crowd, using his weapon with one hand and an electricity ability with the other. Sadly, the group is too thick for him to succeed. But, out of nowhere, Elizabeth appears from a building and promises to help.
This segment showcased the ability to combine abiltiies with the A.I. controlled ally, Elizabeth. To help fight off the crowd, Elizabeth forms a large storm cloud above the group of attacking citizens, allowing Booker to fire a bolt of electricity into the formation and shocking everyone beneath it.
Later the combo element is shown again as Elizabeth and Booker attempt to make their escape from more enemies. Using her own telekinetic ability, Elizabeth grabs all the scattered pieces of metal surrounding her; melting them into a large ball. Booker then takes the burning ball of melted metal and hurls it toward another group of enemies, which promptly explodes on impact.
Each time Elizabeth uses her abilities, she becomes exhausted. In a moment while Booker attempts to help her reach a second wind, a behemoth of a monster attacks. This monster, shown briefly in the teaser trailer, is BioShock Infinite's Big Daddy-esque, hulking enemy. The creature is mostly machine, which is fueled by (what appears to be) a human heart. The Frankenstein-looking creature is much more menacing an adversary than the Big Daddy ever was. It is bigger, faster and scarier. Weapons and abilities do no visible damage to the monster and the only way Booker and Elizabeth are able to survive is by destroying a bridge the creature stands on, sending it plummeting to the world below.
"Is that the thing that attacked you?" Booker asks Elizabeth, as they both attempt to catch their breath. "No," she cries. Suddenly, off-screen, a dreadful shriek is heard. "That is," she points. Above a building behind the pair another monster emerges. This one is bigger and far more menacing than the last. A giant mechanical crow-like creature lands on a building, spreading its wings and screams at them, before swooping down and attacking. The demo ends there.
There are probably some who will be upset that Irrational Games have decided to continue with a game in the BioShock series, especially since this title does not share a narrative connection to the original titles. From what I saw, which includes a much more stylized look -- the characters have a Pixar-like smoothness to them -- and cleaner engine (using a modified version of Unreal Engine 3), I'm anticipating the chance to see more and, obviously, to play it for myself. The short demo, which was constructed for this event, had the suspense and an era-based, beautiful setting that made the original BioShock so famous.
People expect great things from Irrational and what I saw was impressive. In the end, it's the name that some people may get hung up on. It doesn't matter to me what it's called if the game turns out fantastic. And, as you might remember, Irrational has a pretty good track record.
BioShock Infinite is releasing simultaneously on the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3, sometime in 2012.