BioShock Infinite E3 2011 Preview

The striking announcement of BioShock Infinite, which introduced the cloud city of Columbia, instantly sparked the imagination. Anticipation rocketed on the thought of how the creators of the original BioShock's underwater utopia-gone-wrong called Rapture might work similar magic on a turn of the 20th century city in the sky. The E3 demo of BioShock Infinite offers ample reassurance that those hopes were not misplaced. focalbox I got an early look at that demo with designer Ken Levine providing commentary. It takes place about a third of the way into the game and provides a good look at the nature of the relationship between the player's character, Booker Dewitt, and the woman he's been sent to rescue, Elizabeth (who Levine affectionately refers as Liz). Don't worry about the game being one long escort mission, though. Levine reassured us that at no point does Liz need to be protected. He said that that's just not fun. So she can take care of herself. That autonomy makes her a more complete partner, and frees her up to play two critical parts in the game without any strings attached. As the crux of the narrative in BioShock Infinite, getting Liz safely off of Columbia drives the action forward, but there's more to it than getting past the two factions locked in civil war for the city. Throughout the game Liz is pursued by her jailer, a mysterious creature known as the Songbird. The Songbird is an enormous creature, as seen soaring toward Dewitt in the climactic ending to the game's first demo. With a body that mixes some sort of gargantuan ape with enormous wings and an armored head that almost appeared mechanical, it presents a formidable foe with a strong connection to Liz. "Songbird is a bit like a jealous, possessive ex-husband," Ken Levine explained. As she convinced the Songbird to spare Dewitt in exchange for returning to her captivity, I wondered whether that motivation could be turned to make him an ally. Elizabeth's other big part in the game comes from the tactical options she introduces to combat. The action over the course of the demo left no doubt that BioShock Infinite is a serious shooter and Dewitt will welcome the support. As the original reveal trailer hinted, Liz possesses some sort of supernatural powers. During the time in the demo even she isn't exactly sure what they're all about or, for that matter how to control them. All she knows is that she has the power to manipulate rifts in the world. The rifts Elizabeth plays with seem to fall into the realm of fissures in the space time continuum. Early on, she strains to open one large enough to save a fallen horse. Lacking control, things get away from her and for a moment they find themselves in the 1980's on a street in front of a theater, complete with the Tears for Fears classic "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" playing in the background. After that dramatic display, her powers come into play in a more controlled manner in-game. During a fight, she'll be able to use rifts to help Dewitt gain a tactical advantage in specific situations. At these spots, she offers him options. In the demo, the prime example came during a firefight where they got caught in an open courtyard. Using her powers, Elizabeth could open a rift in front of them and bring in a large structure that would provide cover, open a smaller one to their side to call in a weapons crate with heavier weapons to blast their way out of trouble with, or open one on an adjacent wall that would allow them a new avenue of escape.

Citizens of Columbia have strong opinions regarding opposition parities in BioShock Infinite

In the demo Dewitt chose the cover and the intensity of the fight quickly escalated. A zeppelin came in to provide aerial support for the enemies. It was clear that something had to be done about it, and quick. A new rift location presented the chance for Elizabeth to call in a missile launcher emplacement, but her power had not sufficiently recovered from its last use to pull off such a large feat quite yet. Levine offered that one tactic could be to hold that position while she regained enough power to open the rift, and use that to bring down the airship. But there was no waiting around in this demo. An aerial rail system known as the sky-lines runs around Columbia and offers an adrenalin pumping way to zip around the sky. Setup like some sort of crazy rollercoaster, the lines support passengers and freight cars that move around the city. But with a special hook device, they can be hopped on and used to rip around the sky, dangling from a rail. In the demo, Dewitt does exactly that to start the winding ride up to the height of the zeppelin. But Dewitt isn't the only one who can ride the sky-lines. Enemies can as well. As they zip toward him a wild gun battle ensues with Dewitt hanging by one arm and shooting with the other as the world whips by every which way. Besides raw thrill, the sky-lines add another tactical layer to the fight. On the ground, where cover comes into play, heavier weapons like a rocket launcher make good use of splash damage, but on the rail, where only a direct hit will do damage, the more precise the weapon, the better. Throughout BioShock Infinite choices look to play an important part. Some of the toughest to make will be deciding who to fight, and who to leave be. In the morally compromised world of Columbia those calls will have to be made without a clear definition of right and wrong. Liz will often ask how to proceed, but she understands the situation and is not a judgmental nag. That's a tricky way to get me to really own the decisions I make in the game and their consequences. The stunned silence in a room full of videogame media at the conclusion of the demo sums things up pretty well. BioShock Infinite looks like everything I'd hoped it could be, and maybe even more.