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BioShock Infinite E3 2011 Preview

An early look at the BioShock Infinite E3 demo reveals much about the game's action and the relationship between the player character and the mysterious Elizabeth he's sent to rescue.

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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. 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.
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  • reply
    May 23, 2011 11:00 AM

    Garnett Lee posted a new article, BioShock Infinite E3 2011 Preview.

    An early look at the BioShock Infinite E3 demo reveals much about the game's action and the relationship between the player character and the mysterious Elizabeth he's sent to rescue.

    • reply
      May 23, 2011 11:10 AM

      Nice preview but not really a whole preview without some comments on the graphics engine and sound design as well..how was the engine?

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      May 23, 2011 11:19 AM

      Hope they have this playable at E3, I'm really looking forward to trying it out

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        May 23, 2011 11:26 AM

        It won't be.

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          May 23, 2011 12:30 PM

          It's good squash hopes before they turn into dreams :)

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          May 23, 2011 2:54 PM

          Damn. Oh well, not like I wouldn't be buying it anyways.

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          May 23, 2011 5:13 PM

          Does Irrational plan to release a video like they did with the first demo?

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      May 23, 2011 11:22 AM

      This game already looks good, still cant believe it more then a year away.

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      May 23, 2011 11:22 AM

      I hope they get the mouse right for this one. It's kind of important.

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        May 23, 2011 11:42 AM

        And the goddamn FOV.

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          May 23, 2011 11:46 AM

          The in-game-adjustable FoV was decent in BS1, which this studio made.

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            May 23, 2011 12:02 PM

            if i recall correctly there was no adjustable fov (you could change it in the ini but with every load/section it would revert), the wide-screen support had issues and mouseinput was barely functional in menus and laggy/inaccurate ingame. some of that was fixed with patches.

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              May 23, 2011 12:06 PM

              they patched in a FOV slider.

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                May 23, 2011 12:12 PM

                I never saw a slider. Just a "Horizontal Lock" option. Also, BS2 doesn't have any adjustment at all from what I've seen.

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                May 23, 2011 12:31 PM

                [deleted]

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        May 23, 2011 12:14 PM

        Yeah, almost every UE3 game has unbelievably bad mouse support with all kinds of lag and negative acceleration etc. I will not buy this game if it has that issue. It is pure laziness to not fix the primary input method for the PC version.

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          May 23, 2011 12:29 PM

          the only exception that i can think of that didn't have this particular problem was mirrors edge. oh and gears of war.

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        May 23, 2011 2:01 PM

        mouse in BS2 pissed me off so much. the sensitivity would change almost everytime i would quickload or go to the menu and return.

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        May 23, 2011 2:38 PM

        And fix the key remapping too. It's only been broken in UE for 10 years. I have to hand edit the config files in almost every UE game to remap my keys.

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        May 23, 2011 3:33 PM

        I'm slightly disturbed that they continue to say nothing about PC mouse and keyboard control quality. I understand why they choose to say nothing, but for a PC FPS, it's a huge dealbreaker if the mousecode is terrible, or if keybinds are similarly gimped.

        They did mention commitment to the strength of various platforms (taking advantage of the PS3's multithreading, and carrying that over to PC to take advantage of multi-core CPU support), but haven't said anything on the mousecode, which is a pretty glaring weakness in Bioshock 1, Irrational's most recent release.

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      May 23, 2011 11:32 AM

      Not reading all those spoilers.

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      May 23, 2011 11:55 AM

      I just skimmed this because this is my most anticipated game of the coming years.. but I'm very glad to hear a general positive tone. I'm excited beyond belief for this one. Can't WAIT! (Actually I can... and will probably have to.. :( )

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        May 23, 2011 11:55 AM

        What I mean is I skimmed it to get the general idea but not read any spoilers. This is one I want to go into totally fresh.

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      May 23, 2011 1:20 PM

      Infinite BS.

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      May 23, 2011 1:27 PM

      It should have been Infinity like Marathon Infinity. That way they could have made it really hard and have it make absolutely no sense what-so-ever.

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      May 23, 2011 2:05 PM

      I stopped reading a paragraph in because I don't want it spoiled

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      May 23, 2011 4:22 PM

      This looks a little too good to be an in-game screenshot: http://www.shacknews.com/game/bioshock-infinite/screenshots?screen_id=420380

      Compare to this, which IIRC was from either August or September 2010: http://cf.shacknews.com/images/sshots/Screenshot/16156/16156_4cc0c12b006e6.jpg

      The top one is a lot "softer", and the hair looks a lot better. The eyes also look a little less insanely big, but maybe that's just the narrower eyelid opening.

      What's going on? Tons of shaders? Or lots of Photoshop work?

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        May 23, 2011 4:40 PM

        I want to say that it's just a newer screenshot and they've improved things a lot since the old batch. That character does look a lot better in that screenshot. She looks way too goth in the others to fit in with the setting.

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          May 23, 2011 4:46 PM

          I liked her theme before, but her head / face / eye proportions seemed goofy and doll-like, which was pretty much in line with the proportions of the characters in Bioshock. That was something I never could shake in that game: "I guess the reason why I don't get to look at moving characters so often is because they all look like animatronic dolls, and not humans." It was nice, and went with the theme, but it was always something weird that I'd stumble over during gameplay.

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        May 23, 2011 4:44 PM

        After a closer look, it seems upscaled to 1920 x 1080 from something about 1000 pixels wide. But still, the transitions look softer, and Elizabeth's face looks MUCH more natural than the 2010 unveil screenshots, and her hair looks much better.

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        May 23, 2011 4:44 PM

        [deleted]

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        May 23, 2011 4:49 PM

        I like the 2nd one better

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        May 23, 2011 5:26 PM

        I really don't like her character design, I can't place what it is, but something is really off about it

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        May 23, 2011 5:26 PM

        looks doable to me, especially after playing the witcher.

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      May 23, 2011 5:24 PM

      I'm really looking forward to Binfinite.

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      May 23, 2011 8:04 PM

      I forgot this game was being made until this article.

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      May 23, 2011 10:12 PM

      >>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.

      This finally got me excited for the game.

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