2012 was supposed to be the year of BioShock Infinite, instead, 2013 gets the honour. Will it live up to the genius of the 2007 original. Having just gotten an extended period of hands-on time with the game, it does appear so.
Irrational Games have been working on BioShock Infinite for nearly five years. That’s five years since the original BioShock title launched to huge acclaim, raising the bar for immersive games with a story at their heart. We all loved BioShock, that’s why you’re reading this preview, and that’s why you are as excited as I am for BioShock Infinite, the first proper sequel to the original epic.
The original BioShock left an imprint in your mind. Its world was so well crafted, its characters dripping with a layer of Adam-infused madness that was impossible to ignore. Rapture is one of the all time great locations in video games, a submerged breakaway civilisation driven mad by the desire to improve the human condition, lead by a maniacal dictator with a vision. Where BioShock 2 simply jumped into the shoes of the original and carried the story on, BioShock Infinite promises a new location, and a new world to explore. Is the skyward city of Columbia as deeply fascinating as Rapture?
The floating city, like Rapture, is a breakaway territory of the United States, lead by a radical individual who oversees the territory. Again, like Rapture, Columbia succeeds from the United States, choosing to go down its own path. The people of Columbia are in awe of the man who leads the city, Zachary Hale Comstock, known to the city’s people simply as “The Prophet”. You play as Booker DeWitt, a war torn veteran thrown out of the Pinkerton Intelligence agency for bad behaviour. A gambler and heavy drinker, Booker is hired by mysterious individuals, aware of Columbia’s location, who send him to the floating city to rescue a girl named Elizabeth, who has been held in the city for twelve years.
The game starts with a nod to the original BioShock, with Booker being taken via row boat to a Lighthouse in the ocean. The opening sequences feel very much like that first game, with familiar sounds and that (now) signature turn of the century inspired exaggerated art style. One of the first big differences here comes in the form of Booker himself. Booker is alive in this game, he talks, expresses himself and makes his feelings known. He’s not afraid to say what he thinks, to his detriment at times. In Infinite, you play as Booker rather than yourself or some faceless opinion devoid unknown. It has an effect on the game from the off, with the game feeling slightly more cinematic. Whether this is to the game’s benefit I couldn’t say at this point, but it will be interesting to see if the finished article leaves the same final impression as its previous outings, as this feels more like Booker’s journey than your own.
Booker has the initials AD branded onto his right hand, a sign the Columbians know to belong to the “False Shepherd’, the man that will try to bring down Comstock and Columbia itself. On first viewing, Columbia appears an enchanting, beautiful place to live, but scratch at the surface a little and you reveal a city filled with religious extremism, racism, and bigotry. When Booker is seen to be the False Prophet, the game comes to life and things get interesting. You can only carry two weapons at once in Infinite, so you’ll need to make a tactical choice there, and the same goes for Vigours, of which you can equip four. Vigours are, to all intents and purposes, the Plasmids from the previous games. They work in the same way, just with a different name. The Vigours I came across were Devil’s Kiss, which allowed you to set people alight, Possession, which turns machines against the enemy, and Bucking Bronco, with which you can throw enemies into the air, rendering them powerless for a few moments.
The shooting portions of the game are fairly run of the mill, and it wasn’t until the Vigours came into play that I really enjoyed my time with BioShock Infinite. The variety of attacks that they allow for make some entertaining battle sequences, with their strategic importance coming more and more into play as my play-session wore on.
Booker frees Elizabeth from her custom made Big Brother House inspired digs quite early on, and she seems very eager to escape. When I first laid eyes on her, during Booker and Elizabeth’s opening exchanges, she reminded me so much of the sort of women found in Disney films of old. Her innocence is laid bare for all to see. Elizabeth has been held, it would seem, for experimental purposes by Comstock, since she possesses a rather special gift.
Once freed Elizabeth follows you around, think Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2, only more useful. She is able to open holes in space and time that she calls “Tears”, with which she is able to pull through useful items, such as gun turrets, sky hooks, or areas of cover. This mechanic was introduced late in my session, so it will be interesting to see what else she adds later in the game.
Navigation through Columbia is achieved via the use of a series of magnetic sky rails. These metal rails crisscross Columbia, providing access to the city’s various locales. They are easy enough to use, via the sky hook tool Booker picks up early in the game, and are accompanied by stand alone hooks that you are able to jump between. You can use them to get away from, or attack Comstock’s forces. Speaking of the enemy, sadly I wasn’t fortunate enough to come across any of the big bad bosses of Columbia that we’ve seen in the trailers. A few of Comstock’s forces have been playing with Vigours, however, and once defeated for the first time, these enemies drop their respective powers as a pickups which you can add to your arsenal.
The opening four hours of BioShock Infinite did exactly what they needed to do, so far the game has completely lived up to my expectations. Columbia is a fascinating place, the characters and their motivations are begging to be explored. Elizabeth has more to reveal, and Booker himself has a story to tell that I can’t wait to reveal. BioShock Infinite left me feeling exactly as I was hoping it would, excited and itching to play more. Everything that made people fall in love with the BioShock series in the first place appears to be present and correct, but it feels like the first game, which means we could well have one of the best games of 2013 in our hands come March.
BioShock Infinite is due for release on March 26 for Windows PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.