BioShock was one of the more interesting new IPs in recent memory. While it was a clear spiritual successor to the System Shock franchise, it had a setting unlike any other. The city of Rapture stands out even now as one of the most distinctive and memorable locations in video games. However, part of the problem with Rapture is that the setting doesn't allow for much revisiting. The city is leaking, damaged and on the verge of collapse, and it would strain credibility to return to it much more. BioShock Infinite has a tough job ahead of it because of that. Rather than revisit Rapture, BioShock Infinite is taking the riskier, but infinitely more interesting, route in making something new, yet still distinctly BioShock.
BioShock Infinite's plot is, perhaps surprisingly not connected to BioShock. BioShock Infinite appears to have nothing to do with the city of Rapture or Andrew Ryan. BioShock Infinite is set in the floating city of Columbia, which was a sort of "world's fair" that traveled the globe, showing off America's technology. Things went sour during the Boxer Rebellion, when it was revealed that Columbia was armed with powerful weapons. This attack caused America to disavow Columbia, and the city drifted off to become a thing of legend — if not for Booker DeWitt.
Booker is another pretty big change from the original BioShock protagonist. Unlike Jack, who was a silent mute with little personality, Booker is quite the character. He'll talk and joke, and he has goals and feelings. This is rather important because Booker isn't being forced to Columbia, but comes of his own free will. He was hired to find and rescue a girl named Elizabeth from a tower in the middle of the city. It seems a simple enough task, but the city of Columbia's in the middle of a civil war. The founders of the city are being opposed by the Vox Populi, a group of seeming anarchists who wish to tear down the structure of the city. As if that weren't bad enough, Elizabeth has special powers that could be disastrous if left unchecked. As such, Booker is forced to find a way to rescue Elizabeth and help with her powers along the way.
Elizabeth's powers appear to revolve around tears in space and time. The duo encounters a badly wounded horse, and although Booker has the option to euthanize it, he chooses not to. Elizabeth uses her powers instead, and space twists and distorts around her. At first, it's localized on the horse, but she gradually begins to lose control, and more of the surrounding area is twisted around until the horse and flowers around her are revived. This lasts only a moment before Elizabeth's power gets out of control, and the entire area around the duo is transformed … into a street during the mid '80s. However, this isn't our world because a nearby theater is showing "Revenge of the Jedi." For those not versed in obscure Star Wars trivia, this was the working title for "Return of the Jedi," but it was changed partway through production. It appears that whatever gap in space and time Elizabeth opened, it was to an alternate future. The duo stands on the street, agog at their surroundings for a moment. They're almost struck by a fire truck, but Elizabeth pulls them back to Columbia just in time.
Elizabeth's powers aren't always so dramatic, though. Most of the time, she has some control over them, so she can use her powers to assist Booker during combat. We saw an example of this during a dramatic shootout in the final moments of the demo. All around the area were odd flickering objects that weren't actually there, but Elizabeth was using her powers to bring them into existence. The objects could be anything from a door to a barrel full of weapons; the catch is that her control over her powers is rather shaky. Ask her to use a tear on one object, and you can't use it on another in the area until she recovers. This seems to take a while, so your choice has a lasting impact. If you choose to fix a broken door, you can escape to a new area. On the other hand, summoning a barrel of weapons means you can fight your way out of the situation. Her powers are at your command and alter your gameplay.
That isn't to say Booker is useless in a fight. Like any good FPS protagonist, he has access to a boatload of guns. In the demo, we saw pretty the usual staples: machine gun, pistol and shotgun. Each had a dated, Civil War feel to them, but that didn't stop them from being effective. Booker's other useful power comes from Vigors, which replace Plasmids from BioShock. Instead of being powered by an Eve meter, Vigors appear to be limited in ammo. You pick them up and have a certain number of uses. In our demo, we got to see two of them. One was the Bucking Bronco Vigor, which gives Booker the ability of antigravity. Using it on an enemy or object made it, and anyone around it, float in the air for a while, leaving them vulnerable to attacks. The other was the Murder of Crows, which sends a swarm of deadly birds to peck at an unfortunate enemy, distracting jo, long enough for Booker to blast him right in the face.
Perhaps the most distinctive tool available to Booker is his skyhook, which is a weird tool that can be attached to any of the skylines located around Columbia. These are basically the city's mass transportation system. Huge metal lines crisscross the skies of Columbia, and they allow you to rapidly travel along the world. Booker can use these to move quickly through the city, and he can even jump from skyline to skyline to reach locations that he normally couldn't. Our brief demo had him under attack by a zeppelin armed with missiles, and he was forced to use the skylines to avoid the missiles and reach the zeppelin. This mostly involved jumping from line to line and gradually finding a path that took him close enough to jump onto the zeppelin so he could blow it up.
That's another thing that should be mentioned. The city isn't a ruined mess filled with half-mutated monsters like Rapture was in BioShock. It's in bad shape, but it's still full of normal people and seems to be somewhat functioning. While wandering around the city, you'll see regular people and animals that are just going about their lives. Even the enemies are not always hostile. For a good chunk of the demo, Booker can see the Vox Populi around him, but as long as he doesn't bother them, they won't bother him, either. They only open attack after he chooses to stop the Vox Populi execution of an innocent person. After that, they started swarming him. The Populi seemed to work together more so than Splicers; they called for help using horns and flares, and they even summoned the aforementioned zeppelin for help when things got tough.
BioShock's Big Daddy was one of its most iconic visuals, and BioShock Infinite appears to be trying to one-up it with The Songbird, which is a gigantic, mechanical bird-like creature, many times bigger than any unfortunate humans around it. It looks around with searchlight-like eyes that glow to indicate its mood. It's also after Elizabeth. Prior to Booker's arrival, the Songbird was both Elizabeth's jailor and the closest thing she had to a friend. Since Booker "kidnapped" her, Songbird is trying to get her back. Poor Elizabeth is utterly terrified of the beast and begs Booker to kill her before it takes her back.
Frankly, BioShock Infinite was one of the most exciting games that I saw at E3 2011. The gameplay looked solid, but what really made the game shine was the world and art design. Rapture was an amazing place to visit, but Columbia seems like a step up from that. Every inch of the demo was dripping with detail. From the backdrops to the weapons designs, Columbia is a place unlike any other. If the rest of the game is a fraction as interesting as what we saw in the demo, BioShock Infinite will have one of the most immersive and amazing worlds in video game history.
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