BioShock Infinite — Irrational Games trades the sea for the sky

Following a teaser trailer revealing its super-secret, much speculated over, and eagerly anticipated BioShock follow-up, Irrational Games' real-life Big Daddy, Ken Levine, stated, “so obviously you’re not in Rapture anymore.” Talk about an understatement. More spiritual successor than sequel, BioShock Infinite takes gamers above - far above - the doomed underwater utopia to Columbia, a city in the sky. This floating World’s Fair of sorts, constructed on hot air-powered airships was “designed to demonstrate to the world by example the founding democratic principles of the United States , the product of American ideals, endeavor and industry.” explained Levine.

Like BioShock’s soggy city, though, things are not as they seem in Columbia. As the story goes, the majestic city in the sky was secretly armed to the teeth, a “Death Star” as Levine put it. This led to a mysterious and disastrous international incident that saw the government disavowing Columbia, forcing it to go rogue and disappear into the clouds. Fast forward to 1912; you’re Booker DeWitt, a disgraced former Pinkerton agent with a reputation for “getting things done,” who’s hired to seek out the skyward metropolis and rescue Elizabeth, apparently a woman of great importance.

Our demo opens with DeWitt’s arrival in Columbia, a beautiful place evoking a strong patriotic vibe; think turn-of-the-century Americana, 4th of July, and Main Street brimming with red, white and blue pride. Of course, Columbia resides within BioShock’s universe, so despite practically being able to smell the apple pie cooling on granny’s window sill, this place is more like a Norman Rockwell painting from Hell. We get a taste of this as DeWitt strolls by an almost catatonic man dragging a newspaper cart with a missing wheel. The oddly expressionless figure and his lame cart - its metal wheel housing sparking against the cobblestones - effectively sets our spines tingling in the same way the woman crooning to the gun in the baby carriage did in Bioshock’s opening moments.

From this point, our stroll through town only gets creepier; a woman sweeps the porch of a flame-engulfed grocery store, seemingly oblivious to the blinding blaze nipping at her backside; black crows compete with flies to feast on a horse carcass; and, taking the prize for most disturbing scene in Columbia, a crazed politician preaches to absolutely no one in a town square. Surrounded by barrels of guns, this Uncle Sam-looking madman encourages us to take up arms against foreigners right before he flashes in and out of some strange blink-and-you’ll-miss-it transformation, identifies DeWitt as an enemy, brandishes a hook, and uses said hand claw to flee via Columbia’s zip line-like rail system.

If there’s any doubt we’re not in Kansas - or Rapture - anymore, this mind-screwing scene squashed it like an Adam-oozing slug under a Big Daddy’s boot. From here, DeWitt grabs a sniper rifle from one of the barrels and treats us to some of Infinite’s FPS gameplay. Separated by the rail system, which Irrational’s Lead Artist Shawn Roberston later describes as the “Skyline, which was originally meant for carrying freight around the city, but has been repurposed for the people to transport themselves.” , DeWitt scopes in on a distant cannon-firing baddie. The ensuing exchange is less about showing off the gunplay than displaying Columbia’s sky-stretching expansiveness, again reminding we’re no longer in Rapture’s suffocating confines.

With hot lead properly placed in his enemy’s skull, DeWitt takes to the Skyline with some hesitation and soon lands in another part of Columbia. He enters a saloon where he’s stared at suspiciously by its armed patrons just before using a Plasmid-like telekinesis power to strip some hooligan of his shotgun. In doing so, he also offers a neat little you-couldn’t-do-this-in-Rapture nod by actually firing the hand cannon while it’s still floating toward his grip. But this was nothing compared to his next trick; unleashing a power that makes BioShock’s bee swarms look about as menacing as a lone mosquito, he conjures a room-eclipsing flock of crows to finish his fight, the assumed result of a tonic we’d  sipped earlier dubbed Murder of Crows. The birds’ blackness swallowing up the screen makes for an impressively macabre, chaotic, and deadly display that instantly has us counting the days till we can sample some of this killer-bird cocktail for ourselves.

The concluding moments of the demo offer an almost dizzying display of powers, characters, and plot points that our brains are still struggling to decipher.  In the wake of the saloon massacre we meet Elizabeth, who soon reveals some baddie-blasting powers of her own. At one point DeWitt combines his apparent  ability to shoot electricity from his fingertips with her power to summon a storm cloud, resulting in a half dozen or so foes being fried by shooting lightning - take that Electrobolt Plasmid! We then witness DeWitt and his new weather-controlling sidekick unleash a similarly devastating offense against a bizarre robot-like baddie; the towering menace, which we’re pretty sure could take a Big Daddy in a fight, was a weird cross between a gorilla and a mech, save for its exposed human face which resembled that of an old timey boxer, complete with waxed hair parted severely down the middle and a curly mustache - like we said, bizarre. DeWitt and Elizabeth take on this behemoth with a collaborative effort that seems to have him shooting a large ball that she constructed - telepathically, of course - from pipes, pots, pans, and other metallic objects.

Finishing with a fade-to-black cliffhanger, the demo leaves our protagonists at the mercy of an enormous black, winged creature that wouldn’t look out of place battling Godzilla atop a Tokyo skyscraper. Needless to say, our time with Infinite left us with more questions than answers, and its brain-bending impact will no doubt take up residence in our minds until Irrational decides to share more with us. This early reveal was all about introducing Columbia, explaining its backstory, and teasing what promises to be a twisted tale on par with BioShock’s engaging yarn. The studio is revealing few, if any, details on pretty much everything except the set-up and setting; many of our questions were met with “We’re not talking about that right now.” responses. Still, there are some seemingly obvious defining features involving Plasmid-like powers as well as some sort of sharing of these abilities between DeWitt and Elizabeth. Additionally, Columbia seems to be populated by its fair share of freaks harboring deadly secrets and devious motives. But many more subtle mysteries, like the reason Elizabeth’s nose bleeds after helping DeWitt, will keep are brains busy until what already looks like another winner from Irrational Games hits in 2012.

Aug 12, 2010

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  • LordGremlin - August 21, 2010 5:11 p.m.

    Original Bioshock is an awesome game. I've bought it for both PC and PS3. If they can repeat that success... Looking forward to it.
  • dvader72 - August 19, 2010 10:03 p.m.

    I have no doubt this game is going to blow our minds. Ken Levine refuses to do anything less. Bioshock was a work of art - as cool as any movie or book I've ever read. I loved Rapture and I can't wait to visit Columbia.
  • oryandymackie - August 18, 2010 4:51 p.m.

    This looks good, but in my opinion BioShock Infinite should have been a separate IP.
  • BurntToShreds - August 17, 2010 5:23 a.m.

    Yes! All that steampunk... It's just too awesome!!
  • DarkAthena13 - August 16, 2010 10:29 p.m.

    looks interesting , i kinda prefered Rapture. i wonder if this will be good?
  • Samael - August 15, 2010 10:12 p.m.

    @LIKEUCARE Ok...umm...I can see where you're coming from on two of your points. The game was a bit short (but not "TOO DAMN SHORT" imho) and it was slightly less scary (they made the Little Sisters cuter, Splicers faces were more comical than horrifying, etc), but how the HELL did the MP ruin the game's immersion? When you were playing the single player did some person somehow join your game and headshot you? Were you unable to focus on the story because you felt that someone, somewhere was playing the multiplayer? I am no fan of the MP and I hope they don't even think about it for this game (Which looks and sounds crazy awesome btw) but...ruin the immersion? That makes absolutely no sense to me.
  • GangsterJew92 - August 14, 2010 2:05 a.m.

    this game is going to be amazing. This and Arkham City
  • HawtKakez - August 13, 2010 3:02 p.m.

    This demo sounds a lot more enlightening then the trailer was. I did a little research online and found an interview with Ken Levine who said that the gameplay of this demo will be revealed to the public later down the road. I don't know about you, but I'm getting a patriotic vibe of Fallout from this new world. Mind you, it is only a faint comparison. Most of what I've seen of this game so far is uniquely original and I have no doubt that this is up for being one of the greatest games of 2012...I really hope the world isn't over by then.
  • WheelchairBoundCommando - August 13, 2010 12:07 p.m.

    Tihs will be incredible!
  • CARDYKEV - August 13, 2010 9:16 a.m.

    "what already looks like another winner from Irrational Games hits in 2012." Not if the Mayans have anything to say about it!
  • lolwizards - August 13, 2010 7:31 a.m.

    I'm very excited about the change of scenery. I loved Rapture in the first game, but by the end of the second, I was wondering how on Earth they could make another game in Rapture as interesting as the previous ones. Anyway, I can't wait to hear more about it!
  • Zeb364 - August 13, 2010 7:02 a.m.

    Ken Levine's the man! As if it's not enough to have tons to look forward to in 2010 and 2011 but now we're looking at 2012! All these awesome games are going to give me a stroke! I just hope they explain the powers as something discovered on Columbia after it went rogue because otherwise it will fuck with the Bioshock mythos.
  • DrPepperGetsAllTheDLC - August 13, 2010 5:47 a.m.

    ICARUS! Ah, It all makes sense now, I am pumpedd.
  • Valntyne - August 13, 2010 5:43 a.m.

    WaooW! But seriously that's pretty awesome.
  • Spybreak8 - August 13, 2010 5:37 a.m.

    I'm liking the new art style, yeah very opposite of when you were in a forgotten underwater utopia.
  • LIKEUCARE - August 13, 2010 5:03 a.m.

    @NotBraze BioShock 2 is a good game, but compared to BS1, very underachiever. Less scary, TOO DAMN SHORT, very easy even on the hardest difficulty setting... and the MP ruined the game's immersion. The story was kinda good but under-exploited/developed. Worst, 2K Marin mainly focused on the MP for the DLC until lately that a Single Player DLC is upcoming... just 6 months too late! I preferred BS1 more than BS2 since it was more scarier, unsettling! I prefer Ken Levine's touch to his game and well, your entitled to prefer Jordan Thomas instead! @Topic I'm just wondering where this BioShock Infinite will be set in the timeline... if it ever will be part of BS franchise. It does seem to be a prequel of some sort but it wasn't confirmed... unless Levine meant a "spiritual prequel"? This is getting confusing... 2012 seems quite far far away now... One thing for sure, this game will rock! Five years of development, it ought to be great.
  • elpurplemonkey - August 13, 2010 4:47 a.m.

    I lost my shit when I saw the reveal trailer, this already looks amazing. After the first Bioshock, I'll buy anything Ken Levine puts out.
  • CandiedJester - August 13, 2010 3:03 a.m.

  • RebornKusabi - August 13, 2010 1:21 a.m.

    Whoa! After a horribly busy day ****ing with Cisco routers and 2 Linux servers up and running, this is a pleasant surprise. While, and I've made no secret of this, I enjoyed BioShock 2 more than the original mostly due to wanting the original to be like System Shock 2 and my low expectations of the sequel that were shot away by the significantly more personal story in BioShock 2 than what was presented to me previously in BioShock 1 and System Shock 2 (which until then I had only watched played although I finally had the technical knowledge to install SS2 myself this year). I'm drained from work so I'll be short here, this looks awesome and I can't wait for it.
  • HilaryDuffGta - August 13, 2010 1 a.m.

    ok i'm a little more intrigued now after reading that,This looks really good and so far it seems like its bioshock which is already a sell for just make sure the multiplayer is better then what we got out of Bioshcok 2