We played the first three hours of BioShock Infinite
BioShock Infinite has had a quiet year. Since the developer delayed it out of 2012, the winner of most Best of E3 2011 awards flew under the radar. Besides a smattering of screenshots, a trailer or two, and a look at the somewhat bland box art, little new in the ways of actual information has been released. Now, the radio silence has ended, and we've been given a chance to explore Columbia for the first time.
We saw the first three hours of BioShock Infinite, and played through the beginnings of our most anticipated game of 2013 (formerly our most anticipated game of 2012, too). And boy, do we have a lot to say. So here it is: everything you need to know about BioShock Infinite before its (new) March 26 release date.
The opening is... extremely strange
BioShock's introduction was fairly straightforward. A guy on a plane crashes into a ruined society filled with mutant psychopaths high on a cocktail of laissez-faire capitalism and stem cell slug-juice. BioShock Infinite's opening, on the other hand, begins with a mysterious quote about test subjects and memories, and a few ominous lines of dialog. Booker, are you afraid of God? an unseen voice speaks. No, but I am afraid of you, Booker DeWitt responds.
Before long Booker is climbing a mysterious light house, listening to Old Time Religion playing from a squeaky radio (serving, in a way, as Infinite's version of Beyond the Sea), and wondering what those weird people who dropped him off on a boat were yammering on about.
...but it's very BioShock
Despite being incredibly strange, it doesn't take long until Booker's trip starts to show some similarities to Jack's in BioShock. After he sits down in the chair at the top of the light house (which sounds like the title of a Walt Whitman poem) he's fired into the air via a rocket. It screams towards the stars as a woman's voice counts upward. Hallelujah, she says as Columbia reveals itself in the clouds, just as Rapture did at the bottom of the sea.
Booker stares in awe as his ship slowly floats through the city, which is much more alive than the crumbling Rapture we visited a few years back. Even so, the entire thing is familiar in its unfamiliarity, giving us more of a BioShock feeling than we expected.
Booker DeWitt is in some serious trouble
We know a good deal about Booker DeWitt, former Pinkerton Agent and protagonist of Infinite. Pinkertons were private security guards in the 1800s sent in to break up industry strikes, so they're not held in the highest regard socially--but whatever Booker's into is much more serious than that. Before arriving at the lighthouse he's given a box with a gun, a code, and a photograph that says to bring Elizabeth to New York unharmed. There's a note stuck to the door of the lighthouse that says Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt. This is your last chance.
If that wasn't eerie enough, midway up the stairs he sees a corpse tied to a chair with a bullet in his head, and a sign that says Don't disappoint us. His history is slowly explored in the beginning of the game, and we expect to find out more as the story progresses, but we're pretty sure he owes someone a lot of money--and is willing to do anything to clear his debt.
Columbia is the antithesis of Rapture
Rapture was Ayn Rand's survival of the fittest ideology run rampant--a commentary on a world where capitalism is religion, and religion is outlawed. Columbia is a mirror to that concept. It's 19th century American isolationism to the umpteenth power, filled with zealots desperate to die a martyrs death the second a false prophet asks them to. It's also very much a bustling metropolis full of relatively happy people.
Instead of No Gods or Kings, Only Man, it's a society obsessed with worship. God, obviously, is held in the highest of regard, but among his pantheon are the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. It's bizzaro Americana, and presents an entirely different mindset than BioShock.
It's also full of racists
The USA's xenophobic early days are still alive and well in Columbia, and Booker finds himself wrapped up in it extremely early in the game. After arriving in the floating city he's entered into a raffle and handed a baseball. When he wins, his prize is wheeled out: An African American woman and a white man are tied to posts, and he's allowed the first throw at the sinful interracial couple. What's wrong? the man on the stage asks when you refuse to peg them. Taking your coffee black these days?
That's not the end of it, either--later in the story Booker finds his way into the base of The Order of the Ravens, a group that wears blue KKK hoods and vilifies Abraham Lincoln and idolizes John Wilkes Booth. He also finds a voxophone recording where a man explains that I'm half a Jew when I smell silver. Booker does find some people fighting for equality, but it's safe to say that they're outnumbered.
Salts and Tonics are Infinite's Eve and Plasmids
The people of Columbia have never been to Rapture, and, as such, they never discovered a race of slugs filled with magical powers. Instead, they created Tonics, which grant them special powers. We found several as we played, all of which gave Booker abilities for battle and made combat incredibly varied.
After defeating The Fireman (who was literally a man on fire), Booker gained access to Devil's Kiss, a Tonic that lets him fire flames from his hands and create explosive traps. He also learned how to call on crows to attack enemies using Murder of Crows, and Possession let him convert turrets or enemies to fight by his side. When he ran low on power, he was able to consume Salts to get back up to speed, letting him continue to destroy his foes with awesome super powers.
Elizabeth is very special to Columbia...
The entire reason Booker is sent to Columbia is to find Elizabeth. Held in a tower in the middle of the city, she is protected by a massive mechanical Songbird. This is all stuff we knew, but once we arrived in the tower it became clear that she was more than a princess in a castle. Quarantine signs were plastered all over, and a voxophone recording hinted that she might be from another world, or another dimension, or another time, or another something. Her captors have obviously been running experiments on her, and have have her childhood teddy bear, poetry book, and menarche on display. It's super strange.
But she's not seen by Columbia as a prisoner. No, she's essentially a messiah, constantly referred to by propaganda as a their lamb, and it's explained that she has some important ties to the leaders of the city. She's a prisoner--there's no doubt about it--but it's much more complicated than that.
...because shes very special to Father Comstock
Father Comstock is the leader of The Founders, the largest political party in Columbia. As such, hes extremely important, and pretty much runs the place. He calls himself a prophet, and since the city is filled with zealots, he commands armies willing to lay down their lives on his whims. Throughout the demo we saw people, young and old, throwing their lives away on Comstocks orders.
Theres a reason people follow him, though--he says he can see the future. While this is a common claim among would-be prophets, there are some hints that his words have some truth to them. Comstock apparently put up signs warning that a man with AD marked on his hand would come to steal away Elizabeth, and what do you know? Booker has AD right on his hand. Part of his prediction of the future also includes Elizabeth taking over for him as leader, so... yeah. He doesnt want Booker taking her away.
Elizabeth also incredibly useful in battle
Booker eventually breaks her out of her tower, and the two begin their voyage to attempt to escape Columbia. While some might expect this to mean a lengthy escort quest, it's actually anything but. If anything, she's escorting Booker, using her mysterious powers to aid him in combat.
Her main ability is to open rifts to pull objects into the world. Booker can see these rifts too, and is able to ask her to yank a turret, some cover, or a new path from another dimension (or something). But she is more than a mobile cover-spawner. As Booker fights, Elizabeth looks around the battlefield for useful supplies. When he's low on health, she might shout that she found a tonic. When he's low on ammo, she might stumble onto a new weapon. When he runs out of power to use his Tonics, she might discover some Salts to juice him up. She'll call out to him, and with the press of a button she's right there, tossing the object into his hands.
She also has abilities that are useful outside of combat
Besides being infinitely useful in battle (and relatively good company), Elizabeth also has a number of abilities that make her role out of combat nearly as important as her role in it. While in her tower she has studied cryptography, giving her the ability to crack codes. This didn't come up when we played the game, but it was mentioned enough to make us think that it will have some sort of role later.
The Skyhook is easy to use, and makes for a brutal melee weapon
Early footage for Infinite shows Booker jumping between giant rails in the sky, using them to get between platforms and launch onto enemies. Like most people, we had no idea how it would actually worked, and assumed it would be fairly difficult to control. This was not the case, though, and we found that it was remarkably simple to jump between rails, and launch onto enemies, bashing them into the distance.
Besides allowing Booker to travel along the rails, the Skyhook also serves as the primary melee weapon in BioShock Infinite. Two or three hits will K.O. almost any basic enemy, and Booker can sometimes execute a finishing move with it, in which he holds it under their neck, spins the hook, and cuts their head clean off.
It gets super gross sometimes
Cutting heads off is gross, but that's just the tip of the bloody iceberg in Infinite. We also saw other disturbing, gory, gruesome scenes as we played through the game's opening act. Headshots often ended in giant gibs flying all over, and the first time we saw a Skyhook it was carved into an enemy's face.
The most cringe-inducing bits, though, came when we'd find new Tonics. After chugging a new ability, the power manifests itself in Booker's body. When he drank the Devil's Kiss his hands lit ablaze, and his skin peeled off from the heat, eventually burning down to the bone. Another Tonic drank had his flesh literally being ripped apart as if some sort of pressure was boiling under his skin. Booker screams bloody murder every time, too, washing away any chance of it being a painless transformation.
There are totally optional side quests
While rummaging through strangers homes for items to loot, Booker found a key that didn't appear to have any specific use. It didn't open any doors in the room, and wasn't part of any objective. Later, a pop-up appeared at the bottom of the screen, explaining that there were some optional missions in BioShock Infinite that would grant great reward if completed.
We hunted for a little while, but never managed to find the lock for the key we found. We assume it would include some sort of power ups or unlockable abilities, but we can't be sure. Oh well, guess we need to wait a few months on that one.
Something really, really weird is going on
This goes without saying, but there's something amiss in BioShock Infinite, and it's much more than the people in charge of Columbia are crazy. Whereas the original game took its time revealing the strings that were pulling Jack, Infinite shows its hand immediately. The people rowing Booker to the lighthouse talk about him like he's not there, acting as though he's some sort of test subject, and those same two people (who row away once he's dropped up) appear several times to give him items or ask him questions after he is in Columbia. He asks who they are but they ignore him, disappearing before he has a chance to demand answers.
But that's not the half of it. The strangest bit came early, when Booker was first exploring Columbia's streets. A group of singers were crooning a familiar tune, singing an a capella version of God Only Knows. You know, the song from the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album, which was released some 50 years after the game is supposed to take place.
The box art is generic so that frat boys will check it out...
Ken Levine said that he loved the box art for the original BioShock, but admits that it wasn't really all that alluring for those who didn't know what the game already was. He explained that after the original game released, Irrational's director of marketing went to colleges and frat houses, and people who don't check gaming websites all the time, and asked them if they heard of BioShock. They hadnt. My guess is that theyd seen it, and just passed it by in the store, he explained. So Levine looked at the box art he loved, and admitted, Honestly, if I look at that and dont know anything, it seems to be about a robot and a little girl.
For Infinite, he said that he wanted to make something that was more accessible for those not in the know. For BioShock to grow, it needs to have a lower barrier of entry. I like that its part of the culture. I like seeing the Big Daddy on the Simpsons. I like that people can make a reference in The New Yorker to Rapture and not have to explain it, Levine said. I think it needs to be part of the culture, and for that you need a certain critical mass in numbers of people playing it.
...but there will be others to choose from, if you really want
That said, Levine also said that he knows that many people won't be happy until they have better box art, and Irrational plans on catering to those people as well. He hinted that there were two things in the works that would hopefully appease those disappointed by a guy standing in front of flag looking serious with a shotgun.
The first thing he couldn't talk about just yet, but we're going to guess it's a reversible cover, since that would make the most sense. The other thing, though, was a sure bet: Irrational is going to make a bunch of covers, and put them all up on its website for anyone to download, print out, and enjoy. He hinted that some would be from art we've already seen, while others would be totally out there and crazy. So, in other words, everybody wins.
It's been delayed
Yeah, let's get this bit over with. BioShock Infinite has been delayed. Again. This time, though, the delay is much shorter, and a good reason was given for the shift from February to March 26, and if you have to blame anyone, you can blame Rod Fergusson.
Ken Levine explained that a few weeks after Rod was brought on he suggested that it could use a few more weeks of polish. Levine, obviously, wasn't too keen on the idea of pushing the game's release date back a second time, but eventually agreed, since it would give the team more time to fix bugs, improve gameplay, and do all that boring stuff that developers do in the days and weeks leading up to release. At least it's only a small delay, right?
Get even more excited
BioShock Infinite was number one on our list of the most anticipated games of 2013 before we played the first three hours. Now? Well, if there was a place higher than first, itd probably be there. Even with the delay its only four months away, meaning youll be able to play it for yourself before you know it.
And if you're looking for more stuff to get excited about, check out our most anticipated games of 2013 and GamesRadars Action/Adventure Game of the Year nominees.