17 things you need to know about BioShock Infinite

We've been to Columbia, and it's heavenly

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.

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