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E3 2011: BioShock Infinite preview - Big Daddy is nothing compared to the Songbird

It’s amazing how quickly things can fall apart. The floating city of Colombia, created as the 1910s’ perfect, ultimate embodiment of American pride and Jeffersonian principles, is now wracked by a civil war between the ultra-patriotic Founders and the Vox Populi, a violent group of blue-collar workers. Explosions rock the city’s platforms, gunfire erupts in the streets – people are fighting and dying all around you. And you? You’re Booker DeWitt, a rough, former Pinkerton agent, hired to find a girl named Elizabeth and get her out of this airborne warzone. No easy task – it seems everyone on both sides of the revolution hates you, Elizabeth’s out of control super powers are as likely to get you killed as they are to help, and someone called the Songbird is determined to “rescue” Elizabeth and return her to the locked tower where she grew up, like a star-spangled Rapunzel.

At the moment our demo begins, it’s daytime and Elizabeth and Booker are setting out in search of Colombia’s mayor, a man named Comstock. She thinks he can tell you where her powers came from and how to control them, which is a skill she urgently needs. We don’t at this moment of the demo know what her powers are, but it’ll become clear soon enough.

Elizabeth and Booker need supplies, so they enter Colombia’s equivalent of a deserted truck stop souvenir store. There are basic groceries and supplies, but they’re almost crowded out by all manner of patriotic trinkets. Busts of George Washington, fireworks, toy trains, marionettes of various presidents… Elizabeth calls your name and you turn, only to see she’s donned a giant Abe Lincoln head the size of a trash can. She begins reciting the Gettysburgh Address in her deepest voice… “Four score and seven years ago…” It’s adorable, though you quickly remind her to focus on finding useful stuff – money, tonics, and so on.

Suddenly, the building shudders as if hit by and earthquake. It subsides as quickly as it came, but then it happens again, and the air is split by an unearthly, metallic shriek. As a strange light breaks through the window and scans across the room light a color-shifting spotlight, you turn to see the formerly effervescent Elizabeth cowering behind a shelf, hand over her mouth, eyes so wide she looks like an anime character, trembling with fear. The scream comes again and the building shakes one more time. This is the Songbird, which isn’t a “someone” so much as a “something”. You can only catch a glimpse through the window, but it’s huge and black and determined to find Elizabeth.

But is doesn’t see you. As it moves away, the lighting in the store returns to normal and Elizabeth opens the door a crack in order to watch for the Songbird’s return. You approach and attempt to comfort her , declaring, “I WILL stop him”. The words do not have the desired effect.

“NO!” she responds, then more calmly explains that is a promise that it is not within your power to keep. However, she says, taking hold of the hand you’ve reached out to her, if it comes to it – she moves your hand and places it around her own neck – you must promise not to let him take her back. The message is clear – back to the tower with her “protector” is the last place Elizabeth wants to be.

With the Songbird on its way and the search of the store finished, you and Elizabeth set out again for Comstock’s house. You can see it in the distance, floating like a castle on its own platform. But when you look back to the road, Elizabeth has gone ahead of you and turned a corner. You follow, and hear her softly singing a soothing lullaby. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word. Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…”

Around the corner, the scene is not pretty. In a grassy area pocked with smoldering craters, Elizabeth kneels beside a bloody, mortally wounded horse. Whether it was injured by the Songibrd or by the Founder/Vox Populi skirmishes nearby isn’t clear, but it’s obvious the animal is on its deathbed.

But Elizabeth won’t leave. “It’s a horse,” Booker says, “they die every day” But she’s adamant. “There’s a tear here,” she observes, a hopeful tone in her voice. She puts her hands near the horse’s neck and then moves them apart, as if smoothing the wrinkles on a bedspread. This triggers a rippling effect that spreads from her hands, and like a portal to another world, everything inside the circle is healed and perfect. The grass is vivid green instead of black and smoldering, the horse is white and healthy instead of brown and bloody – it’s the way the world should be instead of the way it is.

Unfortunately, it’s also unstable. The circle expands only slightly before it collapses, causing Elizabeth to push it open again with greater force. It expands larger, but collapses again, so she throws her arms wide, sending the circle blasting out across the entire clearing. Then something odd happens.

The clearing is gone. Now, Booker and Elizabeth are in the middle of a city street at night. Tears for Fears can be heard playing in the background. The movie theater on your right is showing “Revenge of the Jedi” (yes, Revenge. Not a typo). And Booker is shouting to Elizabeth to “Close it. Close it NOW!” – in large part because of the fire truck barreling right toward them, sirens blaring.

Then, in a flash, she succeeds and you’re back in Colombia, with a once-and-for-all dead horse and a dejected Elizabeth. She can’t control it, she says. It’s just not possible. “After what I just saw,” Booker says, “I’d say anything is possible”.

Moving on, you’re faced with a fork in the road and a choice – go right to keep scavenging, or left to head to Comstock’s mansion. You decide to go left, and climb a stairway that leads you straight into the middle of a Vox Populi riot. A rocket is launched at a giant mural of Comstock with the flag in the background. You hear a man gun down a woman in a nearby building. On another building is projected a film showing a woman – actually Daisy Fitzroy, the leader of the Vox, spouting propaganda. And there’s a mob about to execute a mailman.

You have a choice here to just leave it be or to intercede, either violently or peacefully. In this case, Booker shouts, “Leave him alone! He’s just a mailman!” This does what you want it to – the crowd forgets all about their victim. But that’s because one of them shouts “It’s DeWitt!” and they decide to open fire on you instead.


One man runs to what looks like a giant bullhorn on wheels, so Booker blasts him first and grabs a shotgun. There’s gunfire coming from every direction. “Over there!” Elizabeth yells, and you turn to see the translucent shape of a rail car hanging to your right. The rail cars are basically what you’d get if you crossed a train with a hanging roller coaster. Being a floating city made up of moving platforms, Colombia needs a unique way to deliver freight and ferry people around. The rail system is it.

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40 comments

  • UberNoob - May 26, 2011 11:56 p.m.

    @lovinmyps3 Actually, those aren't plasmids. Elizabeth and Booker both possess abnormal abilities. They are able to combine their abilities to make them even stronger. Its understandable if you get confused with the abilities as plasmids. The anarchists you fight use weapons and devices for combat, not abilities I believe.
  • hllywd212 - May 26, 2011 9:33 p.m.

    @ lovinmyps3- I believe that Rapture and Columbia were built in tandem with eachother, only that Columbia kept some older styles and traditions. But the timelines are very similar.
  • lovinmyps3 - May 26, 2011 8:43 p.m.

    Holy shit this game looks amazing. I still need to play Bioshock 2. My only concern is the time period. If this is before Rapture was created and they have plasmids and everything, doesn't that make what Andrew Ryan did meaningless? He was 40 years late in his "innovations."
  • flare149 - May 26, 2011 6:41 a.m.

    Andrew Ryan maybe the main character becomes
  • Robusken - May 26, 2011 4:37 a.m.

    This preview alone has made me want to buy this on day one. Couldn't quiet get into Bioshock but this I can handle.
  • hllywd212 - May 25, 2011 7:12 a.m.

    Thanks for the honest response Mr. Bratcher.
  • EroticInvisibleMan - May 25, 2011 3:09 a.m.

    A Bioshock game that looks good? Inconceivable! Or so I thought.
  • clubsandwich - May 24, 2011 9:23 p.m.

    I agree with brotherpanda.
  • TheDeathishRainbow - May 24, 2011 8:37 p.m.

    Yay! I can't wait to play this.
  • EricBratcher - May 24, 2011 6:52 p.m.

    @hllywd212 - I understand your point, but my initial impression is that both sides in this case are highly exaggerated, to the point that neither extreme seems tenable or favored. The workers (Vox) are completely savage and anarchist, so they're definitely not portrayed as the good guys. Nor are the ultra-nationalists they fight against. I'm not convinced either philosophy will be presented as fundamentally right or wrong. @papergoon - You'll probably love her in the game. She does seem a bit wide-eyed and naive - Ken explained this is because she's spent most of her life locked away with only the Songbird as company - and she's obviously busting out of her corset. But she's so earnest and sincere that I bet you'll find her endearing anyhow. The intriguing thing is that I can't yet tell if she and Booker have a father/daughter relationship or a more romantic (ie - potentially creepy because he seems far older than her) one.
  • jamboy199three - May 24, 2011 5:35 p.m.

    does it not annoy anyone else that they talk with cheesy american accents now?
  • Fiirestorm21 - May 24, 2011 2:15 p.m.

    I am going to love this game. The more I read about, the more convinced I am.
  • papergoon - May 24, 2011 1:10 p.m.

    I kinda dislike Elizabeth. Don't get me wrong, I'm already starting to love her characterisation :) BUT, she seems to be another sex icon/symbol in a stereotypical (action) video game. A little girl mentality in a fully matured body (ahemBOOBSahem), I think that's the fetish and fantasy of many horny boys :( And it's a cheap shot at sales, sigh.
  • KidKatana - May 24, 2011 9:19 a.m.

    Horses 'should be' white not brown? Racist. Seriously though, I adored the first 2 Bioshocks and I can't wait for another intelligent shooter that isn't all scripted set pieces - the fact that it features a roller coaster as a transport system is the icing on the cake.
  • Zeb364 - May 24, 2011 9:14 a.m.

    This is un-freakin-believable! I'm trying to forget about how bad this wait is going to be but every time I see any press on it pop up it starts killing me worse than ever. I honestly don't know if I'm going to make it. @Helios: Agreed. I'm really psyched to see how that relationship plays out.
  • hllywd212 - May 24, 2011 7:07 a.m.

    @ChiChiRocket No doubt you're right about the plasmids, however it gets more blatant the deeper you dig. The whole Andrew Ryan/Ayn Rand design, and the Atlas/Atlas Shrugged feature really hit home what Mr. Levine is trying to say. While it's very clever from a creative perspective, it gets grating to see the same thing going on with Infinite. Regardless, I'll still adore the game most likely.
  • Yeager1122 - May 24, 2011 4:34 a.m.

    Damn 2012 its going to be a lonnnnnnnng wait.
  • Fro4show - May 24, 2011 4:02 a.m.

    1910? insta-prequel prediction.
  • ChiChiRocket - May 24, 2011 3:32 a.m.

    @hllywd212 I'd say that that's probably attributed to plasmids, etc. more than anything. Give a bunch of people superhuman powers and limited fuel for said powers, and people are going to get cutthroat. I get the feeling that things still would've ended the same way if Ryan and Fontaine had traded roles.
  • ThePigHostage - May 24, 2011 3:21 a.m.

    I didn't like the original Bioshock, but this looks amazing.

Showing 1-20 of 40 comments

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