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

But this isn’t exactly a rail car – it’s just the ghostly image of one. And before we have time to ponder what that’s all about, Booker uses a handheld, hook-like device to grab the rail itself, which sends him careening along to another platform.

Elizabeth keeps shouting directions. “On your left!” she offers, and Booker turns to the left just in time to see a Vox thug charging forth, about to club him. She then points out another ghostly car, and we realize this isn’t a scripted scene with canned dialogue, like you’d see in a Call of Duty game. Her dialogue is being dynamically triggered by the enemy positions, our actions and our location on the map. Pressing A when we see the rail car, we hear Booker shout for her to bring it over. It shimmers into existence, and we finally begin to understand Elizabeth’s power.

Elizabeth can open “tears” in time. Basically, the ghostly rail car isn’t there at the moment, but there’s a tear in the fabric of space/time/whatever in that spot that she can open, letting the car come through to the current time and place. Judging from the event with the horse, she can also possibly transport entire objects, even people, into another time (and possibly place) as well. These will factor into battle often – her power isn’t infinite, so you’ll often have to choose between tearing in more weapons in one spot, better cover or a mounted gun in another, or even tearing in some Founders to fight the Vox in another.

Booker leaps onto another rail. Landing on a new platform, you unload into a couple more Vox soldiers and then watch as a swarm of new Vox come hooking in along two separate rails, whooping out war cries and trying to swarm you. But they’re not accounting for the Gatling gun you’ve just pulled off its mount and you lay down a wash of deadly flying lead.

However, there was another of those giant horn things nearby, and one of the Vox managed to crank it up. This calls in reinforcements in the form of a zeppelin that reads “Our voice will be heard” and starts bombarding you with mortars, missiles – something glowing hot and yellow that leaves a trail of smoke, anyway.

There’s a mounted rocket launcher close by, so you shout for Elizabeth to bring it in. She can’t – her power needs to recharge after the wagon. You do have a smaller, handheld rocket launcher that hits the zep, but doesn’t bring it down. Booker leaps onto a rail and you hear him shout “I’ll be right back. Stay here!” It’s worth noting that Elizabeth stays out of trouble. You don’t have to worry about her during battle. She’ll stay hidden, and if she’s found she’ll take care of herself – which we see her prove by kneeing a Vox in the jewels as we zip by.

The rails really do feel just like a roller coaster, with the camera swooping and juddering in an exhilarating way, except you can leap from one track to the next. After a long ride that would have kids at Six Flags lining up clear out into the parking lot, you’ll find Booker landing on a tiny deck that sticks out from the side of the zeppelin. It’s time to take this baby down.

Naturally, the Vox would rather you didn’t blow up their blimp, and they come streaming out to stop you. But Booker has a shotgun and plasmid powers – so far, we’ve seen something that just levitates an enemy, leaving them helpless, and another that seems to do the same thing, but with an added explosion of flame. This second power comes into play as you enter the bowels of the blimp. One of your explosions happens too close to what seems to be a boiler, pressurized gas chamber, or something – it explodes, and the blimp is immediately engulfed in flames. You rush back out the door and dive towards the nearest rail – which is a good ten stories straight down. Luckily, you hit it, and after a short ride you’re reunited with Elizabeth on a lower platform, ready to resume your trip to Comstock’s place.

And that’s when the Songbird finds you again.

This time, there’s no display case to hide behind. This time, you’re out in the open and it pounces you with a screech. As it turns out, “Bird” is a terribly modest way to describe this mechanized terror. It’s not a bird at all. It’s got the head of a hawk, yes. But that head has round, glowing eyes and is attached to the body of a 30 foot-tall, jet-black metal gargoyle. It throws you through the air like a gorilla discarding a banana peel and you crash into a domed building an entire platform away.

As you lay there on your back, a patch on the ceiling begins to glow and Songbird (far too large to fit through a door or window) literally tears the roof open to get to you, just in case being hurled 100 yards onto a solid marble floor didn’t kill you. It surveys you momentarily, cocking its head just as birds do, and its yellow eyes blink and shift to red. It pulls back a clawed fist to punch your skull into paste, and just when you think it’s lights out … Elizabeth arrives.

She shouts for Songbird to stop. She says she’s sorry for running away. She begs Songbird not to kill you, but to just take her back. Back to the tower. The tower she’d rather die than return to. As Songbird grabs her and turns to leave, she looks back at you one final time, tears streaming down her face as Songbird flies off through the ceiling…

Well, of course you dash out the door right after them, leaping onto the nearest rail. But what happens after that? Agonizingly, we don’t know. That’s the moment when our demo ended – which also makes it the moment when the wait for the final version of BioShock Infinite (2012? Really?) got a lot more torturous.

May 23, 2011