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E3 2011: Bioshock Infinite Preview & Impressions

Feature; Jun. 11, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Robert F. Ludwick
Subtypes: Opinion, Preview
Bioshock is back in a big way
Los Angeles, CA, USA

2K Games was kind enough to give me a look-see at Bioshock Infinite, the third game in the Bioshock series . The first Bioshock was one of the biggest games of the current console generation, with its intense environment, morbid characters and massive, mind-bending twist near the end of the game. Bioshock 2 was a good game in its own right, but it didn't hold a candle to the way the first captivated our imaginations. It just didn't improve on its predecessor enough. For some game franchises, more of the same works pretty well. But not Bioshock.

Bioshock Infinite

I am happy to report that by all accounts, Bioshock Infinite should end up containing that big leap forward we all wanted from Bioshock 2. For a game that isn't releasing until next calendar year, 2012, it already looks phenomenal. I can only imagine how much better Bioshock Infinite will be with all of the remaining time until its release.

The story of Bioshock Infinite is set in Columbia, a floating city built to house a world's fair. The intent of the United States in creating Columbia was to show the world how absolutely awesome American ingenuity is. Columbia is a fully-armed city, and when the citizens were fired upon, the United States disavowed all knowledge of the floating city and left it to its own devices.

Columbia is stuck in the 1950s era of American history, much like Rapture was stuck in the '50s too. You take on the role of Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent tasked with rescuing a young woman, Elizabeth, being held by an enormous machine-bird called Songbird. During the early stages of the game, it is revealed that once she has been set free from Songbird, she has extraordinary powers that can assist DeWitt in getting her off of the floating city. The only way he can do that, however, is to help Elizabeth understand and explain her new-found powers.

2K Games gave a group of us E3-goers a look at the game by playing a segment about one-third of the way in. The demo opens with DeWitt and Elizabeth in a general store, looking for supplies and hiding out in their search for answers. While DeWitt is gathering supplies, Elizabeth is putting on character masks and acting out the character, such as Abraham Lincoln. She seems a bit naive and innocent, which jives with her having been imprisoned for the majority of her life.

Bioshock Infinite ScreenshotsClick the image to view game screenshots

Soon, Songbird comes calling and looks through the windows. Only some crafty hiding keeps DeWitt and Elizabeth from its probing eyes. Once Songbird has flown on, the two leave the general store and soon encounter a dying horse. Elizabeth accesses a tear (in dimensions? time?) to try to heal the horse. While in what appears to be either an alternate dimension or place on Earth, the two are nearly run over by a vehicle they've stepped in front of.

The two soon encounter the Vox, a militia attempting to take control of the city. A gunfight soon erupts between DeWitt and the Vox because they recognize him when he stops an execution about to take place in a square. The battle that ensues between DeWitt and the Vox is ranged and large in scope. Quite a contrast to battles in Bioshock 1 and 2, this battle takes place on a number of platforms and in the sky using Sky-Lines, a major transport rail network. A blimp is also attacking DeWitt and Elizabeth, which becomes his primary target in an attempt to end the battle.

Elizabeth, when fully charged, can use her abilities to call in objects and weapons for DeWitt to use strategically in battle. She cannot call in all possible objects, so DeWitt must choose carefully to impact the battle in a way that suits his fighting style. In the demo, the 2K employee chose cover so DeWitt wouldn't have to deal with one raised platform and its opponents shooting at him. There were other choices present, such as a rocket launcher for the attacking blimp.

The battle ended when DeWitt destroyed the blimp after boarding it. Unfortunately for DeWitt and Elizabeth, Songbird finds them shortly afterward. When Songbird prepares to kill DeWitt, Elizabeth steps between the two and convinces Songbird to take her back, sparing DeWitt his life. The demo then ends.

All in all, the ranged battles and strategic decisions available are exciting. Bioshock has typically been a more linear game franchise, so with the expansive battle areas and options available to DeWitt, Bioshock will offer a more varied and deeper experience than ever before. The visuals in Bioshock Infinite are also a major leap forward from the prior two installments in the series. The art style fits within the Bioshock universe very well and the in-game graphical rendering is some of the best I've seen of any video game to date.

It seems that 2K has another Bioshock environment setup to suck the player in -- and keep him in until the end of the game. The new characters also seem more real and believable than before. Before DeWitt and Elizabeth leave the general store after Songbird departs, Elizabeth pleades with DeWitt to not let Songbird have her. It is an emotional moment that is done very well, giving the player an emotional connection with Elizabeth and her desire to stay out now that she's tasted freedom.

Speaking of Elizabeth, she's bound for bigger and better things within the video game community. I think she'll eventually be one of the highest-regarded fictional video game women in time.

Bioshock Infinite looks like it will play the part that Bioshock 2 was supposed to play -- making a big leap over its predecessor and recapturing what made the first game so great. If the current progress on Bioshock Infinite is any indication, gamers are going to be in for a big treat next year.

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