Bioshock: Infinite Preview
It’s been a long time coming, but Bioshock: Infinite is very nearly here. During the wait since the first announcement of the game back in mid-2010, previously known as ‘Project Icarus’, I have fallen in and out of love with the idea. Infinite has always been stunning in my eyes, but the wait and the constant teasing left a sour taste in my mouth. Predictably though, I have become increasingly excited again during the build-up to launch. Every trailer has enticed me further, every little inkling that Columbia might not be quite all it seems has made me desperate to get my hands on it, to work out it’s secrets. Maybe I’m just going slightly crazy over this because I’m a huge Bioshock fan, or maybe Infinite genuinely is a really great game, but I needed to find out for myself – after several hours hands-on here’s what I discovered.
If you haven’t watched the video released showing the first five minutes of the game (which can be found here if you’re interested), you probably should. Although it’s been slated as ‘spoiler-filled’, I can’t say that’s really true. By now we know that during Infinite we play as a character known as Booker DeWitt, a former agent, sent to rescue a girl called Elizabeth from the floating city of Columbia, of which has been her prison for twelve years. We’re told: ‘Save the girl, wipe the debt…’
When entering the city, all is calm. You make your way through a flooded church with sculptures and paintings depicting the ‘three gold gifts of the founders’ – Gladium, Clavem, and Volumen. The congregation seems unperturbed by the newcomer’s presence, and once through the church Booker walks out into the sunshine. Everything about the scenery of Columbia screams picturesque perfection – a far cry from the broken, submerged, art-deco hell that was Rapture. Humming-birds float around beautiful gardens, blue skies filled with fluffy clouds and distant buildings entice you further through the streets. The inhabitants don’t even bat an eyelid as Booker makes his way through town, or takes food from stalls. Is this paradise? Through it’s impeccable exterior, however, if the player looks close enough cracks begin to expose the slightly sinister core of the city.
“The seed of the Prophet shall sit the throne and drown in flame the mountains of man.”
Through a carnival, the player can study the basics of shooting and the use of Vigor potions. These, much like the Plasmids found in Rapture, transform the user, creating the ability to wield powers. I had the chance to try out Bucking Bronco, which enables Booker to levitate an enemy for a short period of time, while a little while later I dabbled in Possession – the power to have influence over turrets or even people (who, when their job is done, commit suicide), Murder of Crows – similar to the Insect Swarm plasmid, that disorientates and wounds your adversary, and Devil’s Kiss – which works as your typical fire-ball attack. Each can be upgraded, and can be used as a simple attack, or set as a trap. Two can be equipped via the menu screen, although use is limited by the amount of ‘salt’ you have left. Salts can be topped up in a similar way to health – just find bottles or food lying around to replenish your dwindling bars.
Amongst the pleasant, colourful carnival, Booker can listen in to conversations, enter shops and scout out food and salts. Collectables such as records become a routine pick-up, as do Voxophone recordings and Kinetoscopes (short propaganda films) that highlight the history of Columbia in a slightly unsettling way. It becomes clear, through these recordings and posters littering the streets, that while a utopia was hoped for, there’s still a disconcerting feeling in the air. This is not made any better by the sudden realisation that Columbia is not only practicing a form of jingoism, but has racial undertones to it’s core. One of the first decisions you have to make as Booker is a strong one, and it definitely brings these ideals home in abundance. Once this choice is made, pretty much all hell breaks lose, and for the first time since setting foot on the floating city the occupants actually pay attention. The illusion of peace is shattered. It’s a hard concept to approach in a game, but one I think Infinite will be able to pull off. An emotive subject such as this so early on in the game was definitely something I wasn’t expecting…
Other aspects of the city add to the slightly disorientating ambiance. Characters appear in different situations, when you swear you had a conversation with them down the street in the pub. Tears in the scenery warp slightly, and you wonder if you really saw it happen at all. Carts are pulled by what can only be described as robot horses, fuelled by an electric pack on their backs. A handyman is seen as an attraction at the carnival, cowering from the flashes of cameras, rather than the killing machine we’ve been lead to believe them to be thus far.
Amidst the odd streets, another form of travel is of course the Skyhooks. Using these rails, that are frequently seen transporting goods from one building to another, feels like you’re on a rollercoaster – there’s no other way to describe it. You can hear the wind rushing past you, nothing but sky beneath you at times, and if you want you can jump forward to pick up speed. Takedowns from the rails are very satisfying, and often knock your enemy off the edge of a building. Your Skyhook is also your form of melee attack, which again is a very gratifying experience. Get it’s claws around someone’s neck and it grinds away until, well… you get the idea.
Once you have made your way through the first few buildings, skyhook areas and gunfights, Booker emerges at the building in which Elizabeth is held captive. It’s here that you first really get an idea of how well the characters are voiced. While Jack in the original Bioshock game was a mute protagonist, Booker interacts with Elizabeth, not only during cut-scenes, but throughout combat as well. She is a perfect AI for any game; taking cover at the correct time, aiding you with food, salts or ammo when you’re low, all the while having the strange ability to tear the world and reveal a different time period. Through these tears you can see how your choices affect the future.
This slightly more action-orientated world is definitely one I want to get back to. It’s vibrant, jovial yet secretive streets make it so alluring to the Bioshock fan in me that just wants to collect every Voxophone in the hope of learning all there is to know. Columbia has a very different atmosphere to that of Rapture; gone are the flooded tunnels and frenetic splicers – instead the city has skyhooks, light, and congregations that seem to resemble certain far-right organisations. The sinister nuances will rear their ugly heads in time though, I’m sure, and when they do I can see Bioshock Infinite becoming a very fascinating game.