BioShock Infinite First Look

We check out Irrational Games' shocking new title.

by

"So what are you working on next?" Those seven words have almost always found their way into conversations with creative director Ken Levine and the staff at Boston-based Irrational Games since the acclaimed release of the original BioShock in 2007. For nearly three years, the response has always been a usually sly deflection coupled with a coy look that made it clear Irrational Games had something cooking. The wait finally ended Wednesday night in New York as Levine took the stage at the Plaza Hotel and unveiled BioShock Infinite, a new entry in the franchise that's likely not what anyone was expecting.

Before we dive into the game, we should note that while BioShock Infinite carries the BioShock moniker, the game is an almost entirely different experience from Irrational's last title with that name. After our look at the game, we have to say that, in a strange way, BioShock Infinite appears to be setting the franchise up for a Final Fantasy-like run. No, the team hasn't added materia, summons, and chocobos to go along with its fantastical airborne setting. What the game appears to be doing is taking key elements that are central to the BioShock experience and reimagining them in the context of a new story. So, like with nearly every Final Fantasy game that has hit consoles, fans of the series will find plenty of familiar elements on hand, but they will be wrapped in a new experience.

So just what is BioShock Infinite's new experience? In two words: the sky. The game is once again set in a slightly skewed version of history where humankind manages to do something incredible. In this particular case, America has created a vast flying city called Columbia, named after the poetic name for the Americas and the feminine personification of the United States of America. The sprawling airborne metropolis is ostensibly meant to be a slick, showstopping testament to the nation's ingenuity and the benefits of a democratic system that travels the world. This does actually appear to be the case…for a little while. However, the humans included a few undocumented features in the utopian flotilla (a full complement of weapons), and things go sideways. While the specifics were hazy in the presentation, we think it's safe to assume that when all is said and done, there's probably a smoking crater someplace in the world in the wake of Columbia baring its teeth. The result is that Columbia disappears into the clouds.

This chain of event sets up the start of BioShock Infinite, which casts you as Booker Dewitt, a disgraced former member of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. For those not up on their history, the Pinkertons were a private US security guard and detective agency established by Allan Pinkerton in 1850. At its peak, the agency wound up having more agents than there were members of the army, making it the largest private law-enforcement organization. Dewitt's experience and unique skill set have made him a resource for those who have special needs. A mysterious figure taps Dewitt to find a young woman named Elizabeth, who has been kidnapped and is presently being held in Columbia. The request to find Elizabeth also comes with information on Columbia's whereabouts and how to find where she's being held, which starts Dewitt's journey to uncover the mysteries of the failed utopia.

We got a taste of Dewitt's adventure in the live demo of the game, which showcased the similarities to and differences from the original BioShock. The level opened up with the former agent regaining consciousness amid a bizarre collage of imagery taken from a poster that featured George Washington surrounded by minority caricatures that proclaimed, "It is our duty to protect against the foreign hordes." We got a taste of Columbia's unique architecture and construction as Dewitt began moving around. While his initial surroundings appeared to be an ordinary street alley, it became clear that was not the case as little details started to become apparent: the horse and cart making its way toward him on the street; a steam-punk-y horse mechanoid; movement beyond the shaded alley; massive buildings held aloft on blimps and hot-air balloons that appear to be in constant varied motion, a bit like waves in the ocean tide; and a smaller landmass, with a tall building and a ringing bell that comes slamming to the ground. The demo pushed Dewitt further into the clearly troubled city to reveal a grocery store on fire being sweeped, we hope, by a mechanical female. Beyond the shop, we saw a massive statue of Columbia kneeling while holding a flag. Just up the street from the statue we saw the corpse of a horse, which clearly made a case for why the locals opted for mechanical replacements.

As the demo progressed, Dewitt moved to a grassy area, which bumped up the game's unsettling vibe a notch as a very chatty resident's rant on bearing arms could be heard coming from further ahead. The journey to reach the speaker yielded a selection of disturbing signs ominously referring to a mystery group taking away a person's life, guns, and other liberties, as well as a troubled resident sitting on a bench alone with a flock of crows. Dewitt reaches the speaker, who appears to be someone named Saltonstall based on posters lying around. The tone of the city has taken a turn for the worse that's topped off by some kind of transformation in Saltonstall, who goes from an eccentric person to a totally crazy person with glowing bright-red eyes. The wizened speaker summons his compatriot, the crow-loving bench sitter, and asks him to attack Dewitt, who was able to collect a weapon from the buckets of rifles around Saltonstall. This results in an assault by every nearby bird, directed by Saltonstall's associate.

While the crows are a problem, the main issue is their master, whom Dewitt dispatches with a handy melee attack that boots his foe over a railing to an unceremonious death on top of a tram car a ways below. Saltonstall escapes by using a rail system, accessed by a handheld hook, that lets him shoot over to another one of the floating islands. As Dewitt attempts to find a way to follow, he is able to see the dead henchman on the tram car below his vantage point and a plasmid-bottle-style pickup that is for the "murder of crows" power. One quick telekinetically powered retrieval later and Dewitt is chugging down the liquid and gaining dominion over crows.

Dewitt's new power doesn't appear to be too useful, as Saltonstall's rantings are heard again and followed by a missile shooting off in the distance that quickly slams down nearby. With few options, Dewitt makes use of a hook to ride the rail system Saltonstall escaped on, and one dramatic rail change later, which includes smacking an incoming enemy into oblivion, he winds up on a new chunk of land in front of the missile launcher. Before Dewitt is blasted into a smear, he ducks into what appears to be a bar populated by a small smattering of seemingly docile locals who undergo a shift similar to Saltonstall and become glowing-eyed loons. One thing we noticed in the bar sequence was an odd warping to one of the portraits on the wall that seemed to happen around the same time the bar went crazy. Unfortunately, there isn't much time to scrutinize the room as Dewitt begins dealing with the locals. While he made liberal use of his weapon, we were intrigued to see a new use for the telekinesis power. Dewitt disarmed a foe by pulling his weapon away and proceeded to use telekinesis to aim and shoot the pistol at enemies.

Don't look down.

The action shifts outdoors as Dewitt appears to be attempting to shake the angry bar patrons and pit the newly powered agent against a missile launcher. Fortunately, thanks to a telekinetically redirected missile, the fight is more lopsided than you'd think. The victory is short-lived, as more residents, not looking in their right minds, appear en masse (which is a hefty contrast to the modest crowds seen in the original BioShock). Fortunately the mysterious Elizabeth appears, rocking a fairly ornate dress for a former kidnapping victim, and creates a rain storm that sets up a logical scenario that Dewitt follows through on by firing an electrical blast that is amplified by the water and takes out a huge number of enemies in spectacular fashion, offering an opening to escape through. The two don't get too far and are soon pinned down behind an overturned horse cart by another mob of enemies. This time out, Elizabeth calls out that she has an idea and uses telekinesis to pull together random bits of debris into a tightly packed ball that Dewitt uses as a shrapnel grenade with his own telekinesis against the enemies in front of the pair.

In the wake of the massive explosion, Elizabeth falls to her knees, obviously exhausted from the exertion, saying she needs to catch her breath. Unfortunately, rest isn't an option, as a massive steam-punkish cyborg, shown in flashes in the teaser trailer, jumps down into view. The pair run to escape across a bridge but are blocked as the new enemy leaps in front of them and blocks their path. Dewitt's attempts at throwing debris at the mechanical foe only anger it and lead to a horse being flung at the pair. As the creature begins to advance, Elizabeth appears to grab a portion of the suspension bridge above the enemy with her mind and charge it with energy, calling out to Dewitt to act. Dewitt's blast strikes the portion of the bridge Elizabeth was holding and collapses it on the enemy, who is eventually flung back into the open sky along with other debris. Elizabeth falls to the ground again, this time bleeding from her nose from the exertion. Dewitt asks her if the creature was "the one" who was following her. She notes that it was not and points behind them. The camera shifts to show Dewitt adjusting his gaze to take in an even larger steam-punk-style cyborg that's birdlike in appearance and clearly about to jump down at the escaping duo. However, just as the creature prepares to come down, the demo ends, and Levine appears to close out the event.

Utopia?

The demo was dense with content, some of which we're sure will have greater significance in the context of the game, and it showed off a new, more action-packed flow to the experience. The greater number of enemies was impressive as were the spectacular effects from the explosions and power combinations. The new graphics engine is obviously tailor-made to showcase both the floating landmasses that make up Columbia and the environment in which it's traveling. So far, the result is the creation of a dramatically different aesthetic from that of the city of Rapture, and it offers an all-new sense of claustrophobia and discomfort. We have to say we were surprised by the unsettling mood that was created in such a bright, open environment. While you wouldn't think an open city with a light color palette could be creepy, Columbia is, and best of luck if you're afraid of heights. Between the official trailer and the live demo, we have to say we were already feeling some white-knuckle stomach-knotting anxiety just from watching.

The game's art style, while retaining the high level of detail and art deco approach of the original game, has seen a stylistic change that keeps the game looking fresh. In terms of gameplay, we were also intrigued by the hints of the choice mechanics on display: from the look of things, you'll have to be managing how often you take up Elizabeth's offers of help. Given the apparent physical cost to her when she uses her abilities, we can imagine some less-than-ideal outcomes if she's overused. Combining powers and weapons looks promising as well.

While it's sadly still a ways off, BioShock Infinite has made a winning first impression on us. While the unique game is an unlikely BioShock sequel, there's a lot to be excited by. The setting is fresh and more than a little unsettling, which is a feat considering how well lit Columbia is. The story is clearly packing its fair share of unsettling characters, twists, and mysteries to unravel that all add up to a pretty big hook for fans. The gameplay is mixing up old and new mechanics to create a new flow to adventuring that seems like a good fit. We're especially curious to see how Elizabeth fits into the mix. Will she be a catch-all savior like Elika from Prince of Persia (which we doubt), or will she be something else entirely? We'll be eagerly hunting for the answer to that question and more in the months and year to come. BioShock Infinite is slated to ship in 2012 for the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

Discussion

485 comments
Petq007
Petq007

Best BioShock ever!!!!

DX_Fan777
DX_Fan777

I'm glad they dropped the story and set it a new location. The biggest flaw in Bioshock 2 was that it felt like Bioshock again with a less charismatic antagonist. A good sequel is one that expands on the former, not just makes it look prettier.

Termy_Aztec
Termy_Aztec

Looks like 2k are looking to impress once again and hopefully come out shining once again. After watching the demo though, this game looks to continue the great franchise of the Bioshock series.

OmegaXIV
OmegaXIV

I´m going to keep a close eye on this game. Looks sweet! :)

HuusAsking
HuusAsking

I will definitely need to know more about the game (and I definitely want to learn more about it; the fresh setting has me all curious), but perhaps there are similarities between this Elizabeth and Bioshock 2's Eleanor.

Vambran
Vambran

I want to buy this game.

ooblah
ooblah

@ Blue_Tomato Is that so? Well f.y.i, I am, first and foremost, an open world gamer. The Legend of Zelda, Grand Theft Auto, Elder Scrolls, Just Cause, and Mafia to name a few. So I am well aware of illusory freedoms vs. actual freedoms in the world of exploration video games. Bioshock Infinite's Columbia, however scripted the demo was, is a vast departure from the confined, and at times, claustrophobic Rapture. Dont' get me wrong, though, I believe Rapture needed to be the way it was to preserve to story and tone that they achieved. On a final note, I meant no disrespect to you, Blue_Tomato, in particular, rather I was commenting on the many people here who judge a game strictly on hearsay than actually experiencing a part of it for themselves - even if that means watching a partially scripted demo.

Blue_Tomato
Blue_Tomato

@ooblah I have watched the demo, and although it looks amazing, it is clear it is filled with scripted events where the player is chased from one event to another without much freedom selecting his own path, so although you can enjoy a great view you still are confined just as if you were walking around inside Rapture. You need to differ between the illusion of freedom and true freedom. Calling people commenting stupid instead of backing up your viewpoints is not an intelligent nor respectable way to debate.

ooblah
ooblah

Blue_Tomato said: It might not be that different in practice in fact. Rapture had an inaccessible outside for the most part due to its underwater location, and a flying city indicates you wont be taking any strolls outside there either. So, I suppose most of the action will appear inside confined buildings like in the original Bioshock. @Blue_Tomato I really wish you guys would read the fine print. The entire demo takes place in an outside setting. You need to read the words on the page and then visualize them. That way you don't end up sounding stupid. Plus I watched the demo myself, and the game looks fuggin' amazing. Don't judge it till you see it for yourself.

lokier066
lokier066

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

GOGOGOGURT
GOGOGOGURT

I never understood bioshock. It's so weird...

zombieshot115
zombieshot115

i hope its in the same universe but besides that, looks amazing

Merlinmint
Merlinmint

@liamboi16 Fair enough I guess, though I still don't understand why they have to drop the original story and universe I guess :/

liamboi16
liamboi16

@Merlinmint The game is set in a different universe to the other Bioshock games. That's why they're saying that they're taking a "Final Fantasy" style approach to the series. Also, there are no big daddies in this game but the theme of genetic engineering is still present, hence the "Bio", so there will still be the plasmids and the cyborg type thing from the teaser.

Merlinmint
Merlinmint

I still find it funny that before Bioshock 2 was released the designers were saying how Rapture was "the game" and yet they have now dumped the most visually stunning setting I've ever seen in a game and changed the story. How can plasmids and big daddies exist in the sky over 50-60 years before being "discovered" in Rapture...This actually makes me angry that they're taking something that worked (sure Bioshock 2 didn't impress some people but I thought it was still great) and changing it so it now has no context or sense. Big daddies wore suits so they survive under water, Adam came from slugs found under water...now they appear magically in a flying city in the 1890s-1900s. One word - no.

Platini
Platini

First one was good the second sucked and the third will suck the bone of the skeleton. I rest at the skeleton!

RO-nIn187
RO-nIn187

@solidsnakedude1 and @johnnyBgood99 i didnt name any shooter and i agree that the new call of duty and medal of honor games get much more fans than they deserve... but if you played the first cod or moh when it came out it was great because it really was something new! i just couldnt stay with bioshock cuz it got boring after a short while and i know a lot of people that agree with me... now what was a great shooter? back then doom 1+2, quake 1+2, later the MGS saga is definately worth mentioning... Half-Life 1+2, Unreal 1+2 (i'm not mentioning multiplayer shooters like UT now), Far Cry 1, Crysis wasnt bad either (though i expected more), AvP 1+2 (dont like the new one), Postal 2 (its perfect for psychos like me ;), Soldier of Fortune 1+2, No One Lives Forever 1+2 (they should really make another one), The Jedi Knight Series, Mass Effect 1+2 (if you want to call it a shooter) and so on... I guess you catched my drift... I've been playing shooters for about 17 years now, starting with Doom 1 and Wolfenstein 3D so I played my share of shooters over the years but there are only few new shooters that I really enjoy which have great gameplay and a great story... i'm curious about Rage because I always loved Id Software... Now Good Day to you too :P

choonyos
choonyos

I am so excited for this game's release. I love the idea of taking the same style of game play and mixing it into a new world. It's going to be awesome... I hope, lol.

NaramSuen
NaramSuen

When I first heard about this I was underwhelmed, but with each passing day the whole concept gets more and more interesting. A new Bioshock by the studio that produced the first Bioshock is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

PurplePonyPants
PurplePonyPants

seems like more of a sequel than bioshock 2 ever was. it was way too similar to the original. this on the other hand looks quite, quite mad.

Speuj
Speuj

Man... it sucks. Bioshock is like seafood for me. Looks fantastic... and so many people seem to love it... but when I try it, I just can't stand it. The demo of the first one was almost immediately deleted... I bought the second one for dirt cheap thinking I might like it... been it's been in my Xbox once. Makes no sense to me because I love the art design... it's right up my alley! Somehow I think I just don't "get it"... and I'm severely missing out! =P Maybe I just suck at the game...

Shepard_
Shepard_

This will be sick again. In fact, I liked it!

Emilyek_1
Emilyek_1

Gaming 2.0 franchise whoring. How fun. Can't they just tell a good story in a game or two and let it go? For f^%'s sake.

ParaBellum71
ParaBellum71

Ageed Johnny. You want a good FPS, go for combat simulators. Call of Duty is arena combat. Maps the size of my backyard, unrealistic sprinting abilities, and stupid arcade like power ups. While this may seem off topic, its just being used as an example that Bioshock is not overhyped when games like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Justin Bieber are around.

johnnyBgood99
johnnyBgood99

@RO-nIn187 and what, may I ask, is your opinion of a "really good shooter"? If you name any cookie-cutter shooter like Call of Duty, Battlefield or Medal of Honor I will laugh and say good day. I said good day!

Uhagi
Uhagi

Cool bioshock with new characters and new environment, but similar idea.

solidsnakedude1
solidsnakedude1

@ROnln187 you're saying that about bioshock when Call of Duty has attracted millions of more people than it deserves? (in my opinion)

CARNAGE-95
CARNAGE-95

I need to see what the HELL that robot looks like fighting alpha from bioshock 2.

LOVERPS3
LOVERPS3

this game gonna be amazing8)

RO-nIn187
RO-nIn187

hmm who knows maybe this one will be interesting... the first one bored me after 3 hours, the second one didnt interest me either since it was almost the same... i know there are a lot of fanboys here that will give me a thumbs down but they dont seem to know really good shooters so i dont really care :P

BeeShock
BeeShock

A new environment, new steampunk-inspired enemies, new powers, new characters, new engrossing story...I think I'll just hibernate until 2012.

LoganThePiplup
LoganThePiplup

Sorry, I meant to say BIG Daddies, excuse the typo.

brickdoctor
brickdoctor

Soo much potential. And the fact that it's not coming out until 2012 means that it'll probably be really polished.

piyush18
piyush18

That will be awesome. Looks really good. But why is the release is in 2012?? Hope it comes in first month of 2012.....

shaktisingh
shaktisingh

Hope the story & environment is as immersive as the 1st Bioshock and not just Bioshock in the air.

icebox98
icebox98

I shouldn't say im cool with heights but one's gatta face their fears someday. 1 pre-order for me please!

btr80
btr80

The best thing in my mind is: It's not dark anymore! YAY!

baystatethrashr
baystatethrashr

i wish more companies were like Irrational Games. They are passionate about what they do, put a lot of time and effort into it and above all else they make great games. this game will have taken 5 years to make once it comes out and its gonna show, unlike call of duty and guitar hero which come out every year.

Fozenflame00
Fozenflame00

I like how they made what was meant to be a utopia city into an ominous horror like game! Looks great and the look of the land below the city was most unsettling not for the heights but it just looks cultivated and heavily influenced by humans yet appears empty... neat yet creepy at the same time

Hm1911
Hm1911

I like change and I think the game will be great

SniperJJS13
SniperJJS13

Bioshock in the air instead of underwater, truly a giant leap in thought.

Crayzorder
Crayzorder

Thats what makes this franchise great. They always have new ideas and like making games interesting. They aren't just milking the franchise like most would do, the company is putting time and effort into making it fresh. If only every company did this...