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Preview: Bioshock Infinite

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The FPS genre is dominated by military shooters with a huge rivalry playing out between the current king of the genre, Call of Duty, and the surprising up-and-coming contender, Battlefield. The genre offers more than beautiful action set pieces that make up a the single player campaign and a robust multiplayer set of offerings. Sometimes, FPS titles offer a compelling story, a beautiful rich environment, and unique mechanics condensed in a nice well-rounded package.

Irrational Games, creators of Bioshock franchise are back at it after temporarily handing over the reins for the sequel to their game. Once again they intend on delivering another iconic set piece with a very interesting back-story while getting creative and putting twists and knots into the combat system with Bioshock Infinite. The title takes place on a beautiful floating steampunk-like city built on multiple airships called Columbia, a signature piece of American technological advancement.  

In the game, Booker DeWitt (you) is sent on a search and rescue for a young women named Elizabeth.  When you arrive, you notice the place has seen better days and soon meet two dominate factions, The Founders and The Vox Populi, who are at war with each other and tearing the place apart. As you progress, you’ll figure out the reason Elizabeth been locked up and the role she’ll play in the conflict.

For a game like this to succeed you need a compelling story to work from or else it’s just go here & there and shoot this & that, all of which results in a forgettable experience. They’re making entertainment here and want it to be like the first Bioshock with the wonderful underwater city of Rapture and all its intricacies. Columbia seems cut from the same cloth with the city and the various Factions.

Columbia is a testament to the American technological boom at the turn of the 20th Century and was created as a form of American exceptionalism. In turn this is connected to the current conflict plaguing Columbia with the Founders adhering to that ideology in the strictest sense by disavowing all immigrants and trying to create a walled off garden Utopia only for the elite. The Vox Populi on the other hand can be seen as the good guys fighting for freedom for everyone on Columbia, but after many struggles they turn increasingly violent even going as far as executing state workers such as mailmen and doctors.  Creative Director Ken Levine stated “That by the time you arrives in Columbia, both sides have this attitude that ‘as long as we win, nothing else matters’.”

This is where Booker and Elizabeth come in. You can think of Elizabeth as the x-factor in the conflict; both sides want her because of her abilities. She can manipulate rips found throughout Columbia. These rips are tears in the fabric of time and from them she can bring various objects into existence. The tears can help or harm Booker and Elizabeth in the conflicts they face as they traverse through Columbia.

As important as Elizabeth is, Booker has his own tools of the trade and with the help of American ingenuity he can utilize bottles of Vigors and Nostrums. A spinoff of Bioshock‘s Plasmids and Tonics, Vigors bestow Booker with a number of abilities like a shock ability that electrocutes and stuns enemies, while Nostrums function as permanent boosts to Bookers abilities like increasing his health. That is a familiar mix of powers and guns, but this is the new generation of Bioshock and there is more still.

In a floating city you must have some way of getting around. Initially there were skylines built around the city that were said to transport cargo, but people have learned to get around on them with a skyhook. With said skyhook Booker can traverse around a level either to get where he needs to go or he can use them tactically in combat.

Imagine a classic FPS encounter — you are presented with enemies in front of you with various objects in-between to give you cover. Then it’s a basic point and shoot until you drop all the enemies and move on. Keep imagining, now you have these skylines that you can use to get above, below or to the side of your enemies. Instead of hiding behind cover and methodically taking out baddies, you can choose to hop on the skyline, move to a platform where the enemies are out in the open, and take them all out at once with a handy grenade. This mechanic allows for you to be smart and allows level designers to build interesting maps by constructing encounters to be more dynamic.  In one example from the E3 2011 demo, Booker has to use the skylines to board an airship to destroy it from the inside and the scene finishes with him dive bombing out praying to catch a skyline before hitting the platform.

As stated above, Elizabeth has the ability to manipulate the tears plaguing Columbia.  In the demo scenario where Booker has to traverse the skylines up to the airship, Elizabeth could manipulate a tear that would bring in a rocket launcher to save Booker the trouble.

There is also a sense of mystery when working with a tear. For instance, at another point in the demo there is a door that can be brought in.  When questioned about the purpose of the door, Ken Levine said that it could have either been an escape route or brought in enemy reinforcements.  That means that there is a element of risk when manipulating tears. Combine that with what you have in previous Bioshock titles and the skylines, and that should make for some very intriguing core gameplay.

With a breathtaking world and fascinating backstory; combined with the various of elements that are sure to offer you more than a standard FPS, Bioshock Infinite is one to watch.  Who knows what will be added in and refined with a release date of sometime in 2012. See you on the Skylines.

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About Tramell Hawkins