By Craig Pearson on March 8th, 2012 at 3:00 pm.
BioShock Infinite is by far the game I’m most excited about this year. I’m torn between wanting to know everything, and wanting it to be a surprise, but that plan was somewhat undermined by being sent to New York to cover the reveal of the game. My attempts to wipe it from my brain by drinking lots of vodka and dancing with Kieron (we linked arms and kicked legs) around a restaurant failed. Instead I’m burdened with The Knowledge, and an insatiable desire to know more. Last night’s reveal of the Motorised Patriot, part a new class of enemy called Heavy Hitter, I added to my Levine Shrine. He talked to G4 of how the Patriot is a fearless killing machine, and how the Heavy Hitters “… are enemies that are used to not just be more powerful, but to augment the abilities of the more traditional BioShock enemies. You’re going to come across them in certain areas of the game, and they’re going to provide a really unique challenge.” Everything we know about the floating World’s Fair, including footage of the patriot in action, is below.
He’s the perfect enemy for Infinite’s setting, Columbia: a city in the sky, held on the wind by balloons and blimps, draped in the Stars and Stripes. It’s yet another place cut-off from the real world, which makes it the ideal place for an idea to contort. Columbia’s a floating World’s Fair, set to the skies to show the growing strength of the American nation. But it was a ruse, the city was revealed to be a battleship after firing on Chinese citizens. After that it vanishes, the USA not wanting any part of it.
People are terrifyingly aware it’s out there, and it goes into hiding for years before you, former Pinkerton Agent Booker DeWitt, are hired to go there and rescue Elizabeth, a young girl with unimaginable telekinetic powers. The isolation has bred a civil war. Two sides have formed on Columbia: The Founders and the Vox Populii, both looking for control of the city and both hoping to use Elizabeth’s powers to do so. I’m fascinated by the political machinations: the snobbish Founders are sickening racists and xenophobes. The strength of the propaganda that puts their position over genuinely made me feel uncomfortable when it was unveiled in New York: a reveal that showed snivelling racial caricatures cowering at the feet of George Washington. The first words I saw in Colombia were “It is Our Holy Duty To Guard Against The Foreign Hoardes”. Their counterpoints are the Vox Populii. As with everything on Colombia, their position of antagonists elevates them from the protectful resistance to extremists in their own right, eventually brutalising the citizens in a similar fashion. It’s the sad tale of the twisting of America’s foundation, interpreted as the abusers see fit.
Columbia is obviously no ordinary place and when Booker finally arrives there’s a far more magical air to it than expected. The city is broken, politically, physically, and in space and time. The streets are empty, buildings are on fire and there are strange flickers that distort the world. These are rifts from other worlds and they clot the streets. Elizabeth is able to manipulate them, pulling objects from the other worlds into Columbia, or moving into those worlds. It’s her power to do this, that makes her special enough to fight for and to cage. She’s both an asset and a powerful enemy.
It’s a BioShock game, so Irrational still want the player to build up a character on their own terms. In addition to the Steampunk-inspired weaponry there are Vigors and Nostrums. Vigors are limited powers that let you interact with the world through telekinesis, etc. Nostrums are permanent character changes, like additional strength, that you have to apply more thoughtfully as they can’t be undone. They also come in stable and unstable varieties: the stable set cost more but you’re aware of the effect; unstables require the player to select from a randomised list of four powers to apply. I’m more of an RPG-ish player, so it’s a system that suits me: simple choices that expand on the character rather than xp tweaking.
But so far so BioShock, which I’m not knocking at all: just more BioShock is something I’d be immensely excited about. But what’s really got me up in the clouds is the Skyline. People move through Columbia on the Skylines, an old freight system that’s also being used by the populous. They pull the player all over the world, enabling vast distances and impossible heights to be scaled by hooking onto them with a special wrist attachment, the Skyhook. They’re much more than a transport system, though: fighting under the network of rails gives the player the scope to zoom all over the world, to better make use of the open spaces, zipping from ground level to Zepplins in seconds. The dynamism it brings to fights, as Booker shoots people on the move and leaps from rail to rail, and the combination of this with them and Elizabeth’s powers, is the most interesting part of the game for me. I’m already considering if it’s possible to specialise in a Skyhook combat set-up. Obviously there are plenty of inside and ground-based fights to think about, but the speedy rail-based fights are the first thing that pops into my brain when I start pondering the game’s potential. It’s like jetpack combat, but without the frustration of having to keep making minute changes: the rails are designed to give a certain amount of freedom, they pile track upon track upon track, snaking around the space enough to provide plenty of positions for the player to exploit. Just watch.
I actually think I might skip 1999 mode. It’s the game as Irrational would have made it before the turn of the century: brutal, unforgiving, requiring the player to specialise to be able to fire certain weapons, to conserve ammo, to take cover. I don’t know it it’s possible to fit that and the joie de vivre that the Skyline seems to imbue in me. Maybe after a few playthroughs.
If it didn’t have the dynamic combat, I’d still find the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth fascinating. She’s a companion, but there’s been nothing to suggest that her presence is a burden. Unkillable, sweet, powerful: I’m starting to view her as a potential benchmark. Heck: I already care about her and her race from Colombia and from the creepy Songbird that’s chasing her. No-one should have the pressure of a city fighting over them, but especially not when there’s an emotionally crippled robotic bird in pursuit. Even then, my sympathies are tweaked: that thing that’s after her was programmed to feel betrayed by her if she should ever leave. It has an emotive drive the flip-side of the Big Daddy’s parental love; it’s a confused, brutal, steam-driven child.
Honestly, I could keep going, delving deeper into the raft of information that Irrational have revealed, but the broad strokes are enough. Yeah, they’ve ruined the discovery of a lot of elements of the game, and I’d happily wipe from my brain, but with each revelation they’ve managed to make Bioshock: Infinite the most exciting game on the horizon.