BioShock Infinite Gameplay Preview -- We're Not in Rapture AnymoreBy Jake Gaskill - Posted May 23, 2011
Our pre-E3 2011 gameplay walkthrough of BioShock Infinite opens on Major’s, a general store specializing in all manner of supremely nationalistic wares, from American flags and weapons to marionettes of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Former Pinkerton agent turned bounty hunter Booker DeWitt tells his companion, Elizabeth, the woman he was sent to retrieve from the floating city of Columbia, to be on the lookout for supplies.
Booker snatches up a bottle of Bucking Bronco, one of the many power-granting vigors available to the citizens of Columbia, just as Elizabeth yells for us to see what she’s found: gold! “That’s gold like I’m the king of England,” Booker informs her, causing the wide smile on Elizabeth’s face to drop. A few seconds later, Elizabeth calls out for us again. When we meet up with her, she’s wearing an oversized Abraham Lincoln mascot head. “Four score and seven years ago,” she recites in a faux deep voice.
This scene perfectly establishes the nature of the relationship between the player and Elizabeth. Not only is Elizabeth a dangerously powerful figure, she is also vulnerable and innocent as a result of her having been kept in captivity all of her life. Not to worry, though. She’ll be escorting you throughout the adventure more than you’ll be escorting her, so best try to keep up.
Booker grabs random loot from some barrels before finding money in a cash register. Just then, a deep rumble shakes the store, before a piercing shriek rips the air and a massive impact rocks the building. Elizabeth takes cover behind a table and cries with panic, her previously smiling face now a tear strewn mask of terror. Several more deafening collisions shake the store before a bright light blasts through the back windows and ear-splitting, mechanized breathing makes our blood run cold and our heads throb. A few pulse pounding moments later, the creature outside flees with a horrific departing shriek, leaving Elizabeth badly shaken.
“Promise me that if it comes to it,” she tells Booker, placing his hand around her throat, “you will not let him take me back.” The he she is referring to is the winged beast previously known to us simply as “him” but who now also goes by the official name, Songbird. He was the creature tasked with guarding Elizabeth, and he didn’t take too kindly to Booker breaking her out of her imprisonment, which is why Songbird is now feverishly on the hunt.
The pair exits onto the sun drenched and sky high streets of Columbia, continuing their trek to locate a man named Comstock. He leads a group known as the Founders, Columbia’s creators whom we were first introduced to in our previous look at the game. Elizabeth believes Comstock holds the key to understanding and ultimately harnessing her uncontrollable powers. To do this, she and Booker will have to fight their way through another of Columbia’s radical factions, the Vox Populi, who have ousted Founder supoprters and taken control of certain districts of the city.
Comstock House, a massive white mansion, floats on a private island far in the distance. Booker loses Elizabeth for a second, only to find her softly singing, “Hush, Little Baby,” to a dying horse in a nearby courtyard. As Booker approaches, an onscreen A-button prompt pops up that says “Euthanize.” With gun drawn, Booker tells Elizabeth to move back, but she tells him to wait; there’s a “tear.”
One of the big questions raised by the first gameplay walkthrough video Irrational released last year had to do with the bizarre glitchy effect that characterized random objects. It almost looked as though the objects were part of some computer program on the fritz. Turns out, there was a perfectly sound explanation for this effect, and it’s known as tears, aka dimensional rips, which Elizabeth has the unique ability to manipulate to bring objects from the past through to the present.
In the case of the horse, Elizabeth attempts to “heal” it by opening the nearby tear and bringing back the previous, healthy version of the horse. As she tries to open the tear, the area around her transforms from fiery ash to lush grass. But the effect only lasts a few seconds before collapsing on itself. Elizabeth gives it one more big push, only this time the entire surrounding area morphs from Columbia into the middle of a street in what appears to be New York City at some point in the future. A helicopter is heard overhead as Booker pleads with Elizabeth to close the tear. Headlights backed by a siren hurtle towards them, and just as Booker and Elizabeth are about to be run over, Elizabeth teleports them back to Columbia. Yeah. That just happened, and, no, Irrational isn’t ready to tell us what it actually means.
As we move into the next district, we encounter dozens of citizens being generally victimized by members of the Vox Populi. Unlike the post-downfall isolation of BioShock's Rapture, Columbia is a city in the midst of collapse, and as such, it is brimming with life and activity, giving it an entirely different tone and dynamic than Andrew Ryan’s failed utopian nightmare under the sea. Countless airships litter the sky above us as a massive zeppelin fills our view, providing another one of the demo’s many jaw dropping vistas.
Rounding a corner, we see projector screens displaying Vox Populi propaganda and confessionals from captured Founder supporters. Up ahead, a crowd gathers in front of a stage. On the platform, a man begs for his life, as two Vox Populi agents prepare to execute him. Once again, a prompt appears on screen, only this time it reads “Stop execution.” These situational morality moments have replaced the binary adopt/harvest mechanic in the first two BioShock games, and as such, will have much more substantial resonances throughout the game. Booker calls out for the men to stop, at which point one of the thugs yells out, “It’s DeWitt!” Chaos ensues.
We exchange fire with enemies using a shotgun and pistol, catching one fool just as he was about to call for reinforcements via what looks to be a steam powered siren that fires signal flares. We notice several objects caught in dimensional tears, and Elizabeth asks us which one she should manifest. First, we point to a cart, which provides us with cover, and then we have her bring back a freight cart passing along the Sky Line overhead, which is bad news for the enemy who was gliding along the line with his Sky Hook, as it promptly collides with him. Up ahead, some enemies have taken cover behind some crates. We hit them with the Bucking Bronco vigor, which catapults them into the air and turns them into easy targets.
A dozen Vox Populi hoot and holler as they come sliding along the Sky Lines that snake into the clouds above us. We unload on the inbound thugs and watch with delight as they fall to their deaths below. We try to have Elizabeth resurrect a nearby rocket launching turret, but she tells us that it’s “too soon” to bring it back. In addition to these time constraints, Elizabeth will also have to cool down between accessing tears, which will add another layer of strategy to how players use Elizabeth in combat.
Thanks to the hail of rockets that now descends on us, it becomes clear that our next objective is the looming zeppelin floating in the distance. Booker leaps off a nearby ledge and plummets towards the serpentine sky lines below. Several Vox Populi give chase, and between leaps between Sky Lines, Booker takes a few choice shots to keep the enemies at a safe distance. After a roller coaster of a chase, we leap onto the zeppelin, proceed to the engine room, and unload with our machine gun, wasting the fools inside and destroying the engines. Booker scrambles to the exit and leaps into the sky, freefalling hundreds of feet towards the Sky Lines below as the zeppelin explodes behind us. Our trusty Sky Hook catches a line, and after a few twists and turns, we land back on solid, Columbian ground, just a few yards from Elizabeth, who justifiably comments, “Booker, that was amazing!”
Reunited, the pair turns their attention back to Comstock House, when suddenly the Songbird’s hair-raising screech splits the air. The beast crashes to the ground and picks up Booker, tossing him through a window. As Booker tries to get his footing, the Songbird smashes into the building, tearing through the concrete like it was paper. Just as his spiked hand is about to liquefy Booker’s face, Elizabeth yells for him to stop. Songbird’s giant eyes jump between red and yellow, an ode to the Big Daddy’s threat level indicating eyes, as Elizabeth pleads with the behemoth to spare Booker. “I’m sorry! I never should have left! Take me home,” Elizabeth tells him through her tears. The beast snatches her up, crashes out of the building, and soars away. Booker scrambles to his feet and jumps out of the gaping hole in the wall. Cut to black.
As you can probably tell, BioShock Infinite is a very different animal than the previous BioShock games. We’ve only seen the tiniest glimpse of what awaits us in the nightmarish sky-tropolis of Columbia, but we simply cannot wait to see more.