'Bioshock Infinite' hands-on preview

2013-03-15 10:31
The characters of 'Bioshock Infinite' are intensely detailed. (El33tonline)

The characters of 'Bioshock Infinite' are intensely detailed. (El33tonline)

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As in the original Bioshock, an atmospheric first-person shooter from Irrational Games, my adventures began just barely above sea level, this time gently rocking in a rowboat slowly making its way to a mysterious structure sitting sullenly in the middle of the ocean under the gloomy cover of heavy clouds, and with a simple mantra echoing in my mind: "Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt."

Who is this girl and what is this debt?

Nothing is explained, but as I inhabited the role of Booker DeWitt and explored the peculiar building and discovered the gravity of the situation, I very soon found myself trapped in a steampunk contraption, blasting off into the air high above the clouds with bright, warm sunshine radiating over the hidden, floating city of Columbia. A vast change from the world I left behind at sea.

Columbia is a world like no other, acting as a polar opposite to the rancorous underwater city of Rapture seen in the original Bioshock and Bioshock 2. Where Rapture was dark, dank and foreboding, Columbia is bright, breezy and welcoming. Where Rapture was hideous, twisting and claustrophobic, Columbia is beautiful and open and free. Citizens speak with a quick laugh and an easy smile and children play in the streets, while the excitement and pomp of passing parades, celebratory fireworks and upcoming special city events is disarming.

Crafted story

Bioshock Infinite wouldn’t be a Bioshock game without a fair amount of political intrigue and a dressing down of severely flawed idealism, and the extremist ideals that lead to Columbia parting ways with the United States (originally launched to the air by the US in the early 1900s as a display of power) prove to be a sticking point among a portion of the city’s citizens, leading to a civil war breaking out under the banners of the city’s conservative Founders behind one Zachary Comstock, and the liberal VoxPopuli, led by Daisy Fitzroy.

Even as I explored the early areas of Bioshock Infinite and its grand vision of Columbia, whispers and secrets floated to my ears and I learned more about the crumbling face of this cheerful façade, and while inconspicuously going about my own mission of locating landmarks to eventually find this mysterious "girl", the city’s smokescreen of bliss was very suddenly and unceremoniously ripped away revealing the horrific truth of this world.

Thrilling action

Soon enough, I was identified as a threat and there was no shortage of law enforcement to put me down which gave me the opportunity to alternate between brutal melee attacks (and vicious finishing moves) and traditional weapons fire, allowing me to trade in my pistol and machine gun for shotguns, sniper rifles and rocket launchers, all of which act the way you would expect only intricately designed to appear as futuristic as the mind of a weapons manufacturer in the 1900s would allow, with creative results.

The pockets of enemies I encountered also gave me ample opportunities to test out the new "magic" system of Bioshock Infinite in the form of "Vigors". Like Plasmids from previous Bioshock games, through the story you’ll find and drink special tonics that will imbue you with special abilities, originally designed with fun and frivolity in mind, but also very useful in combat situations.

The first Vigor I encountered was a possession tonic that, with the aim and wave of my left hand, let me take control of nearby turrets for a while, and will eventually let me possess enemies to make them fight on my side (before they commit suicide in shame once the effects wear off).

While the combat game play and mix-and-match nature of maximising your tools in different situations may form the base of Bioshock Infinite, the story is most definitely the driving factor and I was still on a quest to enter a distant tower and extract my objective – a girl who by now I had realised was very special to the people of Columbia, and in particular, the ultra religious governing party controlling the city.

Lifelike Characters

My meeting with the girl – Elizabeth – was brief but memorable. Wanting nothing more than to escape this prison that the people of Columbia had housed her in all her life, and immediately striking me (literally and figuratively) as a lass with a bit of fight and a lot of drive, we together hurtled through winding corridors and backrooms as she came to see how her people were really treating her, regarding her as a specimen to be examined and tested.

There wasn’t long to dwell on the past, however, and after a pulse-racing, short-lived encounter with Elizabeth’s keeper - a monstrously large and winged creature known as “Songbird” - we managed to break free from the tower (albeit using an unintentional and unconventional route), only to be washed up on the shore of a man-made beach – yet another construction making up the immense, sprawling expanse of Columbia.

It was here that the true tragedy of Elizabeth’s existence was put into stark relief as she zipped around the beach with wide-eyed wonder remarking with excitement at the discovery of things I might find common. The smell of the sand, the lilting sounds of distant music, idle gossip, the hardy texture of a wooden boat… Liz was in her element.

As exciting as the game play is to me, it’s the story, set-pieces and characters that I’m equally intrigued to see more of, wrapped up in a level of pacing expertise reserved for only the finest games with high intensity action sequences tempered with thoughtful exposition and beautiful quiet moments we’ve come to expect from Irrational Games.

Even after playing the first few hours of Bioshock Infinite and drinking deeply of its splendour, it's still completely endearing to me and I can’t wait to do it all over again.

Bioshock Infinite releases worldwide on 26 March, and will be available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.

For more hot game news and reviews, go to El33tonline.
Read more on:    gaming

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