‘BioShock Infinite’ Preview – Irrational Games, Masters Of The WTF Moment

The first time I saw “BioShock Infinite,” I was blown away. The team at Irrational Games had re-imagined the franchise from the ground up, setting the game in the early 1900s, in a floating city known as Columbia. And while I was impressed with the presentation (which you can watch in its entirety here), there was a nagging feeling in the back of my head that we weren’t looking at an actual game. Sure, it was in-engine and “interactive,” but it felt more like a target video rather than a game. The second time I saw “BioShock Infinite” was last Friday. This time, it was absolutely a game.

Calm Before The Storm

The demo began in a large souvenir store located somewhere in Columbia. It played from the perspective of the game’s protagonist, one Booker DeWitt, who has been tasked to find a girl named Elizabeth and bring her back to the mainland. In this scenario, Booker had already managed to find Elizabeth, as she accompanied him through the store.

Two things you should know about Elizabeth: She’s tremendously powerful and she’s been locked in a tower all her life. Her isolationist upbringing causes her to act much more naive and child-like than her mid-20s age would imply. At one point, she yelps, “Gold! Look Booker!” and rushes over to grab a cheap gold-painted bust for sale in the store. Moments later, she grabs a comically-large mask of Abe Lincoln and starts reciting the Gettysburg Address. She’s basically an overgrown child.

But she’s also tremendously powerful. For some reason, Elizabeth has the ability to open “tears” in space-time, letting her bring objects from one reality to her own. In a combat scenario, this might involve porting in a machine gun turret at the right time or a trolley car for extra cover.

Revenge of the Jedi

But Elizabeth is just starting to learn her powers, and she has very little control over them. Shortly after the souvenir shop, Elizabeth stumbles upon a dying horse. She’s deadset on saving it, opening a tear to another dimension where the horse is alive and well. Booker warns her against this, but she attempts to pull it off. At first it seems to be succeeding and then…

Suddenly Booker and Elizabeth are standing in a city street. But this doesn’t look anything like Columbia. If anything it looks more like New York in the 1980s. It’s dark and there’s a faint sound of the Tears for Fears song, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Booker turns and spots a movie theater with a marquee which reads “Revenge of the Jedi” (the original title of “Return of the Jedi”). A firetruck comes streaming down the street, and right before it hits Elizabeth, everything flashes back to Columbia. It was one of those WTF moments that Irrational is known for.

Riding The Rails

The rest of the demo was focused on showing off the combat of “BioShock Infinite.” We had seen sky rails in the first demo, where they were used as a means of transport. In this second demo, however, they became crucial combat elements. Booker can latch onto these rails with a handheld hook. Once on, the action becomes lighting fast, as Booker can fire at enemies and jump from rail to rail using a simple targeting system. It’s not “on rails,” though, as the route you take is completely up to you. You can even fall hundreds of feet, but if there’s a rail below you, you’ll be fine. It’s more frantic and intense than anything I’ve seen in a “BioShock” thus far, and it goes a long way to show just how different this title is.

The demo wrapped with Booker battling a massive zeppelin. Like most Irrational titles, there are several ways to accomplish this. You could blast away at it with rockets (though this will diminish your ammo supply), you could have Elizabeth port in an anti-aircraft battery (though she’s need time to warm up her abilities), or you can do the dirty work up close, taking the sky rail directly into the heart of the flying machine, blowing up the engine, and then skydiving to safety at the very last minute.

Just The Surface

To be honest, it’s hard to do “BioShock Infinite” justice in words and screenshots. There’s so much detail and depth to the world of Columbia (and specifically this demo) that I’m really hoping Irrational decides to release the gameplay footage like they did for the first demo.

Even if they don’t, though, you can be sure that “BioShock Infinite” will be a special experience. I’ve seen about 30 minutes so far, and I’m ready to book my first flight to the city in the sky.