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E3 First Impressions: Bioshock Infinite

Posted on Saturday, June 11 @ 12:32:42 PST by

First up: a confession. I've played both Bioshock games, but I've never finished them. I understand the merits of an underwater city, teaming with life born out of decay. I love the mix of abilities and weapons (even more so in Bioshock 2 with the ability to dual-wield). What I wasn't so in love with was the pace of the game or the fact that I got lost every five minutes. Also, it was too goddam dark.

Bioshock Infinite seems to answer quite a few of these complaints with tweaks that only Irrational Games could pull off. They treated journalists to a sneak preview of Infinite's campaign at E3 2011 in Los Angeles and many of us walked away saying "Woah!"

Infinite's set-up is that radical patriots decided to build a floating city where the most extreme of American values could run wild. That city is Columbia and Columbia splits from the mainland America to become a wandering phantom. Having already popped out of the clouds and attacked China, Columbia has now been disavowed and disowned by the United States.

The player takes on the role of Booker DeWitt, a man hired to find a woman named Elizabeth held captive in Columbia and bring her home. Elizabeth suffers from Stockholm syndrome as her captor, Songbird (which happens to be a towering mechanical bird), is also the only contact she's had in her stay on the floating city. Elizabeth's naïvety is both believable and endearing as the "princess locked in the castle" as well as an ally in your fight in Columbia. It helps that the facial animations and voice work capture the vulnerability of the character so well too.

Infinite's gunplay and genetic abilities compliment each other. Elizabeth also provides some new gameplay opportunities in the way she can summon objects or environmental hazards to further empower the player's abilities. Elizabeth can open the fabric of space and time to provide the player with cover, heavy weaponry, or other items. That universe-bending mechanic seems to play heavily in the story and the conflict between warring factions on Columbia.

Easily the most exhilarating part of Bioshock Infinite's demo was the skyhook gameplay. A network of rails intertwines throughout Columbia and the player can use a rolling hook that essentially makes travel around the world a roller coaster. Enemies can use the system too and will terrorize the player from the air.

Infinite's sky world looks beautiful, but perhaps more importantly, you can actually see all of it thanks to natural lighting. The fact that Columbia sits above the clouds in a blue sky means that all the hard work and detail poured into the game's environment will be appreciated that much more. Vibrant colors splash across every object and character. Imbued with patriotism, Columbia flies the ol' Red, White, and Blue quite a bit, but the spectrum of color doesn't stop there.

While I may not have finished the previous Bioshock games (thanks a lot, spoilers), Infinite is looking like a completely different beast. It appears to be every bit as fresh as the original Bioshock was: a game that doesn't hold your hand but provides you with a compelling companion, an arsenal of weapons, and a world worth exploring. I can't wait to play Irrational's game.
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