Keeping a secret may be a lost art, but Irrational Games has it down to a tee if the unveiling of BioShock Infinite is anything to go by. The project remained a closely-guarded secret until recently when news of its development sent tremors throughout the gaming industry. Few could have guessed that another entry in the thinking man's FPS franchise was in the works, let alone that it would mark a radical departure from the series's undersea roots.
Published by 2K Games, Infinite takes BioShock from the depths of the ocean to high above the clouds. The story takes place in the 1900s in the floating city of Columbia, a man-made development suspended by air balloons and a fine example of a failed utopia. After being outed as an imperialist warship, the city is torn apart by conflict and left to float off beyond the clouds, subsequently re-emerging over random locations around the world like an image from a nightmare. The story begins when our lead man, ex-Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt, is tasked with rescuing a woman named Elizabeth, who was abducted as a child and taken to the airborne city.
However, this is BioShock as you have never seen it before. Whereas the previous entry in the series saw the player take control of a nameless Cypher, the inclusion of a human protagonist adds more emotional complexity to the story. Other changes impact on gameplay. For instance, the new backdrop opens up potential for the use of scope weapons, which were limited by the claustrophobic nature of Rapture in the past. "Obviously, we're outside now. In the demo, we showed you a bright sunny day. We're going for a noon on the 4th of July type of look in America. That alone and the inclusion of long distances that require a sniper rifle is a shift for the series," Robertson added.
Changes to the core mechanics have also been made. According to Robertson, one of the development team's goals was to ensure that the game offers more variety than BioShock 2. "We feel like we are our own harshest critics, and every time we release a title we'll have a pretty honest post mortem about it to discuss what worked and what didn't," he explained. "Going back to the whole weapon variety, power variety theme, one of the things we took a hard look at was the fact that there wasn't very much you couldn't do in BioShock with a shotgun and electro bolt because of the corridor layouts and the number of enemies on screen. So we really wanted to change that this time around, give the players more AI varieties, give them more AIs on the screen, give them more power varieties."
In the demo that we were shown, the player was seen exploring the various levels of Columbia, which are joined together via a network of rails. The atmosphere was eerie and unsettling. Skyscrapers burn while the citizens go about their business, horse and carts clatter by with wheels missing and far right propaganda fliers are scattered about the place. The action kicked off when protagonist DeWitt was identified as an outsider by a hate-mongering preacher. It wasn't long before all hell broke loose. After a gun battle with the preacher and his sidekick - a young boy with the ability to summon flocks of crows - DeWitt was shown traversing the connecting rails using a hook.
Shortly after, we encountered Elizabeth and the pair took on an angry mob together. One of the game's key mechanics appears to be AI co-op, as DeWitt and Elizabeth performed dual attacks to devastating effect. She showed off her impressive powers by conjuring a rainstorm, so DeWitt could dispatch a group of foes with his electrical abilities. Following this, she fused a pile of scrap metal into a molten ball for him to launch at the encroaching mob with his telekinesis. Dialogue exchanges between the two really heightened the drama of the scene. The demo ended on a cliffhanger as the duo were confronted by what appeared to be the end of level boss - a nightmare amalgamation of human and crow.
BioShock Infinite will be available for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2012.
> Click here to watch a trailer for the game
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