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'BioShock Infinite' preview: Observations from the world of Columbia

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BioShock Infinite

© 2K Games


BioShock Infinite is easily one of 2013's most anticipated games, a spiritual successor to one of the most acclaimed adventures of the past few years - 2007's BioShock - that whisks players to yet another other-worldly place drenched in atmosphere and intrigue.

What glimpses of Columbia - the game's 1910s floating city that's the embodiment of the American Dream - we've seen since its reveal in 2010 have been set against rumours of a troubled development, with reports of key staff departures at developer Irrational Games and cancelled modes.

But playing the opening 90 minutes, you wouldn't know any different. BioShock Infinite is, quite simply, an awe-inspiring experience, easily juggling breakneck set-pieces alongside open invitations to casually explore its carefully hand-crafted world.

Images of BioShock Infinite, releasing in March on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

© 2K Games



BioShock Infinite is a game that's best played unspoilt, but one that still begs discussion. With this in mind, we're sidestepping the usual blow-by-blow account seen in previews with a series of observations about the world of Columbia and how it compares to the original BioShock.

That said, there will inevitably still be some light spoilers for BioShock Infinite's opening moments, so read with care.

Familiar beginnings

The opening moments mirror those of the original BioShock, arriving at a lighthouse in the middle of a storm before being swept away to a jaw-dropping tour of your new fantastical destination. There are a few differences, though.

In BioShock, you crash-land at the foot of a lighthouse and seek refuge from a terrible plane crash. But here, you're on a mission to track down a mysterious girl to settle a disclosed debt.

And instead of being plunged into the depths to reveal the game's setting, here you're propelled into the heavens on a steampunk contraption, and are subsequently offered a different kind of welcome.


Columbia is a place teeming with life

When you arrived into Rapture in the original BioShock, it was a city that had already imploded under its own grand ambitions.

Columbia, though, is teeming with life. Its bright, sunny streets are populated with happy couples walking hand-in-hand, children playing in the street, newspaper sellers doing their trade and passing carnival floats that emit cheerful music into the air.

As you casually explore its streets, there are also shops and fairground attractions to take interest in. Columbia is alive, and is a far cry from the sodden nightmare that was Rapture.

Images of BioShock Infinite, releasing in March on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

© 2K Games



Columbia is also not what it seems

While Columbia appears to be an Eden, it's soon revealed to have a truly unsettling underbelly at odds with its sun-kissed streets and blue skies.

There are chilling billboards with shades of 1984 that warn of abductors from another land, citizens participating in a witch-hunt of underground rebels, and unsettling cases of racism.

In BioShock fashion, the complicated issues affecting Columbia are delivered through choice-driven cutscenes, environmental storytelling, overheard conversations with naive citizens and collectable tape recordings.

'Bioshock Infinite' screenshot

© 2K Games



A more defined lead character in Booker DeWitt

BioShock's playable character Jack was central to its story and its many twists and turns, but there was not a real sense of character.

Here, there are great pains to establish Booker DeWitt as a person with an agenda and a voice.

It does this in a number of ways. Booker holds conversations and mutters comments to himself, has flashbacks to his past and why he's forced to come to Columba.

There's also several glances of his face early on - in a wash basin and in a window - that quickly cement his presence in the story.

'Bioshock Infinite' screenshot

© 2K Games



Combat feels largely familiar

Combat, by and large, seems similar to the original BioShock. While not as honed as dedicated first-person shooters, fantastical powers still give it a unique flavour that allows and rewards experimentation.

As well as an array of pistols and automatic weapons on hand (ironsights are mapped to a click of the right analogue stick in a cumbersome manner, but ultimately shooting performs fine without them) each magical attack - powered by salt from a vending machine - has two uses.

One's a direct attack, such as a fireball, a barrage of crows or possession, and another is setting a trap that springs to life when an enemy stumbles through it - perfect for tactical retreats or crowd control.

Images of BioShock Infinite, releasing in March on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

© 2K Games



Skylines, a new way to explore

Columbia's floating city isn't a unified set of districts, but a series of islands accessible by monorail and blimp.

As an unwelcome visitor, Booker unfortunately can't make use of public transport, instead relying on his trusty Sky Hook to latch onto railings and lampposts to travel from place to place.

Despite pockets of exploration, BioShock Infinite is a linear game, so these moments of rushing through the clouds are story driven set-pieces.

However, the Sky Hook also provides a welcome sense of vertical and fast-paced exploration, with regular cases of leaping up above before dropping down to explore hidden side areas or on top of oblivious enemy sentries.

BioShock Infinite will be available on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC from March 26 worldwide.

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