BioShock: Infinite Post-E3 Preview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 12:05pm 27/06/11 | Comments
AusGamers sat in on a behind-closed-doors preview session for BioShock: Infinite. Read on for our full preview...
With a vial of “Murder of Crows” from Marlowe’s Patented Vigors on you, you need never worry about unruly mobs again, being that it’s advertised as a “proven deterrent against hooligans” and all. And what with all the civil unrest about Columbia these days, keeping such a vial on-hand really ought to be mandatory.
Thankfully ex-Pinkerton agent, Booker DeWitt, has done just that, and while he’s careful not to make unintentional eye-contact with the anarchist members of the Vox Populi who’re representing themselves as exactly the types of “hooligans” Marlowe’s Murder of Crowes is designed to fend off, while escorting Elizabeth out of the city she’s been held prisoner within for more than 10 years, he can’t help but be the equally unintentional good guy he is. And so, after interrupting something of a public execution, Booker and Elizabeth find themselves in one heck of a skirmish, and you can bet ol’ Booker is glad he took along his vial of Murder of Crowes. So folks, let that be a warning to you - don’t leave home without it!
BioShock: Infinite couldn’t be further from its original underwater predecessor while being so close. It’s the ties that bind, they say, and in Infinite this comes in the form of a character-driven opus peripherally fleshed out with heavy political undertones, social commentary and solid shooter gameplay. It’s a game where the very world around you is as important a character as yourself, or the beautiful Elizabeth Infinite’s narrative has tasked you with saving. Every step you take in this bold new world from Irrational Games - or at least the steps we’ve seen thus far - offers you something new and enticing; a rich, colourful palette of infinite danger and infinite wonder.
“Columbia has definitely got to be a character in the game and we really want the player to have a sense of space,” explains lead artist, Shawn Robertson to us. “We really want them to feel like there’s more to explore; there’s always something new around that next corner. And what is the story that this environment’s telling me and this city is telling me.”
Our E3 demo was a jaw-dropping one, to say the least. Not specifically because the game looks luscious (which it does), but because of how it’s all delivered to the player. In the original BioShock, everything was new and unknown, and as a result trepidation was the flavour of your traversal. And while the same thing can be said about BioShock: Infinite, the game-world of Columbia is the absolute antithesis to that of Rapture. Claustrophobia gives way to spaces so open and inviting it’s almost overwhelming, and gone are the dread-filling corridors of Andrew Ryan’s failed underwater utopia; inevitably guiding you to splicer-filled rooms like some rat in an unfair maze - Columbia might be filled with equal amounts of hostility, but looks to reward at least some safe passage through player-choice and composure.
Possibly the most engaging component to our demo though, came not in the absolutely crazy Skyrail combat, Booker’s use of the game’s myriad inventive weapons or vigours, or even its visuals, but rather in the dynamic relationship between both DeWitt and Elizabeth, and their collectively dynamic relationship to the game-world.
Unlike the voiceless, faceless protagonist of BioShock, DeWitt is fully voiced and loaded with character. He acts as a kind of on-the-fly narrator as equally cautious and blown away by everything he’s seeing or experiencing, as the player. Moreover, Elizabeth, having been locked up for so long, reacts to the game-world like a child in a playground for the first time. All of this might just sound like well-crafted narrative, and for the most part it is, but there’s a dynamic conversation and reaction system in place. You’re not on-rails in this game, and so the characters react, dynamically, based on your own inputs and actions, yet it’s completely seamless.
“It’s definitely something that we take a lot of pride in,” Robertson tells us when we ask about this dynamic narrative component. “And we’re going to put that under a very big microscope and make sure that it works, and that the characters really feel like they’re talking to each other and that they’re in the same space. As far as narrative goes, Irrational’s very proud about what we’ve accomplished narratively with our games and we want to continue that tradition.”
Beyond this though, our preview also dropped a host of really tantalising gameplay ideas, such as “tears” - in-game options for Elizabeth to use with her uncontrollable powers for tactical combat or progression. It’s not known exactly why, but Elizabeth can seemingly access tears in the fabric of space-time, and we saw two incredible examples of the kind of narrative affect these are going to have to the game’s story, beyond combat.
In one instance she came across a dying horse and insisted she could use her powers to bring it back to health. This, she did manage to do for a moment and as her power spread around her and DeWitt even the scenery changed; from scorched earth to an active field of flowers and green grass. However, it’s not long before she loses control and the scene sets back to normal, undeterred by failure though, she tries again, and harder, only this time she apparently opens a tear into what could only be described as the street from Back to the Future (hopefully a deliberate and delicious homage on Irrational’s part) where Marty originally travels back to 1955 from 1985. There’s even a movie marquee in the scene showing “Revenge of the Jedi”.
Of course, the other component to tears is in the aforementioned combat, where Ken Levine revealed there would be different tear options open to the player. In this video he cites three examples, so it’s not known if you’re only locked into three each and every time, but knowing the organic, free-form type of development and gameplay these guys like to work with and leave for the player, it’s a safe bet you’re not always only going to have three; rather, the scenario and situation will likely dictate your options for you. However, because her powers are still uncontrollable, he makes a point to reference her being able to only bring in one - leaving the choice entirely in your hands.
Finally, probably the most jaw-dropping thing the demo did serve up, was the Skyline battle, another area I had to ask Robertson if it was scripted at all or not, because everything we were seeing was just far too chaotic to keep track of, and the sheer size of the game-world our demo driver was engaged in just made everything look unbelievable, like, it was unbelievable he was even remotely in control of what he was doing, though this was quickly quashed by Shawn.
“The skyline battle is completely open to the player,” he revealed. “That’s the demoer having lots of practice and making sure he’s hitting the right things at the right time for that particular play-through. But if he missed a jump or if he did something else, the game would continue and we’d have a different play-through.”
So with a combination of tonics (which worked a lot like plasmids), great shooter mechanics with inventive weapons, Elizabeth’s tear abilities and the skyline, combat in BioShock: Infinite looks to be among the best in the biz, and based on what we saw of all of this, we’re convinced the team at Irrational will not only 1-Up themselves with Infinite, but raise the bar across the FPS landscape by setting a new benchmark.
Of course few teams could wrap such competent gameplay tools in an equally engaging and original tale like that of Infinite, and we barely even know what’s going on yet, only that every single thing shown in the demo had us champing at the bit more. Though maybe nothing as much as its epic closure, which saw Elizabeth’s jailer, Songbird, who appears to be Columbia’s unofficial guardian, breaking through the roof of a building in pursuit of his former prisoner and her rescuer.
Imagine a giant, mutant pterodactyl wearing a Big Daddy suit and you’re slightly in the ballpark for this gargantuan, and not even close to knowing its potential. Elizabeth avoids your own blood being shed by electing to go back with it (him?), and just like that, she’s wrapped up in his giant hands and whisked away from DeWitt with nothing but a longing and desperate glance back at you as DeWitt, who reaches his arm out for her in obvious vain, but that’s the connection between these two; one I was witness to only 15-minutes of, yet proved to be stronger than any I’ve ever come across before - this isn’t just a videogame, it’s art, and art of the highest calibre.