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If you weren’t a big fan of how Bioshock 2 felt like a cash-in on the rich atmosphere of Bioshock 1, get ready as there is news of a radically new Bioshock title in the works for 2012. Since the August 12th unveiling of Bioshock Infinite, more and more information is coming forward to illustrate the amazing heights it will reach. Emerging from the dank and dying underwater city of Andrew Ryan’s Rapture, Irrational Games takes the focus off Randian Objectivism in action to highlight the perils of propaganda and jingoism set in the floating sky-battlecity of Columbia. Created as a symbol of American exceptionalism at the dawn of the 20th century, Columbia has been corrupted from its original idealism. After it was involved in some kind of international incident, it has been lost to the civilized world for years; that is, until you show up.
The character the player controls is Booker Dewitt, a former member of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, tasked with the job to rescue a girl who has been a prisoner of the city for 15 years. He is well armed for the task, provided with weapons ranging from the contemporary shotgun to the fantastical plasma cannon, powers similar to those from Bioshock and enemies that include more than just humanity this time. The pattern of isolation that has been the hallmark of the series thus far is upended when Dewitt locates Elizabeth and they join forces. To assist in your task, she happens to be a user of Columbia-equivalent plasmids, called vigors, which can perform telekinesis, electrical blasts and other effects. Unlike in Bioshock where allies were temporarily charmed to work towards your goals, Elizabeth is a fairly persistent presence and fights alongside you in combat encounters. While fighting she provides opportunities for the player to combine her powers with their own to create more powerful effects; this interplay between the two characters make the relationship and gameplay stronger and more meaningful as they become reliant on each other to survive.
The vista of floating islands amongst the clouds is really a kind of beauty that comes to the player in morbid fascination, as though the streets you walk are familiar, but wrong somehow. This atmosphere builds the suspense as events become stranger and stranger, sometimes overtly and sometimes not. A cart is missing a wheel as it trundles down a road with a mechanical horse pulling it, the sounds mixing into a cacophony of industrial processes and intrusions into the otherwise serene scene of man and nature existing in harmony. That dualism is ubiquitous throughout the game, as it is interspersed with scenes celebrating the triumphs of purity and humanity while harboring hate and violent animosity just underneath, barely contained. The fear of the alien is much of what propels Columbia at the time of the game, as the protection of the idealized, original inhabitants has become a dogma in of itself and much of the art in game reflects that fact. Harsh rhetoric and bullets are hurled by hyper-patriotic enemies as large signs placed around Columbia extol the residents to rise up against immigrants and outsiders as forces of corruption and ruin. Of course, not all subscribe to the propaganda and so not all of them are itching to get into a fight; some of the challenge comes from identifying who is a threat and who you can avoid safely. These interactions you can have with non-hostile members of Columbia allow for greater immersion than the shooting gallery mentality of Rapture.
A common staple of the series has been radio communication with a handler while the player character is otherwise mute. Infinite tries to take this in a different direction by making Dewitt a fleshed out persona with a background and motivations. Instead of receiving instructions on a regular basis from some disembodied voice, he narrates your objectives himself as well as communicating with NPCs, allowing him to develop depth as a character.
Bioshock Infinite is a sequel with high aspirations, production values and a quality lineage. The plot has shifted to address a new philosophical issue and setting that is every bit as enthralling as the first Bioshock. If you want to see some released footage, the original debut trailer is rich and vivid, while the demo gameplay reveals how the player can travel, interact and fight with the populace. Bioshock Infinite is set to be released sometime in 2012.
Bioshock Infinite: Ten-Minute Demo Gameplay