BioShock Infinite’s teaser is one of the best we’ve seen here at GameGuideDog. There’s a great sense of theatre: a slow pan through a fishtank, and a familiar theme apes the first BioShock teaser, before Booker is literally thrown into Columbia. It’s July 4, the Grand Old Flag (one of America’s more tubthumping national anthems) is playing from a gramophone as a conductor mimes in front of it, telekinesis is visualised by a whoosh of red roses, church towers rise in the distance, the stars and stripes waves from every flagpole, and DeWitt falls to his doom past it all. It’s like an HG Wells version of Americana, and a delicious taster – sadly, one you’ll need to keep you going until 2012.
Irrational Games’ next fantastical elsewhere story heads to the skies, hoping to find the heart of America…
Spoiler Alert: The implication of ‘alphas’ and the general thread of eugenics and fascism running through BioShock Infinite suggests a tempting progression in this version of BioShock where the Big Daddy figure isn’t dumb and brutalised muscle but the pick of the gene pool, augmented and running the whole show.
Ask people what they most remember ‘ about BioShock, and a lot of the answers will be one word: Rapture. A gorgeously concepted and crafted city under the sea, its imaginative punch has yet to be matched in this generation’s FPS games. Throughout BioShock and BioShock 2, it is an all-encompassing presence that frames everything you do. Perhaps that’s why its creator, Irrational Games, has left. Bioshock Infinite has switched water for air, the gloomy depths and cramped confines of the sea floor for the eye-assaulting brightness and endless space of the skies. This new dystopia is Columbia: a floating city of interconnected tower blocks, held aloft by whirring fans and canvas balloons, rising and falling to the rhythm of flames.
The powers of Elizabeth are at the centre of a conflict in Columbia, which is why they’re so keen that an outsider like yourself butts out. She seems to be the focal figure of the city itself, and you’d bet is a big part of how its racial politics have worked out. The subtext of everything in Columbia’s regime is master race ideology, with hints about eugenics. Combined with the body modification and genetic tampering going on, it could go in all sorts of tantalising directions.
Even in the brief walkthrough we were treated to, it’s clear the team has done it again. Columbia’s a bewilderingly structured and entirely wonderful spectacle, its nouveau curves and apartments founded on stolid industrial contraptions that keep everything aloft. It’s like a candy cane with a spine of steel, while the occasional glimpse of just protagonist Jack is rather unkindly dismissed by our hosts as a ‘mindless cipher’.
The similarities are still obvious, and this is an amazing world for a narrative-led FPS. The walkthrough begins on cobbled streets, and its early mood-setting is familiar: a clearly mechanical horse clanks past, pulling an empty carrier, while a real horse lies dead in the street being pecked by crows. A housewife sweeps the porch as her home burns in the background. Soon there’s the sound of ranting, coming from a preacher who shouts about the value of personal arms what’s below (a cloud canopy and a drop of miles) is vertiginous.
Irrational calls it a culmination of the 19th century’s innovations — electricity, telephones, and movie stars — all jumbled into a giant ‘best of America. Unlike Rapture, it’s not a secret: Columbia was a showpiece. It disappeared 12 years ago. You play Booker DeWitt, a Pinkerton agent (hired thug) employed by someone who knows where it is — and sent there to get a woman named Elizabeth away from it. So the lead has a name and a defined mission, unlike BioShock, whose next to buckets filled with guns and scrawled ‘take arms’ signs. Accepting the offer triggers the first battle, as the preacher’s face contorts and his eyes turn red, before he launches a flock of crows at DeWitt and calls for ‘Charles’.