Bioshock Infinite hands-on Preview – Darren Price

“Bioshock – a franchise that won the hearts of this generation is bringing its A-game this March. Darren Price tells us why.”

It’s not often that a game charms me in the way Bioshock Infinite did the during the recent 2K Games preview event in Sydney. Thirty years of playing games has made me a tough nut to crack. Sydney Town Hall’s historic subterranean vault played host as I got to play through the first four hours of the much anticipated third game in the Bioshock series. It was a mind-blowing experience.

The game started with my character, one Booker DeWitt, being rowed out to an isolated lighthouse, shaded in fog. It was a scene very similar to the opening sequence to the first Bioshock game. On entering the mysterious and deserted tower I made my way up the steps.  At the top, after performing a simple bell-ringing puzzle, an eerie booming noise resonated from the heavens and the sky turned red. A door opened revealing with an inviting-looking chair, albeit with manacles on the arms. On sitting down the manacles closed locking Booker in place and a trapdoor opened revealing a set of igniting rocket engines.

In a topsy-turvy parallel to the first game I was shot skyward, through the grey overcast sky, and into sunlight. Just visible in the tiny window was a vast city, stretching as far as the eye can see, resting on the clouds.

After only a fleeting only glimpse of the floating setting of Columba the craft started descending and came to rest. The doors opened into some sort of place of worship where, in the presence of some white clad worshippers, Booker was promptly and rather violently baptised in the name of God and the Prophet. Half-drowned Booker awoke outside got to his feet, giving me my first real look at Columbia, the fabulous floating city that is the setting for Bioshock Infinite.

The moment I first looked out into the sun-soak city in the clouds, I started grinning. Grinning and looking all around. I did this for about five minutes, not moving an inch, just looking around taking in one of the most breathtaking sights that I’ve ever seen on a computer screen.

Columbia is a breath-taking vision to behold and the incredible detail took my breath away. Beautifully designed buildings floated by, suspended by dirigibles. The brilliant sunshine and bustling streets were a stark contrast to the dank underwater city of Rapture from the last two Bioshock games.

The city is styled with the period architecture of early nineteenth century America; like Disneyland’s Main Street USA, but going on forever. It is a perfect place of well-manicured lawns, straw hats and white slacks, of picnic hampers and ladies in long dresses.  A place were a barbershop quartet plied their vinyl records from a floating barge singing “God only knows” by The Beach Boys, in Acapella.

But despite its perfect outward appearance, something felt a bit off.

With washrooms for “Irish and Coloreds” as well as some humblingly apologetic dialogue from a black janitor, it is pretty clear that the gleaming city of Columbia is for clean-cut white Americans only. This American dream in the clouds isn’t for everyone, it seems.

I was tasked with rescuing the doe-eye Elizabeth; a damsel imprisoned in a tower or in this case a gigantic statue of an angel, similar to the Statue of Liberty and fittingly named The Statue of Columbia. The first hours or so is spent reaching the huge structure.

Once within the statue I found Elizabeth, unaware that her captives have been studying her through one way glass. I also observed her ability to rip holes in space and time as she manifested a portal to 1980s Paris and nearly got run down by a French driver.

After a clumsy introduction they both embarked on a daring escape that leaves the statue a crumbling ruin. A sudden attack by this huge bird-thing, whimsically called the Songbird, leaves them free-falling and being washed up on a sandy beach. At first I thought I’ve fallen from the floating city into ocean below. I was wrong it was a floating beach with a shoreline that works the same way as an infinity pool; except in this case water cascaded over the edge of the floating platform like a waterfall.  Again the detail was breathtaking with Columbia’s citizens enjoying the beach dress straight out of one of those old Victorian photographs. I also loved hearing Cyndi Lauper’s distinctively out-of-place “Girls just wanna have fun”, played pipe-organ style, whilst walking on the beach.

The plot, the atmosphere and the visuals are all top-notch. It was all, as you’d expect, complemented by some awesome gameplay. The first person shooter elements are all there and during the preview I got to try a variety of guns from the simple pistol to a rocket launcher.

The light RPG elements that are a staple of the Bioshock series were present as well. Similar to plasmids in the previous games, Bioshock Infinite offers players special abilities via salt-powered Vigor potions. Even in the relatively short few hours that I spent with the game preview I experienced Possession, which turned enemies and machines against my opponents; A Murder of Crows, which allowed me to unleash flesh-eating crows against my enemies; Bucking Bronco, which kicked enemies in the air pipe for picking off with a rifle and The Devil’s Kiss; which had me hurling molten rocks at bad guys.

New for this outing, Bioshock Infinite features with what must be the most inspired mode of transport ever seen in a video game. After obtaining the required skyhook device (a device that also makes for a great way to swing from building to building via conveniently located hooks), Booker can traverse Columbia along an aerial roller-coaster of a tram track called the Skyline. Any video that you may have seen of this in action just doesn’t impart the heart-in-mouth feeling that you get whizzing along, high above the buildings, leaping from track to track before pouncing down on an unsuspecting foe. It is absolutely exhilaratingly bonkers and a fantastic way to take in all Columbia’s beautiful detail.

The preview was on a PC, as well as a keyboard and mouse the game could also be played using a wired Xbox 360 Controller, something that was famously missing from the PC version of Bioshock 2. Hurrah. It’s nice to have the choice and I can say that that Bioshock Infinite plays well using either control method.

Bioshock Infinite had me enchanted from the moment I first set eyes on the magnificent city of Columbia.  It felt like a western Final Fantasy game; echoing its predecessors but at the same time providing players with something fresh and new.

I still can’t stop thinking about the game and, unless someone unleashes some pretty big guns between now and Christmas, I’d put money on Bioshock Infinite being game of the year. Bioshock Infinite is out on 26th March in Australia and New Zealand for Windows PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Darren Price

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