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BioShock: Infinite’s opening hours: the tip of the iceberg

Sunday, 16 December 2012 22:21 GMT By Stace Harman

Three hours spent playing BioShock: Infinite, reveals it to be one of 2013’s most complex and ambitious titles, but can it fully deliver on its potential?

BioShock: Infinite

BioShock: Infinite is Irrational Games’ second BioShock title. Following the success of the original, BioShock 2 was developed by a host of developers led by 2K Marin and 2K China; it also featured level design elements from Dishonored’s Arkane Studios.

BioShock: Infinite very nearly featured multiplayer. Levine said it was dropped because it was “…not consistent with the overall package”

Irrational Games is asking for votes on what the BioShock: Infinite cover should look like, the poll closes on December 19.

Read what Levine had to say about craft and intent in the BioShock universe in our recent interview.

Attempting to piece together the narrative clues contained within the opening hours of BioShock: Infinite feels like trying to decipher Chris Nolan’s Inception after watching it for the first time.

On the surface, it appears to be relatively straightforward and it’s easy enough to explain the gist, but dig a little deeper and it’s clear that there’s much more to be explored. That being the case, let’s just focus on what we know for sure: it’s 1912 and in order to repay a sizeable debt, former Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt has agreed to retrieve a young girl named Elizabeth from a flying city called Columbia.

Now, let me immediately contradict myself. Through a series of key moments, incidental details and narrative asides, it very quickly becomes apparent that the validity of every single part of that synopsis can be questioned to one degree or another.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to BioShock: Infinite.

Evidently, the opening hours of BioShock: Infinite provide a lot to ponder. They also offer up ample opportunity for wholesale bloody violence, but more on that later. First, the script: despite cramming a lot into the three hours that I experienced, very few of Infinite’s most intriguing plot points come by way of heavy-handed exposition. Instead, they play out all around you: in snatches of conversation, audio announcements and fleeting visual scenes. Within the first five minutes, Ken Levine’s intelligent and funny script has me pondering the notion of inevitability, choice, and how video game characters always have very set roles to play.

The opening hours also provide numerous opportunities to learn about Columbia’s origins and its religious ruler, Zachary Comstock. There’s proud discussion of the role that Columbia plays in the wider world and its ideals are loudly trumpeted. The religious fervour on which Columbia sustains itself is celebrated, while its promotion of a racial hierarchy is plainly presented. This latter notion is sometimes violently enforced but more insidious is its normalisation through sugar-coated rhetoric that’s gobbled up by Columbia’s populace like candy cane at a carnival.

The human ingenuity underpinning Columbia as a flying city is magnificent. It’s a place to meander with analogue sticks half-cocked.

Despite its people, the human ingenuity underpinning Columbia as a flying city is magnificent. It’s a place to meander with analogue sticks half-cocked. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had looking up and around at its towering structures and sweeping vistas or wandering into buildings and strolling through its parks and piazzas. There’s also something to be said for zipping around on Columbia’s skyrail, which takes the notion of video games as rollercoaster rides to its logical conclusion and has the power to be thrilling, disorientating and empowering all at once.

All the fun of the fair
Early on, a carnival provides a wealth of optional content to be explored. Fairground stalls simultaneously act as minor distractions, a place to earn some cash and a tutorial for the game’s gun-play and Vigor powers. They also carry with them a hefty dose of propaganda decrying the existence of the Vox Populi, a rebel faction that was founded to provide Columbia’s minority groups with fair representation but whose methods have turned darker of late.

Needless to say, this relatively gentle introduction to Columbia’s architectural majesty and its sinister society does not last long. While DeWitt is challenged here and there by the local law enforcement soon after arriving in the city, the action becomes significantly more intense once he encounters Elizabeth. Soon after their initial meeting they are escaping a crumbling edifice and being thrust into several fire fights. It’s here that two of BioShock: Infinite’s other defining characteristics reveal themselves: combat and Elizabeth’s role as an AI companion.

New gameplay footage from the 2012 VGAs.

The fundamental basis of the combat operates in much the same way as in the first two BioShock games. Through a combination of gun-play and DNA-altering powers known as Vigors (fuelled by Salts) DeWitt tackles a number of human and mechanical foes that make up Columbia’s security forces. DeWitt gains access to a number of Vigors relatively early on, but with a lot of new toys at hand and limited salts to power them, the potential for gleeful experimentation is limited. This proves to be a hindrance to enjoying the combat and naturally pushes you more toward gun-play. It becomes apparent that, as was the case with Rapture’s murderous inhabitants, Columbia’s AI has a penchant for aggressive acts and pays little mind to self-preservation.

Who’s that girl?
Elizabeth quickly reveals herself to be a capable and useful ally. In combat, she stays out of harm’s way and actually appears invulnerable. She can also pick locks and helps counter the problem of a lack of salts with which to power the Vigors, by scouting the battlefield for useful items to provide to you. However, Elizabeth’s show-stopping talent is her ability to open inter-dimensional tears in order to provide access to half-visible anomalies dotted throughout the world. These include helpful items and some more ‘substantial elements’ of narrative importance.

The opening hours of BioShock: Infinite raise more questions than they answer: the kind that have you pondering the meaning of a seemingly incidental detail, a curious turn of phrase or the presentation of a particular narrative thread.

DeWitt’s initially gruff demeanour is softened by interactions with his AI partner but while communication between the pair is, for the most part, a joy to behold I do encounter a jarring example of an explicit lack of consistency. Shortly after a scripted moment in which Elizabeth is horrified by the violent action that DeWitt takes to protect them against assailants, I decide to murder a random innocent civilian. Elizabeth doesn’t bat an eyelid. In fact, not 5 seconds later she cheerfully comments on a children’s carousel. It’s a jarring contrast between what the game wants you to believe about Elizabeth and how it then fails to react to your own unpredictable actions. Hopefully, these instances in which Infinite undermines your ability to suspend disbelief will be few and far between.

Overall, the opening hours of BioShock: Infinite raise more questions than they answer. In one or two instances these are questions of game balance, behavioural consistency and whether the ambition of Levine, Irrational and 2K can truly be met. For the most part, though, they are exciting questions; the kind that have you pondering the meaning of a seemingly incidental detail, a curious turn of phrase or the presentation of a particular narrative thread. They are the kinds of questions that drive you to seek out other people with a shared experience in order to swap theories, trade tid-bits and compare notes.

Ultimately, they are the kinds of questions that should lead you to very much look forward to BioShock: Infinite’s launch on March 26 2013.

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7 Comments

  1. Telepathic.Geometry

    Cheers Stace. Overall, I’m really excited to see what this game becomes. Chris Kohler played it for 5 hours and said it was fucking awesome… /excitement

    #1 2 years ago
  2. BrahManDude

    that inconsistency is the least of my worries from such a rich game

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Stace Harman

    @1 Me too. It looks incredible and after a few hours I had a notepad full of questions and theories. Really looking forward to delving deeper into it.

    @2 It’s certainly no major issue but is worth mentioning. The fact that it jars at all illustrates how well-realised both the world and Elizabeth are. Certainly, if it’s the extent of my concerns after playing the entire game, I’ll be very happy indeed.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. MadFlavour

    The main character looks like Steve the drunk from Deadwood.

    I hope he sounds and behaves like him too.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Samuel

    “Through a series of key moments, incidental details and narrative asides, it very quickly becomes apparent that the validity of every single part of that synopsis can be questioned to one degree or another.”

    That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. I was already excited for this game, but this has made me even more confident that this game will be on the same level as the first.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Stace Harman

    @5 I think it may exceed the original, perhaps not in terms of impact but from a narrative perspective, at least.

    Whereas the major reveal of the overall narrative was saved until the end of BioShock, Infinite seems to be telling you right from the off that everything is not what it seems. Then it invites you to actively seek out parts of the puzzle.

    As well as Inception, there were also things that reminded of Scorsese’s Shutter Island. Intriguing stuff.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. creamtown

    As a FPS game, Bioshock Infinite no doubt is one of the best FPS game i’ve ever seen so far, if not the best. This game has something that has been missing in FPS games for so long, like brilliant storyline, amazing combat system, great gameplay (esp. with the skyline), awesome stunning well-polished graphics and incredible experience. I think this game falls between FPS genre and a bit of RPG influence. This game is genius!! Can’t wait for the Burial at the sea.

    #7 2 years ago

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    Deception 4: The Nightmare Princess will debut on western PlayStation 4 systems this summer, Koei Tecmo has announced. It is also coming to PS3 and Vita. The game was produced by Keisuke Kikuchi of Fatal Frame fame and takes up where Deception 4: Blood Ties left off allowing players to relive Laegrinna’s pursuit to free […]

  • Nintendo US eShop update: Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario demo, Paper Mario, more

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with a demo of Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition, Paper Mario on Virtual Console, and amiibo Tap. The full update is below. eShop update amiibo Tap – free – Wii U Star Wars Pinball DLC – Wii U Paper Mario – Wii U […]

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided PC port handed off to Nixxes

    The PC port of the new Deus Ex has been handed over to Netherlands based studio, Nixxes software. After the initial reveal trailer at the beginning of April, we’ve only had a few morsels in the way of additional news. The most intriguing tidbit to date has got to be the fact that you’ll be […]

  • First-ever PC Gaming Show to take place at E3 2015 in June

    PC gaming will finally have its very own E3 press conference this year, thanks to PC Gamer and AMD. The PC Gaming Show will take place on June 16 at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles and it will be livestreamed on Twitch. PC Gamer said speakers at the presentation will include representatives from Blizzard, […]

  • Majora’s Mask light available now on Club Nintendo for 6000 stars

    Club Nintendo shuts up shop on September 30 and members are being encouraged to spend accumulated stars before then. And what better to spend them on, than this adorable Majora’s Mask light? If you’re a member based in Europe you can nab it for 6000 stars. If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, it’ll only […]

  • Unity support announced for HoloLens, will work with Windows universal apps

    Microsoft is partnering with game engine developers Unity in order to make HoloLens compatible with apps and games which use the cross-platform engine. The partnership was announced yesterday during its Build Developer Conference. Universal apps for Windows 10 systems will also be available on Xbox One later this year, suggesting possible HoloLens functionality with the […]

  • Splatoon Nintendo Direct airs Thursday, May 7

    A Nintendo Direct focused on Splatoon, the Wii U multiplayer title, on May 7. It will kick off at 7am PDT/10am EDT/3pm UK and it can be watched via the Nintendo Direct website. You can also have a look at the game through Nintendo’s Twitch channel. The last game-specific presentation took place last week and […]

  • GTA 5 PC: clean up the streets as a member of the San Andreas PD with this new mod

    Remember the awesome mods for GTA 4 and San Andreas that let you run amok online as a member of the po-po? Well, dust off your taser and load up your gun, because it’s coming to GTA 5. The new mod for GTA 5 is currently in alpha and can be downloaded at palmbeachgames.com. You […]

  • Indie shoot ‘em up Project Root comes to Xbox One, PS4 and PSVita

    Project Root is a self-proclaimed rejig of the shoot ‘em up genre that was released on PC last year, and it’s finally coming to consoles. Combining free-roaming elements with the usual business of shooting things, Project Root was released this week for Xbox One, PS4 and the PSVita.

  • You can now bet on eSports online, starting with League of Legends

    If you’re getting bored with sticking a pony on the races, you can expand your gambling horizons at Unikrn where you can watch esports streams and get a little action on the side. The new platform was set up by Rahul Sood – previously the general manager of Microsoft Ventures. At the moment, customers are […]

  • Has Watch Dogs 2 been leaked?

    Ubisoft employee, Julien Risse, may have inadvertently confirmed Watch Dogs 2, thanks to his online CV over at LinkedIn. Videogamer.com spotted the slip up, in which Risse lists Watch Dogs, the DLC Bad Blood, and Watch Dogs 2 on his profile. Creative Director Jonathan Morin has already talked about his ideas for improvements for the […]

  • GTA 5′s Trevor makes his Jackass debut, complete with leopard-print knickers

    YouTuber Abstract Mode has shared his vision of what Trevor Philips’ life might have been like, had he not been completely batshit crazy. Watch Trevor get mauled, run over, and hit by a train, before taking a majestic swan-dive into someone else’s pool at the climax. Thanks, Kotaku.

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 season pass will cost you £35

    Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 isn’t released until November 6, but you can already hand over your cash for the Season Pass. The Season Pass is available for pre-purchase on Steam for £34.99, and will cover four DLC packs – although the details we have on the content are limited to ‘exciting’ at this […]

  • GTA Online’s cheating assholes are no match for this player’s vengeance

    Think you’re smart for using invisibility and infinite ammo glitches? You need to be taught a lesson, sucker. You can have all the hacks you want but if your GTA Online game is weak, you’ll still get your ass handed to you. As this fool discovered when attempting to hassle another player. There’s a fair […]

  • PS4 sales help Sony’s games division swing to profit

    Sony’s PlayStation business has made an operating profit of 48.1 billion yen ($404m / £261.5m) in the past 12 months. That’s thanks to stellar sales of the PlayStation 4 and PS Plus, even as sales of the PS3 have stalled and the company wrote off costs for the PSTV and PS Vita. The profit puts […]

  • New patch for Dirt Rally gives co-driver’s attitude a tune-up

    Dirt Rally gets a new patch three days after release on Steam. On Monday, we reported that the newest Dirt game has popped up on Steam’s Early Access and is available to pick up for £24.99, as well as giving you an eyeful of tasty screenshots. The patch – released yesterday – fixes some issues […]

  • New The Witcher 3 screenshots show combat, exploration and general carousing

    New screenshots released on the official facebook page for The Witcher 3 show Geralt annihilating a winged beast, out and about in the world exploring, and living the life of Reily amidst a bustling feast. We were already treated to some glorious screenshots a few days ago, but these new ones are in-game and give […]

  • Destiny: 14 things you might have missed during House of Wolves intel drops

    Destiny: House of Wolves does a great deal more than just slap some new content on the existing game structure. House of Wolves changes Destiny in a lot of interesting and very welcome ways. Bungie showed off many of these changes in its livestream, and let both me and Arekkz come and have a look […]

  • Scratch that cyberpunk itch with Technobabylon on May 21 – new trailer

    Technobabylon more like Wrecked-yo-babbling with my smooth flow about how good Wadjet Eye games are. I don’t know y’all, it’s clock off time and everything feels like a reach. Wadjet Eye makes pretty good adventure games – award winning, in fact. The latest project to spring forth from the benevolent, sheltering hand of the label […]

  • Skullgirls 2nd Encore brings exclusive new features to PS4, Vita in northern summer

    Skullgirls, the little indie fighter that could, is getting another crack at it. Skullgirls 2nd Encore is the second re-release of the one-time troubled 2D versus fighter from lab Zero Games. Having survived the shut down of its developer and collapse of its publishing contrast, Skullgirls re-emerged as Skullgirls: Encore, adding in a ton of […]

  • Danganronpa series generates “impressive” sales for Vita exclusive

    Danganronpa is selling quite nicely, thank you, says NIS America. Danganronpa is a series of murder mystery visual novel puzzlers in a similar vein to games like 999. Two of these have been released for Vita in the west – Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair. Speaking to MCV, NIS America CEO and president Takuro […]

  • I have no idea what is going on in J-Stars Victory VS+ but I kind of like it

    In this J-Stars Victory VS+ trailer, we see – uhh. Well. We certainly see some things. Look y’all, I was a massive weaboo in high school, but that was back in the dark ages when we had to take out Manga Entertainment VHS tapes from dingy little specialist rental joints that were literally underground, and […]

  • Please just watch this terrific trailer for Toren

    Toren is the kind of game I dream about when I drift off to sleep at night. This indie puzzle adventure strikes a spark in my little soul in the same way as Ico and Tequila Works’ Rime do. Mysterious, almost ethereal fantasy setting – check. Chance to actually walk around in that setting – […]

  • Play classic MS-DOS games on your own tweets

    In today’s episode of “what will they think of next”, someone’s figured out how to post playable versions of classic games in tweets. For some time now, Twitter has allowed you to embed various forms of media in tweets, most noticeably YouTube videos, simply by pasting a URL into the compose field. Turns out this […]

  • VR: Unreal Engine to add HTC Vive support

    The biggest digital PC game distributor and the most popular game development engine have both backed VR. It’s going to happen. An upcoming Unreal Engine 4 update will expand the development suite’s support to the HTC Vive, Valve’s VR headset. In this glorious new future where work on one of the most important engines in […]

  • WWE 2K15 PC supports modding

    WWE 2K15 may be the series’ PC debut, but it’s already getting into the spirit of the platform. WWE 2K15 does indeed support mods on PC, 2K’s Marcus Stephenson has confirmed. @ElementGamesTV you can. Now buy. — Marcus Stephenson (@stephensonmc) April 28, 2015 As Destructoid points out, this opens the door to all sorts of […]

  • Overkill’s The Walking Dead coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2016

    Overkill’s The Walking Dead is one step closer to your grasping little paws. Overkill’s The Walking Dead will be published by 505 Games, Overkill parent Starbreeze has announced. 505 also published Payday 2, Overkill’s previous title, so the two companies have established a working relationship. In a press release, the publisher said the co-op title […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 pre-orders net Advanced Warfare DLC

    Buy Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 for later, enjoy bonus Advanced Warfare content now. Blacks Ops 3 is being supported by a rather cunning pre-order incentive even more likely to get you to lay your cash down sooner than you might otherwise. Gamespot reports a Black Ops 3 pre-order will receive a couple of […]

  • Steam Game Ban system lets developers determine who to block

    Steam users can now be blocked from individual games by their developers. Steam has always supported multiplayer bans for disruptive users, but a newly-implemented system allows developers to ban users from individual games using their own anti-cheat systems. Game Bans are enforced by Valve, but are enacted at the developer’s request and discretion. This change […]

  • Far Cry 4 devs matching Red Cross donations up to $100K to aid Nepal earthquake victims

    Far Cry 4 developer Ubisoft Montreal will match any pledges made to The Red Cross up to $100,000 to aid Nepal after the 7.8 earthquake struck the area in and around Kathmandu in Nepal. According to Ubisoft: “Having spent the last few years working on Far Cry 4, a game heavily inspired by Nepal and […]

  • Tales of Zestiria retail listing notes September release date, PS4 version

    Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, and while it’s confirmed as a PlayStation 3 release, a Dutch retailer has it listed as coming to PS4 as well. Of course, listing it for PS4 could also be a typo, not that I would personally know about that sort of thing, really. However, according […]