Hype. It’s a necessary part of the games industry as each developer and publisher tries to secure the investment they’ve laid out to make the game. Rarely will you find a major release that doesn’t come with a score of pre-release information, screenshots and early gameplay to build the anticipation before the game is finally available.
Bioshock Infinite was announced way back in August 2010, almost three years before the game would actually be available. Our very own Tom Wallis went hands on with the first three hours of Bioshock Infinite last week, and as we draw near to that release date of 26th March 2013, have Take-Two managed to make a game that can live up to three years of hype?
First thing’s first; you do not have to have played either of the previous Bioshock titles to enjoy this game. I’ll repeat. You do not have to have played Bioshock or Bioshock 2. I will reference the first game in order to show comparisons, but I’ll try to explain as much as possible for anyone that hasn’t played a Bioshock game. Furthermore, this preview is as spoiler free as humanly possible, however there are story details that were shown in the magnificent opening five minutes video from Irrational Games, which can be viewed below:
With that out of the way, let’s get down to it.
At the outset, two characters in a row boat steadily take the lead character, one Booker DeWitt, through a storm towards a lighthouse. Once there, they swiftly turn tail and row away, leaving you alone. Having played the original (and not particularly liking it I might add) I felt myself groan. I found the first game to be quite a lonely affair; the only human contact, other than through the sight of your gun or business end of your wrench, came over a scratchy radio. However once arriving at Columbia I was surprised to find an abundance of life, and took real joy in strolling around, listening to conversations as I passed.
Ah Columbia. The beautiful floating city in which the game is set really is breathtaking at first. Whilst the novelty of the setting did begin to wear off towards the end of my play session, the game seems to do a good job of not overstating or continually attempting to recycle the initial awe that strikes when you first arrive.
You first enter Columbia through a church of sorts, dedicated to their primary religious figure; the Prophet. Imagery pervades every part of the church and once you manage to get through into the open, you’re struck with a bright, vivid landscape. Hummingbirds hover next to stunning gardens as the residents stroll along the pathways. There’s a real sense that this is a living, breathing city; albeit one floating miles above the ground.
However within this utopia there are a number of things that make you feel more than a little uneasy. The religious messaging found in the church is disturbingly prevalent throughout the city; the frequency of these messages teeters first towards being a little cult-ish, before cementing its position sturdily in the realm of propaganda. Viewing stations dotted throughout the city show short films that paint an extremely idealistic view of how Columbia came to be; with the Prophet taking people into the sky to paradise. These messages become more and more warped as you venture onward and as you see more and more of Columbia, a few frightening truths begins to surface. I’ll avoid any plot spoilers here, but suffice it to say all is not as it seems.
A short way into the main story, DeWitt picks up a sky hook. This tool fits to his arm and resembles a kind of propeller. It’s (arguable) primary use is to grapple onto the rails that connect many of the floating islands that make up the city. You can also use it to dispatch enemies in melee combat, usually in quite a grisly manner.
Where combat is concerned, everything from handguns and shotguns to rocket propelled grenades are at your disposal. There are an abundance of weapons available as the majority of your enemies carry them, and you can pick them up from the fallen.
A major asset in combat, along with the arsenal of weapons at your disposal, are Vigor potions. Throughout the game these special abilities can be used to affect the world around you to your advantage. Bucking Bronco, for example, lifts a group of enemies into the air where they can be easily shot to pieces. Other abilities I managed to see include Murder of Crows, which sends a group of carnivorous birds flying towards your enemy, Devil’s Kiss, which acts as a kind of fireball-come-grenade attack and my personal favourite, Possession. Possession turns human machines and robots to fight with you. In the case of humans, when there are no enemies left to fight, they will dutifully and violently end their own lives.
Each vigor can be used as long as you have enough ‘salt’, which is signified by the blue bar in your heads up display on screen. Both your salt bar and health bar can be replenished using dedicated potions and food that are littered around the city.
Whilst a lot of what I saw in my play-through was as I would expect; namely that of satisfying gunplay and an engaging narrative, what I wasn’t prepared for was the attention to detail. Bioshock Infinite does a fantastic job of creating a feeling of foreboding with limited use of traditional devices like music and colour. Instead, frequent religious messages on billboards and statues and the augmentation of what the player is used to in real life practically scream what’s around the next plot twist. However, at least in the opening few hours of the game, this screaming is done in a way that you only really notice once the particular narrative twist has been spent. I imagine this subtle way-pointing will make for an extremely layered second and third play through; giving more and more as each little detail is observed.
The first few hours I’ve spent in Columbia have been a real joy. Hopefully the rest of the game will be just as enjoyable when the three year wait ends in March this year.