BioShock Infinite - Preview

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Release Date: 04/01/2013

Bioshock Infinite on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC at GAME

When BioShock Infinite was announced back in 2010 there was a lot of confusion over just what exactly it was. It had the name "BioShock" in the title, but the series trademark underwater city, imposing steampunk divers and mutant little girls were nowhere to be seen. It was unclear if Infinite was even going to take place in the same universe as previous BioShock games or if it were a standalone title that simply bore its moniker as a brand, a la Final Fantasy.

Having played the first three hours of BioShock Infinite, its connection to Irrational's acclaimed series remains a mystery, but one doesn't need to search far to see its predecessors' inspirations. You'll still scrounge around for supplies in first-person, ingest tonics for super powers, and scavenge for audio diaries. The game even begins with the player adrift at sea, where a lighthouse acts as a beacon towards a dreamlike metropolis where America's goals and xenophobic fears are heightened as the elite movers and shakers of the world have secluded themselves in a twisted fantasy land.

A Whole New World

This time you're invited to explore the floating city of Columbia in 1912. Once heralded by the United States as a symbol of its power, it's since been disavowed after some recent unpleasantness regarding China's Boxer Rebellion. It's now run by religious fundamentalists at war with rioting workers. You play as Booker Dewitt, an ex-Pinkerton agent threatened by an unseen enemy into retrieving a mysterious girl named Elizabeth who's locked in a colossal angel-shaped tower.

Bioshock Infinite on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC at GAME

While the Dixieland setting may be the most obvious difference from earlier BioShocks, the enhancements extend beyond a mere palette swap. For starters, this is the first BioShock game where your character speaks. More importantly, he has someone to speak to after the first couple of hours when he meets up with Elizabeth. Despite not appearing on the game's cover, Elizabeth might be the heart and soul of the game. She's sweet, funny, excitable and even a little scary, for she has the bizarre ability to open rifts into other planes of existence when she sees spectral "tears" in the fabric of reality. For example, at one point she transforms everything around her into a modern day city street where a French version of "Revenge of the Jedi" is headlining a cinema.

Friendship is Magic

This strangeness manifests itself in combat, too, where you can point to ghostly projections of turrets, ammo crates, health pick-ups, and grapple points for her to summon into existence. You can only have one tear open at a time, but you can switch between them at will. This makes the environments more flexible, and the combat scenarios more exciting. When she's not altering the environment, Elizabeth can take care of herself. She'll fend off foes and even retrieve useful items for you.

There are a couple of other key factors that make Infinite's combat more dynamic than its predecessors. The biggest change is in the skylines - there are metal rails running through the city that you can slide around on via a magnetic hook. Zipping along these at breakneck speed provides a distinct roller-coaster experience, while also offering ample opportunities for evasion. Another change since the previous BioShock games is that you can only hold two weapons at a time. This may limit your immediate assault options, but it also intensifies the firefights when you have to scramble around looking for new armaments.

Bioshock Infinite on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC at GAME

Just Like Old Times

These additions go a long way toward enhancing the shoot-outs, which is good because your abilities feel overly familiar. You now shoot crows instead of wasps, but the stunning effect is similar, and spraying fire, zapping electricity, and turning enemies against each other will likewise instil a sense of deja vu. There are a few new powers demonstrated in a very brief late-game demo where you can warp across the room, yank enemies towards you or blow them away, but it's unclear when these new abilities are introduced, and the opening hours are largely limited to the series' pre-existing stable of powers.

Based on this early section, BioShock Infinite feels like what you'd expect from a BioShock game, but unlike BioShock 2's return to Rapture, Infinite doesn't seem like a retread. It's brighter, bolder, and has more personality and warmth to go along with the socio-political commentary the series is known for. BioShock Infinite may be a little too recognisable at times, but its new world and fresh faces are still as darkly enchanting as Rapture was back in 2007.

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