Last night I was at the unveiling of Bioshock Infinite, Irrational Games' secret project. Set in 1912, BioShock Infinite is no longer set in Rapture – the US City of Columbia floats on airships, buildings in the sky! It moves from country to country, a beacon of American endeavour, before something goes horribly wrong. Levine didn't reveal what that was, but the city was never just a symbol – it's “armed to the teeth”. A “Death Star”.
Years after the incident, you're hired to track a woman down. As Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent, you're known for your ability to get things done. The girl, Elizabeth, disappeared with Columbia, and like Columbia she holds a secret. She's enormously powerful, and at the very heart of whatever plans have been made for the floating city. Finding her isn't the problem. But dealing with what's unleashed when she's 'rescued', that's where we begin.
Booker is standing on a cobbled street. The difference from Rapture is readily apparent: sky, sunlight. It could be anywhere normal right now. There's a familiar stomp, mechanical boots hitting the ground, I brace for a Big Daddy stomping past, but instead it's a mechanical horse pulling a broken cart. There's a man slumped in the cart. He doesn't look dead, but he's definitely not the healthiest of chaps.
Booker pushes past: the tight little street opens up into a breathtaking view. Buildings, floating on giant airbags, dominate the skyline. Classic American architecture spinning in the air. Below, glimpsed through the clouds, fields. The building in front of Booker shakes, wobbles and pitches forwards before violently tilting onto the 'ground'. A bell from the top clangs as it hits the pavement.
Columbia is a wreck. Booker carries on, stepping over a dead horse, past a building in flames with a woman standing in the doorway, casually sweeping up dirt. It really does feel like a city that's been torn from the ground. It's lively, dirty, I can hear birds.
A man's 'preaching' about the perils of foreigners, the needs of the city. He's signposted his pitch. “They'll Take Your Guns”. Booker grabs one of his weapons and a few thugs appear. It all goes classically BioShocky: he screams in rage, his face twists in paranormal fury, and he orders his men to attack. They launch birds at Booker; screeching, tearing crows. As he deals with the men, the old man, Salton, escapes on a rail system that connects the floating buildings. He grabs onto it and swoops away. Booker clearly has more skills than an average Pinkerton agent: he uses telekinesis on one of the bird thugs' bodies and grasps a bottle from it. He drinks it and gains the crow attack power.
Salton is now launching huge, concussive cannon blasts at Booker from another dirigible. Booker hops on the rail system (I always feel it's a good tactic to run towards people launching enormous shells at you), slicing at a punk coming in the opposite direction. The scale of Columbia is impressive: the rail swoops between buildings, curving elegantly through this enormous space. Where Rapture was claustrophobic, Columbia is vertiginous.
Booker lands near Salton, who turns the gun towards him. He fires and Booker flees to a nearby bar. It's amusingly calm in there and for a few seconds there's a strange sense of relief before Salton's thugs turn up again. Booker uses his powers and telekinetically grabs a shotgun from someone's hands, cocking and firing it in mid air.
More thugs. I start to wonder what's happening: Booker is overwhelmed. He spills back out of the bar, right in front of Salton's gun. Salton' fires point blank and Booker grabs the projectile mid-air, spinning it around and firing it back. The thugs continue to attack, forcing him through a detritus strewn street. The crows don't stop them. I expect the demo to end when a woman's voice shouts. Elizabeth, the girl Booker's rescuing, appears and tells you to fire an electrical bolt on her mark. Whatever she does, it creates a localised lightening storm: the thugs are engulfed in black cloud and electrocuted. Even so, there's still more. Elizabeth joins Booker in cover before using her powers to lift pots, pans, pretty much anything metallic and loose around her, and melt it into a giant ball. She holds it while he blasts it at the group. The men attacking aren't spliced, it seems. They're just utter bastards.
A moment's respite. Elizabeth and Booker walk towards a bridge, when the familiar metallic clomp of a “Daddy” echoes around. This isn't a mule, although it's a more human Daddy than the diving suited huggables of rapture: a man's face, black parted hair and elaborate moustache, peeks out above a suit that exaggerates his body. He has giant, crushing hands, pistons powering his movements. He's mostly a power boss: bashing, grabbing, tearing. It's clear that Elizabeth's role is something of a co-op partner. Her and Booker's powers combine to be more powerful than on their own, but she also seems to have more specificity about her uses. This fight is resolved when the pair of you bring the bridge crashing down on the Daddy's body, slicing through the ground as the bridge support hits it. He scrambles at the crumbling structure with his oversized hands before sliding off Columbia.
Elizabeth is clearly spent. Big Daddy fights will do that to you. Booker asks her if that was what she was fleeing from. It's not. There's a metallic screech, Eliabeth looks deathly afraid and Booker turns around. On a top of an overlooking building the metallic form of a winged, flying 'Daddy' lands.
The demo ends.
Wow. That was a lot for nine minutes. It really cracked like a whip. Thoughts: it is indescribably beautiful and full of detail. The movements of the city floating in the once-in-a-lifetime blue sky, it's another world disconnected, grown up in isolation and damaged by the people that live there. It's thematically similar to BioShock. I have concerns about linearity: the game could so easily use the disconnected islands and rails to run you through the story from point to point, but it's honestly looking like another deeply philosophical look at human nature. With guns. Now go watch the first public Bioshock Infinity trailer , and see the first screens.