I spent about two and a half hours with BioShock: Infinite yesterday during a press event in Los Angeles. Infinite already feels like something really special, mostly on the merits of its presentation and creativity. Inside, I've expounded on five things I really liked.
Go read Tom's spoiler-free preview for more thoughts on the same demo, and check out a list of things I didn't love .
I'll get this bit of reassurance out of the way: Infinite ran perfectly. Our demo PCs were admittedly above average: an AMD FX-8120 (an octo-core CPU) and a single card in the AMD Radeon 7900 series (I didn't have time to verify which one), alongside 16GB RAM on Windows 7. With that considered, I didn't experience any hiccups, frame rate dips, no texture pop-in, or crashes.
Digging into the settings menu, here's what was adjustable:
An Irrational developer told me that Infinite is running on DirectX 10, but that it does take advantage of some DX11 features.
With its fiction, Infinite lays bare the worst of American history: racism, sexism, class warfare, secessionism, and the dangers of nationalism. But masterfully, it expresses these concepts without being heavy-handed. Walking Columbia, citizens' deeply-entrenched racism is immediately evident through the comments they'll make as you pass, but many of these are innocuous and pleasantly normal, too: I saw kids playing "finger guns" across a stairway, muttering kid-made shooting noises as they did. I also stumbled into the hidden home of abolitionists--in their living room sat a printing press for publishing posters that encouraged racial equality. What I played of Infinite avoided caricature or any kind of elbow-in-the-ribs parody, which I appreciated.
Beyond that, the game's tableau of intellectually-challenging themes pervade its presentation. Even in the first hour, Infinite felt like it had struck a conversation with me about American history and different ideologies, an experience that still feels preciously unique to the franchise.
BioShock's willingness to throw handcrafted assets at you is unparalleled. Irrational devotes an inordinate amount of effort to creating elegant 2D posters, detailed 3D models for ordinary objects and authentic music (Mozart's Rex Tremendae Requiem appears at one point to great effect). The time they invest in creating this content creates guilt when you don't stop to look at it, so much of it is treated as disposable ephemera, used only for a single key scene or key moment.
I stopped for a half-minute to examine the realistic glean of an oil painting portrait, whose brushstrokes were cast in all different directions--the paint itself seemed to have depth or tessellation on its surface. At least half a dozen Kinetoscope machines scattered across Columbia offered brief, silent propaganda films (with titles like "The Word of the Prophet," "Father Comstock's Gift of Prophecy," and Solving The Irish Problem"). Health-restoring edibles seemed uncountable: hot dogs, bananas, boxed corn flakes, oranges, soda, coffee, and various alcohols.
To avoid spoiling anything, I won't touch on specific areas of the world too much, but I particularly liked the way an early segment introduces weapons and Vigors (more on them in What I Don't Love)--it's effortless and entertaining. You stumble into an idyllic, xenophobic carnival in Columbia, and can step (right) up to fire a shotgun or carbine against laterally-moving cardboard cutouts of the Vox Populi. The "Cast out the Devil" game in this area takes place in a makeshift living room, where you have to aim the Bucking Bronco Vigor (a seismic wave that pops enemies up) at a devil while avoiding a cardboard facsimile of a woman holding a baby. Hilarious. Tiered prizes are awarded for your performance in all these micro-games.
Weapon appearance is also great: Booker's pistol is a Mauser's cousin of a magazine-fed handgun cast in scuffed, textured steel.
Remember that home of pro-equality abolitionists I mentioned? During this section, Columbia's police are chasing you as you flee through the city. You enter the house during a small lull in the pursuit, but as you do you hear the 1912 fuzz rapping at the front door, They want in. The house's owners reassure you--they're not going to give you up.
In my second playthrough of this moment, I did the dumbest thing I could: I tried shooting one of the moral, innocent civilians whose home I'd intruded on. You're not at all prompted to do this, and your weapon actually lowers if you look at them, but I wanted to see how Infinite would respond. When I did, the character died and the police stormed in, sparking a firefight right in the living room. This isn't a sure event: when I initially played it, I didn't shoot them and snuck out a rear exit to confront those police in the street. I tested a similar scenario during a visit to a mansion belonging to the Order of the Raven--civilians on the bottom floor will fight you if you shoot one of them, but will leave you alone completely if you don't. These incidental, small discoveries are a great sign to me; it's encouraging that Infinite reacts when I do something dumb and impulsive.
After about 40 minutes in, Booker has a magnetic pinwheel-grappling hook attached attached to his left hand, a device used to slide on Columbia's Sky Lines--airborne transit rails that connect the city. This tool is also your constant melee weapon, and you see it used to deal executions against basic enemies. They're brutal. The curved, smooth metal fins of the weapon might turn a police officer's head clean. One animation roughly simulates what it'd be like to kill a man with a motorized egg-whisk through his larynx. I'm not crazy that you're invulnerable during these executions, though.
Tune in tomorrow for a pile of things I didn't enjoy about BioShock Infinite, and look forward to a larger preview of the game in both print editions PC Gamer.