BioShock Infinite

[E3 2011] To Infinity and Beyond

BioShock Infinite absolutely blew us away with their behind-closed-doors presentation. Here's how it went down.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: June 16, 2011
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Whenever a publisher decides it's best to keep the press hands-off with a demo, it can be something of a bad omen. After all, if the folks making the game or the folks pushing it out to the public aren't entirely comfortable with someone from the outside running around and breaking things, what does that say about the final product.

In the case of BioShock Infinite, it was readily apparent that developer Irrational Games simply wanted to keep the whole experience as tight and awe-inspiring as possible, and at that they are no slouches. Simply put, the closed theatre showing of the upcoming first-person adventure was the talk of E3. Those that had seen it were instantly harping on those that hadn't yet, and once we finally were taken through a 20-some minute demo, we understood why. This is what transpired.

Or, wait. Maybe a bit of back story first, just to set the scene. Though it shares its name with previous BioShock games, Infinite is best thought of as a spiritual predecessor rather than direct prequel to the first game. In the game's version of 1912, a massive floating city called Columbia has recently come under scrutiny and then abject disavowment by the US government in light of a kind of hyper-jingoistic bent that overtook most of the residents of Columbia after the Chinese Boxer Rebellion. Foreigners, it would seem, were not allowed, transformed through propaganda into liberty-stealing caricatures and dismissed in favor of unerring nationalism that eventually became out-and-out "us vs. them" classism. In short, if you didn't live in Columbia, you were -- literally -- beneath the residents.

And those residents, just as in BioShock, have been developing powers.

In contrast to BioShock's post-anarchy timeline, you, as former Pinkerton National Detective Agency agent Booker DeVille, have been sent to Columbia to secure and evacuate a girl named Elizabeth from Columbia even as it begins falling out of the sky. Rather than experiencing the aftermath, Booker and Elizabeth are stuck right in the middle of society breaking down as two warring factions, the Vox Populi and Founders, seek to control Elizabeth's incredible powers for their own. In addition to being seen as an asset to both sides, Elizabeth is being constantly tailed by a hulking clockwork owl-thing by the name of Songbird.

All caught up? Good.

Things start off slowly enough. Booker and Elizabeth are trying to make their way through Columbia without raising too much attention. They duck into an abandoned souvenir shop, light spilling into the dusty room from outside and the pair seem to be granted a short reprieve. Apparently Elizabeth takes the break in stride and ends up doing her best Abe Lincoln impression thanks to a mask she finds in the shop. Quickly, though, things get bad. A thunderous, terrifying mechanized squawk signals the arrival of Songbird, who begins stomping around the roof looking for a view inside the shop. The pair huddle behind a display case as the bird swaps optical modes, first spilling it's scanners over the room in red, then switching to green when it can't find a threat. Before the pair head back outside in an attempt to escape, Elizabeth makes Booker promise, though a surprisingly cut-wrenching scene, that he'll kill her rather than be taken back to her high-rise prison where she fears a fate worse than death.

In just a few short minutes, Elizabeth has become a living, breathing person. It was just a few lines of dialogue, a show of mirth followed by terror and eventually a resolute promise, but they all combined into a heady mix. Before the demo had even reached its halfway point, we wanted to protect Elizabeth and we know Songbird was on our tail -- or rather the tail of the person playing the game on a PC.
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