It’s amusing watching people describe the latest BioShock Infinite trailer as if developer Irrational were long lost and sending up a flare from the heart of some dark continent. Where did people think the game had gone? Did they miss the memo? The game was only announced two years ago, after all, and it’s been delayed once, and then by just a few months — from mid-October 2012 to Feb. 26, 2013.
In any event, we now have a new trailer to pore over, and this one’s interesting because it’s technically crowd-sourced. What we’re looking at here is actually a montage of in-game clips Irrational stitched together based on votes from its official Facebook community.
In the trailer, we get a closer look at Columbia, the mysterious floating sky-city occupying the game’s alternate history-verse circa 1912, decades before either BioShock or BioShock 2‘s 1960s-era gene-mangling tangos take place somewhere under the sea (though in fairness we’re still not certain the two worlds are linked).
We’re also given a closer look at the Sky-Hook, which resembles a claw-tipped prosthesis held as if clutching and aiming a rifle one-handed. Here we see the Sky-Hook doubling as a mangling tool, the end spinning like a circular saw blade, though its primary function still seems to be as your ticket to zip-line around the city, dangling from curved rails like a souped-up roller coaster riff on Assassin’s Creed: Revelations‘ Hookblade.
Who’s that girl? Her name’s Elizabeth, and she’s who you’ve been dispatched (by the Pinkerton Agency, no less) to rescue. There’s a kind-of-cool moment in the trailer where she tosses you a shotgun, suggesting her role is going to be much more interactive than just talk, follow and fight.
Note that this is a gameplay video, not a stage-setting piece, which is why you’re hearing Aja Volkman of Nico Vega bawling that bluesy stomp and not some clever snippet of early twentieth-century period music, BioShock-style. People complaining that the music wrecks the mood are missing the point.
Let’s step through it, shall we?
0:19 — Check out that lighthouse, an obvious nod to the original BioShock‘s opening after the plane crashes somewhere in the Atlantic and you swim up through the plummeting wreckage to spy a black pylon silhouetted by moonlight.
0:21 — The wooden box reads “Property of Booker Dewitt.” That’s you, the game’s protagonist, voiced by Troy Baker. “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt,” he says. So we have motive, plus another BioShock reference (remember the letter?). As an old writing mentor liked to say, figure out what your characters want and you’ve got your story.
0:24 — Look at all those toys. Is that the lovechild of a Luger and an Uzi? And hey Dewitt, is it really wise to expose those pictures and your gun to the rain like that?
0:28 — As Sufjan Stevens would say, “Oh Columbia!” Just look at that glorious mythical city, suspended (however implausibly) by giant balloons in and above the clouds. One thing BioShock Infinite promises to be is like nothing else we’ve seen in a game (outside a Final Fantasy, anyway, but then when have the Final Fantasy games ever married their dreamy Yes album cover vistas to art nouveau-meets-historicism?).
0:30 — An amusement park! I do hope there’s time, between the shooting and political discord and creepy time-distortion elements, to ride the rides on Monument Island. This is followed by lovely shots of Battleship Bay (a resort beach — check out that vintage swimwear!), the Aerodrome (a military airbase or a civilian travel hub?) and a hotel named “Soldiers Field.”
0:34 — A shot of Betterman’s Autobodies (“Live Forever!”), presumably the biz behind the funky automatons with beating hearts for heads we’ve seen in prior trailers and on stage here — BioShock Infinite‘s version of the original game’s freakish Big Daddies. “Live pain free evermore! One night procedure! A modern miracle!” Promises, promises…
0:36 — Check out that ice cream parlor. Are those Vault Boys in Cub Scout uniforms? And who doesn’t love old signs like these (especially when placed ironically in beautiful sun-dappled dystopias). Someone call American Pickers!
0:37 — White-robed what…cultists?
0:38 — Thank you, Nico Vega: “Stand tall for the Beast of America!” The song is “Beast” (from the group’s eponymous album), ergo the trailer title, “Beast of America.” The song excoriates American apathy, in so many words, “[planting] seeds for the Beast of America” and, by way of its inclusion here, signaling Irrational’s willingness to play up political themes beyond the timid, let’s-not-offend-anyone pabulum most games dish out. If BioShock was an indictment of capitalism and (Ayn) Randian objectivism, will BioShock Infinite take aim at American exceptionalism?
The rest is all gameplay stuff. There’s a shot of someone in an Iron Man-esque suit who can light up (literally), a mechanical wall-busting eye that looks a little like GLaDOS meets HAL; someone taking a Sky-Hook to the head; you leaping off a Sky-Hook line to knock someone sprawling off a platform (just what happens to all those fallen bodies, by the way — does no one below notice?) and various shots of what using Vigors does to corrupt your body, which sounds more satisfying than BioShock‘s mere implication of Plasmid-related physiological damage.
On that last point: I remember sitting across the table chatting with Levine back in March 2006, before BioShock had actually come out, and him telling me about a “show-don’t-tell” feature where people would react to you differently based on how grotesque you’d become, in turn dependent on how much you’d used or overused Plasmids. It didn’t make it into the final version. Perhaps we’ll see something like it in BioShock Infinite?