Irrational Games Announces BioShock Infinite

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Word has been abuzz that Irrational Games–the development studio centered around creative Ken Levine that made the 2K Games best-seller BioShock–would be announcing its long-brewing new game very soon. Of course, anticipation has been high.

BioShock undeniably stands as one of the must-play video game experiences of the last five years. The way it wove its narrative and themes into a one-of a-kind environment resulted in a watershed moment for interactive fiction.

Leading up to last night’s event, game journalists and fans were speculating rabidly about what Irrational would be unveiling. A multiplayer-focused title to work out ideas Levine had been intrigued by? A psychological horror story? The teaser site offered up no real clues, first showing a moonlit sky,which was later replaced by an infinity symbol that was being redrawn over and over.

The last thing I–and many people–were expecting was something else with Bioshock in the name. That’s what we’re getting, but don’t expect another trip to Rapture.

In an event room in Manhattan’s storied Plaza Hotel, Ken Levine explained the world of the new game to a room full of journalists. The new game’s called BioShock Infinite and it leaves Andrew Ryan’s waterlogged city far behind. Infinite takes place in the early 20th Century on a floating city called Columbia. Columbia’s not a mythical fairyland, though. It takes its cues from the spirit of American exceptionalism that informed the real-life 1893 World’s Fair, where America’s rate of industrial progress and ensuing world influence were strutted out for the world to see.

Rapture was a secret place deep under the sea and the populace of the world had no idea what transpired there. In Bioshock Infinite‘s story, Columbia embodies a hugely public example of American ingenuity and democracy, something for the average U.S. citizen to be proud of. But, Columbia also harbors a secret. After an international incident yet to be detailed, it get revealed that Columbia’s essentially a turn-of-century Death Star, weaponized to a degree that no one was expecting. But rather than try and subjugate the country or the world, Columbia lift so high into the sky that no naked eye can see it and disappears into the clouds.

Some time after Columbia’s disappearance is when the game’s story starts. Players will be controlling Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent. DeWitt’s a rough-and-tumble fixer, a man who prowled the seedy docks of New York City and busted up strikes. He gets things done for the right price. A new client needs him to find a woman named Elizabeth, who’s been imprisoned for 15 years. Levine alludes to Elizabeth being very powerful but says nothing more.

After unspooling the trailer and talking about the world DeWitt would be exploring, Levine segued into a live demo of BioShock Infinite gameplay. Here’s how it went (as best as I can remember it.)

We saw DeWitt wander past a man feeding a bunch of crows. Booker walks into a gazebo where a politician with patrician airs named Saltonstall spouted extremely conservative, isolationist rhetoric to rows of empty chairs. Once you wandered into Saltonsall’s line-of-sight, he commanded that same bird feeder to attack you.  A finger-point from the minion sends a rush of crows at DeWitt. In the battle that follows, DeWitt uses firearms to fend off the birds. He also uses some telekinesis and electrical discharge powers, too.

Pursuing Saltonstall leads DeWitt to a web of pipework (called skylines), and after pulling out a hook, he gets yanked along the path. He drops down to investigate a bar, only to have a xenophobic mob swarm onto him. Just as he’s about to get overwhelmed, Elizabeth saves his bacon by controlling the weather. She marshals some gale-force winds, which hold the assailants aloft letting DeWitt pick them off with a gun. But we also got see how the two characters will be working together, when Elizabeth drenches the mob with a localized rainstorm followed by DeWitt electrocuting them with electrical blasts.  A new threat crashes into view as the giant steampunk cyborg glimpsed into the trailer lands in front of the pair on a bridge. DeWitt’s gun blasts prove useless and Elizabeth pulls a bunch of metallic debris together into a giant globe. Elizabeth lobs it at the steampunk cyborg guy, and DeWitt manages to explode it and damage the enemy. The camera cuts back to Elizabeth and we can see from her nosebleed that such feats take a toll on her. The demo ends with the camera swinging onto another ominous figure, a giant bird-shaped robot that’s even bigger than the cyborg.

After watching the gameplay demo, it becomes clear that what Levine and his team want to do is create a new classic from whole cloth but one that will also be unmistakably BioShock as well. Peter and I got to talk with Ken Levine and art director Shawn Robertson about the ideas and influences that have gone into making BioShock Infinite, so look for those video in an upcoming post. check it out here.