Join us as we kick off our “BioShock season” – a series of articles and features celebrating the BioShock franchise; leading up to the eagerly anticipated release of BioShock Infinite on March 26th. To start, we take a look at the next game in the series and its difference to what has come before…
Somewhere, beyond the sea…
BioShock Infinite has been lurking on our radars for far too long. That wait is almost over. The BioShock franchise is known to be a narrative-driven horror; it’s dark and violent; and was previously set in an under-sea metropolis covered with sea corral, decay, conspiracy and blood. Much different to the new setting: Columbia. Rapture was the perfect setting for a horror game – It was dark, hostile and it genuinely scared us; however Columbia, is (seemingly) different: It’s bright, energetic and bold, the world is pasted in blue and green hues, orange and white pastels – It’s the complete opposite to its Rapture; Is BioShock no longer horror? Fans have been itching for this release; and some are worried this change in scene and maybe direction will let down the long-term fans. Horror comes in many forms and we’re sure with Creative Director Ken Levine back behind the wheel (Levine had very little to do with BioShock 2) we’ll be in for many shocks and surprises.
One thing IS for certain, Columbia is far more open and varied compared to Rapture, so how will this affect the game? Ken Levine states “We really tried to take what we had in BioShock and build on that. Elizabeth is a huge part of that, and so are the Sky-Lines. The verticality of Columbia is a huge aspect of the openness and the space, but we also have a lot of traditional spaces you would encounter in a game too. The variety is going to be a bit shocking to people, along with the scale.” – We’re going to be able to travel from place to place at high-speed, mid combat. It’s clear the world is going to be so huge and complex – escalation.
A similar situation was faced by Rocksteady after the success of Batman: Arkham Asylum. It was linear with a back-tracking free-roam system, like the Metroid series, which worked perfectly; however, with the sequel, Rocksteady went bigger. While Batman: Arkham City received critical acclaim, its opening left many gamers bewildered with the developers throwing mechanic after mechanic at you without explaining ANYTHING. While players eventually learned to feel more like Batman and not Fatman, we feel Infinite needs to avoid this trap. BioShock 1 and its sequel were similar games –narrative-driven with an ever slight free-roam. Infinite promises to be radically different; we hope Levine and Irrational Games bear this in mind. While gamers like to be trusted and treated with intelligence, we don’t like to be frustrated and feel like we’re poor at the game we’re playing. New mechanics should be introduced gradually and the curtain pulled away fully when we’re good and ready – we’re confident Irrational know this.
Another interesting deviation from the BioShock formula is our protagonist, Booker DeWitt. It’s hard in an FPS; do you develop a strong character; or go with the silent route many games do. While the previous games have followed this path, Booker will hopefully make a more memorable character. DeWitt is a disgraced former agent of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency (a notorious private law enforcement organisation). He’s witnessed events in a bloody battle which have changed him forever, leading to excessive drinking and gambling. He was subsequently dismissed from PNDA for behaviour beyond the acceptable bounds of the Agency (which was a tough feat to achieve). He is hired by mysterious individuals to go to the unknown city of Columbia to retrieve a young girl named Elizabeth, who will be a massive part in the game – in story and gameplay. Throughout this journey, players should expect to see Booker develop a relationship with Elizabeth. Booker has no idea why he needs to retrieve her or who she is – yet soon see’s she has supernatural powers beyond reckoning. It’s clear to see why people want her and his objective becomes clear: Get out of Columbia. If only it were that simple. It’s all very different to BioShock, instead of being ordered from place to place by Atlus, Booker has a clear goal in mind and more power to make a decision.
Narrative is clearly very important to the BioShock franchise, so having protagonists with such personality and goals is a departure. We’re excited to see how Irrational explore this and how it affects the gameplay. The powers Elizabeth wields are not just for show and will have a direct impact on everything Infinite is about, it’s going to look and feel very different from any FPS we’ve played before. There will also be many twists and turns story-wise too, we’ve all seen footage of Elizabeth transporting Booker to a parallel-universe 1983 and we’re intrigued to see where this will lead. Then there’s the elephant in the room – just how is this game related to BioShock and Rapture? All though Infinite feels like a fresh start in many ways, even down to thematically focusing on American Exceptionalism instead of the ‘Ayn Rand Objectivism’ focus previously seen, there’s got to be a link somewhere. Part of the fun will be finding out.
Party Like It’s 1999
We don’t want to dig too deeply into the game but there are other surprises in store for us. There’s no need to be worried by the recent delay either (Infinite was slated for release in February). The reason? Polish, says lead writer Drew Holmes, “The month leading up to release is a chance to really polish the game and get rid of all the bugs… the last four weeks are far more important than the first.” After the slew of bug-ridden games on release day these days, it’s good to know. Long-term gamers also have the 1999 mode to look forward to – designed for the ‘Super hardcore’. “1999 mode isn’t about the hard difficulty and cranking up numbers.” States Holmes, “It’s about making sure that this is a true old-school hardcore experience” You will have to really think about your loadout, and make you think twice about your next fight. We think that the die-hard fans will love it, especially after accusations that the BioShock series has been a little too easy so far.
So, it’s nearly here – really, it is. It’s going to be interesting to see what changes there are, and how the game will play out. You have all seen the gameplay, and you have seen it looks like a great game; but is it a great BioShock game? Will the fans crave or cry? Will it be the last hurrah for this generation? We will find out. Grab it this month on the 26th March and find out for yourselves.
-Cameron Harris. He’s new to Twitter so follow him @c4meronh4rris