When the original BioShock released in 2007, not many people really knew what to expect. Yes, we knew about the setting and the Big Daddies, but that it was going to blow peoples minds was still unknown. BioShock 2 was somewhat less successful. Developed by a different team, it also lost the shock and awe that came with the first game's surprising gameplay and narrative.
BioShock Infinite, then, should be extremely high on your list of stuff to watch. It's developed by Irrational Games (the same people that made BioShock, although they were known as 2K Boston then) and it's got a brand new setting, with all-new gameplay to round out the package. The difference, of course, is that expectations will be at an all-time high...
If you're not familiar with the premise, it goes a little something like this. Columbia, a huge floating city, was built to celebrate the pure awesomeness of the United States - kinda like a giant, airborne World's Fair. However, due to some political shenanigans and just plain poor decision making, Columbia quickly became something the Americans didn't want to be associated with, so they broke all ties with the floating nation, which drifted off into the clouds to become something more akin to myth than to reality.
That stuff all happened before the events of the game, which are still shrouded (somewhat) in mystery. What we do know is that life aboard Columbia is a complex existence; multiple factions compete for control of her facilities and they'll stop at nothing to to get what they want - similar, perhaps, to the recently released Brink.
You play the part of a chap called Booker, a chap with a mixed past and the skills to deal with people who ask too many questions about it. You're hired by - you guessed it - a mysterious faction, tasked with infiltrating Columbia and rescuing a woman by the name of Elizabeth. There's more than meets the eye to Elizabeth, though, and it's not that she's a Transformer. She has... powers. Powers that make her valuable to the two factions that are waging war for the control of Columbia.
In the gameplay section we saw, Booker had met up with Elizabeth. We're not going to detail the narrative too much, for fear of ruining the ultimate experience of actually playing the game when it comes out next year. But suffice to say things went down.
While playing the game, you will often find yourself choosing whether to conceal yourself in the crowd, as it were, or put yourself (and Elizabeth) at risk in order to step in and stop an injustice. One example we saw of this, was when a crowd had gathered at a central area, encircling some sort of spectacle. On closer examination, someone was being (wrongfully) accused of a crime and was to be executed by one of the factions. The person demonstrating the game, clearly built of strong moral fibre, decided to wade in and stand up for the downtrodden civilian.
All hell broke loose.
It was at this point, clearly cleverly chosen to maximize the effect, that the true majesty and vast divergence from the original BioShock became apparent. In BioShock, things could get to a certain level of crazy; let's call it an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. Ultimately, though, BioShock is confined to a corridor - at most, the chaos was restricted to playing out in a series of interconnected rooms and you could generally retreat to an area you'd cleared and resolve your dispute with whoever was currently annoyed at you. Awesome, no doubt. But compared to Infinite...
Once Booker had revealed himself, suddenly the various (and let's not forget, heavily armed) faction enforcers dotted around the place brought their weapons to bear on our hero. Remember that scale, on which BioShock scored an 8 out of 10? Infinite scoffs in the face of the upper end of that scale and the pure crazy cranked up somewhere north of 9,000 (yep, over nine thousand). Booker was leaping around, blasting people with his basic power abilities and calling in support from Elizabeth, who's able to magic things out of thin air (thanks to a narrative device we're not going to spoil by revealing here). Throughout which, Booker was leaping over ledges and flying through the air, riding a roller-coaster like track that threads it's way in and around Columbia. At break neck speed. The combat lasted several minutes and spanned massive, massive areas.
I dared to tear my eyes from the outrageous, impossible images before me, to hazard a glance at the faces of the 10 or so assembled journalists. To a man, every one of us (including myself, I checked) had our jaws limply hanging inches below their normal position.
It was amazing.
To be fair, it's not really clear how someone can control the level of leapy / fally / screaming / breakneck madness with any degree of predictability but, until we can test it for ourselves, we'll assume (by nature of the demo presented) that it is possible.
It does, of course, look unbelievably cool. Yet again, Irrational's top-tier art talent are delivering above expecations. Everything just feels right. This place doesn't, couldn't, wouldn't exist and yet, thanks to the incredible talent on display, it does. The sound, too, backs up the visuals - helped, certainly, by the awesome sound system used in the demo. It's rich, complex, vibrant... alive. The worst thing about this demo, and - hopefully - the game, is that it ended. You just want to stay there, hear more stories, learn more about the timeline that lead to this particularly lamentable turn of affairs.
It was that good and easily our game of the show. Which is saying something, as there were many wonderful, polished, inventive, rich experiences on display.
But BioShock Infinite blew them all away.
The Good: Everything
The Bad: Nothing
The Ugly: The wait between now and release