BioShock Infinite Demo Impressions

by Joe Juba on Aug 12, 2010 at 08:00 AM

We're pretty excited about BioShock Infinite, the latest project from Irrational Games. As if revealing a new BioShock game, screens, and a trailer weren't enough, Irrational also showed a lengthy gameplay demo, and we are going to tell you all about it.

The demo opens with protagonist Booker DeWitt in Columbia, the floating city that serves as the setting for BioShock Infinite. Unlike the previous two BioShock titles (and Irrational's System Shock 2), it doesn't seem like your player character will be a complete blank slate. As a former Pinkerton agent, it appears that Booker has his own backstory. He even speaks; as he gets moving, he says "That thing took Elizabeth. I've gotta find her..." in a voice that sounds like (but wasn't confirmed as) Garrett from Thief.

Booker begins walking through the streets of Columbia, which aren't in great shape. A robotic (!?) horse pulls a newspaper cart with an unresponsive man slumped over in the driver's seat. Another cart lies ruined in the middle of the road, and propaganda posters portraying George Washington as a godly figure standing against foreigners adorn the walls.

Throughout these first steps, a bell can be heard chiming in the background. We see the source – a giant town hall-style bell tower floating in mid-air. However, whatever is holding it up isn't reliable, and the whole tower slowly starts lilting and ultimately collapses, sending the bell itself skidding toward Booker and stopping just feet away.

As Booker proceeds, he comes across an old man on a park bench surrounded by crows. He doesn't seem to notice Booker, who walks further into the park toward a gazebo at its center. Along the way, we see signs with alarming campaign slogans, apparently aimed at instilling fear and xenophobia in the citizens of Columbia.

In the gazebo, we see the reason for the signs – a politician named Saltonstall is preaching about the evils of outsiders and the importance of preserving the purity of Columbia. It is a rousing speech, except for one problem: No one is listening. Saltonstall is campaigning to several rows of empty chairs (spoiler alert: Saltonstall might not be totally sane).

As Booker approaches the gazebo, we see barrels full of rifles with signs saying "Arm yourself!" However, as soon as Booker grabs one of the guns, Saltonstall turns on him, and as if something is taking possession of him his eyes start glowing and his voice turns monstrous. "Who are you!?" Saltonstall shouts. Then, he shouts for his bodyguard: "Charles! Attend!"

The old man on the park bench wasn't just feeding the birds; Charles seems to have a power that allows him to control crows, as streams of the scavengers come flying at Booker as he tries to squeeze off a few shots. As they maneuver around the park, Booker sees an opening and charges Charles, hitting him with the butt of his rifle and sending him careening off a ledge, falling off of Columbia and into the vast open sky below.

Saltonstall flees, jumping onto a rail system that runs between the floating islands. It almost looks like a personal rollercoaster system; Saltonstall hangs by one arm from a single rail and zips away towards another land mass. Meanwhile, Booker looks down where Charles fell and notices a strange bottle resting on a crate far below. He uses telekinesis to grab it, and we see that the bottle is in the shape of a crow. Booker drinks the liquid inside, then his vision begins to distort and turn red, and a crow with bits of gore hanging from its beak lands on his hand. Presumably, these kinds of powers are BioShock Infinite's version of plasmids.

In the distance, Saltonstall shouts "Fire!" and a giant cannon below fires a mortar shell in Booker's direction. Booker grabs his sniper rifle and fires off a few rounds at Saltonstall and his crony, but then decides that an up-front assault is better. He approaches the rail that Saltonstall used to escape, and lifts his hand to reveal the mechanical device attached to his wrist that allows him to use the rails. "Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained," says Booker as he leaps onto the rail and starts speeding along.

As he zips along the line, an enemy is coming toward him in the opposite direction with a melee weapon drawn. The two figures clash in a mid-air joust, with Booker emerging victorious by clubbing his foe off the rail (which is highlighted by a cool slow motion effect as he goes spinning off into the sky).

Once he lands on the other side, Booker's still got problems. Saltonstall is firing the mortar cannon at him at point-blank range. The mortar blast misses, going off behind Booker dealing and forcing him forward, where he quickly ducks into a bar for safety.

At first, the bar seems safe enough. Unlike the splicers in BioShock, the patrons in the bar don't immediately take out their weapons and start firing. Some just seem to give Booker curious glances, but one of them eventually pulls a shotgun and everything goes to hell. Booker grabs the shotgun with telekinesis and rotates it so it points at its former owner, then fires the weapon remotely. The action heats up, with more people attacking, and conflict spills into the streets.

A horde of Columbian citizens are pursuing Booker, wielding all sorts of different firearms and melee weapons. He tries to keep them at bay with rifle fire and a lightning power that looks similar to electro-bolt from previous BioShock games. A few bullets and jolts aren't enough to keep the whole crowd under control, but just before Booker is overwhelmed, a woman named Elizabeth appears.

Elizabeth is one of main characters in BioShock Infinite. She's the reason Booker is in Columbia to begin with; he was hired to rescue her from captivity (she's been held prisoner for 15 years). Once he reaches her, she will accompany him throughout much of the game as a companion character, using her own exceptional powers to augment Booker's unique abilities.

When Elizabeth appears in the demo, we get a chance to see just how powerful she is. Her abilities apparently allow her to affect the weather: The skies darken, the wind picks up, and rain begins to fall on the enemies advancing on Booker's position. Booker's electricity power might not have been too effective before, but now that the entire crowd is soaked, a few shots is all it takes to bring down his attackers.

Unfortunately, Booker and Elizabeth don't have time to enjoy the victory their teamwork has won them. More enemies attack, providing another opportunity to showcase how Booker and Elizabeth can cooperate. She creates a kind of magnetic singularity in front of her, drawing in an assortment of pots and pans that spin and fuse into a glowing, red-hot metal ball. Booker then uses his telekinesis to grab the ball and fling it at the bad guys, knocking them over and shattering their cover.

Even then, the fight isn't over. A hulking mechanical humanoid (the same one seen in the game's trailer) with a robotic body and a human head attacks the duo. This beast could be BioShock Infinite's answer to Big Daddies (but maybe not. We'll get to that in a minute).  The robotic foe stands on a metal bridge, and is big enough to grab a horse with one hand and toss it aside.

Booker tries telekinetically grabbing a mortar from an ammo box and tossing it at the enemy, but it doesn't do any good. Then, he suggests that Elizabeth use her abilities to mess with the bridge's structural supports. A beam shoots from Elizabeth's hand toward the top part of the bridge (just above the beast). As she holds the connection, the support begins to glow, setting Booker up for a chance to take the monster down. He uses his powers to grab another mortar and shoot it where Elizabeth is weakening the structure. The bridge topples down in a rain of girders and debris, knocking the beast over the edge. As the creature scrambles to hang on, Booker fires a few bullets at its grasping fingers, and it falls to its death.

"Three cheers for us, eh?" Elizabeth says. Her nose is bleeding, and it looks like using her powers takes a considerable physical toll on her. “That was the one who was chasing you, right?” Booker asks. Elizabeth responds quietly and grimly: “No. That wasn’t him. That wasn’t him.” A thundering crash echoes from atop a building behind them. “That’s him!”

The demo concludes when a hulking winged creature – about 30 feet tall – lands on a building behind Booker and Elizabeth. This massive beast looks like it could take about a dozen of the weird man-robot-hybrid things that Booker just knocked off the bridge...and that's what makes us think that those things are less likely to be the Big Daddy analogs in BioShock Infinite. If there's anything in Columbia that will instill you with the same kind of fear a Big Daddy did, it's the creature that crashes down on the rooftop. Unfortunately, we don't get a chance to learn anymore about that particular entity; only seconds after it lands, the demo is over.

Alongside all the cool action in the demo, a couple things raised some interesting questions. In a few places, we noticed a strange blue shimmer on a banner or a painting that seemed to change text and images, but it's unclear exactly what's going on there. Also, what is the mechanical creature that attacked on the bridge, or the one that landed on the building at the very end? Irrational isn't addressing these points yet, but despite the unanswered questions, the demo looked polished and exciting. BioShock Infinite just shot to the top of our "most anticipated games" list.