The FPS genre is no doubt dominated by military shooters with a huge rivalry playing out between the current king of the genre, Call of Duty, and the surprising upcoming contender, Battlefield. The genre offers more than beautiful action set pieces that make up a the single player campaign and a robust multiplayer. Sometimes, FPS titles offer a compelling story, a beautiful rich environment, and unique mechanics condensed in a nice well-rounded package.
Irrational Games, creators of Bioshock franchise, are back at it after temporary handing over the reins for the sequel to their game. Once again, they intend on delivering another iconic set piece with a very interesting back-story while getting creative and putting twists and knots into the combat system with Bioshock Infinite.
The title takes place on a beautiful floating steampunk-like city built on multiple airships called Columbia, a signature piece of American technological advancement. In the game, Booker DeWitt (the protagonist) is sent on a search and rescue for a young women named Elizabeth. When he arrives, he notices the place has seen better days and soon meets two dominate factions: The Founders and The Vox Populi, who at war with each other and tearing the place apart. As he progresses, he’ll figure out the reason Elizabeth been locked up and the role she’ll play in the conflict.
BioShock’s Columbia is a testament to America technological boom at the turn of the 20th Century and was created as a form of American exceptionalism. In turn this is connected to the current conflict plaguing Columbia with the Founders adhering to that ideology in the strictest sense by disavowing all immigrants and trying to create a walled off garden Utopia only for the elite. The Vox Populi on the other hand can be seen as the good guys fighting for freedom for everyone on Columbia but after many struggles they turn increasingly violent even going as far as executing state workers such as mailmen and doctors.
This is where Booker and Elizabeth come in. You can think of Elizabeth as the “x” factor in the conflict. Both sides want her because of her abilities. She can manipulate tears found throughout Columbia. These tears are rips in the fabric of time and she can bring in various objects into existence. The tears can help or harm Booker and Elizabeth in the conflicts they face as they traverse through Columbia.
As important as Elizabeth is, Booker has his own tools of the trade and with the help of American ingenuity he can utilize bottles of Vigors and Nostrums. A spinoff of Bioshock‘s Plasmids and Tonics, Vigors bestow Booker with a number of abilities like the shock ability that electrocutes and stuns enemies, while Nostrums function as permanent boosts to Bookers abilities like increasing his health. That is a familiar mix of powers and guns, but this is the new generation of Bioshock and there is more still.
In a floating city, there must have some way of getting around. Initially there were skylines built around the city that were said to transport cargo, but people have learned to get around on them with a skyhook. With said skyhook, Booker can traverse around a level either to get where he needs to go or he can use them tactically in combat.
Imagine a classic FPS encounter — you are presented with enemies in front of you with various objects in-between to give you cover. Then it’s a basic point and shoot until you drop all the enemies and move on. Keep imagining, but that you now have these skylines that you can use to get above, below or to the side of them. Instead of hiding behind cover and methodically taking out enemies, you can choose to hop on the skyline, move to a platform where the enemies are out in the open, and take them all out at once with a handy grenade. This mechanic allows for you to be smart and allows level designers to build interesting levels by constructing encounters to be more dynamic. In one example from the E3 2011 demo, Booker has to use the skylines to board an airship to destroy it from the inside and the scene finishes with him dive bombing out praying to catch a skyline before hitting the platform.
Elizabeth brings the second part of the unique first-person experience found in Infinite. There is a sense of mystery when working with a tear. For instance, at another point in the demo there was a Door that could be brought in. When questioned about the purpose of the door, Creative Director Ken Levine said that it could have either been an escape route or brought in enemy reinforcements. That means that there is a element of risk when manipulating tears. Combine that with what you had in previous Bioshock titles and the Skylines, and that should make for some very intriguing core gameplay.
For a game like this to work, there needs to be a compelling story to work from, or else it would be “just go here and there, shoot this and that” — all of which results in a forgettable experience. Though, with a breathtaking world and fascinating back story, combined with the various of elements that are sure to offer more than a standard FPS, Bioshock Infinite is one to watch and believe in. Who knows what will be added in and refined with a release date of sometime in 2012? See you on the Skylines.