On Thursday the 12th, the world finally learned what Ken Levine and his infamous team of creative geniuses have been working on for the last three years: another BioShock game. It’s called BioShock Infinite, and it looks to be taking a bit of a different direction than the last two installments; rather than returning players to the watery confines of Rapture, BioShock Infinite will be taking players to Columbia, an all-new city in the sky. If you haven’t seen the game’s debut trailer yet, check out the post below this one, or just head to YouTube.
No gameplay, but there are plenty of details about the game’s new setting to be gleaned. A lengthy gameplay demo was shown at the game’s reveal in New York’s Plaza Hotel, and there are multiple impressions across the interwebs written by journalists who were lucky enough to be there. I’d recommend heading to either Kotaku or IGN for said impressions if you so desire. There are no gameplay videos for the general public as of right now, but Levine promises that they are coming.
So. Now that you’re up to speed, it’s time to discuss a few things. What is this new BioShock? Why is this new BioShock? Is this the direction that we, as devoted fans, want to see the franchise go? What’s going to happen to Rapture? Should we even care?
BioShock Infinite isn’t set in Rapture. BioShock Infinite is set in the floating city of Columbia, 46 years before the events of the first BioShock even took place. You’re not a silent, unknown protagonist in Infinite, you’re a former Pinkerton agent named Booker DeWitt, and you’re here to rescue a girl named Elizabeth. Elizabeth has been locked away like Rapunzel for fifteen years now – and the kicker is that neither of you know why. Whatever it is, I’m sure the revelation will be shocking.
1912 is a period that Levine calls an era of “American Exceptionalism.” Unlike Rapture, Columbia hasn’t seceded ties to its nation; as you surely noticed in the trailer, American flags fly abundantly, and even make up a part of the game’s logo. And indeed, around the turn of the century, America was enjoying a period of extreme optimism – technologies such as radio, automobiles, and air travel were upon us for the first time, and a sense of American pride ran strong. It’s clear that BioShock Infinite plans to take the general feel and mindset of this time period and run with it. The people of Columbia seem to hold an extreme, almost fanatical sense of patriotic pride. Billboards boldly stating “Burden Not Columbia With Your Chaff” seem to indicate an exclusive, elitist culture and mindset that’s been established amongst the people of the floating city. Levine claims that the “4th of July” served as the inspiration for the environments pictured in the game, and it shows – everything I’ve seen for Infinite invokes the feel of a bright, summery American holiday.
Like BioShock 1 before it, BioShock Infinite seems to be taking a specific time period and enshrining it; exaggerating it, even. But aside from that, the settings and atmospheres of the two games couldn’t be more of a polar opposite. Or… could they?
Levine has stated several times that his team approached the development of BioShock Infinite with the idea that “there are no sacred cows.” What that means, basically, is that they weren’t too worried about staying true to the formula of the original BioShock. Any ideas or conventions re-implemented in BioShock Infinite had to earn their way there. So, based on what we’ve seen so far, what made the cut?
The most iconic thing that has returned to BioShock Infinite is the lumbering Big Daddies. Unfortunately, as members of the general public, we haven’t been given the opportunity to see them in full – the debut trailer only shows limited, shadowy views of the beast. However, based on what we’ve been able to see, and what publications such as Kotaku have said, the Big Daddies seem to feature a more mechanized, steampunk feel. They’re a human head set atop a huge mechanized body, with a pulsing human heart clearly visible in the middle of their torso. Clearly some sort of bizarre man-machine cross, which makes them essentially the same (in concept) as those seen in Rapture. Given how beloved the Big Daddies are, this is hardly surprising. If there’s a sacred cow in the BioShock franchise, it’s them.
Another convention being re-used for Infinite are plasmid powers. Impressions across the web describe protagonist DeWitt using electricity, telekinesis, and a new power that allows him to control a flock of bloodthirsty crows. Apparently, instead of shooting up as you did in the original BioShock, Infinite merely requires you to take a swig of potion. Much cleaner process. Will these powers be referred to as Plasmids? Will the potions be known as ADAM? They didn’t say, but regardless of names, it’s clear what they’re meant to emulate. I gotta say, though, given the state of biological science during that period of time, I’m forced to wonder how they’ll explain the conception of such a thing.
Again, we haven’t been privileged enough to actually see any gameplay yet, and that includes combat. But Levine has stated that he considers the varied, player-defined combat of BioShock one of the series staples, and BioShock Infinite aims to maintain and enhance this mechanic. In BioShock – and, to be fair, particularly in BioShock 2 – the sheer variety in which you could approach combat situations was fantastic. You could opt for down-and-dirty gun combat if you desired, with a variety of different firearms. An arsenal of specialized plasmid powers were at your disposal. Bots and turrets could be hacked to fight on your side. The environment itself could be utilized; for example, a blast of electricity to a puddle of water would fry anyone standing in it. Combine all of these elements and possibilities together, and you had one of the most unique, robust first-person combat systems in existence. And with BioShock Infinite, Levine claims that you’ll have even more options in terms of customization and evolution.
-The Human Element
This one’s a bit more vague than the previous three, but it’s perhaps the most important. The ideologies behind Rapture and Columbia are nearly antithetical to eachother – Rapture was built on a culture of individuality devoid of restraint, while Columbia clearly displays prideful, collectivist systems. However, while the two cities may not have similar political climates, they have in common the fact that they’ve both become dystopian in nature, crumbling under the weight of their own radicalism. “This is not a floating World’s Fair,” Levine said. “Columbia is a Death Star.” Rapture discovered a powerful genetic modifier called ADAM, and the city slowly crumbled under the financial, political, and (of course) biological weight of such a discovery. Columbia becomes involved in a horrific (but yet unspecified) international event, and then takes to the clouds – running off to evolve into the violently patriotic elitist nation that DeWitt has the displeasure of visiting.
With BioShock Infinite, the franchise continues its tradition showing the chilling consequences of humanity’s own hubris gone horribly awry. And again, it’s up to you, the player, the unravel the story behind the dystopia that lies before you. Perhaps BioShock Infinite will bring back some of the mystery and intrigue that was missing from 2K Marin’s BioShock 2?
Which brings us to our next topic of discussion:
With BioShock Infinite, Ken Levine is aiming to show the world that the BioShock experience is bigger than the confines of Rapture. A bold statement, for sure; it can’t be denied that the defining factor of the original BioShock experience was, in fact, the city of Rapture. The city was steeped in character, atmosphere, mystery, backstory, and all manners of narrative and visual appeal. It was, essentially, the star of the show.
But, one must also recall BioShock 2. I enjoyed BioShock 2 quite a bit; however, the entire experience suffered from a case of “been there, done that.” Rapture just wasn’t as engaging a second time around, because I already knew the story behind it. There was no sense of mystery, no dark secrets to unravel. To be frank, I’m unsure if the setting could even hold up for a third outing. With BioShock Infinite, Ken Levine has stated that he wants to bring back the sense of intrigue and discovery that made BioShock such a memorable experience. And indeed, the floating city of Columbia already has me intrigued as a setting – I’ll be most interested in seeing just what makes the city tick, as it were, and what sort of colored past has paved the way for its violent transformation.
And maybe that’s the BioShock experience at its core. Think about it. A shocking example of human civilization gone awry, a thrilling, unique world, and the ability for you, the player to discover and unravel it. If this is the direction that the franchise is going to take, it could have many incarnations. What about a BioShock set in current times, or the near future? Take the political and social climates of, say, modern-day America and extrapolate it to the extreme? Hell, what about a BioShock set in the Wild West? Or in the Middle Ages? Fun to think about, isn’t it?
At this point, a lot of people are still wondering if BioShock Infinite will have any narrative ties – i.e, share the same timeline – with BioShock 1 and 2. Levine refuses to give a straight answer on the subject, and I’m inclined to believe that his team isn’t going to be terribly concerned with maintaining any sort of narrative connections between the games, or any sort of “timeline” as it were. After all, it’s entirely needless – I’m perfectly fine with letting the two games exist within their own spheres, much as entries in the Final Fantasy series do. As long as the Big Daddies stick around. Y’know, kinda like how the Behemoths do.
I haven’t seen enough of BioShock Infinite to form a strong opinion on the game itself, but I certainly concur with Levine’s direction for the franchise. To be perfectly frank, had we been informed of this project two years ago, I would have been outraged – I once firmly believed that Rapture and BioShock couldn’t exist without eachother. But after seeing the city wear thin in BioShock 2, and after seeing what bold new direction Levine’s team has taken with Infinite, my mind has been changed.