With Bioshock Infinite just around the corner, I wanted to take a look at which parts of the first four hours of the game (which I got my hands on at a preview session a few weeks back and Patch saw in Boston) are classic Bioshock, and which have been completely revamped or fully inverted.
The original game had so many things which were uniquely Bioshock that it tends to be very obvious when the game is following or subverting your expectations.
Bizarrely, at no point does it feel like the game is doing too much of either, yet all the sub-systems which make the game run are identifiably in and of themselves. The end result is that you feel like you’re playing a Bioshock game one second, then a totally different game the next.
So in point form:
- The grand opening: Bioshock’s opening is seared into the memory of most. The tragic plane crash, the strange lighthouse and the remarkably introduction to the world of Rapture left you tingling, scared and awed. Bioshock Infinite very much ups the ante, with an opening which almost feels like homage at a time, yet takes everything a few steps further. Irrational knows you’re expecting certain things, and neatly avoids them, making sure that anyone who felt at home in Bioshock will see the familiar at every turn, yet can’t remain comfortable in its latest dystopia even for a second.
- Rail-riding: So the rad little hook tool you’re given to ride the rails around Columbia is incredibly awesome, and is perhaps (from a gameplay standpoint) representative of the most notable change between Bioshock and Infinite. When you first use it, it’s for a bloody and gruesome purpose rather than for simple transport, and when you take to the skies a moment later, the whole game feels transformed. There actually are many moment where you’re given to hooning around on the rails at breakneck speeds, jumping from rail to rail as free as a bird, an experience Bioshock never gave you. And yet, it feels right at home in amongst the game’s other new mechanics.
- Acrophobia: It’s quite easy to consider the claustrophobic hallways of Rapture and wonder how Irrational intends to make this a ‘real’ Bioshock game with the incredible outdoor setting. Flying through the air, falling for your life on occasion and having to make uncomfortable jumps are all par for the course. Make no mistake, this is one of the new elements of the game which won’t feel anything like a previous experience in the series.
- The evil overlord: Comstock, the Andrew Ryan figure of this piece, is presented with haste as the villain of the piece in very much the same ‘bordering on religious worship’ way that Ryan was in the original. This would be one of the parallels which feels almost a little too samey, but considering it ties into the larger realm of the game’s whole plot, and considering Irrational’s tendency to play with your expectations, I’m quite sure that whatever role Comstock ends up ultimately fulfilling, it’ll be a mind-blowing one.
- Songbird and Elizabeth vs Big Daddy and Little Sister: While the opening trailer for Bioshock Infinite showed Elizabeth and it was presumed she was filling the role of the little sisters, nothing could be farther from the truth. Songbird and Elizabeth are their own entities which fill different functions entirely. The Big Daddy / Little Sister mechanic has been largely scrapped in favour of an AI sidekick in the form of Elizabeth. And she is brilliantly recognised. One of the strongest AI sidekicks I can think of in gaming history.
For all its changes, Bioshock Infinite still manages to feel like the epitome of what a sequel can be if given the time and creative space needed. This doesn’t fill the mantle of being ‘what Bioshock could’ve been’ if only it’d had more time. This is its own beast with a richer lineage than the majority of games out there.
Now my number one teaser point is just that I want to know what climactic event Irrational has in mind which could surpass the revelation at the confrontation of Andrew Ryan in the first game, which is still one of the greatest moments in this generation of gaming.
By Leigh Harris