On their website, Irrational Games, developers of the first Bioshock and cult-classics such as System Shock and Tribes, has been teasing fans with drips of information on their new game, known only as 'Project Icarus'. Speculation was rampant. A new IP? A System Shock remake? A revival of the Left 4 Dead-style title they released snippets of video from? Nope. Not even close. Irrational's next game is Bioshock Infinite, the third entry in the series, and promises to be like no Bioshock you've seen before.
Whereas Bioshock 1 was based in an underwater dystopia, Infinite ditches the aquatic realm for something new entirely; the sky. Set aboard the floating metropolis of Columbia, Bioshock Infinite is an altogether different visual experience. Colossal chunks of Victorian masonry, adorned with American flags and kept afloat by an undercarriage of hot-air balloons, interlinked by 'Skylines', an almost roller coaster-like network of tracks and trams, suspended above clouds and thin air.
The story behind Columbia is relatively thin. It embarked on its sky-bound voyage in the early 20th Century, on a wave of optimism concerning new technologies. It was a roaming World's Fair, a testament to America's greatness. Until an international incident resulted in Columbia's hasty departure, but not before it revealed it was heavily armed and not fond of following orders.
The rest of Columbia's history is being closely guarded, and rightfully so. Rapture was a wonderful place to explore and discover, and Columbia should be, too. It promises to be an intriguing place, a floating, segmented world of new technology, hidden secrets and, in Bioshock tradition, feuding politics and philosophies. Already we've seen thugs dressed like Uncle Sam, enormous statues of maidens hoisting American flags. Not to mention the robots.
So we've covered Infinite's setting, but what of its story? Again, information is thin, but we know who the protagonist is, and why he's on Columbia. You're Booker DeWitt, a disgraced Pinkerton detective, who's been assigned to tracking down and recovering a young woman named Elizabeth, being held captive on Columbia. How you find Columbia, not to mention how you climb aboard, is unknown.
What we do know, is that DeWitt is no normal man. Reports indicate he has plasmid-esque abilities, such as telekinesis, electric-bolts, and an affinity with murderous crows. DeWitt can wrench a shotgun from an enemy's hands with telekinesis, turn it around and shoot. Columbia is said to be colossal, and weapons include sniper-rifles which can pick out enemies from a vast distance.
But the defining factor of Infinite's combat is DeWitt's involvement with Elizabeth. She has plasmid-like powers, too, and together they can combine attacks to hold off the waves of enemies intent on returning Elizabeth to chains, and DeWitt to the ground, miles below. Elizabeth can summon a rain-storm, soaking enemies before DeWitt unleashes an electric-bolt, zapping them, Bioshock-style. It doesn't look like Elizabeth is player-controlled, but supervised by powerful AI routines to ensure she doesn't hamper the experience.
A trailer is currently available for you to peruse for Infinite details. In it, we see Columbia from DeWitt's perspective, as he's first drowned in a fish-bowl, then hurled out a window by a large robotic hand. We glimpse a beating heart, encased in a glass tank housed in a mechanical body, and the silhouette of this particular enemy bears more than a passing resemblance to Rapture's lumbering escorts.
The 'Sky Daddies', as I'm patently dubbing them, appear to be a blend of mechanic and organic components, but their true purpose on Columbia is a mystery. Obviously, they're not fond of DeWitt, but why? Perhaps they're an automated security detail, identifying DeWitt as a threat to Columbia. Or maybe they belong to one of Columbia's many denizens.
Along with 'Sky Daddies', screenshots suggest Splicer-like villians to contend with, although on a less mutated level. The aforementioned Uncle Sam-lookalikes appear to be basic cannon fodder, and is wielding a wrist-mounted weapon. Irrational's new engine allows up to fifteen enemies to crowd the screen at once, as well as truly simulating a floating city, instead of resorting to cheap visual tricks, ala Bioshock's underwater metropolis.
To Infinity, And Beyond!
Bioshock Infinite is already causing a wave of chatter. It's ostensibly Bioshock 3, yet its set before both 1 and 2, and seems to bear no ties to its predecessors, whatsoever. Perhaps the Bioshock brand will be expanded in Final Fantasy-esque fashion, following a numerical, but not perhaps narrative, order. Further details remain foggy. How does DeWitt develop these plasmid-esque abilities, seemingly before the discovery of ADAM? Is Elizabeth being held captive aboard Columbia because her ability is somehow linked to ADAM?
Bioshock Infinite is set for release next year, which leaves us twelve months of rampant speculation. You can't fault Irrational's effort, as Infinite is no cash-in or hack sequel. It's a bold new direction for the series, and I seriously suggest you investigate it further, as more details begin to leak forth and fill the gaps in the mystery.