E3 2011 – Bioshock Infinite Private Demo Impressions

It is Day 2 of E3 2011. 2K was readily showing off XCOM and The Darkness 2 to press behind closed doors along with a long line up to the Duke Nukem Forever demo theater for people to get hands-on time with it.

Tucked in the back of the 2K area of the show floor was a private theater, guarded by multiple employees with clip boards and check lists of invite-only names for people to step in to a leather-couch-laden theater to experience a private gameplay demo of never-seen-before footage of BioShock Infinite.

The Buzz Media wants to send out a special thanks to the media desk for inviting us and getting in to that showing; something that only a handful of people at E3 got to experience this year.

Update #1: We have posted a BioShock Infinite Gameplay Trailer that shows about half of what we saw at E3 2011 and will give you visuals to go along with this writeup really nicely. Check it out.

We are not thanking 2K because of the exclusivity and justification for us walking around the office with popped collars all day; we are thanking them because of the sheer brain-sex BioShock Infinite was.

The gameplay session opens with the player-character (Booker DeWitt) and a wonderfully voiced love-interest, Elizabeth, walking into an abandoned bookstore.

Graphical First Impressions: Beautiful “popping” colors. Sharp textures. Complex geometry. Beautiful lighting. Smooth framerates.

Given the graphical prowess, my gut assumption was that they were running the demo on a spec’ed out PC, but as the demo progressed and we got into a few world-interaction sequences, it looked like they were demoing the game on a PS3… or at least a PS3 dev kit.

The game sequence in the bookstore eventually falls into chaos as the enormous robotic bird that Elizabeth’s previous captor has sent after her smashes the front windows out and begins scanning the bookstore for her. While you hunker down behind a bookcase waiting for the giant demon-bird to leave, Elizabeth is sobbing/shuddering quietly and holding her mouth.

As you exit the bookstore she grabs your hand, clasping it around her tiny neck and makes you promise that you will never let “him” recapture her; implying that she would rather you kill her if it comes to that. At this point the player gets an idea of what kind of hell Elizabeth existed in before you got her out (we aren’t clear how yet).

Leaving the book store and working your way across the street into a park, Elizabeth finds a dying horse that she kneels down and frets over as it has been hit by gun fire or explosions and is injured. You are given a timed option of shooting the horse to move the scene on, our letting Elizabeth use her powers to try and “heal” the horse.

Elizabeth kneels down next to the horse and begins to focus her energy on it, hands together, hovering over the horses neck. In a quick motion she splits her hands apart, running them up over the head and down over the torso; at that same moment there is a burst of energy as a dimensional reality in which the horse is fine starts to spread over the dying horse. The part encompassed on the horse and the ground where Elizabeth is “pulling open” is all green/lush/new and healthy horse and the ground around it, and everything outside of this force field is burnt and dead and broken.

She looses the field and it collapses back down, leaving the horse in it’s original state. Then she tries again, spreading her reality field across the horse and most of the ground around her. Pulling into existence a reality of the horse being fine and healthy and the world in her proximity being lush, green and blooming.

Then she looses it again and that reality collapses back down and everything is back to the original burnt state.

Elizabeth grits her teeth (the player character is standing and watching this awesome sequence, but it isn’t a cutscene) and tries once more.

This time when Elizabeth violently spreads her hands, she rips a hole through time-space, splitting the world-scene into two realities. One is the war-torn park in Columbia that you were walking around in when you entered the park on the left, then a shimmering energy delineation and on the right, 1983 city-street infront of a theater with the billboard: Return of the Jedi on it.

The intensity, both emotional and graphically of this scene blew most of us in the theater away.

A firetruck comes barreling down the street towards the players as Booker yells at Elizabeth to “close it!”, referring to the rift in space-time she has created; which she does just as the firetruck is about to run her down. All of it disappearing in a puff of smoke.

At this point we figured the demo would come to a close, but instead Irrational Games took us on one of the most exciting, high-flying, roller-coaster sky-rail fights for the next 6 minutes.

If you haven’t seen the gameplay for BioShock Infinite yet, it takes place in the sky-city of Columbia which uses a system of sky rails to get around. You have a geared attachment on your arm and the ability to throw yourself great distances in the air to latch onto the sky rails to go screaming through the sky. Targeting other rails to jump on or platforms to jump off the rails onto is indicated with a light glowing spot that “snaps-to” the item you are roughly aiming at.

The game is wonderfully forgiving with Booker’s abilities to jump from rail to rail or rail to ground or back up from ground to rail as he can leap 20-30 feet to clear a gap. In addition it doesn’t seem to do drop-damage to leap 60 feet off a rail onto a platform which we thought was most excellent. It removes the concern of dying from falling and instead lets you enjoy the absolute hell out of flying through the sky like a grappling super hero.

This action sequence showed sequences of the main character stopping a public execution using a machine gun, then his plasmids and even engaging Elizabeth in the fighting.

Elizabeth’s role during fighting seems to be the ability to pull things through tears or rifts in time-space into existence that might help you. For example, during a fire-fight, you might see a fuzzy/blurry/shimmering smoke-like barrel of explosives you can have her call into existence then you can shoot it. Or you can call a turret into existence and take down airships with it.

The mechanic looks to be based on a recharge system, so you cannot just spam everything into existence. In fact there looks to be many choices at most locations at any given time of things you might want to call into existence and you can only bring one or two through.

During this fight sequence a giant military blimp, about a half mile away in the sky started to pelt us with a barrage of fireball and rockets so Booker leapt onto the sky rail and through a series of leaping off that rail onto other passing rails her eventually made his way up to the gun ship and destroyed it.

It is really hard to convey how “open world” this sequence was… I think Booker likely covered multiple square miles and 1000s (yes, thousands) of feet in altitude change during this gun fight, all though vertigo-inducing, fast-paced WONDERFUL rail jumping and sliding that looked like an absolute joy.

Like Rollercoaster Tycon on meth.

After taking down the gun ship and coming back to Elizabeth’s side, the giant mechanical satan-bird slams down on your position, throwing you through the window of a neighboring building and then tearing the roof off to come in and destroy you.

Just as the bird is about to tear you in half, Elizabeth throws herself between you and the bird and screams “I’M SORRY!”.

It is at this point that you realize the bird isn’t autonomous, but is being controlled by Elizabeth’s previous captor. She is apologizing to him, to keep him from killing you.

In a heart-breaking sequence, Elizabeth begs forgiveness from her master, prying the birds hand open and stepping into it. Asking him to “take her home”.

Only in the last moment as the bird/controller considers the thought, and then turns to fly home does she turn towards you in slow motion, tears in her eyes, and reach for you in a longing way.

But then she is ripped away from you as the bird smashes through the wall and flies out into the sky.

Booker gets up and without hesitation, runs screaming towards the broken wall, throwing himself out to grab a sky rail and go after them.

Talk about phenomenal. Irrational Games proved in BioShock 1 that they were masters of story telling and masters of character design.

I didn’t love the artistic nature of the character designs in BioShock, there was something too shiney/unrealistic about them. While I thought they were fantastic and stunning, I had a hard time hooking my pscyhe into it (even though I was riveted by the lore of the world and kept reading about it well after wards).

BioShock Infinite shows all the refinements that put the artistic styling squarely in my “absolutely beautiful” category.

A big congratulations to Irrational for what must have been an exhausting day, but was a hell of a well executed demo of some amazing work.

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  1. E3 2011 – BioShock Infinite HD Gameplay Video - June 10, 2011

    […] wrote about our impressions of the private BioShock Infinite demo that Irrational Games was showing off at E3 this year; in short we were wowwed right off our […]

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