‘BioShock Infinite': Video game preview has a few things we need to know

March 01, 2013 | 2:16 p.m.
A screenshot from "Bioshock: Infinite." Credit: 2k Games

A screenshot from “Bioshock Infinite.” (2k Games)

With the March 26 release of “BioShock Infinite” approaching, Hero Complex sat down with developer Irrational Games to preview the game.  By way of an older build of the PC version of the game, we experienced “Infinite’s” opening hour — identical in content to the game as it will be released.

The preview offers several takeaways for fans, as well as those still on the fence about the long-awaited “BioShock” successor.

“BioShock” is serious about race, religion and politics:  It’s important to underscore that “BioShock’s” cultural and political commentary — heavily featured in trailers, previews and promotional footage — is inextricable from the overall experience. The opening hour features a celebration of the removal of the “vipers of the Orient,” a devilish depiction of President Abraham Lincoln, a forced baptism, and enemies dressed similar to the Ku Klux Klan.

The original “BioShock” had heavy political undercurrents,  and the sequel (not developed by Irrational) looked at communal liberalism and psychology. But “BioShock Infinite” puts jarring, offensive and disturbing imagery at the forefront. Most games focus early-game content on hand-holding tutorials instead of throwing the player headlong into a group condemnation of an interracial couple, much less giving players the ability to take part.

The “BioShock” core is intact:  The foundation of the game is very much like that of the first and second “BioShock,” with the metallic clank of the objectives popping on-screen as well as the ability to recover “voxophones” (world-building audio diaries) and the inclusion of “vigors,” similar to the power-pumping serums called plasmids in the original game.

RPG elements abound: Let’s hope you became used to numbers popping out of your enemies in Borderlands, because the integration of RPG standbys in shooters continues with “BioShock.” Smack a guy in the face? Congrats – around 270 damage. Shoot someone in the head? A red-lettered “critical!” notification pops up. Want a persistent character, complete with interchangeable gear selection? You’ve got it.

[Updated, 6:31 a.m. March 5: In the final build of the game, the damage indications can be toggled on and off.]

A health system a la “Halo: Combat Evolved”: Very early in the game, you’re given a shield device by two mysterious characters, and instantly the gunplay that had been based on hesitation and restraint becomes a little more confident.  The shield is quickly dispatched, particularly if you’re not looking out for turrets, but it does provide an extra layer of recharging life on top of your preexisting health bar (which still requires item consumption to be refilled).

Enemy AI: It’s important to note that the version of the game played Wednesday was months old, and not necessarily representative of the bug fixes and tweaks made in the final version. But nonetheless, the enemy AI (artificial intelligence) in “BioShock” still had some strange difficulties navigating level terrain, finding itself caught behind open doors, or at times the AI just gave up, standing idle regardless of the player’s actions.

There are still plenty of questions lingering about “BioShock Infinite”: Will the game keep its alternate-history version of early-1900s America, with its revivalist religious themes and backward-thinking racial theories? Or will it take a more bizarre turn, as hinted at in trailers featuring portals to a universe where “Return of the Jedi” is called “Revenge of the Jedi”? How well will the inclusion of AI partner Elizabeth (who was absent in the preview) work in the final product? And will the gameplay maintain a fresh mix of sandbox-style enemy encounters and scripted, atmospheric moments?

Hero Complex will eventually answer all of that and more once the game launches and our review goes live, but at least from the preview version of the game, “BioShock: Infinite” retains the mix of off-putting extremist ideologies as well as the world-building and competent first-person shooter gameplay of the original seminal release.

– Morgan Little / @mlittledc

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