E3 2011 – BioShock Infinite Looks Great, But Also Like It’s On Rails

A World of Rails on Rails

To say I was impressed by Irrational’s live demo is a massive understatement. The game looks deep and interesting, beautiful and merciless. The entire presentation was an exciting romp and a great cross-section of what the adventure through Columbia could be like — tense, enigmatic, frightening and challenging, testing players on how they’ll choose to interact with the various forces in the world.

Well, maybe “choose” isn’t the right word.

I can’t say for certain what BioShock Infinite really feels like, but all preliminary signs in these early demos and trailers suggest a game where the player is the follower, not the leader. The demo is filled with dialog moments between DeWitt and Elizabeth and exchanges of significant looks, with important objects showing up and scripted events occurring all around the player: so much so that one wonders how Irrational expects a player to know to look at them all. Unless, of course, Irrational isn’t leaving it up to you.

As the demo progressed, it seemed more and more that Infinite could be holding players’ hands to a pretty intense degree. Songbird’s initial attack, the fight with the dirigible, the time tear with the horse, the interlocking rail system — without having rehearsed the demo or having been privy to insider knowledge of what will happen and where, it seems next to impossible for the player to get the experience Irrational has designed on his or her own. Even the interaction between Elizabeth and DeWitt, integral to the story, seems so plotted that players will need to be in the right places and looking the right directions for the interactions and dialog to feel natural.

Final Thoughts: It Still Looks Damn Cool

But even as Infinite gives the impression of a world on rails, sweeping you along through the game, it still seems like it’ll be a great ride. The story conception and the characters already seem full-fledged and engaging, with the relationship between DeWitt, Elizabeth and Songbird at the forefront of a story that will hopefully be as thoughtful as Irrational’s last entry into the series.

And then there’s combat. Combining the Sky-Line system, powerful weapons and some semblance of plasmids at DeWitt’s disposal along with Elizabeth’s abilities to alter reality, Infinite is going to have a lot going on and players are going to have quite a few options for dealing with any given situation. It’s fast and frenetic, and the rail system opens up speed and movement in a ton of different directions.

But without actually playing with it, effectively using the rails and the other elements at DeWitt’s disposal seems incredibly abstract. During the demo, DeWitt leaps from rail to rail in fast succession and somehow ends up back where he’d started — but following the path was next to impossible, and seems even more difficult to plot in the middle of a bunch of guys and airships trying to murder you.

So I don’t really know. Infinite looks like a great, enthralling world and I’m extremely eager to become a part of it. But I worry about how it plays, and whether it will feel like a video game or a movie shot from a first-person perspective. From what I’ve seen so far, somehow, I doubt I’ll be the camera man in that scenario, and I’m becoming increasingly concerned I’ll instead be just a viewer, sitting on a couch.

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