Last Thursday, about as unexpectedly as you can possibly get in this industry, Irrational Games announced their new project, Bioshock Infinite. Along with the announcement came a new trailer that gave everyone a glimpse of what this game had in store. There are many things we could talk about in this trailer, but breaking things down, there are a few large, noticeable things that probably stand out from the pack.
This game isn’t photo-realistic. Unlike both Bioshock and Bioshock 2, it seems Irrational, in this particular situation, isn’t going for photo-realism. As the character is falling in the trailer, he is caught for a moment by a woman with seemingly mysterious powers. As the camera approaches her, you notice very plainly that her features appear more Pixar animated than anything else.
Ken Levine, Bioshock originator and founder of Irrational Games, told Gamers With Jobs that there was a method to his madness.
“A movie uses photorealism quite often because it’s free. We don’t get a cost benefit for being photorealistic, it’s the same reason Pixar’s not photorealistic, you just end up creepy. There’s no need to be photorealistic and I think it’s kind of a cop out. I’d much rather play a game that’s stylized.”
Preach on, Mr. Levine. Too many games get stuck on this “OMG I HAS TO LOOK REALZ” idea. Stylistic games tend to draw me in more, because it seems more artsy to me, more expressive, more creative. A stylistic game of a genre I’m not too fond of has brought me into that genre and got me to play it. Borderlands is a good example – a stylistic shooter with RPG elements. The art style was simply awesome. I’m also not a huge fan of strategy RPGs, yet I absolutely loved Valkyria Chronicles, and a big part of that was the stylistic animation. I’m also not a huge action game junkie, but when I look at upcoming titles like Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, the art style just makes me want to play it.
While I didn’t particularly enjoy Bioshock and I haven’t even touched Bioshock 2, this iteration does that to me, it makes me want to play, simply because of the art style, and that is a big first step.
On a similar note, there are some noticeable differences in overall mood and feel between Bioshock Infinite and previous entries in the franchise. Obviously in the first two games you were underwater, things were dark and murky. When I played the first game I was constantly on edge with an eerie fascination as I moved about Rapture.
While this trailer starts off with an undersea teaser, it quickly opens up to a bright and colorful world, showcasing the sky city of Columbia, which floats above the United States in the 1910s. So, now instead of worrying about drowning every five seconds, are we going to be worried about falling to our death? This city, while seemingly rainbows and ponies, as the exterior visual leads you to believe, most definitely isn’t all that. Again, Ken Levine breaks it down for us.
“Something terrible happens, this is not a floating world’s fair. Columbia is a Death Star.”
So, now we’re on a floating Death Star surrounded by bright, cheery colors. At least we’ll die happy, right? In fact, Columbia seems to look more like something out of a Final Fantasy title than anything else – this includes the visual style, the colors, the presentation, everything. This can’t be a bad thing.
The girl with the strange powers. As I mentioned earlier, toward the end of the trailer, as the character we’re following falls through the air, he’s caught for a moment by a mysterious power. The camera pans around and we see a girl. My bet is that this girl is named Elizabeth, and she is the person your character, Booker DeWitt, is sent there to find, according to the information released by Irrational Games.
These mysterious powers – what are they and what role will they have in the game? Why do I say they’re any sort of “powers” in the first place? Well, other than the obvious that she stops you in midair and pulls you toward her in the trailer, there are game play mechanics behind this, as well. She will be your constant companion through your adventure in Columbia and will help you out in many different ways. But, it seems, she won’t be your typical sidekick. Ken Levine, once more:
“She is there to enable things that are of a scale that you just couldn’t do in Bioshock 1.”
Of course, she’ll be there for your typical, run-of-the-mill sidekick stuff, like helping you fend of hoards of enemies, helping you through puzzles, giving you advice on which cologne to wear that day, etc. But one of the big things the team at Irrational seems to want to get through to the player this time around is that neither DeWitt nor Elizabeth are super-humans. They’re just like you and me and the situations they will be facing are extraordinary. They will require a lot of effort and perseverance to face and make it through the extreme challenges that are thrown toward you in Columbia.
Using Elizabeth will help you both survive, but that comes with a price. Using her too much will cause her to drop to the floor, with blood trickling out of her mouth. I suppose this is notice to the player that this is an extreme physical and mental challenge, these two moving through Columbia and staying alive.
My only hope personally is that this is conveyed to the player in more ways than just a visual, because we’ve seen that before. I think the idea is to make the player connect with these characters on an emotional level and perhaps even generate some empathy for their plight and the extreme situations they’re facing. Isn’t that the point of any good game that is heavily story-based?
There is a lot we can discern from this trailer, but visual style and perhaps the nature of some characters sits front and center in my mind. I still think the trailer is pretty awesome to watch, even though I’ve seen it half a dozen times already in preparation for this article and just as a fan of the story and mythos built in the first Bioshock title. I’m not a shooter guy, but I do look forward to the lore, story and art style in this game, so it is definitely on my radar.