BioShock Infinite is an upcoming first-person shooter video game, and the third game in the BioShock series. Previously known as "Project Icarus", it is being developed by Irrational Games for a 2012 release on the Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 platforms. BioShock Infinite is not a direct sequel/prequel to previous BioShock games, taking place at a previous time and different setting, though features similar gameplay concepts from these games. The player controls a former Pinkerton agent, Booker DeWitt, as he attempts to rescue a woman trapped aboard the collapsing air-city Columbia in 1912.
The primary setting of BioShock Infinite is a city suspended in the air by giant blimps and balloons, called "Columbia", named in homage of the 'female personification' of the United States. Unlike the secret development of the underwater city of Rapture, Columbia was built and launched in 1900 by the American government to much fanfare and publicity. The city was meant to symbolize the ideas of exceptionalism; the reveal trailer for the game alludes to the 1893 Worlds Fair which is historically considered to be the emergence of American exceptionalism. On the surface, Columbia appeared to be designed as a floating 'Worlds Fair' that could travel across the globe; however, some time after its launch but before the game's events, the city was revealed to be a well-armed battleship, and became involved in an "international incident". The city was disavowed by the United States government, and the location of the city was soon lost to everyone else.
As a result of the city's isolation, a civil war eventually broke out on Columbia between different factions of citizens, each trying to seize control of the city from the powers-that-be. At the time of the game's events, only two main factions remain. One are the remnants of those retaining power over the city, whose spokesperson is an ultranationalist politician named Saltonstall. This is the city's ruling class, which seeks to keep Columbia purely for American citizens while denying foreigners the same privileges. The other is a group named Vox Populi (Latin for "voice of the people"), a rag-tag resistance group opposed to the ultranationalists. The Vox Populi is formed from several factions with similar ideologies that fought to seize control and restore the rights of Columbia citizenship to all. However, years of war and struggle have driven the Vox Populi to fight the powers-that-be solely out of blind hatred, resulting in more violent and brutal methods and leading to subfactions in the group.
Like Rapture, Columbia is considered a failed utopia, but with signs present suggesting a theocratic government taking control at some point, and similar racial-purification concepts such as Nazism, jingoism, and xenophobia. One of the items in the press packages for the game included a tag that would purportedly be worn by immigrants aboard Columbia, requiring those of non-European and Irish descent to list out numerous details, including religious affiliation and data relating to eugenics; another item was a Columbia propaganda poster that warned "We must all be vigilant to ensure the purity of our people.” Columbia has been compared to a cross between steampunk and the Star Wars Bespin cloud city, as well as the airships of Final Fantasy settings though Irrational's Ken Levine has compared the weaponized city to the Death Star.
The events of the game take place in 1912. The player assumes the identity of Booker DeWitt, a disgraced former agent of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, who was dismissed for behavior beyond the acceptable bounds of the Agency. He is hired by mysterious individuals, aware of Columbia's location, and tasked to invade the air-city and rescue a young woman named Elizabeth, who has been held aboard the air-city for the last twelve years. Though DeWitt finds Elizabeth easily enough, he quickly discovers that Elizabeth is central to the civil war raging in the city as each faction seeks to use Elizabeth to turn the tide of the conflict in their favor, forcing DeWitt and Elizabeth to trust each other in order to escape. To complicate matters, the pair is chased by "Him", a large, robotic bird-like creature who had been Elizabeth's friend over the last twelve years of her imprisonment.
A strange, but unexplained, shimmering effect seen by DeWitt as in the gameplay demo footage causes momentary changes to pictures, banners, and people, but the mystery behind these is yet to be explained. Furthering this mystery is the presence of possible anachronisms; for example in the gameplay demo footage, a record player in a bar plays a woman singing the lyrics to Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World".
Though the game takes place before the events of the previous two BioShock games (occurring in 1960 and 1970), Irrational Games has not confirmed if BioShock Infinite shares the same universe with these titles; Ken Levine left the question of the possibility unanswered in an interview stemming from the game's announcement.
BioShock Infinite is a first person shooter with role-playing game elements similar to the previous two games. As DeWitt, the player moves about the various structures of Columbia using a grappling hook, a series of railways connecting the buildings called the Skyline, and other transport means to search for Elizabeth. The player will gain weapons which can be used in numerous ways within the environment, including on the Skyline, to defeat enemies. DeWitt gains powers and abilities by using vigors and nostrums that are found through Columbia, the equivalent of BioShock's plasmids and tonics. Vigors grant activated powers such as telekinesis, electricity manipulation, or animal control (as seen by the manipulation of a flock of crows within the gameplay demo), while nostrums are passive abilities that can improve the player's strength or damage resistance. Unlike BioShock in which the player was able to use special Gene Banks to alter the loadout of plasmids and tonics they had, the choice to imbibe a certain vigor or nostrum is permanent and cannot be changed later in the game, placing emphasis on the consequences of the player's choices throughout the game.
Once reunited with Elizabeth, who also has a set of such powers, the player must work together with her to escape Columbia. For example, Elizabeth can create a localized rainstorm on foes, which the player, as DeWitt, can then fire upon with an electricity-based attack, electrocuting the foes. The player will not be directly in control of Elizabeth, but instead she will react to the player and the current situation in a manner similar to the AI Director in Left 4 Dead, according to Levine. However, using Elizabeth's powers also harms her, an action compared to the choice of killing or saving the Little Sisters from the previous games. The player will need to protect Elizabeth, but will not need "to babysit and hand-hold" her through the game. Several different forces are at work opposed to the player's progress within the city. Furthermore, the player and Elizabeth are chased by both Him, who is attempting to snatch Elizabeth from the player, and the Handymen (originally named Alpha), robotic-like monsters housing a human heart and head and with the ability to heal weaker units.
The Skyline is a rail-based system (originally designed for moving cargo around Columbia but later used for personnel transport) similar to the concept found in the Ratchet & Clank games and described by Levine as "a roller coaster, over another roller coaster, over another roller coaster"; players activate a wrist-mounted tool that DeWitt and other enemies wear to jump and hang onto the self-powered tracks. Players can jump onto, off of, and between Skyline tracks at any time, and may face enemies that use the system to attack; the player can use weapons in DeWitt's free hand to defend the character. The freedom of movement along the Skyline allows for several varieties of combat, including flanking, cover, and area-of-effect attacks through creative uses of the system.
Irrational Games has stated that the game's set pieces are not heavily scripted; this statement was made in response to reaction to a gameplay preview video released during the week of September 21, 2010, which, within ten minutes, demonstrated numerous elements of the game. The development team called the game's pacing "like BioShock 1", and that while there will be some scripted set pieces, the developers want the player to be able to explore Columbia at their own pace. Unlike Jack or Delta, the silent protagonists of BioShock and BioShock 2 respectively, and who are guided by radio commands from a third party, DeWitt will be a vocal character, with dialogue designed to aid the player in leading DeWitt to complete his mission.
At the present time, Irrational Games has not committed to including a multiplayer element within the game. While the team will experiment with concepts for a multiplayer element, Levine has stated that they would only proceed forward if it is something new not otherwise found in other, more successful multiplayer games like Halo or Call of Duty.