BioShock Infinite: 10-minute gameplay video, Ken Levine talks combat

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You’ve seen the debut trailer for BioShock Infinite. You’ve read Creative Director Ken Levine’s thoughts on expanding the award-winning formula of BioShock from the murky depths of Rapture to the soaring heights of Columbia. You’ve even bookmarked the 10 Things You Should Know About BioShock Infinite article on

What’s left? Watching 10 uninterrupted minutes of BioShock Infinite gameplay video, of course. Get to it!

Irrational Games’ Ken Levine was good enough to return to the PlayStation.Blog and answer more questions about BioShock Infinite’s gameplay. While nitty-gritty details such as control layouts and weapon arsenals are still over the horizon — the game isn’t due out until 2012, after all — Levine was able to shed light on a host of topics including the rollercoaster ride that is Sky-Line combat, long-range sniping in Columbia’s broad vistas, and how the mysterious companion Elizabeth makes for a potent partner.

Sid Shuman: How does BioShock Infinite build on and evolve the classic gameplay of BioShock? What were your broad goals?

Ken Levine, Creative Director, BioShock Infinite: Players had access to a lot of different tools in BioShock, but the game’s deliberately claustrophobic environments and relatively low enemy counts meant that a lot of combat encounters ended up playing out in similar ways. There were plenty of opportunities for players to make fuller use of their toolset, but it was also possible to just take the path of least resistance much of the time–which usually meant Electro-Bolt and shotgun.

In BioShock Infinite, we want the range of combat encounters to live up to the diverse toolset of weapons and powers. There are, of course, those small scale BioShock-esque interiors. But there are also the breathtaking, expansive outdoor locations you would expect in a huge floating city. Instead of just fighting a few enemies at once, you could be facing more than a dozen. Area effect weapons matter because you might face many enemies at once, and crowd control abilities matter because there are crowds to control.

SS: How do the crowds of enemies change BioShock Infinite’s combat style and pacing?

KL: There’s a famous saying: “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That’s kind of how it was in the original BioShock. You walked down a tight, restricted corridor with Electrobolt in one hand and a shotgun in the other, and that was an effective way to deal with most of the enemies. There are obviously going to be some different weapons in BioShock Infinite, and also more weapons. You’re not going to be restricted to just the eight weapons of your radial.

One of the reasons we wanted to really expand the scale of the environment and the number of enemies was to create situations where certain tools would have clear strengths and weaknesses based upon what you were up against. There is no perfect combination or an ideal set of tools, and there’s going to be a larger variety of weapons and powers. We wanted to show that even familiar weapons like the shotgun are not always the right tool for the job. And the sniper rifle–unlike BioShock’s crossbow–actually has a specific function because of the extreme scale of our environments.

BioShock Infinite for PS3: Shotgun

SS: Not all of Columbia’s citizens are automatically hostile to your presence. How does this affect BioShock Infinite gameplay? Can you influence them to help you in any way?

KL: Columbia is much more alive and vibrant than Rapture. In BioShock, Rapture was functional to a degree, but its population was pretty far gone. Columbia is a city that hasn’t completely collapsed. As you saw in the demo, people won’t necessarily attack you on sight.

BioShock games are shooters, but they aren’t just shooters. A lot of what players loved about the original BioShock was exploring Rapture and uncovering the secrets of its past. That’s something we want to take even further with Columbia in BioShock Infinite, and part of achieving that is increasing the types of interactions the player has with characters and the world.

SS: The telekinesis-like ability seen in the new video appears to be much improved since BioShock. How will players be able to use it to their advantage during combat?

KL: If there is a power that’s similar to previous BioShock games, you can be certain it’s been enhanced in a meaningful way. For instance, the power you discussed allows you not just the ability to grab objects from foes and pick up objects in the world — as you saw, you can do things like turn somebody’s own weapon against him (amongst other cool crap we’ll be discussing later!).

BioShock Infinite for PS3: Elizabeth

SS: Elizabeth is able to amplify the player’s abilities in certain situations — will these sequences be primarily limited to combat?

KL: Elizabeth can definitely have a big impact on gameplay–if and when you want her to. Her main gameplay role is to provide the player with interesting opportunities to combine her abilities with yours. When she offers those opportunities, the player can take advantage of them or not. You saw a few examples of those in the gameplay video, such as when she generated a rainstorm for the player to exploit with Electro-Bolt. But in all of those instances, the player could have ignored her offer and dispatched the enemies through any other means at his disposal. One thing Elizabeth is NOT, however, is somebody you need to babysit and hand-hold.

Of course, Elizabeth also serves a crucial narrative role. Her presence is central to the player’s mission in Columbia, and to the nature of Columbia itself. But those mysteries will need to wait.

SS: How does Sky-Line combat work? Will the player primarily use his wrench while traversing Sky-Lines, or will other weapons be available as well?

KL: Imagine being on a roller coaster, over another roller coaster, over another roller coaster. Imagine being able to jump freely from one roller coaster to the next. Then imagine people are shooting at you. And you’re shooting at them. That’s the experience of being on the Sky-Lines.

You might choose to take on enemies at extremely long range while traveling on Sky-Lines, or you might engage in close combat. You might do both in quick succession. You can jump between criss-crossing Sky-Line routes, allowing you to instantly change direction and evade or outflank enemies. Sky-Lines are there to expand your tactical options, not dictate them.

BioShock Infinite for PS3: Sky-Line

BioShock Infinite for PS3: Saltinstall BioShock Infinite for PS3: Columbia Skylines

SS: Columbia is a city in the sky. How do the wide-open spaces impact the combat?

KL: The range of environments in BioShock Infinite lends itself much better to the game’s broad toolset. In previous BioShock games, there weren’t really visible distances vast enough to take advantage of weapons like the crossbow. In BioShock Infinite, you could take a shot at an enemy situated on an entirely separate floating city block, across an expanse of sky.

SS: BioShock Infinite is set during the early 20th century. Did the time period inspire the weapon arsenal? What kinds of firearms can players look forward to?

KL: BioShock Infinite will have more weapons than previous BioShock games, which is important in terms of addressing the broader range of encounters the game supports. Obviously, many of those will be very much inspired by weaponry of the time, but there will also be plenty of other more unique tools we’re not talking about just yet.

SS: BioShock was noted for its weapon modifications. Will BioShock Infinite follow suit with weapon mods, and will there be more depth or player choice to the process?

KL: There are a variety of customization options players will have to shape their character to their own play style. While we’re not talking about the specifics of those systems just yet, I can say we’re interested in furthering the idea of permanence in character choices. Many of the decisions you make with respect to your character’s abilities will have a long-term effect on how you play the game.

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