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Bioshock Infinite

12 for 2012: getting high on Irrational's new Bioshock

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If Columbia's as bashed-up as Rapture was, I can't see it staying airborne for long.

It's in much better nick, we're glad to say. Players visited the underwater city long after Andrew Ryan's ego, Fontaine's machinations and a society-wide addiction to genetic engineering had twisted the place into a deathtrap. Columbia also has troubles, but they aren't as advanced.

The city was built - or rather, launched - in 1900 by the US government as an exercise in nation-building, a sort of mobile Worlds Fair. It was subsequently weaponised by ultranationalists and disavowed by its parent country after firing on Chinese warships during the Boxer Rebellion. Yep, Ryan isn't the only Bioshock character with delusions of grandeur.

At the time of your arrival, the city is embroiled in a civil war between Z.M. Comstock's Founders, savage patriots turned mystics who venerate America's Founding Fathers as living gods, and the Vox Populi worker's army led by the fanatical Daisy Fitzroy, modelled on the leftwing terror organisation Baader-Meinhof group, active in Germany from 1970 to 1998. We've seen rather a lot of Fitzroy's gang in trailer footage - they're the ones in red, executing mob justice on suspected nobs and toffs, slopping red propaganda graffiti over storefronts and firebombing the Stars and Stripes...

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Slow down, adventurer. Who is Bioshock: Infinite's lead character, and what is he, she or it doing there?

You step into the shoes of Booker DeWitt, a disgraced Pinkerton agent hired by unknown parties to rescue a woman named Elizabeth. He's the first Bioshock protagonist to have a voice - care of Troy Baker, whose acting credits include Brothers in Arms, Modern Warfare 2, Final Fantasy XIII and Batman - and as you'd expect from a former member of one of history's most legendary private security operators, he's pretty hard to rattle. Columbia gives it a jolly good go, though.

And Elizabeth?

She's Booker's psychological opposite, fresh of face and hopeful of manner (and rather prominent of mammary gland, though Levine says he's disappointed by the way internet pundits have lingered on this). As the game begins she's spent the past twelve years in the custody of a massive, incredibly touchy mecha-beast known as the Songbird. Their relationship is hard to place - filial at times, bordering on the romantic at others - as is the Songbird's origin and nature: is he an automaton? A man in a giant winged diving suit? Take that fine cleft chin of yours in hand and give it a good stroking.

Irrational has yet to explain why Elizabeth's in captivity, either, though we can hazard a guess: besides a mesmerising stare, she's equipped with the ability to rip open "tears" in our reality and pull objects through - handy when you're short of things to blow up, hide behind or feed into your gun, but a gift she can't quite control. The most dramatic manifestation of her powers to date comes early on in the E3 demo, when Elizabeth's attempts to resuscitate a wounded horse teleport her and Booker to a version of 1983. Thankfully for those of us who can't stand Return of the Jedi - originally titled Revenge of the Jedi, by the way - she's able to reverse the flow.

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Elizabeth believes Comstock, leader of the Founders, gave her these powers, and refuses to leave Columbia till she learns the truth. This is good news for Comstock, who intends to use her to put Vox Populi out of commission, and almost as good news for Vox Populi, who believe Elizabeth's death will bring about Columbia's fall. Booker thus faces three separate threats once he finds and liberates Elizabeth: the raving rightwingers, the loony lefties, and a massive bird-man capable of tearing masonry to pieces with his bare hands. Hope they're paying him enough for this.

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