Two Wildly Different Ways to Blow Up Airships in Bioshock Infinite

There's a giant mechanical bird to escape, a young lady to escort, riotous mobs to skirt, rails to clamp to and swing from through a floating city.

But I just want to hang out on a corner and people watch - such is the allure of a game fashioned by Ken Levine.

It's Bioshock Infinite's distractions, the things that keep you from short-cutting your way from opening cut scene to curtain-closing finale, that are so impressive.

In Irrational Games' 2012 action title you play as Booker Dewitt, a former Pinkerton agent tasked with finding and rescuing Elizabeth from a floating city. Dewitt is a rough man with a past. Elizabeth a naive young woman with immense powers she can barely control.

In the game's demo we see Elizabeth wander from Dewitt's side to a clearing where she crouches over a horse lying on its side, dying.

She tells Dewitt that there is a "tear" present and that she can save the horse. Dewitt warns her that she has no control over her powers, that it's dangerous. But she concentrates and a wave passes from her hands, spreading over the horse. At first this bubble in time seems to spread reluctantly, jerking to life and fading. But then she spreads it out past the horse to envelope a small island of space around her. Cityscape becomes a rolling field of grass and flowers. In the center of this island of time stands a young horse. But then the bubble collapses again, as does the horse. A final try pushes too hard at the fabric of reality, thrusting both Elizabeth and Dewitt into a future city.

It's 1983, or close to it, judging by the 1985 Tears for Fears song coming from the bar, and the movie theater nearby and its 1983 Star Wars offering. You can hear sirens in the distance, approaching. Dewitt is panicked, shouting at Elizabeth to "close it, close it. " Significantly, perhaps, the name of the movie being shown is Revenge, not Return, of the Jedi.

This ability for Elizabeth to find and interact with the "tears" scattered throughout Columbia is a major gameplay element, Levine tells us.

"You come into a combat space and see these things, and there are a bunch of opportunities to bring them into your fight," Levine explains.

That could mean bringing a building or vehicle into a fight, which you can then use as cover. Or pulling a special weapon through a tear. Sometimes, Levine says, you can pull members of the Vox Populi or Founders, the game's warring factions, into a space to distract them.

The problem is that Elizabeth doesn't have total control over these powers and she can't use them all of the time. So you have to decide how you want Elizabeth to use them and pace her use of them in your flight through the game.

It's after this bizarre run in with a future 1980s that the game's journey takes us through the heart of Columbia and I want to stop the action, to sit back and watch everything that's going on.

Two Wildly Different Ways to Blow Up Airships in Bioshock Infinite

The city is in turmoil. People wandering the street, some vaguely, others being rounded up by men in red shirts and jackets. These red-clothed men are, it turns out, the Vox Populi. The Vox uprising, spurred by the excesses of the Founders, has given way to its own violent excesses.

We see people being tormented, robbed, beaten.

One building has the words "Seized to feed the people" sprayed across it. Another says "Vox Populi reclaims this place."

When Dewitt stop to confront a large red-shirted man in the street who appears to be staring him down, the man smiles slowly at the gun pointed at him, gives Dewitt the finger and then runs off laughing.

Further into this City on the Hill there are massive tapestries hung from the tips of buildings. Movies are being projected upon these luffing red sheets, they show propaganda spoken by a stern-faced woman.

As Dewitt approaches a gathering under another hanging sheet, the projector starts up showing the forced confession of a postman. The postman stands underneath the floating tip of the tapestry, crying, begging. They're about the kill him.

When Dewitt decides to intervene, this is a player's choice and not forced, all hell breaks loose and we get our first solid glimpse of what combat in the floating city looks like.

Initially it feels like a first-person shooter, Dewitt armed with a seemingly traditional weapon firing off at a host of red-clothed bad guys. But then Elizabeth finds a tear and materializes a stage coach in the middle of the street. Dewitt scrambles for cover behind it.

Two Wildly Different Ways to Blow Up Airships in Bioshock Infinite

In the distance you see a man running to a large device on the ground and start to turn it on, but Dewitt kills him before it can get started. Dewitt thrusts his hand in front of him and uses a power to float people out from behind the cover they sought. Meanwhile an enemy has made his way to that large device and used it to fire off a signal flare. It's a flare that calls in a large dirigible loaded down with men and a rocket launcher.

What kicks off is, as I describe it in my notes, a crazy gun fight.

Unwilling to wait for Elizabeth's power to recharge, Dewitt hops onto a sky-line. Players can hop onto the metal rails anywhere in the city, attaching to the sky-rail by a device attached to one arm, and dangle their way around Columbia. You can also hop off at any time, opening up the concept of open world gameplay.

In this case, Dewitt decides to stay on the rail as he zips around the city, shooing at enemies in front and behind him on the sky-line as well as clusters of bag guys on the ground that he slides by. The sky-line sounds and looks a bit like hanging from the underside of an old metal roller coaster. Dewitt jumps between ever rising rails, until he's high enough in the city to jump from a rail and land on the side of the airship. He takes guards out, working his way inside the ship to blow up a generator, and then jumps from the ship.

His free fall is interrupted by a painful grab of the sky-line, injuring him slightly, and a rough landing on the ground.

The entire sequence of timed jumps, gun battles on the sky-line and the preposterous jump of fate onto a final rail was stunning. More stunning, though, is that it's unnecessary.

Levine later confirms that you don't have to go through all of that to take the ship down.

"You don't have to take on the blimp in a certain way," he says. "I always liked in Star Wars: Battlefront 2 how you could shoot a ship down or you could land on it and blow it up from the inside."

So in Levine's game he made sure that you could have simply hung back and waited for Elizabeth to pull a gun from a tear and taken the dirigible down from the ground. That amazing, riotous, frenetic gun battle was driven entirely by choice.

An open world without major payoffs delivered with every decision isn't the sort of place I'd want to spend a lot of time. But that isn't a concern here.

Levine also points out that, as promised, those skylines, which can be used by Dewitt, Elizabeth and your enemies, aren't just a mode of travel, they're a combat tool too.

Bioshock Infinite is expected out next year.