Bioshock Infinite's floating city of Columbia soars at E3

Bioshock abandons rapture for cloud city of Columbia

Bioshock Infinite takes to the skies at E3.

Bioshock 2 split opinions like a bloodied cleaver. On the one hand, it was more of the same: more hulking big daddies, more skulking little sisters, more would-be despots battling for control of the people and more of the tragically failed underwater paradise that was Rapture. On the other, while splashing through the city's dank corridors for a second time was every bit as haunting as the series first outing, it raised a question: what else can 2K do?

Bioshock Infinite's answer is a 180-degree turn in the other direction: up. Gone is the cold blue pallette of the underwater city of Rapture - in Bioshock Infinite, the sky is bright, the sun is shining and the steampunk floating city of Columbia is gloriously colourful. Floating high above the ground suspended by giant hot air balloons, it is as marked a departure from the ocean floor as could possibly be imagined, without setting it on the moon.

Speaking at E3 with expo partners Gametrailers.com, Irrational Games creative director Kevin Levine revealed that it's not just the elevation that's changed in Bioshock Infinite. While players of the first two Bioshocks arrived in the gameworld in the aftermath of terrible and bloody revolution, Levine promised fans that this time around, the idyllic environment will crumble and collapse into anarchy around them.

The city of Columbia itself is set to be just as much of a character in itself as Andrew Ryan's failed Utopia ever was. Before the revolution, Columbia was reportedly a celebration of man's industriousness; a floating city and a nation unto itself. But sometime prior to the events of Bioshock Infinite, something went amiss, and Columbia disappeared, sighted only occaisionally in passing as it drifted around the world.

Players take up the mantle of Booker DeWitt, a private investigator type tasked with boarding Columbia and bringing back a young woman named Elizabeth, who is stranded there. As you arrive, Columbia's the revolution is in full swing, with the poor attacking the rich as you fight to pick up Elizabeth's trail. The streets are being desecrated, with the revolutionaries hanging red shrouds of their leader - a mysterious Daisy Fitzroy reminiscent of Bioshock's Atlas - over perceived symbols of the rich's power. Scrawled in what might be red paint are anti-establishment slogans - "tools of the oppressors" painted on the steps of a post office, "our voice will be heard" across a burning airship.

Elizabeth, once found, is herself no slouch when the going gets violent. Imprisoned for most of her life for reasons she doesn't know, her one friend is a monstrous, winged creature called the 'songbird', which seems intent on returning her to her prison tower, killing anything that stands in its way. She's also in posession of some rather destructive psychic powers reminiscent of the orignal Bioshocks' plasmids, E3 footage showing her using telekinesis to fuse sundry metal objects together into a molten ball of iron, which she hands to the player.

"Hands" is a bit of a misnomer. Booker DeWitt makes use of his own telekinetic powers, which can be augmented or swapped using Bioshock's traditional system of tonics, which in Infinite are literally drunk from ornate, perfume-style tonic bottles. The combat gameplay is true to the original, with the player switching between destructive plasmid powers and vintage firearms to slog their way through an onslaught of deranged attackers in their bid to escape Columbia and rescue Elizabeth.

Irrational Games' world of Columbia is colourful and bloody, with ever so slightly cartoon-y graphics that make it look like a grimly realised fairy tale. We can't wait to get stranded in it.

Bioshock Infinite will be released sometime in 2012. In the meantime, check out the new E3 trailer below, and stay tuned to T3.com for all the latest E3 news.