BioShock is certainly one of those generational franchises that stand alone, much like Half-Life, Portal, and Shadows of the Colossus. What I mean by that is that they’re critically acclaimed, makes tons of money, but their popularity hasn’t resulted in a slew of sequels and yearly updates like most other large franchises. In the case of BioShock, the fact that in the last six years there’s only been the original game and one well-received sequel makes anticipation for BioShock Infinite that much higher. If our 45 minute long play session is any indicator, this is going to be a solid expansion of what is becoming one of the premier franchises in gaming.

Our demo from the game picked up literally from the start of the game. You play as Booker DeWitt being paddled to a light house in a storm. When you reach the light house, it only a minute or two until you’re whisked away to the floating city of Columbia, a dystopia in waiting in the clouds. You’re tasked with finding a girl named Liz who is on the run from the totalitarian Columbian government, and may have some extraordinary powers that can help or destroy mankind. You just have to get to her first, but Comstock, Columbia's leader may have something to say about that.

Infinite definitely explores the religious, governmental, and moral themes from the first two games. However, the parallels between the destroyed Rapture of the first titles and the height of prosperity Columbia are fascinating. BioShock is a franchise that has always been built on player choice, and this time around it feels more organic and less binary like it did in the earlier titles. This one ups the pensive ante with significant early 1900’s racism and heavy religious themes.

Gone are the Big Daddies and the Little Sisters that you either killed or saved. Choices this time around are presented more naturally, with something as simple as witnessing a stage presentation where the audience members can throw baseballs at a captive inter-racial couple. The player is then given the chance to attack the couple or throw the baseball at the head of the emcee. I was told by the 2K representative at the X-Series event in Toronto that the morality system in the game is based more on making the player pause and think of their actions than a morality meter. We’ll see how successful they are when the game is released in late March, but the first 45 minutes were a smashing start to that idea.

Gameplay in Infinite is faster than ever before. You still have access to magical powers which have been renamed to spirits from the familiar plasmids. Within the demo, I was able to psychically control machines and enemies (who would blow their own brains out after the spell wore off!), and throw fire grenades from my hands. Certain elements in the environment can be used to your advantage in battle like flammable oil puddles and hackable turrets.  This was in conjunction with 1900s era weaponry like Luger pistols and Tommy Guns. Splitting the magic to the left bumpers and the weapons to the right means quick combinations of attacks which are essential during the intense gameplay. It’s smooth and the system is still ahead of the curve to this day.

New to the fray with this instalment is the ability to leap from hook to hook using a gear-like melee weapon. It’s pretty exhilarating to jump from floating island to island, and the system to do so never missed a prompt.

I was also told that once the player finds Liz, she will have a huge effect on the gameplay. She’ll be able to supplement your supplies like your magical power (increased with salts) and ammunition as well as being an invaluable asset in combat with her extreme magical powers. Give the solid AI shown by the enemies, we’re expecting that Liz will be a boon, not a hindrance in the full game.

The graphical presentation we witnessed was simply brilliant. The water, weather, and lighting effects in particular are rich, vibrant, colourful, and bring the world of Columbia to absolute life. The city streets are teeming with regular people, all of which look and sound different as they go about their day. Excellent voice acting and sound effects not only help the mood, but emphasize the heady thematic ideas that the game is so obviously pushing.

All indicators point to BioShock Infinite continuing to cement BioShock’s legacy as one of the premier franchises of this gaming generation. Find out for sure when BioShock Infinite is released world wide on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC on March 26, 2013.