Video game teasers tend to stick to a certain formula: dazzle the viewer with awesome graphics, show off some of the games’ abilities and maybe dribble a little story out to tantalize would-be players. But every so often, one piece of video-centric marketing will float above the rest or sink to join the sludge.
In Clip Analysis, I’ll be looking at trailers, teasers and just about any game-related video in an effort to call out what works and what doesn’t in terms of communicating a particular game’s coolness.
This time, I’ll be taking a look at the “Bringing It Home” trailer for the first “BioShock” game and the announcement teaser for its spiritual successor “BioShock Infinite.”
Three years is close to an eternity in video game chronology. Even if a game’s lucky enough to be successful, the awareness of all the marketing, giveaways and commercials tends to fall away and only the memories of the play experience remain, left to shine the brightest. That arc still holds true for a game as beloved as “BioShock.”
“BioShock” became an exemplar of that class of games known as the thinking man’s shooter, a category fleshed out by other classic games like “Half-Life 2” and “Portal,” among others. Part of what earned “BioShock” the thinking man’s designation was its willingness to go back in time and to weave philosophical underpinnings into a twisty, well-built narrative.
So, when the “BioShock Infinite” teaser rolled for the first time last Wednesday, there were clearly bits of it designed to tantalize players with bits of familiarity.
• The first few seconds of the “BioShock Infinite” clip go out of their way to seem like Rapture, the failed undersea utopia “BioShock” was set in. The air bubbles and wet camera lens, panning along the ocean floor. The submerged skyline, backlit and ominous. The lone fish, naively swimming along. And, of course, the statuette of a Big Daddy-the unforgettable guardians of Rapture’s Little Sisters-crushed under the boot of a new, possibly more dangerous enemy.
• In both clips, the first-person assault doesn’t just serve as visceral signifier of the game’s point-of-view; it also provides a pain-filled tour of the game’s environment. The “BioShock” clip at least allows you the illusion of power, first by showing you stalking a Little Sister and then by showing the abilities you’ll use in combat. But the character’s switch from predator to prey is quick, as he falls to another Big Daddy.
• Though you may not know his name, you immediately get the sense of the hero character in “Infinite,” too. This guy isn’t the armed-to-the-teeth soldier of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” or the “Halo” games . Whatever abilities or weapons that we may learn about later, the protagonist is outmatched and out of his depth (pun intended) and will likely be for most of the game.
• Columbia only finally comes into view as the man who’s presumably lead character Booker DeWitt gets vigorously defenestrated. The glass window stands in for the expectations viewers probably had, and both get beautifully shattered. And, right after seeing the steampunk cyborg’s heart, you get thrown into the heart of the floating city. Where the original “BioShock” clip slides along slowly to let the mystery of Rapture seep in, the “Infinite” teaser barrels through Columbia, slowing down only twice.
• The propaganda poster reveals just what kind of place Columbia is: unkind to strangers (even if they’re babies) and obsessed with purity and exceptionalism. The fact that you see this placard as you’re plummeting earthward just further drives the point home: you don’t belong here. Signage gets used for foreshadowing in the “BioShock” trailer, too, in the form of the neon ‘Drugs’ and ‘KNO Radio’ advertisements. They foretell how you’ll be injecting yourself with plasmids (which show up at 2:00) to get new powers and how much of the story gets narrated through audio recordings that you find during the game. The voice narrating the trailer’s first minute is that of Rapture’s founder Andrew Ryan, who’s extremely important to the player’s character.
• Elizabeth-the woman Booker’s been sent to retrieve-is the one who telekinetically stops his fall. She looks pretty similar to Walt Disney’s vision of Snow White. Now, I have personal suspicions about “BioShock Infinite” that this design stirs up. I think that Elizabeth may not be as snowy as her design may suggest. But that’s just my own rampant speculation.
• Hands reaching out appear in both trailers. In “BioShock,” it’s Big Daddy and Little Sister and, in “Infinite,” it’s Booker and Elizabeth. There’s a symbiotic relationship between the characters in both games, but in “Infinite” that symbiosis will come out in the actual gameplay.
Of course, the benefit of hindsight informs how the “BioShock” trailer looks now. But, the “Infinite” clip teases possible continuity connections to back to the Irrational Games studio’s classic first-person effort. We’ll certainly get more clues as the march towards the expected 2012 release of “Bioshock Infinite” continues.