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BioShock Infinite: Ken Levine talks us through his new dystopia

We talk to the BioShock maestro and come away in raptures...

BioShock Infinite looks bright and breezy. It's Disneyland's Main Street USA over-run by colourful characters. It's a fairy tale about a rescued Rapunzel. It's a flying city, where gorgeous buildings bob around on balloons.

Most fundamentally important of all, meanwhile, is that it's a game whose Skyline transport system almost perfectly recreates the Barclaycard advert where the bloke takes a rollercoaster to work.

More than BioShock before it, however, the thinking behind Infinite runs deep. After an hour of conversation with creative director Ken Levine the topics we covered included domestic abuse, ethnic cleansing, infanticide and revolution. The primary-coloured streets of Columbia, the blue skies around it and the cosy bosom of romantic interest Elizabeth are only the hundreds-and-thousands topping of what is, potentially, the most important and intelligent game of our generation.

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What's more, BioShock Infinite has an unnerving ability to strike close to home...

"The world of Columbia is like the world of the riot," explains Levine as we talk to him during the aftermath of urban chaos seen on the streets of England. "Think of periods of time like the LA riots or what the UK is going through right now. I don't want to make light of it, but when you normally walk down the street you don't think anybody's going to attack you, right? You don't feel that you're going to get into a conflict. In a riot, though, you don't know what's going to happen in a particular situation: you don't have confidence that you're going to be safe. At the other extreme you're not walking down the street shooting people with a machine-gun either; it's not appropriate - you're not in Stalingrad! It's a strange twilight world where you don't know what's going to set people off."

FLIGHT CONTROL

The situation Levine is discussing is an early part of the game that sees leftie rabble-rousers Vox Populi ripping their way through a posh district of Columbia - a place so proud of how American it is that the Stars and Stripes dangle at each corner and its stores sell Abraham Lincoln dolls and George Washington tupperware. As you, an agent called Booker, and rescued damsel-in-distress Elizabeth work your way through the streets, the chaos begins to mount.

A prophecy says that if Elizabeth falls then the city falls with her. So they want her dead.

"Your homes are ours! Your live's are ours! Your wives our ours! It all belongs to the Vox!" screams a lunatic, as posh gents are shoved down steps in exchange for their monocles, billboards are ignited and dead postmen - considered the tools of the oppressors - are stacked in piles. Throughout it all, however, you don't have to fire your gun. An edgy tension reigns throughout, with you only having to warily aim your pistol at snarky looters to ward them off.

Full-scale conflict only arises should you intervene, which in Levine's demonstration case comes when he interrupts the execution of the final mailman. Had he been content to watch him die it's impossible to say how much longer the tension might have brewed...

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"In BioShock you arrived after the party was over: after the struggle between Ryan and Atlas had been decided," explains Levine. "When you arrive in Columbia, Elizabeth has been trapped in this tower since she was a little girl - and you bust her out. That's essentially the catalyst that heightens the conflict. You really turn the heat up in a way that it wasn't before. The Vox Populi believe that the city is corrupt, so they want to demonstrate to the workers and the downtrodden of the world that this symbol of American imperialism has to fall. A prophecy says that if Elizabeth falls then the city falls with her. So they want her dead."

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