On the train to 2K in Windsor, I went past a school during their lunch break. I noticed a lone kid, by himself, arms outstretched, being an airplane. It struck me that I will never experience the simplicity of that kid's joy ever again in my lifetime, without having to shell out a few hundred pounds for a console and game. To say the realisation was a depressing one is somewhat of an understatement.

However, after spending three hours with Bioshock Infinite, I decided the kid can keep his make believe airplane - games like these make the mundanity of life worthwhile, if only to add contrast to the amazing experiences that can be had when playing them.

 photo bioshock-02_zpsc9b42e5d.jpgTo start with, Bioshock Infinite is a world apart from its Rapture set counterparts, and the developers pin their colours to the mast from the get go, with an opening set piece that can only be described as a masterclass in the use of imagery. You're introduced to protagonist Booker DeWitt on the open sea, two NPC's rowing him towards a lighthouse, so he can make the journey to Columbia, a city in the sky, and rescue Elizabeth. On your way to the top of the lighthouse, you're met by blood trails, quasi-religious text emblazoned on walls, and finally a series of bells that will grant you access to the aforementioned city.

In a scene reminiscent of the alien communication set piece in Spielberg's Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, the sky lights up, repeating the tolling of the bells used to gain entry to Columbia. It's absolutely breathtaking - my heart hitched in my throat with anticipation as the clouds above me throbbed in a kaleidoscope of lights and colours. It was time to take the first step on my journey.

A door opens to a room with a lone seat inside - Booker takes his seat, and is locked in place by restraints. The player's field of view is limited to a small, oval shaped port hole in door to the room, and then they are shot into the sky above at great velocity, and we get our first peek at Columbia. It appears to go on forever, a series of suspended islands in constant flux, floating through the air connected by sky rails. When we arrive, it's in a chapel of some sort filled with water and monks. The only way to gain entry is through baptism.

Now, going back to my original imagery comment, a player would have to be blind to miss the symbolism. We begin in the sea (the setting of the previous games), travel up a lighthouse (a phallic structure if ever there was one) which we are then shot out of in a capsule which limits the players view to a porthole that could very well represent the opening to a vagina. When we arrive, a baptism is required. This is symbolic of birth, or rather RE-birth. The manner of the baptism is much like that of Born Again Christians and, in my opinion at least, represents the rebirth of the franchise. This is not Rapture. This isn't even Bioshock as we know it. This is Bioshock Infinite.

Columbia itself appears, initially, as a wholesome slice of Americana. Anyone who's been to Main Street USA in Disneyworld (or any of its counterparts dotted around the globe) will recognise the setting. It's a romanticised view of how America should be, complete with popcorn and hotdog stands, men in boaters and stripy blazers, and fun fair games. The latter are a stroke of genius, as they serve as the game's tutorial. You learn the shooting controls, and how to use Vigors (Infinite's plasmid equivalent). But something is amiss in Columbia. As I wandered around the town, listening to NPCs chatter away to each other, I became unsettled. Were they staring at me? Did conversations come to an abrupt halt any time I stepped too close to certain groups? Were their eyes fixed on me no matter where I moved? It transpires that something is indeed rotten in Columbia, but I wouldn't want to give too much away.

Like the original game, Bioshock Infinite is dealing with subject matter that is usually deemed too sensitive for gamers. The Randian dystopia of Rapture has been replaced by American Exceptionalism, with a heavy nod to Nietzche's concept of the Übermensch (which is ironic give the game's setting - a group of people who've sought refuge somewhere that is literally "away" from the Earth). The story promises to be thought provoking and, at times, uncomfortable for the gamer. You will be asked to do things you won't necessarily want to, but you will be given a choice as to whether you comply, or rebel.

 photo bioshock-01_zps24c9660e.jpgOn a technical level, the build I played was exceptional. I spent my first hour just wandering around, drinking in the landscape. To use an old cliche, it's a feast for the eyes. The enemy, as well as Elizabeth's, AI is mind-blowing. Whilst taking refuge in some poor NPC's house, I avoided the front door to try and outmanoeuvre the police (I don't want to spoil WHY they're after Booker, just know that he is incredibly unpopular in Columbia), and walked out the back. I unsuccessfully found myself face to face with the militia who, instead of attacking me head on, proceeded to flank me by running through the front door, and causing the two NPCs whose house I had stumbled into to run in front of them. They had effectively created a human shield, and I am very sorry to say that I unfortunately immolated the poor couple, along with the police. In other games, I wouldn't have given the NPCs a second thought, but when I went on to explore the rooms of the house, I came across things that made me realise that they had been good and just people whose only mistake had been to step into my line of fire while I tried to defend myself. I felt genuine guilt.

As for anyone worried that they'll spend the game babysitting Elizabeth, her AI was surprisingly developed. At no point did I feel that she was a hindrance to my progress - at times she was a downright help. At one point, having thought that I'd left her behind, it turned out she was right behind me - my fears of finding her repeatedly running into a wall somewhere in the level were unfounded.

 photo bioshock-03_zps485eb3b9.jpgReturning to my initial image of the kid in the playground playing airplanes, my experience of playing the first few hours of Bioshock Infinite destroyed my cynical summation of video games in adulthood, and reinvigorated my temporarily waning love for the medium. The reason I can't experience joy pretending to be an airplane is because it's too simple a concept. My imagination needs to wrestle with new concepts merged with experiences that are impossible to come across in typical day to day life. A lot of video games will just let you be the airplane, the soldier, the race car driver, without any of the baggage that comes along with it. From my brief experience, Bioshock Infinite is not going to be one of those games. You will feel paranoid, you feel reviled and, at times, you won't have the slightest clue as to what's going on. Perhaps most important of all, with film and literature lacking the necessary interactivity needed to build a true "minds eye" empathy for the protagonist, you will experience something that can only be conveyed by the medium of video games. It was torture having to walk away from the game knowing that it would be at least two weeks until I was able to play it again.

Bioshock Infinite is released March 26th on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

Disclaimer: This preview is based on game code that may not reflect the final product (highly unlikely, but possible).