Irrational Games' secret Project Icarus is unveiled as BioShock Infinite

The unveiling of Project Icarus from Irrational Games is certain to hook the attention of hardcore gamers. Stories hitting now show that the game will be called BioShock Infinite, shipping in 2012.

It’s a sequel, the third in a series originally launched as BioShock in 2007. Today, the game studio, which is a division of Take-Two Interactive, released its first trailer, images and description of the new title, which is set, in contrast to the underwater city of Rapture in BioShock, in the air. It’s the latest saga from Ken Levine, the BioShock creator whose work is closely watched because of its originality.

“We’re not in Rapture anymore,” Levine said at  press event yesterday. “It’s the city of Columbia — not a secret city hidden underwater, but one lost up in the air.”

The game is a thinly-veiled satire of American imperialism, with the Statue of Liberty’s motto changed to “Our holy duty is to guard against foreign hordes.” The city in the sky started out as an emblem of American ingenuity and democracy, but it turned sour. A violent incident makes Columbia disappear in the clouds and turns it into a “Death Star.”

In the game, the player becomes Booker Dewitt, a former Pinkerton private investigator, hired to find a woman who has been imprisoned in the city for the past 15 years. There’s a rich mix of sci-fi and historical nostalgia in this game, ranging from shotguns to cyborgs. The landscape of the city is adorned with imperialist propaganda. The game play will be similar to the first-person shooter BioShock style, where you hold a gun in one hand and wield a special power with the other.

Levine has been making games for many years, with titles ranging from System Shock 2 to Swat 4. But BioShock captured the hearts of hardcore game fans for its originality. Set in the underwater utopia of Rapture, the game depicts a horror-filled nightmare of what happens when a society goes out of control. It is a first-person shooter game that blends horror, a surreal underwater world, and art deco designs. The game sold millions of copies and Take-Two launched BioShock 2 this year.

But Boston-based Irrational Games let go of the BioShock 2 game (which was made by the new studio 2K Marin) and began work on Project Icarus. It’s worth noting because it is coming from one of the most creative game studios in the world today. The environment of the game certainly looks creative. But it will be interesting to see if gamers think it’s original enough, since it carries the BioShock name and familiar style of play. Hopefully, there will be a lot aerial combat.

Clearly, there’s some brand strategy evident here. Levine gets his chance to be original with this game. But Take-Two gets to leverage all of the marketing and advertising it has poured into the BioShock name in the past few years. Here’ s a link to Levine’s take on the new game.

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