Despite the sense that it is BioShock only set in the sky, there is still a wide community of fans who are looking forward to BioShock: Infinite. With Ken Levine’s Irrational Games back at the helm, this third entry in the series promises to bring that same sense of wonderment seen in the first, but use new mechanics and characters to differentiate itself.

Game Rant was able to sit in on a live demo of BioShock: Infinite, and what was on display showcased a marginally familiar experience, but one that was truly impressive in its balancing of characterization, story-telling, and action set pieces. Are you curious to see just how different BioShock: Infinite is compared to its predecessors? Read on to find out.

At the current point in the demo, protagonist Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth were being pursued by a mechanical bird known as the Songbird, but found time to do a little exploring. As the player experiences new locations, the trademark Bioshock exploration was on display with highly detailed interiors and plenty of nooks and crannies from which to pick up items.

After a brief tour of one of Columbia’s shops, DeWitt and Elizabeth push forward to Comstock house, where they hope to find the key to Elizabeth’s time-bending powers. Seen briefly in previous trailers, Elizabeth has the ability to open up “tears” within the space-time of Columbia. Able to bring new items into the present, or take her and DeWitt into a future setting (like the premiere of Return of the Jedi), Elizabeth’s powers are the main driving point for the plot.

Bioshock Infinite E3 Preview - Elizabeth

But, of course, it wouldn’t be BioShock if there weren’t a wide variety of NPCs from which to experience the history of Columbia and its two warring factions: the Vox Populai and the Founders. Interactions with these two factions needn’t take place unless the player chooses to do so, making the experience somewhat more open to player decisions. If you choose to save an individual or act during a moment of conflict, then one of the warring factions might end up attacking you — but only if you choose to act.

To showcase the gameplay of BioShock: Infinite, DeWitt chooses to intervene during an execution, but in the process draws attention to himself. It was from this point forward that the biggest differences between Infinite and its predecessors really revealed themselves.

As gameplay experiences go, it is really hard to nail BioShock: Infinite down. While the use of first person shooter mechanics and magical powers known as “vigors” aren’t anything new for the series, the way in which the player interacts with enemies feels much more open.

Primary among the features that add to the openness of Infinite is the sky-hook: a new device that makes great use of the various railways seen around Columbia. During skirmishes with enemies, DeWitt is able to jet around the locale in order get up close and personal with whomever he is fighting.

Gameplay looks faster paced and much more epic in BioShock: Infinite, especially considering the amount of detail that is put into the environment, but the game’s shooting/magic-based gameplay will make gamers feel right at home. Sky-hook traveling is a feat to behold, but one that seems very easy to execute. Players needn’t worry about having to balance all of the new features in Infinite — from the time bending to traditional shooting — as they all are fairly straightforward in execution.

As stated before, the combat itself is nothing new for the series, but new “vigors,” the sky-hook, and being able to utilize Elizabeth’s ability to open “tears” in time keep the gameplay more engaging and faster paced. Culminating in a final showdown with the Songbird, the demo left the viewing room breathless — our minds considering many of the gameplay possibilities only teased by the demo.

Bioshock Infinite E3 Preview - Gameplay

While this demo of BioShock: Infinite was only a brief taste of what is in store for the player, it was absolutely a jaw-dropping experience to behold. Everything from the characterization to the gameplay carried a new sense of wonder despite a very BioShock feel.

How the story, and this time battles, unfold is determined by the player’s actions, making the experience of BioShock: Infinite somewhat more open to interpretation. At times, the game impresses on a purely visceral level, but most of the truly impressive moments come from the sense of exploration and discovery that is inherent in a new setting and with new mechanics.

If you didn’t place BioShock: Infinite high on your most anticipated of 2012 list, then you most surely will after seeing more of the game in action.

Are you excited to get your hands on BioShock: Infinite? What new feature are you most excited about checking out?

Bioshock: Infinite will release in the first half of 2012 on the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.