BioShock Infinite delivers two big surprises today

Bioshock Infinite's first downloadable content hits today, giving gamers a chance to drop into a narrative-free series of blood-soaked challenges that developers hope will prove just how fun combat can be in a game most noted for its sweeping set pieces and thought-provoking story.

But perhaps the bigger surprise is news that the next bit of content, a two-pack, narratively driven gaming novella of sorts, will return players to the original BioShock's sunken city of Rapture in 1958, at the height of its glory. The first download of the two will have players exploring the living city as private investigator Booker DeWitt, the second, as Elizabeth. It will sell for $15 individually.

Combat-oriented "Clash in the Clouds" hits Steam around noon for $5 today and the Xbox 360 over the day as it propagates out to servers. It will go on sale on the PS3 on Wednesday. There is no date set yet for the two-part "Burial at Sea."

The trio of DLC, all also available with the $20 BioShock Infinite Season Pass, was announced yesterday afternoon at an event in a Boston hotel by game designer Ken Levine.

"We have three different packs that are coming," he said. "We have a bit of a different approach than some people to DLC. When we started this, we really tried to listen to the fans and to us, the fans were clearly saying to us, ‘Look, we want the A team on the DLC. We want the same team that did the actual game. We don't want it to be stuff that's on the disc. We don't want it to be stuff that some marketing guy came up with.'

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"Literally, the day we finished Infinite we went to work on the DLC, starting pretty much from scratch on the game content."

Levine calls "Clash in the Clouds" a "small, little focused experience." It is combat oriented, incredibly difficult and something developers believe gamers were clamoring for.

Lead level designer Forrest Dowling, who also oversaw the level design of Bioshock Infinite, said that the idea for "Clash in the Clouds" was born out of the appeal the game's difficult 1999 mode had for gamers.

Dowling said he also was intrigued by the idea of giving players all of the tools for combat at once, instead of forcing them to unlock or find them over time, and what impact that might have on play.

"So I thought, maybe we can do something where we give the player the opportunity to just play with the full toolset, and all of the powers and upgrades and everything, and create far more challenging gameplay for them," he said. "So with that in mind, we gathered up the people really specialized in combat on Infinite and essentially told them the gloves were off, you guys can make whatever you want."

The DLC includes four new maps, each with fifteen encounters and challenges, broken up by a visit to an armory of sorts where players can select their weapon load-out or use cash earned to power up their Booker.

The game rewards cash, which is also the player's score, based on kills, combos and meeting specific, increasingly difficult challenges.

The end result, Dowling said, is a experience that pushes players to flip through weapons and vigors, pulling in tears and jumping on and off the Skyline to survive.

The roughly five-hour experience also has leaderboards and a clutch of unlockable audio and video files, concept art and models that can be unlocked with cash.

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Levine wrapped up the short press conference by taking to the stage to give attending press a "little taste of one other thing, of what we're working on in terms of the second DLC."

The "Burial at Sea" trailer shows both Booker and Elizabeth returning to Rapture, the sunken city of the original BioShock, only this time the city is still a monument to its ideals and designs.

In the video we catch a glimpse of the architecture, the characters, the politics, the Little Sisters, that gamers have only viewed in ruin and corrupted.

The second and third DLC, Levine said, will be "a little more narrative oriented, obviously. A love letter to the fans."

"We're pretty deep into this one," he said. "We're about to enter beta."

Levine said he's been working with the narrative team on "Burial at Sea" since they shipped Infinite.

The two-part experience will have players taking on the role of Booker once more for the first half and then playing as Elizabeth for the second.

"We really listened to the fans and we know how they feel about Elizabeth," he said. "We decided we wanted to shift things around a little bit for the third one, so the player character in the third DLC, you get to play Elizabeth and the gameplay is quite different as her. She's not the tank that Booker is. And you'll see how all the stories come together."

The appearance of Rapture in BioShock Infinite's ending wasn't just a sly wink to the audience, it was a key component Levine said. But at the time he hadn't yet decided to have the two return to the city as part of a post-game DLC story.

"I wish I was that far a thinker," he said. "I knew very early on in Infinite that Rapture was going to be part of it because, if nothing else, nothing would be clearer in helping me explain what was happening in the world, that they were all reflections of each other, than being there, than showing that image."

Why is BioShock Infinite's first piece of DLC combat-driven and free of narrative? We went hands-on with the DLC and then asked Dowling and Levine. Read the story here.

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