The original BioShock was praised for it's ability to tell a story without sacrificing gameplay, achieved through audio recordings and voice transmissions, rather than an array of dialogue trees, cinematics, and the like. Complimenting this was the meticulous atmosphere - a portrait of opulence left to ruin amidst a chaos of its own making - one experienced by a conspicously-mute protagonist. The game may not have been the first to use these approaches - Doom III told its story primarily through audio logs, and Half Life's Gordon Freeman has long been the "strong, silent type - but there was something about the eloquence of BioShock's execution that, for me, set it apart from the pack.
While Infinite may feature a more chatty lead, one shouldn't fear that the game is treading too deeply into RPG territory. In an interview with IGN, Levine discusses, among other things, Irrational's waning focus on in-game dialogue, which the BioShock creator describes and generally being less effective than visual storytelling. "Audio dialogue is a very thin line because you only hear it in order. You hear this line then that line, whereas visuals can all come at once." The enigmatic "Songbird" illustrates this quite well, with his role as both guardian and imprisoner shown through actions - as well as his stern and intimidating presence - rather than dialogue. Levine expands on this thought:
I think that we're better off in some ways if we can succeed without him ever saying a word. [...] The nice thing about silence, and actually we played with Elizabeth being silent for a while, that just didn't turn out to be feasible, the nice thing about silence is it forces you to make very clear decisions about that character. It forces you to make that character have very clear motivations because you can't caught up in a ton of subtlety. Now hopefully when [people see] Songbird and Elizabeth they understand there is some subtlety in that relationship, there's some complexity to that relationship. It doesn't necessarily require words. The goal is to get across that relationship without them sitting down and having coffee and discussing it.
Overall, from everything I've seen about the game, I'm quite excited. While Infinite looks to once again examine some similar themes (the totalitarianism of dogma, power structures, etc.), it's encouraging to see the kids at Irrational taking an approach that, while keeping the stronger elements of our jaunt through Rapture, doesn't come across as derivative. There's more wordy goodness to be digested in the IGN interview, so check it out!
BioShock: Infinite is set to be released in 2012 on PC, PS3 and 360