Eight months after the release of Bioshock Infinite, what else new can be said about it? Well, if you believe Tevis Thompson, a lot of things, but as one of those chaps who actually gave Infinite an 8/10, I’m inclined to disagree. Anyway, it was a long time before the DLC was even announced, but least we got some on the day it was. Our Kyle Gaddo had some qualms about the premise of the newly released DLC, Burial At Sea, back when it was announced. So the question is: was it worth eschewing the vibrant new world of Columbia to go back to Rapture?
I never thought I would say this, but no. Rapture is not worth visiting. I wish they had kept to Columbia.
While there will be no spoilers in this review, it’s highly recommended that you play through Infinite’s main game before playing through this, if only to understand why Booker and Elizabeth can be there in the first place. It’s also recommended that you play through the first Bioshock as well, given the setting, to understand much of the context surrounding it.
In any case, the game takes place at the tail end of 1958, around a year before the events of the first Bioshock. Booker runs a detective agency in Rapture, the objectivist city under the sea, and is commissioned by Elizabeth to find an orphan named Sally. After a run-in with mad artist Sander Cohen, he directs them to Fontaine Department Stores, a structure found farther under the sea, decommissioned as a mall and instead used as a prison for Fontaine’s followers. They have since gone mad with splicing, and they will stand in Booker’s way to Sally.
The opening five or so minutes of Burial At Sea are captivating enough. Your reintroduction to Elizabeth, and her reworking, play well to a few film noir tropes. The companionship between Booker and Elizabeth is a lot more coarse and sardonic this time around, which makes the dynamic more interesting than the merely co-dependent one in Infinite. But even this introduction has a fair few problems.
Getting to see Rapture before its downfall was a wish many of us probably secretly wanted to see granted, but now it has been, I immediately regret it. It’s a lavish upper-class society that meshes well with the colourful aesthetic direction of Infinite, but feels shallow and, dare I say, boring. It lacks the objectivist vibe purported to have existed in the first game’s Rapture, robbing it of its soul and turning it into just another elitist society.
It’s also at this part where you have to play a conflict-less fetch quest. In order to get into Sander Cohen’s club and get his information, you first have to find a mask, which involves going to three separate stores and raiding their supplies while Elizabeth distracts the owner. It exists merely as a way to pad out time and to get Elizabeth to punch one of the clerks to manufacture her strength.
Which is soon proven ineffective, as you’re then carted off to Fontaine Departments, where the rest of the DLC takes place, and you wonder why this femme fatale-lite version of Elizabeth doesn’t have a gun.
Fontaine Departments is closer to the feel of the original Bioshock, echoing a dead society that once held a vibrancy the likes of which few would have seen, and while it doesn’t have the tragedy of the original Rapture, there’s still a permanent melancholy mood in the air as you’re forced to ponder what was lost and what twisted remains exist. But of course, you don’t play in this locale by Rapture rules, but by Columbia rules. This is where Burial At Sea most fails to understand how both game’s systems worked.
Pretty much all of Infinite’s combat parts are retained, including Vigors (which have been reworked back to Plasmids again), hooks and tears. However, the environment that contains these isn’t quite as accommodating, and the mechanics that dictate the action are well off the mark. Infinite encouraged alacrity and variety, with optimal strategies revolving around quickly using skyhooks to manoeuvre around and quickly set up traps or take quick shots. You had a small shield, but it regenerated quickly, which means you didn’t, and couldn’t, stay out of the action for too long. Environments were big and sprawling, encouraging quick movements as opposed to methodical play.
This is not true of Burial At Sea. While the pacing is meant to be much slower, the overall mechanical layout is not built to support this. While single encounters see far less enemies at once, the environments are still very much open. While you can use a few skyhooks, there aren’t nearly enough to make zipping around a pleasing affair this time around. So most battles take place on ground level, using little but your guns and plasmids. However, Booker is fairly slow on his feet compared to the open spaces to traverse, so you’ll end up taking a lot of fire regardless. And because of the lack of cover and embarrassingly slow shield recharge rate, you’ll be seeing red a lot. What this all translates to is a series of straight shootouts, without the guerilla tactics of the first game or the hit-and-run tactics of Infinite. Thus, it lacks the flavour of either.
Unfortunately, there’s little beyond the combat in Burial At Sea. While the environment has some cursory interest, it’s a fairly linear run, with deviations existing only slightly off the beaten path and only for middling equipment upgrades. The story behind the game also contains minor value, but it’s not especially hypnotic if you’ve played Infinite. The informed nostalgia from the experience of the first game is enticing for obvious reasons, but this, too, is almost undone by dramatic changes to voice actors and some blunt lines essentially spelling out plot twists to the first game, albeit not the ones you might expect.
After around an hour and a half, it ends. What you are left with is a disappointingly hollow trek through a shade of the first game’s setting that is good for nostalgic value and little more. The actual play is especially abhorrent, showcasing a huge misunderstanding of what made either Bioshock 1 or Infinite work. It’s as likely to taint your opinion of either work as it is to leave them alone. Such is what you should do with this.
Great ending, though.
Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Part 1 is currently available from the Xbox Live Marketplace, PlayStation Network store and Steam for $14.99 US.
Disclaimer: This DLC was independently acquired by the reviewer.