Investigate a little girl’s disappearance in a beautiful underwater city.
PC Release: November 12, 2013
By Ian Coppock
The second panel of double-reviews commences with the BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea episodes released some time after the main game. If you’ve ever wondered whether BioShock Infinite has some connecting threads with its predecessors, those suspicions will be pretty much cemented with the release of these DLC. I would recommend that anyone who has somehow not played one of the greatest games of the last half-decade to go to Steam and immediately rectify that problem before reading this. If you’ve already played it, hot damn. Let’s do this!
Burial at Sea: Episode One takes place some time after BioShock Infinite. An amnesiac Booker DeWitt awakens to the sight of a beautiful young woman, whom he’s never met, entering his ramshackle detective’s office. Calling herself Elizabeth, this mysterious femme fatale offers Booker a job: find a little girl who’s gone missing somewhere in Rapture.
Yep. You read that right. Booker and Elizabeth are in… RAPTURE!!!
With no apparent recollection of the events in BioShock Infinite, Booker reluctantly follows Elizabeth out of his hovel and into the streets of gaming’s most infamous city. He can’t help but wonder that this girl seems somewhat familiar, but surely the drinking has fogged his memory.
Rapture was recreated gorgeously, and entirely from scratch, in all of its anarchic glory. The first half or so of this episode comprises walking the streets, but rather than dealing with splicers, you get to see something very, very special: the city of Rapture, alive and well. The entire game’s artwork cuts between the brightly lit and strongly colored areas of the civilized parts of the city, and the morose dark green of the ocean in its more unpleasant areas. References to the first game are, of course, everywhere, from advertisements for the Kashmir restaurant to the sight of the Little Sisters.
One of the great tragedies of BioShock‘s story is that you arrive to Rapture after its downfall. You never got to see this city when it was thriving, at its full potential, but you get to see all of that in Burial at Sea. Citizens wander the gleaming corridors spouting Randian nonsense, shops hawk their wears (mostly booze and cigars) at passerby, and the entire affair is coated wall-to-wall with spectacular art-deco images and artwork. If fellow BioShock fans have ever wondered what Rapture was like when it was liveable, this DLC is an excellent answer to that question.
The first thing you see when you leave your office is a blue whale coming in for a peek into the city. It’s spectacular.
After spending about an hour wandering the high streets in search of Ryan Industries propaganda and Ryan Industries-brand whiskey, an encounter with a certain psychotic artist lands Booker and Elizabeth on a one-way trip to Rapture’s darker side. Here I was, having just sat at a German tobacconist for ten minutes, and now lying in a cramped bathysphere en route to the Fontaine Department Store. Once the domain of Andrew Ryan’s brutal rival, Frank Fontaine, the store is closed down after the latter’s demise and cast into an abyss off the edge of town. Time to find our little girl.
The nice thing about Burial at Sea is that it imports BioShock Infinite‘s gameplay mechanics into the world of Rapture. I loved the original game, but the lack of dual-wielding guns and plasmids was a significant drawback. Here, all of Infinite‘s powerful vigors show up again as drinkable plasmids, allowing you to cast the same sci-fi godliness. Most of Infinite’s gun arsenal also returns, having received a 1960’s spit-and-polish for the updated setting. Even the sky-rails make an appearance, although this time they’re said to be the pneumatic lines for the postal system. You can ride them all the same with a skyhook.
Burial at Sea returns BioShock‘s horror atmosphere to the franchise. BioShock Infinite was great, but that game’s horror was compacted into a single chapter, with no build-up or follow-through. And yeah, mental patients strapped into George Washington costumes is pretty damn scary, but it’s a single instance. Burial at Sea adds some good ol’ survival horror, with oozing shadows and a still, oppressive atmosphere. The horror is also enhanced via gameplay, which has been reworked to make health and ammo much more difficult to find. It’s a game that forces you to time your shots and consider your encounters, unlike Infinite, where you could shoot indiscriminately into a crowd and never have to worry about running low.
And of course, what would BioShock horror be without splicers? The game’s infamous plasmid-guzzling mutants return, creeping in the shadows and being uncomfortably clever at scaring the shit out of you. Most times you’ll find them scavenging corpses or screaming at inanimate objects, but other times? Well, just don’t turn your back on those department store “mannequins”.
The most interesting part of Episode One‘s story is not its premise, but the character interaction that takes place along the way. In stark contrast to Booker and Elizabeth’s cordial, almost familial relationship in Infinite, this iteration of the pair share a tense, antagonistic partnership. Elizabeth seems angry at Booker for some past wrongdoing, and Booker grows more unstable the more he tries to remember the events that brought him here. His suspicions against Elizabeth are only heightened by her ability to use Tears, once again giving you the option to teleport in health, ammo, or a… samurai warrior? Elizabeth’s competent AI keeps her out of danger and lets you call in supplies on the fly. The dialogue is smart, of course, with terse exchanges and hints at a greater context, but even those of you who’ve played Infinite before will only grasp at what’s really going on.
The structure around which this dialogue takes place is pretty pedestrian. You first need to find a plasmid in order to deal with a frozen object, because Irrational Games can’t seem to get enough of that obstacle, and then you have to travel to five different places around the store and accomplish the same goal. Go in, fight some enemies, accomplish it, get out. I was a bit underwhelmed by a setup this basic. Luckily, there’s plenty of opportunity and incentive for exploration. The beloved audio diaries return in Burial at Sea, and you can also scrounge around for special weapons and upgrades. Exploration for supplies is key, and not just because you’re trapped in a sunken skyscraper with dozens of angry drug addicts.
Burial at Sea is a great little gem and a worthy continuation of the BioShock series, but even that doesn’t save it from a few eye-raising problems. This game had some major bugs at launch, including a rather conspicuous scripting issue that caused a quest-essential shopkeeper to simply vanish. I walked into a record shop to further the first half of the story, only to have to erase my save and start again because the damn guy wasn’t there. There were also a few problems with dialogue not happening. Unless Ubisoft had something to do with this game at some point, I’m not sure how those issues slipped the noose.
Additionally, Episode One is only about two hours long. For fifteen bucks, that’s a bit steep. I still recommend that you pick this game up and play it, since it finishes the BioShock story, but wait for a sale, would you kindly? Even Ken Levine doesn’t get to charge that much for 120 minutes of content.
You can buy BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea, Episode One here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.