BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea delivers (en)Rapture and ruin – opinion

By Dave Cook
11 November 2013 13:00 GMT

BioShock: Infinite – Burial at Sea Episode One takes Stace Harman back to Rapture find out whether it’s all he had hoped for. Find out in his full hands-on impressions inside.

Burial at Sea: Episode One

Burial at Sea: Episode One is the second of BioShock Infinite’s DLC packs and the first half of a two-part narrative-driven experience.

BioShock Infinite’s first lot of DLC was Clash in the Clouds, a combat-focused pack that’s available now either on its own or as part of the BioShock Infinite season pass.

VG247’s Dave Cook recently spoke with the creative driving force behind the BioShock franchise, Irrational’s Ken Levine. Check the first part of that mammoth and juicy interview here.

Burial at Sea is out on PC, PS3 and 360 tomorrow, Tuesday November 12. It will cost £11.99 on its own, or £15.99 as part of the season pass.

There’s a tangible frisson of excitement in the air as the silhouetted brunette sashays into the office of the private investigator. The surroundings are familiar but alien; we know this woman and we know this man; even the desk at which we sit is recognisable, with its betting slips, booze bottles and cigarettes.

And yet everything is different somehow.

The desktop calendar reads December 31st 1958, a date that’s important even if we can’t quite remember why. The man and woman appear not to have met before but as she speaks of a job and a girl that needs finding it’s apparent that she’s keeping something back; a short while later she’ll mention a something about a debt that must be repaid. For now, though, she’s playing it cool and the man is caught unawares.

“I don’t follow,” Booker DeWitt remarks, bemused. “Something tells me you will,” comes Elizabeth’s knowing reply. And follow we do – not in the figurative sense, as comprehension will only come later – but in a literal sense; we follow because we’re intrigued and because, ultimately, there is no other choice. Out of Booker’s office and into the bright lights, art deco surrounds and mesmerising sights of Rapture; the city at the bottom of the ocean. Damn, it’s good to be back.

It’s a curious and wonderful thing that one of the main points of reference for this piece of downloadable content is not only the 2013 game to which it belongs but also the 2007 BioShock original. So much has changed in the wider industry; there have been many incredible narrative experiences since we last stood in Rapture’s ruined halls and collapsing corridors and yet the underwater city remains one of the most evocative and important environments that the medium has produced. To see a portion of it here, in all its majestic glory, is a joy.

This is not the first opportunity to return to Rapture, of course, but this time it is canonical and created and written by the very people that brought us the BioShock and BioShock Infinite, which makes it feel like the homecoming that we’re desperate for. For the opening 30 minutes we wander wide-eyed and cooing at references to familiar faces and places, enthralled by staged spectacle and snatches of cued conversation. It feels like a guided tour of hallowed ground.

Soon after this, though, we’re ejected from the ride and cast down into Rapture’s depths, where the cracks in the facade are starting to show and unhinged, spliced-up residents stalk the halls of one of Frank Fontaine’s former business ventures. Here, Rapture is more familiar as the ruined dystopia of 2007’s original BioShock and, sadly, it’s less compelling for it.

It’s at this point that the mechanics of BioShock Infinite really kick in. A handful of familiar Vigors are dressed-up as “drinkable Plasmids”, Elizabeth can open Tears of similar form and function to those she exploited in Columbia and there are attempts to introduce a renamed Skyhook and the Gear system, both of which feel out of place and ill-fitting.

Combat here feels subtly different to Infinite and consequently refreshing. There’s a stronger focus on turning the Splicers against one another through use of Possession, while a lack of resources makes it wise to stalk lone adversaries and take them down out of sight of their brethren, rather than get involved in the mass gunfights and firework shows that characterise many of Infinite’s arena-style encounters.

It’s to Irrational’s credit that, despite being episode one of two, the story here still builds to a compelling and satisfying conclusion rather that feeling like there’s half missing. However, when boiled down to its bare bones the actual game play is less rewarding and while the narrative supports the reasoning for the clutch of identical objectives, it still amounts to visiting a handful of areas to flip some switches. Tackling Episode One on a second run-through also exposes some of the smoke and mirrors that it’s easy to miss when beguiled by Rapture’s majesty. It reminded me of going back to Heavy Rain and finding that its impact is greatly lessened by repeat play.

Tackled from another perspective, if you’re less enamoured with Rapture – or if this is perhaps your first visit here – you might find that you spend its opening sequence pushing forward and wondering when the action will start. This will reduce the already slight 2.5 hour run time and give you even less incentive to replay it. And that’s a bit of a problem, because if you’re considering picking-up Burial at Sea Episode One without the BioShock Infinite Season Pass then it’s going to set you back a not insignificant £9.99 (or local equivalent).

If you’re not buying into the rich narrative or don’t find the idea of quieter combat an appealing one then you’re going to get a lot less out of Burial at Sea than if the inverse is true. This slice of BioShock is very much about the details: it ties Rapture and Columbia together closer still, offers myriad parallels between faces old and new and re-examines core concepts revealed at the end of BioShock Infinite.

It toys wonderfully with our expectations before building to a confident and shocking conclusion, and it gives you plenty to think about long after the screen fades to black. Less time is spent in Rapture proper than we might like and there appear to be some minor narrative discrepancies (or could just be something I’ve missed) but it’s made me excited to see where the concluding episode will take us.

That excitement cannot translate directly into whole-hearted recommendation, though, because it depends how invested you are in BioShock’s overarching narrative and requires that you find the twisted tale spun throughout Infinite by Levine and co to be intriguing rather than a bit silly. Certainly, the faithful can flock back to Rapture with hearts aflutter, but non-believers should be prepared to leave their scepticism on the shore before they venture back beneath the waves.

Burial at Sea is out on PC, PS3 and 360 tomorrow, Tuesday November 12.

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