Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea; A Beautiful, Yet Disappointing Return to Rapture

Burial at Sea has many interesting things to see and hear for the diehard Bioshock fan, but its extremely short storyline will likely leave players unfamiliar to (or less enthusiastic about) Infinite's predecessors extremely disappointed.

Let's just get this fact out of the way: I am a Bioshock fanboy.  When the original Bioshock teaser trailer came out back in 2007, I was instantly swept off my feet.  The trailer was a true spectacle for the eyes to behold, and hinted at a game that was something that we had never seen before.  As gameplay footage began to trickle down the pipeline, my anticipation and excitement only grew. 

When Bioshock finally hit the shelves, and I got it in my hands, I was filled with a sense of excitement that few things in recent memory have been able to replicate.  Bioshock sucked me into its world like no other game has since, and I am forever fascinated by the dark, twisted, yet visually and conceptually beautiful city of Rapture.

Needless to say, when Burial at Sea: Episode 1, the first story-based DLC pack for Bioshock Infininite was announced, and it was revealed that it would be taking place not only in Rapture, but Rapture before it became the flooded lair of horribly disfigured, gene-altering drug addicted psychopaths, I was ecstatic.  For years, I had dreamed of playing a Bioshock game that took place when Rapture was in its prime. 

And while the first episode of Burial at Sea certainly delivers on that note, it is sadly the weakest entry in the Bioshock franchise to be released.

Back to Work, Mr. DeWitt.

The first episode of Burial at Sea puts the player in the shoes of Booker DeWitt, the player character of Bioshock Infinite, once again.  For those who haven't played or completed Infinite, this will undoubtedly seem very strange.  To clear any sort of confusion, but avoid spoiling the ending to Bioshock Infinite, let me assure you that this does in fact make perfect sense.

Booker is a washed up private investigator with a gambling problem, and Elizabeth, also reprising her role from Infinite, barges into his office one day, and announces that she has a job for Booker that he can't refuse.  Elizabeth asks Booker to look for a little girl named Sally, who, according to Booker, has already been pronounced dead.  From there, Booker and Elizabeth head off into the  glowing underwater city of Rapture in search of their first lead.

A Bioshock Fan's Wet Dream.  A Ripoff for Most Gamers.

Burial at Sea is a well put together DLC pack.  It offers the same great gameplay found in Bioshock Infinite; it has large, open areas for the player to explore and discover resources and audio logs, and it is chock full of ambient dialogue and environmental details that further flesh out Rapture's lore; an absolute treat for huge fans of Bioshock such as myself.

However, Burial at Sea has three glaring flaws: it's too short, its storyline is thin and un-engaging, and it is far too expensive for the amount of content found within it.

The Good:

Burial at Sea's rendition of Rapture is simply beautiful to look at, and has been re-constructed from scratch using Bioshock Infinite's engine.  The first two Bioshocks are by no means hard on the eyes, but they are starting to show their age.  Each and every corner of Rapture is full of elaborate detail, such as art, propaganda posters, advertisements, even newspaper stands with headlines worth reading.

Burial at Sea has three glaring flaws: it's too short, its storyline is thin and un-engaging, and it is far too expensive for the amount of content found within it.

This pre-apocalypse version of Rapture is full of citizens talking to one another about their lives in the underwater utopia, the politics and going-ons of the time, and even giving insight into cultural matters never brought up in the first two Bioshocks.  For instance, a gay couple can be seen holding one another at one point, staring out at Rapture's glowing, underwater cityscape.  This was very interesting to see, as Rapture's stance on things such homosexuality was never touched upon in Bioshock 1 or 2.

There are also a number of audio logs players can collect, some of which have insightful monologues from key characters in the previous two games.  Even one of the most memorable characters from the original Bioshock, the psychotic artist Sander Cohen, makes a return.

Including the return of Big Daddies, Little Sisters, and Splicers in their visually updated forms, the list of sights for the shameless Bioshock fan to take in and wet themselves over is enormous, and for some, worth the price of admission alone.

The Bad:

All of that being said, Burial at Sea: Episode 1 is a painfully short experience.  My playthough lasted somewhere between 3 to 4 hours.  However, much of those hours were taken up by me exploring every corner of the environments, and listening to almost every piece of dialogue the citizens of Rapture had to offer, in addition to standing still at times to simply appreciate the beauty of the city, or contemplate how a piece of propaganda tied in to city's eventual demise.  

The list of sights for the shameless Bioshock fan to take in and wet themselves over is enormous, and for some, worth the price of admission alone

If a player were to forgo such sightseeing, Burial at Sea could easily be completed in under two hours.  The first third of the game has absolutely no combat.  When the player does start encountering Splicers to shoot, electrocute, freeze, and set ablaze with plasmids, they will find that the areas in which they are expected to fight them are extremely claustrophobic and crowded with clutter, making it near impossible to be strategic in your approach.  In the end, the player has to spastically throw everything they have at enemies and hope for the best, but there is a problem with this strategy in Burial at Sea.

To compensate for its extremely short storyline, ammo, money, and plasmid powering EVE are made extremely scarce, and when it comes to ammo, the player can carry only a very limited amount of ammo for each gun.  Thus, you are forced to constantly scrounge around for these precious resources.  This, I assume, is to handicap the player so they can't complete the storyline in an even shorter amount of time than two hours.  Just to be clear, I am not against having to gather resources in a Bioshock game.  In fact, recourse gathering is one of the franchise's staples, and it simply wouldn't be the same without it. 

However, the gameplay of Bioshock games simply doesn't lend itself well to extra scarce and limited ammo, as most enemies require a decent number of hits before they go down, especially on higher difficulties.  This makes playing Burial at Sea at any difficulty above medium a chore, and I personally prefer a challenge while playing a game, as long as that challenge is fair, and your failure is due to your own lack of skill or stupidity. 

The gameplay of Bioshock games simply doesn't lend itself well to extra scarce and limited ammo, as most enemies require a decent number of hits before they go down, especially on higher difficulties.  This makes playing Burial at Sea at any difficulty above medium a chore

On many occasions, because all of my guns were empty, I had no EVE to use my plamids with, and I had already picked the area's recourses bare, I was forced to bash Splicers in the head with my weak skyhook attack over and over until I managed to kill them all.  Not with skill, mind you.  It is through sheer persistence, and exploiting the weak death penalty the Bioshock franchise is notorious for that you are able to get out of these situations.

If you were to take away all of the nice trimmings in Burial at Sea that expand Rapture's lore, you are left with a bare bones story that gives you no emotional motivation to see it completed.  In Bioshock, the player was motivated to get the hell out of the nightmarish dystopia they found themselves in, while also unravelling the mystery of just what Rapture was. 

In Bioshock 2, you took the role of a Big Daddy, the embodiment of ferocious paternal instinct. The Little Sister you were meant to protect, your only reason for living, is stolen from you, and you are forced to commit suicide by her captor.  Because of this, the player is given a superb sense of motivation to get her back and exact revenge, should they choose to.

In Bioshock Infinite, Booker DeWitt is told that taking Elizabeth away from the floating city of Columbia will wipe away his gambling debt, but in the end, the player grows attached to her after learning about the captive and lonely life she had been forced to lead, and is won over by her personality and strength as a character.  Thus, the player feels motivated to both protect her, and try and get her out of Columbia so she can live the kind of life she's only dreamed of.

And then we have Burial at Sea, where Booker goes along with Elizabeth because she told him to... Oh, and the girl you are looking for turns out to be an orphan that Booker took under his wing.  The player is never given a reason to care about Sally, aside from Booker mentioning a fact or two about his relationship with her to Elizabeth every now and again.  Compared to the plot-points of every iteration of Bioshock to preceed it, Burial at Sea falls painfully short in terms of depth, and emotional engagement.

There is Hope

While overall, I was pretty disappointed with the first installment of Burial at Sea, you can tell that a lot of work went into making it.  In the eyes of this Bioshock fan boy, the love and attention to detail that went into bringing us back to Rapture in a way we've never seen it before, and teaching us more about it in turn, made the playing it still enjoyable.

However, I would caution anyone who doesn't adore this franchise as much as I do that it simply wasn't made for them.  Yes, Burial at Sea has Booker and Elizabeth in it, and it plays just like Bioshock Infinite, and the story does even end up tying into Infinite's story in a pretty interesting way.  But in the end, this was a love letter from Ken Levine to the hardcore Bioshock fan, and at $15 per episode, (unless you have the Bioshock Infinite season pass) I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone except those that can truly appreciate all of the little details within it.

That being said, Burial at Sea is a two episode title, and when the next episode is released, we will be playing as Elizabeth, not Booker.  I am genuinely curious what kind of direction the second episode of Burial at Sea will take us, and I am always ready to explore more of Rapture.  One can also hope that episode two's gameplay will be improved upon, and its total playtime will last more than a paltry two hours without significant padding.  With no release date set, we'll just have to wait and see.

Published Nov. 16th 2013
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