The last time gamers saw Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth — the protagonists of BioShock Infinite — the duo was uncovering the many mysteries of Columbia and how that sky bound utopia fit into the larger BioShock mythos. In BioShock Infinite — Burial at Sea: Episode 1, however, the first story DLC for Irrational Games’ latest, the unlikely pair find themselves back in Rapture, the same underwater city featured prominently in the previous two BioShock games.
But while this Booker and this Elizabeth have similarities to their Columbian counterparts, these are not the same characters, nor is this the same incarnation of Rapture that fans will recognize. Instead, Burial at Sea features Rapture before the fall, and a noir-style mystery is afoot. But, as any BioShock can expect, what might seem like a cut and dry case never pans out that way.
Burial at Sea: Episode 1 is, the most direct sense, a chance for players to reacquaint themselves with the combat of Infinite, only in some new environments. While Columbia offered wide-open courtyards and ship decks, Rapture is much more self-contained. There’s still room for players to zip around via the “Skygrabber” (this universe’s version of the Skyhook) and tears for Elizabeth to open, but a lot of the encounters hearken back to those seen in the first two BioShock games. That means scarcer ammo, more aggressive enemies, tactics that favor defense/stealth over straight offense, Splicers, and a few Big Daddy sightings.
To give combat a little bit of variety, the story DLC gives players a new plasmid, Old Man Winter, and a new weapon, the Radar Range. Old Man Winter is pretty self explanatory, giving players the ability to turn enemies into icicles before smashing them to pieces. It’s a worthy addition to Booker’s left-handed arsenal, but is not completely original.
The same goes for the Radar Range, which fires a concentrated beam that heats enemies until they burst. Considering the game relies exclusively on bullet-based weapons (pistol, shotgun, machine gun), the Radar Range helps break up the monotony, but it is introduced far too late in the DLC.
Overall, combat in Burial at Sea: Episode 1 is a fairly straightforward continuation of what was introduced in BioShock Infinite. The verticality is still there, as is the unique mixing and matching of weapons and powers, but there’s nothing terribly new or inventive thrown in. Those who enjoyed Infinite‘s combat will have a blast getting back into the heat of battle, but those who were disappointed won’t find any radical changes here despite the change of setting.
But, of course, combat is only one reason that fans are chomping at the bit for Burial at Sea. Arguably, the real draw is an opportunity to see what type of story Ken Levine and his Irrational Games writing team has concocted. Unfortunately, Burial at Sea: Episode 1is mostly cut-and-dry as far as the moment-to-moment narrative goes. This version of Booker is recruited by Elizabeth to find a girl named Sally, and the two set out to find her. There aren’t any major revelations along the way (emphasis on the “along”), and the story doesn’t touch on Rapture’s history as much as fans might have hoped.
For that matter, after a brief fetch quest in a livelier area of Rapture and a quick encounter with a fan-favorite character, players will spend a lot of their time in familiar dank and dreary territory. So, while Burial at Sea offers a chance to return to Rapture with improved visuals, players won’t be struck by the feeling that this is an entirely new version or interpretation of that underwater setting. That may be comforting to some, but those who were sold on the opportunity to experience a bustling Rapture will be disappointed once things get going.
However, even though the game’s locales might not surprise in the same ways Infinite‘s did, Burial at Sea is still a sharp-looking add-on. The way the DLC plays with light and shadow gives it that appropriate noir feel, and the environments are still as intricately detailed as we’ve come to expect from Irrational. It’s a shame Episode 1 doesn’t spend more time in the livelier, well lit areas, but this is still a gorgeous looking game regardless.
The one shining hope for Burial at Sea: Episode 1 amidst a lot of missed opportunities is its set-up for Episode 2, which looks to be a doozy. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that Episode 1‘s ending is an essential part of the overarching BioShock Infinite narrative and is just as mind-bending as that main game’s conclusion. Granted, it only takes about 2 hours to get to that ending — meaning the DLC is decidedly lacking in heft — so make of that what you will. Personally, the length felt appropriate, but everyone will likely have a different response.
As a continuation of BioShock Infinite, both mechanically and narratively, Burial at Sea: Episode 1 is a worth playing, even if it doesn’t capitalize on its potential as much as fans might hope. The combat is still as enjoyable as ever, if a bit same-y, and the game’s stunning detail will leave fans searching every nook and cranny. However, the story beats packaged around that gameplay are surprisingly straightforward, which is a bit odd for an Irrational-developed game. But, by the time the credits roll BioShock fans will likely look at the overall experience as an entertaining one. And most importantly they will be desperate for Episode 2.
Have you had a chance to check out Burial at Sea: Episode 1? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
BioShock Infinite — Burial at Sea: Episode 1 is available now for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.
Follow Anthony on Twitter @ANTaormina.