Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode One
Rapture really is a handsome city. The original Bioshock showcased the dishevelled ruggedness of Andrew Ryan’s fish tank, guiding us around a crumbling art deco metropolis connected by leaking glass tubes. Now Burial at Sea, the first story-based DLC for Bioshock Infinite, takes us back to the underwater utopia in its prime, when its neon-lit arcades bustled with people and those people were still (mostly) sane. It’s a beautifully realised return, and in its first act, Burial at Sea threatens to let us enjoy the sights and sounds of such a sight and sound filled locale without the metallic rattle of a gun in our ears.
There are guns, of course, and once they’re introduced Burial falls back into the familiar rhythm established in Infinite’s mid-section, albeit with a more interesting backdrop. But the opening, non-combat focussed section of Burial is its best sequence, and for some will alone justify the price tag.
Set during New Year’s Eve, 1958, you awaken as private investigator Booker DeWitt, and are approached in a darkened office by a seemingly unfamiliar and older Elizabeth to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. She’s smoking, he’s been drinking and thus the scene is set for a deliciously noir mystery. And yet, sadly, that mystery never really unravels as Burial’s narrative winds up in some overly familiar territory, tying itself into the fabric of Irrational Games’ world in a confusing manner as it plays on the theme of constants and variables.
Most of those variables play out in the narrative, whilst most of the constants are found in Burial’s gameplay. Many things in this additional content remain as they were in Infinite, only now they’ve received a Rapture-style make over. The Sky Hook, for example, returns as the Air Grabber, bringing with it the rail lines and spacious battlegrounds on which we fought in Infinite, only this time they’re surrounded by fish rather that birds. There are a few smaller encounters that are clear attempts to try and evoke the more claustrophobic nature of the original Bioshock, but these all play out with Infinite’s streamlined strategies and simplified systems, and are, consequently, less interesting.
Vigors, the power-granting tonics popular in Columbia, return unchanged in the form of ‘drinkable Plasmids’. And besides the Radar Range – a beam weapon that emits microwave energy, literally cooking and exploding opponents – there’s little here to spice up the gunplay that all too quickly becomes the predominant focus of the three hours you’ll spend at the bottom of the ocean.
Burial at Sea may open with the suggestion of a less combat-focussed adventure game, but once the first significant narrative turn is played out, Booker and Elizabeth find themselves adrift in a splicer-filled wing of Rapture, where the cracks in its civil order are beginning to show. It’s also where the cracks in Infinite’s systems show as well, as gunplay takes over as your main form of interaction.
That’s not to say that the combat in Burial at Sea is bad by any stretch of the imagination – it’s tightly designed, polished and easy to grasp. But here it feels a little formulaic and over familiar, especially if you’ve already played through Infinite, as you’ve already seen all of these roller coasters and playgrounds before. What you haven’t seen is a pristine Rapture, its tobacco stores, music shops and inhabitants. You might have been to the city before, but in Burial at Sea, it remains as alluring a creation as it ever was.