*SPOILER ALERT* – Do not read this review if you have not played Bioshock Infinite!
Ever since Bioshock Infinite was released back in March 2013, fans of the game have known that there would be extra DLC added down the line. The announcement that the first DLC would be the horde mode ‘Clash in the Clouds’ was met with some criticism. However the same announcement also revealed that the second and third DLC installments would be ‘Burial at Sea: Episode 1 and 2’. To the keen Bioshock fan, this was extremely exciting news as not only did this mean a return to Rapture, the city built under the ocean, but also a chance to see pre-fall Rapture.
Finally after months of anticipation, the first episode of ‘Burial at Sea’ has been released and it does not disappoint. The beginning of the episode is as cinematic as the opening of any previous Bioshock game. The background to the story is rapidly explained as Elizabeth is seen arriving at the office of Booker Dewitt, private investigator, asking for help in locating a missing girl named Sally. The parallels to Bioshock Infinite are immediately obvious, but to those who have played the game this should not come as a shock considering the eye-opening finale. There are clearly unanswered questions here; why are Elizabeth and Booker in Rapture, and why does Booker not seem to have any recollection of the events in Infinite? These questions are to some extent answered in the climactic ending but there is certainly scope for further elucidation. After all, this is typical Bioshock.
Pre-fall Rapture is beautiful and it is clear that the game’s designers have invested hours in creating new assets. From the moment the player steps out of Booker’s office, Andrew Ryan’s vision of a utopia are finally realised visually. The brassy colour scheme and the futuristic yet retro setting complement the ideals of Rapture excellently. Passing by Rapture’s residents reveals that the city is thriving but there is also an undercurrent of discontent and concern. After all, the episode is set on New Year’s Eve 1958; the first day of Rapture’s rapid demise. Whilst the first part of the episode is set entirely in pre-fall Rapture and is entirely combat-free, this does not detract from the game. Instead this encourages exploration; the level designers clearly desire for the player to immerse themselves in the experience. Players of Bioshock will be pleased to know that one of the most memorable characters of the franchise so far, Sander Cohen, makes an impactful appearance and indeed, aside from the ending, this is the best scene from the DLC. The art direction of this scene in particular is strikingly weird and wonderful and suits the insanity of Cohen’s character perfectly.
The second part of the episode will be more familiar to those who have played the original Bioshock and its sequel. This is set in Fontaine’s department store which has been sunk to the very bottom of the ocean by Andrew Ryan. Here, the side-effects of plasmids are displayed to great effect by the resident ‘Splicers’. This is essentially a microcosm of Bioshock’s Rapture, and although the experience may be limited, this does not make it any less nostalgic. The contrast between the department store and prime Rapture is stark whilst not feeling contrived. The player is forced almost immediately into action using a combat system that has been described as a hybrid of both Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite’s. This means that whilst Elizabeth, the ever dependable A.I. character, will continue to bring in tears and supply you with ammo, health and eve, this happens nowhere near as regularly as in Infinite and instead the emphasis is placed on stealth and conserving ammo as well as planning out your strategy. The ‘vigors’ of Infinite have been renamed as Bioshock’s plasmids with one new addition of the fan-made ‘Old Man Winter’ plasmid. The weapon wheel of Bioshock also returns in the DLC using a mixture of both game’s guns as well as the new ‘Radar Range’ which, although fantastic, is slightly overpowered in comparison. This all makes for a combat experience that is extremely fun and allows a wide variety of different ways to defeat the splicers.
The main objective of the second part is to hunt down Sally who is hidden somewhere in the department store. Whilst the method of doing this gets tired quickly, this does allow further exploration of Rapture and never does the game feel like it is dragging its feet due to the constant splicer battles. The skyhook of Infinite also makes a return albeit renamed as the ‘air grabber’ which allows fast travel around some of the level’s rooms. Although this version of Rapture is much smaller than seen before due to the constraints of the DLC, the department store still seems vast which is a credit to the level designers.
Without wishing to spoil the ending of the game, it should be noted that although it is both shocking and unpredictable, it does not end on a cliffhanger. Therefore players who otherwise might have waited until episode 2, which promises to make Elizabeth a playable character, is released in 2014 before playing the DLC might wish to reconsider. Whilst the episode is rather short, giving around 2-3 hours of gameplay, it is still an amazing addition to the Bioshock canon. This is a must for fans of the series.
Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode One is available on PC, Mac, PS3 and Xbox 360.