Bioshock Infinite was one of the best games of the year and undeniably, one of the greatest stories ever told in a video game. It immersed you within a bizarre new world that was at once disturbing and beautiful. It was equal parts intense first person shooter and thrilling tale of prejudice, identity and redemption. Infinite was an ambitious attempt at mixing many big ideas and science fiction concepts with exciting game play and it did so with mastery.
With the bar set so catastrophically high by Infinite and the original Bioshock it would be difficult for the first part of the planned two part DLC Expansion Burial At Sea to not disappoint. The game returns to Rapture, the underwater metropolis from the first game, except this time we get to see the city in full swing. In the opening half hour we join Booker and Elizabeth, albeit alternate versions of them, re-imagined as noir movie archetypes as they explore Rapture in search of a little girl who has gone missing. Fans who have played both games should already be putting together the pieces of what is really going on, but in classic Bioshock fashion the game keeps it’s story cards close to the chest, only giving you small snippets of clues before an ending reveal that even seasoned Bioshock fans will not see coming.
Many fans will be excited to see the fall of Rapture, witnessing the transformation from high flying technological marvel to an undersea mausoleum of the weird and grotesque, just as they did the city of Columbia in Infinite. Unfortunately we don’t really get to see that in Episode One, instead we get a snapshot of Rapture at it’s peak before being dropped into an already destroyed portion of the city in the form of Fontaine’s sunken mall, that has now been turned into a prison for splicers. Hopefully we will get to see the eventual collapse of Rapture’s ecosystem but that spectacle is clearly being held back for Episode Two.
The gameplay is a half way house between the slower, more RPG inspired combat of the first game with the faster, pulse pounding whiz-bang action of Infinite. The result is… it doesn’t really work. The game faces you with tougher enemies than Infinite, forcing you to utilize both your Vigour powers and the regular weapons, however ammo and EVE (mana) is very scarce forcing you to scavenge every nook and cranny for scraps of ammo, health and mana. The combat is always manic but rarely that satisfying, and sometimes frustrating. On the plus side, I appreciated the return of the skyhook which is always a joy to use and the handful of new vigours and weapons are great fun to experiment with, especially the Range Wave Gun that pumps an enemy full of heat before having them explode and damage enemies around them in a satisfying deluge of fried guts.
The game also tries to incorporate some underdeveloped stealth elements. Once you have entered a new area, Elizabeth will alert you to the presence of enemies and suggests that you try to take them out quietly. You can crouch and sneak up behind an enemy and one-shot kill them with an execution but doing so will usually result in being spotted by other guards and as such amounts to little more than a throw-away mechanic. Game designers need to learn that stealth gameplay only really works when the entire game is designed around it, for example Far Cry 3 integrated stealth from the very beginning giving you multiple options for approaching and dispatching enemies as well as excellently communicating the locations of enemies with the ‘marking’ mechanic. Burial At Sea does a poor job at communicating to the player where the enemies are positioned leading to the stealth feeling frustrating and tacked on.
The other major sticking point with this DLC is it’s length. I beat the first part in little over 2 hours, which isn’t great for a game that costs £11.99, and in fact may leave players who skipped the season pass to feel slightly ripped off. The short length isn’t helped by the pacing. I only really felt like I was getting to grips with the game’s feel as I came to the end and an out of left-field story sequence placed after the game’s first truly exhilarating encounter had me feeling like the game had abruptly ended before it had really begun. Which brings me to the game’s problematic ending, I won’t go in to too much details as one of the great joys of the Bioshock series is it’s unique storytelling, but needless to say the ending of Burial At Sea Episode One left me less than satisfied. The deluge of plot information is told in such a rapid flurry of exposition that I could barely get my head around it and am still confused at how the twist ties in with the ending of Infinite. I just hope that with Episode Two all will become clear.
Right now, it looks like Part Two is going to have a lot to answer for if Burial At Sea is to be considered a worthwhile entry to the Bioshock franchise. When all is said and done Episode One simply feels rushed. The gameplay and story both have incredible potential but, partially due to the length, they both end up feeling underdeveloped. For some, it will be worth the price of admission simply to revisit the enigmatic world of Rapture once more with upgraded visuals, but for those still on the fence, perhaps it would be best to wait for Episode Two to decide if Burial At Sea is worth your time because right now, Episode One is only making a great case for the ‘Season Pass’ model being a very flawed system.