Warning: While we try to steer away from BioShock Infinite spoilers as much as possible, this DLC review does inevitably contain some allusions to the culmination of the main game. Read at your own risk.
Ah, Burial at Sea. A return to the familiar cold embrace of Rapture, the city at the bottom of the ocean that touts a free-minded and self sufficient ecosystem. Fans of BioShock have been eager to get back to the depths of the North Atlantic and discover what secrets the waterlogged metropolis still holds, and creator Ken Levine has finally given us that opportunity with this story based add-on to BioShock Infinite. Stepping back into the shoes of Booker DeWitt and then out into a living and breathing Rapture held so much promise, but the presentation is unfortunately diminished by a few factors.
The magic of the original BioShock was in the silent protagonist and the unknown city which held deeper and darker secrets as the game progressed. This Rapture is not unknown, and not only features a much more talkative lead, but also has Elizabeth at your side for the entirety of the episode. You are also in it for about 2 hours, and that’s if you’re exploring every inch of Rapture that Burial at Sea has to offer. The surprises that Rapture held in BioShock are pretty much nonexistent here, and the eeriness of the world sadly lessened. That’s not to say that it isn’t a great thing to get back to the underwater utopia, but don’t expect it to have the same contradictory sense of constricted awe and grandeur that made the first game so incredible.
The promise of getting to see a living Rapture on the eve of its downfall falters when you see how robotic the characters in this living Rapture can be. I spent lots of time trying to wander around and listen to conversations and experience Rapture as its founder Andrew Ryan intended, yet I caught myself staring at characters that hardly moved and felt too scripted. There was not a natural vibe and it often felt oddly programmed. That being said, even with the characterization being less than ideal, getting to see a pre-dilapidated Rapture and hear a variety of conversations from the citizens was actually quite fascinating, if not laced with a little bit of fan service as you see and hear about characters, locations and events that are central to BioShock.
Characterization of Rapture’s citizens may not have been perfect, but Booker and Elizabeth were spot on. Booker is pretty much the same Booker that you know from Infinite, but Elizabeth really steals the show as a strong willed, noire inspired version of her character. She guides the player through this episode and largely frames the mystery, dropping hints as to the true nature surrounding Burial at Sea‘s story. Unfortunately the culmination of BioShock Infinite means that there are very few surprises when it comes to the story and while you may not have the specifics figured out, it doesn’t offer the same type of jaw dropping reveal that we saw in the climaxes of the previous games.
Combat in Burial at Sea borrows from BioShock Infinite but sets it in the confines of Rapture’s hallways. Stealth is a very viable option and is actually preferred as I found myself quickly gunned down in nearly any scenario that I got into open combat in. Combat is hard to judge because the entire experience comes and goes all too quickly. As I mentioned before, you get perhaps an hour and a half worth of content, maybe a little more if you are doing some thorough exploring, and a portion at the beginning features no combat at all. When you do reach the combat section, the splicers aren’t the same super mutated splicers of yore, but rather a bevvy of splicers that are in the beginning stages of their madness.
Weapon and ability upgrades can be bought at a few vendors along the way but there is very little time to seriously do any upgrading, let alone even feel the need to upgrade your powers and weapons at all. One really cool new weapon that can be found in Burial at Sea is the radar range. Looking very much like a handheld satellite , the radar range emits microwaves which effectively cook your enemies, ultimately causing them to explode into a bloody mist. It’s just another fun piece of a puzzle that doesn’t quite feel all together. Part of the combat in the original BioShock was setting traps and utilizing the environment to your advantage as you encountered enemies. With Burial at Sea so focused on the bigger scale combat of Infinite, these elements were not present and only served to make the tight hallways a more frustrating place to do battle.
You would think that borrowing elements from two of the greatest games in the last decade would make for one awesome experience, and while it feels mesmerizing, it doesn’t live up to either predecessor. These are two worlds that were just not meant to be mixed or revisited. Rapture’s awe cannot endure past the first time that I explored the crumbling utopia that I feared to delve deeper into in BioShock. The final scenes of Infinite are a single trick that cannot be effectively repeated, as the impact is very much reduced. When all is said and done, Burial at Sea has kept me moderately intrigued, but fails to have me awestruck in the same way that the previous games did in its attempts to recapitulate Rapture’s environment and Infinite’s lore.
PS3 review code for DLC provided by publisher.