Burial at Sea is in a lot of ways the visit to prelapsarian Rapture that BioShock fans have dreamed for since that first memorable introduction to the city at the bottom of the ocean. Darker in tone that BioShock Infinite, Burial at Sea is largely successful in creating a in creating a well-paced (if brief) experience that serves both as fan service to long-time franchise fans and an enigmatic extension of the implications of Infinite’s finale.
The opening here is straight out of the first page of the noir playbook. Elizabeth, depicted as a cliché femme fatale, struts into Booker’s black and white private eye’s office, asks for a light to her cigarette, and gives him a case to crack. It’s a fun twist on the characters we became so familiar with over the course of Infinite (side note: do not play this DLC without completing the main game). Unfortunately the noir motif doesn’t go very far, and is largely abandoned quite quickly.
The remainder of the episode is dark, but loses that sense of conspiracy, mystery, and dry humor that are tenants of the noir the genre. A notable issue here is Elizabeth’s voice work, performed again by the talented Courtney Draper, which is played almost identically to the bulk of the dialogue in Infinite. The naïve tenor to the voice work no longer works given the setting. Overall the genre motif feels like a bait-and-switch.
Once we get into Rapture proper though, there’s a lot to enjoy. Irrational Games have always excelled at environmental art, and returning to a bright and shining Rapture with the production values of Infinite is a treat. The first half of the episode is an exploratory affair, which gives the player the opportunity to take in Rapture at its height.
The citizens of Rapture are in the midst of a giant New Year’s Eve party, and everyone is dressed to nines. Sea turtles and blue whales swam just outside in the ocean beyond, and the locals espouse their self-serving objectivist-esque philosophy as if each one of them came up with the idea themselves. This DLC is absolutely meant to be played by those who’ve completed the original BioShock as there is plenty of juicy gossip to eavesdrop on as the citizens of Rapture express concerns over founder Andrew Ryan’s leadership or Fontaine’s recent imprisonment.
It’s all well and fun, but there’s not really much to do besides listen to the local gossip, which necessitates the need for more traditional gameisms to move things along. After a quick item hunt, Booker and Elizabeth run into Sander Cohen who is on the precipice of madness, but still sane enough to be seen as a ‘inspired’ artist by his admirers. It’s an encounter that like the episode as a whole is largely well-made fan service.
Like the main game, violence is inevitable in Burial at Sea. Cast by Cohen in a quarantined section of Rapture, we are introduced to some splicers that are a little more human-looking than their counterparts in the first BioShock. Infinite’s core combat system is still engaging, and probably still my favorite shooter this year from a mechanical perspective.
Irrational has done a decent job here translating their combat which was design for the large, open spaces of Infinite to the more confined arenas of Rapture. Ammo scarcity is much more a problem here, which helped echo some of those confined and vulnerable feelings felt exploring the bowels of Rapture in the original BioShock. I doubt this translation of Infinite’s combat into the setting would prove interesting for very long, but like the exploration-focused gameplay that leads up to the more violent segment, it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.
It’s hard to speak much to the story given the nature of the DLC being intended to be played after Infinite proper, and also due to the brevity of the experience, but I will say it is a very good blend of Infinite and Rapture. It hits notes of each in a way that never strikes as dissonant, which is an accomplishment. The ending of part one is also a fun twist that’s fairly hard to see coming, and raises questions not only as to how the arc of Burial at Sea will conclude in episode 2 but also undermines ‘answers’ found in the ending of Infinite.
Usually it’s not worth specifically noting dollar-per-hour considerations outside of whether the experience feels appropriately paced, but 2k Games has very much muddled the value proposition here with their pricing model. This episode of Burial at Sea, along with the second episode and a previously released area mode can be purchased as part of a season pass for $20. Alternatively, each episode of Burial at Sea can be purchased à la carte for $15 apiece. This episode lasted me around two hours, and I generally felt it was appropriately paced. However, whether you obtain this through the season pass as I did, or on its own, your expectations may be different. This is only to say that 2k’s messaging here is quite muddy, and it is worth noting.