BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea - Episode 1 needs more Humphrey Bogart
So, I generally like to start these things off with a personal anecdote of some sort to set the mood. In fact, I reviewed the first piece of BioShock Infinite DLC, “Clash in the Clouds,” and I began by talking about some of the stupid things I spent my money on as a teenager.
But this time around, Irrational is sort of forcing my hand. See, I have to open with a big fat disclaimer about how this review is going to spoil an important piece of one of the greatest video game endings of this year. The “Burial at Sea – Episode 1” DLC is so steeped in the mythos set up by Infinite’s fantastic ending that it would be near impossible to not bring up at least one or two of the plot points.
So this is your last warning. I’m about to spoil the hell out of BioShock Infinite’s ending. If you’re not cool with that, go read this thing I wrote about DuckTales instead. It’s really good, I promise.
Okay, for those of you who remain – who I assume have either already finished BioShock Infinite proper or just don’t give a crap about spoilers – here we go.
So remember how Elizabeth mentioned that there were an infinite amount of alternate worlds, and how we – the players – get to explore a few of the different alternatives throughout the story of Infinite? Well, “Burial at Sea – Episode 1” lets us see another of those, in which we’re returned to the original BioShock’s Rapture before its glorious fall. In medias res, if you will.
The story begins with Booker awakening to a knock at the door, after which a beautiful woman walks in a makes a request. It’s very Maltese Falcon-ish, though with noticeably less Humphrey Bogart.
The woman, of course, is the lovely Elizabeth (is it just me, or is she looking especially gorgeous here?) The same Elizabeth from Infinite or an alternate one from an alternate Columbia? Well, that’s sort of a trick question, isn’t it? (And I would argue that the answer to that question is “both” while thumbing my nose at all of you.)
Like Infinite proper, there is a fairly long stretch without combat of any sort, and this is actually quite welcome. You’ll spend your time traipsing about the shops and corridors of Rapture, taking in the scenery and listening to various conversations by residents. Seeing the underwater environment and its denizens as they were before the events of the original BioShock is fascinating.
It’s incredibly self-referential, too. Take for instance the Big Daddy making repairs outside the window or the posters for the music of Sander Cohen (who you’ll actually meet not much later). Those who, for whatever stupid reason, skipped the original BioShock are going to get a lot less mileage out of this tidbit of gameplay than those of us who have been obsessing over it for years. Fair enough, I suppose, since this is a BioShock game after all.
After this, though, the story descends into the sort of twisted madness you’ve come to expect from the folks at Irrational. It’s dark, disturbing, and laced with political and philosophical irony (though none of the latter is all that new if you’ve played the other BioShock games).
The audio design here is top-notch. The pieces of old showtunes and period advertisements for plasmids ring true, and the little details, like the ominous cries of whales in the background, are brilliant. This is truly Rapture as it once was.
And that, more than anything else, is the selling point of this chunk of digital merchandise. After all, Rapture is one of the bleakest and most fascinating locales in recent gaming history – hell, in gaming history period – so it only makes sense that all of gamedom should welcome a return to such a setting with wide open arms.
But it appears we’re not so open and loving after all; GameZone’s own Matt Liebl recently pointed out that the DLC is getting mixed reviews. My personal opinion? “Burial at Sea” is great, and I see nothing wrong with it other than the fact that it’s painfully short (two-ish hours?) and doesn’t do anything to further the discussion on gaming as a form of media or art or anything like BioShock and BioShock Infinite have both arguably done. But, if you ask me, it doesn’t need to.
Will this smaller story set in Rapture incite discussions over things like ludonarrative dissonance or how out of place the overly violent protagonist has gotten as video game storytelling evolves? I doubt it. It will, however, return you to Rapture and reference the events of Infinite, reminding you for a couple hours how damn awesome both of those things are. And for me, that's worth the price of admission.