BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode One Review
It all begins with a woman in the dark confines of Booker DeWitt’s office. BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea is a wonderful trip down memory lane for anyone who played BioShock. For everyone else, it’s a well executed introduction to the underwater city of Rapture. While this first episode is a bit short, it’s a perfect marriage of everything that makes BioShock and BioShock Infinite great games.
Burial at Sea returns to Rapture, the underwater city that was the setting for BioShock and BioShock 2. The episode takes place on New Year’s Eve in 1958, mere hours before all-proverbial-hell will break loose and the fall of Rapture will begin. While the player doesn’t get to witness this fall, there are several hints to what’s coming and this story point is undoubtedly being saved for Episode Two.
The player controls Booker DeWitt, who is now a private investigator in an alternate universe in which he never traveled to Columbia to rescue Elizabeth. Though I can’t get into much detail without spoiling the ending to BioShock Infinite, the setup is a partial what-if scenario. This is not a spin-off story however, in some ways it’s a continuation of the story from BioShock Infinite.
The game abruptly begins with Booker being approached by Elizabeth, who has a job offer. She hires Booker to help her look for a missing girl named Sally, who Booker initially thought had been killed. The two follow a trail of leads and wind up in a secluded area of Rapture where splicers are running amok. Booker and Elizabeth have to fight their way through the chaotic confines of Rapture’s underbelly and rescue the little girl.
The episode is divided into two sections. The first section emphasizes advancing the narrative and focuses on having the player explore the glamorous side of Rapture. The late 1950s art deco aesthetic is an absolute joy for the eyes. The colours, the lighting, the textures and the energy of this world are pouring out of the screen. The architecture on display here is simply beautiful. Burial at Sea is a visual marvel with outstanding art direction.
The narrative is well written. Elizabeth’s Disney-esque charm has been discarded for the veil of a femme fatale. There are strong suggestions in this episode that this is the same Elizabeth we fought alongside in BioShock Infinite. Elizabeth’s character development is well-documented; every line of her dialogue builds on her personality. Her relationship with Booker is more distant yet her character has advanced in a way that makes sense. One thing to note is that the narrative is counting on the player having completed BioShock Infinite, it’s highly recommended that they do so before playing this episode.
The story doesn’t feel complete however, mostly because the it ends on a cliffhanger. There are some powerful moments but nothing as epic as the escape from Monument Tower in BioShock Infinite. Burial at Sea is at it’s strongest when it’s quietly building the world of Rapture around you. It’s when the player eavesdrops on Rapture’s inhabitants and gets a sense of the day-to-day life or when they gaze at the gorgeous view of Rapture’s underwater cityscape. Burial at Sea concludes with a good twist ending but it’s difficult to gauge how the story will continue until the second episode is released.
The second half of Burial at Sea focuses on combat. The gameplay is identical to BioShock Infinite. The player controls Booker from a first person perspective and has to fight enemies using guns and elemental attacks called plasmids (though they’re still called vigors in Burial at Sea for some reason).
The weapons are identical to the ones found in Columbia though they all have a new coat of paint. The beloved Tommy-Gun from BioShock returns along with with a new weapon called the Radar Range that makes enemy heads explode. The player can purchase upgrades for the plasmids or buy health, ammo and EVE though the limited money available means they won’t be able to buy everything.
A few abilities return from BioShock Infinite, such as Devil’s Kiss and Possession, along with a brand new plasmid called Old Man Winter. Using a plasmid costs EVE, though the hypos from the first two games are absent. Instead the player has to scavenge the environment for health, ammo and EVE. Exploring the environment is encouraged further by the many audio diaries which flesh out the backstory and the setting.
Resources in Burial at Sea are incredibly scarce. This makes the encounters deadlier as the player has to make every shot count. Unlike in BioShock Infinite, Booker can carry more than two weapons which eases the burden of low resources later in the episode. Booker can now stealth kill enemies from behind and tears make a return, letting Elizabeth bring in allies, turrets and ammo. Elizabeth plays less of a role in the combat; there were fewer instances of her throwing the player ammo and health though the narrative has a perfect justification for this.
The player’s abilities are supplemented by gear, though there’s less room for experimentation in this episode. The player has less choice in the combat in that they will fight with whatever ammo they can find. Taking advantage of the environment is more crucial than ever and oddly enough the skylines from Columbia make a brief return. The areas in Burial at Sea are claustrophobic in comparison to open skies of Columbia. It’s a welcome return to the survival horror inspired gameplay of BioShock.
The combat in this three hour episode requires more thought than in entire games in the same genre. The whack-a-mole tactics that work in military shooters will get the player nowhere in Burial at Sea. This is a perfect demonstration on how every first person shooter should be made.
Burial at Sea will remind you how fun the first two BioShock games were. Rather than simply rehash old gameplay elements, this episode explores what makes BioShock so great while maintaining its roots to BioShock Infinite. It’s the perfect hybrid of two classic games and is a perfect argument for quality over quantity.