At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Matt Bailey PC/Mac 2K Games Irrational Games 1
Requirements Also on...
The same as BioShock Infinite. PS3, Xbox 360

BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea - Episode 1 review

Note: This review should not spoil "Burial at Sea", but as the DLC is set after the end of the main game, it may spoil BioShock Infinite if you have not completed it. So, go do that first, then come back to find out about the next chapter.

One of the most memorable locations in video games from the last few years is Rapture, as much as the star of BioShock as the Big Daddies, Little Sisters and protagonist Jack. The Art Deco-inspired underwater city was beautiful but broken, as we arrived just after its collapse, with the oceans reclaiming the buildings as the citizens either went into hiding or became psychotic "splicers" due to the effects of the genetic-altering ADAM. In both BioShock and BioShock 2 we could only guess as to what this amazing creation would have looked like before the civil war broke out.

Such an opportunity was hinted at right at the end of BioShock Infinite as the connection between the different entries in the series with their seemingly distinct settings was revealed, and Infinite's stars Booker and Elizabeth found themselves visiting Rapture - still in decay - for a brief moment. Burial at Sea is a two-part story-driven piece of downloadable content that let's us finally see Rapture at its height, as grandiose and flawed as that is. The first 30 minutes or so is a chance to explore this world without even a hint of combat and only the slightest of urgency; you're free to explore all the nooks and crannies that are open to you, with plenty of conversations to listen on and recordings to find, all making reference to characters, places and events that will feel very familiar to anyone who has visited before. It's a fan service of the most polished order, and gets to show the now aging Unreal Engine 3 at its best, with the atmosphere captured so well by the bright lights of a city enjoying itself and the shimmering of the waters just the other side of every window. It's a pity, then, that so many doors are closed off to you, and while you are free to explore you are only allowed to venture so far, and so many famous sights of this city are not available for viewing.

So as not to ruin the wonder of the first section, here's an abstract look at Rapture's beautiful art deco setting

So as not to ruin the wonder of the first section, here's an abstract look at Rapture's beautiful art deco setting

Burial at Sea, like the main Infinite story, stars Booker and Elizabeth, but this is a very different pairing in an alternate universe. Booker is a private detective in Rapture and Elizabeth visits him with a job; the two seemingly don't know each other and their interactions through the episode are much colder and more functional than the warmth Elizabeth showed towards Booker previously. You should make the most of those first moments exploring Rapture because before too long you'll find yourself in more familiar territory, as events turn for the worse for our pair as they find themselves in the run-down Fontaine Department Store, recently sealed off and sunk to the bottom of the ocean by Frank Fontaine's political rival, the infamous Andrew Ryan. Here you'll encounter a crumbling infrastructure, much darker environments, and plenty of splicers as the trapped population is driven to madness.

Combat also begins here, and we return to the familiar partnership of Booker's weapons and powers, and Elizabeth's tears and items. Plasmids have conveniently become drinkable like their equivalents, the Vigors in Infinite, although like the injectible originals they require EVE to be used. Both ammo and EVE are more scarcely available than ammo and salts were before, with very few bins to hunt through, and the limited resources often leaving Elizabeth far less able to help you out when you're low. She'll still bring you back from the dead, so there's no trips to the Vita-Chambers here, but the scarcity will change the way you play, encouraging you to avoid conflict when possible, or make greater use of environmental effects including the return of the reality-splitting tears. If you're playing on the higher difficulties then going in guns blazing is unlikely to see you come out of the encounter alive.

While the pace of the combat has changed so that Booker feels a bit less of a mass-murderer, there is little variation in the combat throughout Burial at Sea. Most encounters feel pretty much the same with a slight variation in the environment or the strength of the opponents, and even the final battle requires mostly the same tactics you've been using all along, except for a greater use of the air-grabber - the Rapture version of Columbia's sky-hook. Burial at Sea isn't here to shake up the way we play BioShock then, but it instead wants to focus on offering extra insight into the fascinating narrative, and on this count it certainly succeeds. The story is at first just a few nods here and there to famous residents of Rapture, but it builds up to a surprising and intriguing finale that makes Episode 2 an exciting prospect.

The old and the new merge, as Elizabeth and her tears meet the splicers

The old and the new merge, as Elizabeth and her tears meet the splicers

We know little about Episode 2 right now, except that it will feature Elizabeth in a playable role, but its content might prove crucial to whether you consider Episode 1 to be worth purchasing. You may not want to get part of a story that might not deliver, although this chunk could be considered interesting enough in itself. There's also a matter of price; Episode 1 is £11.99, a steep price for something that lasts under three hours, even if it is incredibly well polished. But the Season Pass - which includes Episodes 1 and 2 as well as the combat challenges of the previously released Clash in the Clouds - is just a little bit more at £15.99, which makes Burial at Sea a much better prospect, assuming the next part is worthwhile.

Of course, there's no reason to suspect that Episode 2 won't deliver in the same way; Episode 1 is an enjoyable continuation of the BioShock story arc that is well put together, and while it may lack variety in its gunplay, it doesn't over-indulge in it either. You may want to try it just to see Rapture once more, and frankly the underwater city has has never looked so great; both in terms of viewing this fascinating place before its downfall, and because of how much the engine has improved since we last visited Andrew Ryan's playground. Burial at Sea delivers the opportunity we all wanted.

Ratings

Overall Burial at Sea - Episode 1 is a welcome return to the underwater playground that captured us (in many ways) back in 2007. The city and the BioShock mechanics no longer feel so fresh, and there seems to be little attempt to shake them up here, but if you loved what came before then it certainly doesn't disappoint. 8/10

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