First, a public-service announcement: if you haven’t finished BioShock Infinite, consider this a severe spoiler warning. Now on with the review.
BioShock Infinite is a Game of the Year contender due largely to its impactful storytelling, complete with an uppercut punch of an ending -- the result of over a dozen hours of character development, careful pacing, and, yeah, a whole lot of BioShock-y action. But Infinite’s first story-driven DLC, Burial at Sea Part 1, tries to get across suspense and mystery without the luxury of taking its time, and it doesn’t work quite as well. It clocks in at roughly 90 minutes, and now that we know what the “Infinite” in BioShock Infinite truly means, it’s tougher for any BioShock story to sock us in the gut -- particularly an abridged one.
Those factors dilute much of Burial at Sea’s impact, but still, a return trip to the original BioShock’s setting of Rapture -- as teased near the end of Infinite proper is alluring. It’s New Year’s Eve in 1958, just before the fall of Rapture, and alternate-timeline versions of Booker and Elizabeth meet in DeWitt’s office; the lady offering the detective help with finding a little girl he left behind long ago. Immediately my mind began looking for links to Infinite, and that was enough of a hook to keep me interested. Booker seemingly hasn’t changed, but laudably, Burial at Sea does give Courtnee Draper a chance to play Elizabeth has an older, more confident, huskier-voiced ‘50s bombshell. Plus, Rapture looks better than ever, even if, save for a creepy Eyes Wide Shut-like party early on, it’s nowhere near as haunting as it was in its original form, mostly because you already know its secrets.
Familiar sights tug at nostalgic heartstrings, but gameplay-wise the real appeal is the injection of Infinite’s combat mechanics into Rapture’s world. Skyhooks and vigors converge with a Big Daddy fight in the undersea utopia-gone-bad, with potent results. The combat feels faster than the first game, but that’s not to say you have the upper hand. Nor does it make Burial at Sea’s enemy encounters better than BioShock’s. It just makes them different. When you’re yanked down from a skyline by the Big Daddy’s drillbit-tipped grappling hook, it’s clear that the battle isn’t to be taken lightly. Meanwhile, Infinite’s arsenal of shotguns and vigor powers feel sadistically good against the splicers of yore.
As for the inevitable twist? Let’s just say that Burial at Sea’s ending left me interested in playing Episode 2, but because it follows the same storytelling pattern as Infinite, I was braced for its revelations even though I wasn’t sure exactly what they would be. The story isn’t ruined for sticking to the same playbook, but its impact is certainly diminished.
Though Burial at Sea Episode 1 may be a short vignette next to Infinite’s novel, it’s still one you aren’t likely to put down for the brief time it lasts -- and it’s priced accordingly at $15. Just don’t expect the story to yank the rug out from under you quite so delightfully this time.