This past week, I took the opportunity to play through both episodes of Bioshock Infinite’s Burial at Sea DLC. I figured episode 1 would end off at a cliffhanger, and didn’t want to have to wait months to play episode 2. So this review encompasses the entirety of the Burial at Sea DLC. My review will talk about game mechanics, and avoid spoilers for the DLC, but it’s hard not to spoil some of the events of the Bioshock series without being too vague. So if you haven’t played the base game, a) stop reading this review an b) go play it!
**Warning: This review has spoilers from the main Bioshock games. If you haven’t played them, stop reading!**
Burial at Sea brings us back to the city of Rapture, the setting of the original Bioshock game, on December 31, 1958, just before the splicers riot against Andrew Ryan and the civil war of Rapture begins. For episode 1, we once again find ourselves in the shoes of Booker DeWitt, a well-known private investigator in the city of Rapture. A noir version of Elizabeth walks in, telling Booker that she needs him to look into the disappearance of a young girl named Sally. Booker is initially reluctant, but begrudgingly agrees to help Elizabeth with her task. Booker and Elizabeth take a walk through Rapture literally at its prime before the fall – bright lights and vivid colors fill the rooms, you can see other buildings in pristine condition through large windows, and even find people in relatively normal mental states walking around. Mimicking the opening segments of Infinite, we find that although everything seems happy and carefree on the surface, there is an air of malevolence in the city. At some point you come across some girls from the Little Sister Orphanage, lacking the glowing eyes but still creepy as ever. Sander Cohen – the crazy artist that the protagonist Jack helps in the original Bioshock – even makes an appearance here, and at this point you really see that the bright and shiny on the surface only masks the darkness and decay that is – and will be – Rapture.
About halfway through episode 1’s story, the gameplay shifts from exploring the immaculate areas of Rapture to fighting off splicers in the sunken depths of Frank Fontaine’s department store. The mechanics here are the same as in Infinite: Booker has a myriad of weapons and plasmids (no vigors here, but they have the same abilities as in Infinite) at his disposal, and Elizabeth helps scrounge for ammo and Eve so that you don’t easily run out of either. However, these resources do seem to be harder to find this time around; there were plenty of times where ammo was in very short supply. Booker does have access to a Skyhook for grabbing onto rails, and can still use it for melee, so there’s always that option. Speaking of the Skyhook, it seemed out of place being here when Jack never had any access to something similar, and was only necessary twice in the episode to a point where something more relevant to Rapture could have been written in instead. It’s probably nit-picking, but there were a couple of instances like this in the game where Bioshock Infinite mechanics didn’t fit what was already established within the original Bioshock. Nevertheless, the Skyhook does come in handy occasionally.
The first episode was very enjoyable from a story standpoint, and nothing was exceptionally new about the gameplay. Overall it brought fans back to Rapture with a new tale that actually fits in to both universes and ties things up quite nicely. The only problem with Episode 1 was its length: it only takes about three hours to finish, give or take a bit depending on your penchant for exploration. If this story was fleshed out a bit better, was longer, and had come without the expectation of a second episode, without giving anything away it would have been a nice way to merge the two universes without too much hassle. However, now we come to Episode 2.
Episode 2 takes place immediately after the events of Episode 1, but now the player is put into Elizabeth’s shoes. Elizabeth must work with Frank Fontaine in order to escape from the sunken department store and finish what she set out to do. As players, we get to take a look into Elizabeth’s psyche a little and understand her some more, but for some reason which I won’t discuss here, she’s lost her ability to “see through all the doors” and move through Tears. Episode 2 is the weaker of the two episodes, and it definitely shows more and more throughout the game. It seems like the writers were trying to take these two epic stories and closely interweave them to show how one couldn’t have been without the other. While this was probably the intent from the beginning, there were many places where if you thought too hard about it, it didn’t make sense in the context of the story that was already laid out, as well as within the narrative that is currently being told. It was great to play as Elizabeth and get some more understanding of the mysteries surrounding some events in both Rapture and Columbia, but there were just some places where the writers tried to be clever, and it brings you out of the immersion of the game when you have to sit there and say “wait…What?”
That being said, there is still plenty of good things to say about this episode. The parts of the game dealing with Elizabeth’s rage with Comstock as well as her need to be nothing like him nicely rounds out the parent/child theme found in all of the games. Seeing the differences between the young, naive Elizabethwho started out in Bioshock Infinite and an Elizabeth who has seen some serious stuff, even killed someone, shows how her end goals have changed and what the effects of those changes are doing to her persona. We also find out a little more about the Lutece’s role in guiding Booker and Elizabeth to killing Comstock in the events of Inifinite. The game mechanics, while different from the rest of the series, are also a lot of fun. Playing as Elizabeth, it’s no shoot-em-up and plasmid the hell out of people. Instead, she uses her diminutive size to sneak around and hide from the crazed splicers using cover and the vents found all around the area. Some areas have broken glass or pools of water that immediately alert enemies if you so much as touch them. There has been a lot of criticism about the stealth play, and it definitely isn’t perfect. Enemy AI in terms of noticing Elizabeth were a bit wonky and felt inconsistent. Occasionally splicers would stare right at Elizabeth and not notice her immediately, but other times they see you right away as you’re trying to melee them into unconsciousness. But overall it was a fun mechanic, and the imperfections could be overlooked.
Elizabeth can use a few plasmids, but they are mostly defensive such as Possession and Ironsides, as well as a new, drinkable plasmid called Peeping Tom that allows you to see through walls and briefly become invisible. In addition to stealth and plasmids, Elizabeth has a crossbow at her disposal that utilizes tranquilizer, gas, and noisemaker bolts to distract and/or knock out enemies. There are eventually other weapons in the game, such as the hand cannon and shotgun, but the real goal is to get around enemies without being seen. In fact, there is a “1998 Mode” where you must beat the game without killing anyone.
One other difference in playing as Elizabeth instead of Booker is the lockpicking minigame. Where in Infinite, Elizabeth picked however many locks needed picking as long as Booker had enough lockpicks to cover it, here you not only need the lockpicks, but you get to do it yourself. You really won’t ever fail to pick a lock (like you might see with breaking bobby pins in Fallout), but the mechanic allows one of three things to occur: you just pick the lock, you pick the lock and set off an alarm, or you pick the lock and take the alarm for yourself as a noisemaker bolt for the crossbow. You have the opportunity to see which lock pins will give you what, but it’s a bit random in the sense that the game moves the lock pick back and forth erratically, and you have to hope it doesn’t change directions on you at the second you hit the button. It’s a little menial but in the context of looking at the lock how Elizabeth would see it in her head was pretty fun.
Despite its issues, the Burial at Sea DLC as a whole was fun and intriguing, and did a pretty nice job at continuing to chronicle the story of Booker and Elizabeth, while giving fans of the original game a chance to come back to Rapture. The DLC brings everything back to the first game, showing to us that the series is and always has been about Jack and the Little Sisters. Most of the tie-ins were handled very well, and it was great seeing how these two universes intermingled with each other, allowing each to influence the other. The ball was dropped a few times in terms of continuity for the property as a whole, but all-in-all it was still fun and if Ken Levine leaving leaves us with no more Bioshock, it’s a pretty good way for the franchise to end. Although I don’t quite understand how Burial at Sea is a “love letter to fans” (unless the return to Rapture is that love letter), the DLC is definitely a great addition to the “constants and variables” theme of the game, and fans should really get a kick out of it. You can download each episode from Steam, the Xbox Games Store, or PSN for $15/each. If that’s a little steep for you, you can still buy the Bioshock Infinite Season Pass for $19.99, which includes both episodes of Burial at Sea, the Clash in the Clouds DLC, as well as an early bird special pack for the main game, including extra money and exclusive upgrades. The Season Pass will save you about $15 total compared to buying everything individually.