Bioshock Infinite came out on March 26th to a collection of critical praise after a two year hype train that seemed to consume the gaming world. It was one of those games that everyone had to have an opinion of. Just about a month later, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon came out of nowhere to delight fans of FPS games and 80s culture alike. It was a 8-10 hour experience priced at a budget $15, which in turn redefined the B-Tier of games that has been absent for most of this generation. Games like Blood Dragon, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, and even Bioshock 2‘s own Minerva’s Den proved that there was a market for substantial experiences at the $15 and below level. Whether you believe that Burial At Sea, the new $15 DLC for Infinite, deserves a spot on that list might depend on just how big of a Bioshock fan you are.
[MINOR SPOILERS FOR BIOSHOCK INFINITE BELOW! You’ve been warned!]
In Burial at Sea, you step into the role of a new Booker DeWitt running a private detective agency in a Rapture on the brink of madness. Elizabeth, older and wiser than she was in the main game, walks into your office and asks for help with finding a girl. This leads the two of your to explore the bustling city, attend a social gathering hosted by Rapture’s favorite artist Sander Cohen, and eventually fight your way through a department store infested with spliced up junkies. This is all well and good, but despite the new setting, this is still Bioshock Infinite. So the weapons and vigors of that game return, instead of the more complex weapon system of the previous games. There aren’t many encounters where it would be useful, but I can’t help but miss the crazy crossbow wire traps and grenade launchers that made combat in the first Bioshock so memorable.
Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Part 1 (PC [Reviewed], Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, OSX)
Developer: Irrational Games
Release Date: November 12th, 2013
MRSP: $15, $20 in the Season Pass
It may be unfair to expect the DLC to deliver in this way, but after walking around in a bustling Rapture filled with life, I wanted an authentic Rapture experience. I wanted there to be evidence of the coming fall, I wanted the splicers to sully this perfect atmosphere. Even if the entire DLC turned into a battle arena in a walled off city block, it might have been worth it to see the chaos erupting around you. Instead, the Rapture filled with life and the one filled with death are painfully separated by loading screens and narrative convenience. It’s not as bad as Infinite, where the entire citizenry of Columbia disappears once combat begins, but its still disheartening to visit this amazingly realized place once again and still be trapped by gaming conventions.
Speaking of conventions, Burial at Sea doesn’t deviate much from the standard formula once splicers show up. You have a handful of weapons and vigors to play with, and yes the game does explain in an audio log why there is suddenly Devil’s Kiss in Rapture instead of Incinerate. You can utilize Elizabeth’s tears, including summoning a samurai to help you fight, which seems like the only time that Infinite has really taken advantage of the ridiculous ability to summon things from other dimensions. The one new weapon in the game is a microwave heat ray, but it is locked in a cabinet with a code hidden in an audio log that is easy to miss, since before I found that audio log, I found the abrupt ending, and then had to load a checkpoint and continue exploring to find it. The combat seems to be artificially made harder by thinning out the ammo and EVE supply, but considering how short the overall experience is, that might be a necessary evil.
I wont spoil the ending of the DLC here, but its pretty easy, even before you start playing, to guess what happens when you take Infinite’s alternate dimension hopping ending and Booker’s true identity into account. Once you actually get into the game, it gets painfully easy to decipher what everyone is talking about, but you’re still playing as the dimwitted, dragged along by his nose, gun toting protagonist, so you have to wait and experience the “twist” that you really already experienced in the main game. For a series that questioned player interaction in gaming as a whole in its first entry, you’d think that it wouldn’t go back to these tropes over and over again, but its obvious that you are supposed to be the stupidest person in the room. The second part promises something different since you are supposedly playing as Elizabeth in that one, so I question why we even needed a three hour set up as Booker if we were going to leave him behind for a more interesting playable character.
Yes, you read that right. Even meticulous explorers and collectors can only expect maybe four hours of content here, and people interested in the story will be disappointed at the hard stop at the end. The entire experience feels like a demo for a game that doesn’t exist, and slapping a $15 price tag on that seems ludicrous. Ken Levine has defended the length by saying that he was going for quality over quantity, but in an age of F2P games and Humble Bundles, paying $15 for something that can be finished in an afternoon just isn’t acceptable. Simply put, this content feels like an incomplete thought, and waiting months and months for the real ending will only serve to lessen the punch of both installments. It would have been wise for them to wait until the entire Burial at Sea story was ready to be told, especially considering that it only costs $5 more for the season pass that contains both parts and a bonus hoard mode.
Over the months since Infinite‘s release, the critical tide has turned against the game’s favor. The hype has worn off, and it’s clear that the game will not have the lasting impact of its predecessors. Burial at Sea will do nothing to combat these detractors, instead only serving as a bitter reminder of what the series was, and a thought piece on whether Bioshock being a series is really a good thing in the first place. Fans of Columbia will be upset that the city has once again been sacrificed to the greater Bioshock whole, and fans of Rapture will be left with only a tease at what a truly innovative new entry in the series set there could look like. I really wanted to enjoy my short trip to Andrew Ryan’s underwater paradise, but the demands of the franchise made it all but impossible.