BioShock Infinite Burial at Sea Episode One: A Review

A mouthful of a title, huh?

Earlier I wrote that, while flawed, I greatly enjoyed “BioShock Infinite”. Irrational games (the developers for those out of the know) since came out with two expansions to the original game, “Burial at Sea: Episodes One and Two”. Well, actually, only the first episode has come out so far – the second is out on Tuesday. And so for a long time since they’ve been announced I’ve been waiting for the Season Pass (a pack that contains both expansions for a cheaper price than either would be on its own) to go on sale. I almost caved and bought it full price but luckily for me a sale was FINALLY announced on one of those online gaming sites, and so I got the twenty dollar pass for fifteen.

All of this is, of course, a prelude to me telling you that I finished the game today, leading to the first and most obvious critique: It’s really, really short. It probably took me an hour and a half, maybe two hours, to finish the entire thing. Of course, it is part one to a two part DLC (downloadable content, a term often used for these sorts of expansions), but if part two is this length we’re talking three hours of total gameplay. And that’s not a lot. Luckily, part 2 promises to be a LOT longer, supposedly clocking in at around five to six hours.

Anyway, that nitpick aside, I greatly enjoyed the game. To sum up the basic plot (this will assume very basic familiarity with the plot of Infinite, and even less familiarity with the plot of the original BioShock), you’re Booker DeWitt, Private Investigator, and you’re in Rapture once more. Elizabeth has showed up, this time playing the role of femme fatale, and while it’s very clear that this is an alternate universe Booker it becomes quickly apparent that this Elizabeth is the one from the original Infinite. Together you’re hired by Elizabeth to find a little girl lost named Sally that you somehow have a connection to.

So there’s your premise, and now on to the good stuff. It’s a real treat to see Rapture again in an updated graphics engine, and I’m happy to report that it’s still Rapture, and still terrific. The big draw of the game according to most of the reviews was supposedly seeing Rapture in its prime, and considering all of the praise it got I was actually a bit underwhelmed. I enjoyed it and I did a great deal of exploring, but in the end walking around a bustling city listening to bits of dialogue that eventually stop giving you any new information is kind of boring. The original BioShock, and even Infinite, rewarded exploration with more than “Man, this is really cool!”. You figured out new information about the city as you went and through audio logs more and more of the plot became revealed. Audio logs are back, but in an hour of a half of game play there’s only so much you can hide. Infinite took me around twenty hours, and the original actually took me around a very robust thirty hours, and so they had plenty of time to tell the story through set pieces, incidental dialogue, and of course the aforementioned audio logs.

And so eventually I was just waiting to get to the fun stuff, and that was the reintroduction of Sander Cohen, crazy artist. Status report: Still crazy, and still an amazing character. The scene was delightfully creepy and set up the rest of the game in fun fashion.

And so, we’re back to where we were in BioShock 1: Fighting splicers in the decaying and decayed sections of Rapture. I’ll get the good out of the way here and say that I really enjoyed it. I played the game in one sitting, which is a good sign. The splicer dialogue was creepy in a very good way, Booker and Elizabeth still had good chemistry in their dialogue, and I enjoyed, in general, the fighting itself.

This does lead to the big criticism, though: The combat. Burial at Sea part one claimed to combine the best parts of BioShock 1 and Infinite, but instead of doing that it just took disparate elements from both games and created a confusing mishmosh. The strength of BioShock 1’s combat was the enormous variety you had in the way you fight. You could carry eight different weapons at one time and eight different plasmids, and switching between them was as easy as pressing a button. Plus you could hack turrets to fight for you and have security drones follow you as your own personal guard.

It’s other strength was the RPG feel of the game. Instead of reaching staged “combat areas” enemies were scattered throughout the game, and fighting them in that sense felt quite realistic.

Infinite, especially in comparison, had fairly weak combat partially made up for by the fun skyhook system that allowed you to swing around like you were on a roller coaster and slam into enemies from the air.

Burial at Sea’s attempt to combine the two was noble but felt quite awkward. In the original BioShock Rapture was very tight and dark, giving it a slightly claustrophobic feel that did wonders for the creepy atmosphere. Burial at Sea tried to incorporate Infinite’s skyhook system. To accommodate this it was necessary to expand the rooms of Rapture, completely changing the feel of the game. I felt as if the game didn’t really know what it wanted to be, because skyhooks don’t belong in Rapture. It felt odd and didn’t fit. There was, once again, a certain horror aspect to the game but this time around it felt muted because instead of stumbling through the dark corridors trying to fight your way through splicers you went through pre-arranged arenas set up like battlefields and tried to fight off groups of them at one time. That feeling that you’ll turn around and a splicer will be staring you in the face was there to a limited degree but was greatly lessened by the combat style. Also, none of the splicers jumped down at you from the ceiling or teleported around avoiding your shots, which took away another cool and creepy aspect from the original game.

Infinite tried to incorporate BioShock’s weapon wheel (the term used for the massive amount of weaponry you’re allowed to carry), which is a good idea in principle, but in practice they tried to combine it with Infinite’s system of only being able to carry two weapons at a time. This was a mistake. The result was that you could carry as many weapons as you wanted, but if you wanted to cycle between more than two in combat you actually had to pause the game and switch out the weapon you were carrying. Also, it might just have been my poor scavenging skills, but there were only four weapons! Granted, the last weapon was a new invention called the radar gun that was very cool to use, if rather overpowered, but it still seemed odd to include so few weapons but have a weapon wheel, and to make the weapon wheel so damned inconvenient to use.

Vigors Plasmids (seriously, just pick a damn name, these worked the same as the vigors did and were ingested instead of injected but were called plasmids because fuck names, this is the multiverse) were even worse. I got THREE vigors, and none were particularly interesting either. Seriously, I got possession (which, by the way, was weakened since the affected enemy no longer commits suicide when it wears off), devil’s kiss (fire power), and old man winter (ice power). That’s it. No electricity, no crow attack, no water powers. Just three plasmids. Who thought that was a good idea?

The real problem is that because you’re back in Rapture you feel very strongly the ghost of the original BioShock. Rapture has become an iconic setting in the video game world, and so that essence is communicated very strongly. Unfortunately, the worst parts of the game are the parts that come from Infinite. This serves the unintentional purpose of highlighting exactly how much better the original BioShock really was – which is a shame, because Infinite was an excellent game in its own right. But they only have themselves to blame for all of this.

And yet, despite all of that, I still enjoyed the combat. Splicer dialogue is still delightfully creepy and despite how awkward the skyhook placement is there’s still a certain satisfaction that comes from leaping off of a skyline and sending an enemy flying in one hit, and it’s always a rush when you’re about to die or run out of ammo and Elizabeth tosses you exactly what you need. And of course the Big Daddy fight at the end was fun. I want to say it was a little too easy but then I play on easy, so I’ll hold my tongue. Suffice to say I enjoyed it.

The story kept my interest. The ending is very dark, but I thought it was actually kind of badass. I don’t want to give it away in case anybody is interested so I’ll content myself with saying that Episode 2 is definitely going to be very much Elizabeth’s story this time, not Booker’s, and to see why you’ll have to play the game. Or look it up on Wikipedia.

Overall, despite being a short experience I had a lot of fun. It was great to be back in Rapture again and fun to do it with the new characters, and though I was a little bored at first it kept my interest enough that I finished it in one sitting. Combat was fun, the ending was badass, and Burial at Sea Part 2 promises to be a longer experience, and a more stealth-oriented one. After playing this I definitely look forward to it, and I happily recommend this DLC to all fans of BioShock and BioShock Infinite.

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One Response to BioShock Infinite Burial at Sea Episode One: A Review

  1. Pingback: Burial at Sea: Episode 2 Comes Out Today! | Malcolm the Cynic

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