Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea – Episode 1 (Review)

Elizabeth brings us home to Rapture

Bioshock Infinite’s first DLC surprised many of us when Irrational announced it would take place in the original game’s underwater city of Rapture and not in the floating city of Columbia. Surprised? Yes. Disappointed? Not one bit.

With Bioshock Infinite indicating the many possibilities of alternate universes, the concept of taking (a version of) Booker and Elizabeth to one of the most inspired locations in gaming history is one that pulls you in from the start, more so after teasing us with the idea in Infinite.

Irrational have nailed the timing too, as the game is set before Rapture’s complete downfall. Fontaine has recently been dealt with and his department store has been sunk to the ocean floor, imprisoning the splicers (former citizens transformed into psychotic junkies) inside.

Booker and Elizabeth will visit this forsaken abandoned tower of insanity, but beforehand they make their way through Rapture in the days before it fell to the splicers. For fans of the first two Bioshock games, this is a fantastic experience. If you’ve read John Shirley’s gripping tie-in novel Bioshock Rapture -based around Rapture’s rise and fall before the games- you’ll have an even greater appreciation for seeing the world come to life.

I joined a few locals at one of the larger viewing windows and just stared out at the underwater city, glowing with vertical spotlights highlighting the art-deco architecture and neon signs advertising numerous famous locations. I don’t know how they trained that blue whale not to accidentally wipe out the city though.

There’s a certain knowingness to walking around, as you know damn well what lies ahead. You know what sits inside the mysterious Big Daddy maintenance ‘robots’. You know that it’s only going to get worse when you witness Sander Cohen’s increasingly sadistic pursuit of art. And you know that the citizens are very right to be concerned about the occupants of the Little Sisters Orphanage. Elizabeth sets the tone by saying, “This world values children, not childhood.” An unsettling premonition to the horrors children will face in the city.

The tension from the citizens of Rapture is terrifically portrayed via eavesdropping on conversations as you make your way through the city. The people are glad that Fontaine is gone, but they can sense Andrew Ryan becoming increasingly paranoid and doubts over making their permanent move to Rapture are hidden in the eyes behind every jolly welcome you receive. Rapture is terrified and knows that something terrible is coming.

As Booker, you fit into the story as a private detective again, this time hired by Elizabeth to find a little girl. There are echoes towards the story of the main game, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve finished that first.

Elizabeth is almost unrecognisable from the doe-eyed character of Infinite’s story. In this reality, she’s slightly older, her voice huskier (think Scarlett Johansson), more cynical -almost cold-, more blunt. She now has a femme fatale look that fans of classic noir movies will find mesmerising. Irrational really know how to play us like a fiddle in this regard too, we’re introduced to her via some excellent silhouette lighting and her face is revealed as Booker lights a smoke for her. No wonder he finds himself unable to resist helping her.

I spent so much time sightseeing and eavesdropping around Rapture, that it was nearly an hour before I was given a gun. When you do finally get some face time with the splicers, combat feels like a neat blend between old and new Bioshocks. A handful of familiar plasmids/tonics return such as fireballs, shock jockey and possession. And then there’s Old Man Winter, allowing you to freeze and smash enemies.

You’ll be using these abilities in familiar ways, like igniting explosive barrels or electrocuting pools of water. Infinite’s Skyhook abilities are back, albeit on a much smaller scale. There are only a couple of overlooking hooks or rails to attach to. The hook is more useful as a melee weapon, especially given the scarcity of ammo.

Bioshock has always been about the atmosphere rather than the combat though. The build-up to any gunfight is well thought out every time. You can usually hear a splicer before you see them. For instance, one can be heard serving customers (well, corpses) in a partially flooded diner while others can be heard madly rambling at each other inbetween fixes of Adam.

Enemy AI is tremendously aggressive when they attack in numbers, but they’re easily distracted thanks to Elizabeth’s ability to bring in help through dimensional tears again. Robo turrets or even Samurai warriors are on call. Elizabeth is also keen to throw Eve, ammo and health at you when you run low.

With the exception of a few hidden audio diaries, the episode is very linear, but the constantly flowing narrative and dialogue between Booker and Elizabeth give things a fantastic momentum, building up yet another ending that keeps you thinking long after the end credits.

I would have liked to play the game longer, but a glitch on one of the airlock doors kept me from returning to an old area to open some rooms with a new ability. You can still finish the episode though. Irrational have acknowledged this glitch and are currently working on a patch.

Despite really taking my time with Burial at Sea, I still finished it in three hours. For £11.99, that’s a little short. My advice, if you’re a big Bioshock fan, pick up the Season Pass for £15.99. This will get you the Clash in the Clouds arena DLC, some extra weapons, this episode of Burial at Sea and Episode 2 next year. Presuming Episode 2 is also going to be £11.99, the season pass gives you a decent saving. You can always wait until Episode 2  -where you’ll be playing as Elizabeth- lands to see what the verdict on that one is, but if it’s anything like Episode 1, it’ll be a an essential piece of the Bioshock legacy.

8.5 / 10

4 thoughts on “Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea – Episode 1 (Review)”

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