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BioShock: Infinite Burial at Sea - Episode One Review: a return to one of gaming's most iconic locations

on 17 November 2013

Irrational Games was always onto a winner with its first chunk of single-player DLC for BioShock: Infinite, Burial at Sea. After all, from the get-go it was confirmed that players would be returning to the underwater metropolis of Rapture, which has already been firmly imprinted on gamers’ consciousness as the setting of the original BioShock and one of the most evocative video game locations to date. We all wanted to go back at some point for a full-on adventure, and creator Ken Levine clearly has no qualms in giving us what we want. However, one can help but feel slightly short changed by the whole affair, no matter how compelling a trek it might be.

Set on the eve of Rapture’s fall from grace in December 1958, Burial at Sea reunites Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth for an all-new adventure that sees the pair hunting down a missing girl named Sally. Here, DeWitt is working as a Private Detective and well-established in the city, while Elizabeth’s backstory and motivations are fogged in ambiguity. While our gruff-voiced hero is more or less the same as we last saw him, Lizzy has undergone a makeover; decked out in sultry garb and smoking a cigarette like a 1950s movie cliché, our once-timid heroine is every bit the quintessential femme fatal you would expect from Hollywood’s women of that era.

Indeed, the disparities between Elizabeth in Infinite’s main campaign and Burial at Sea also extend to the setting. Rapture’s gloom is the very antithesis of the vibrant, skybound Columbia, and one can’t help but marvel at how difference both stories feel. Early on, Burial at Sea encourages player exploration, giving you ample opportunity to listen to dialogue, explore shops and generally potter around in Andrew Ryan’s sprawling architectural eye-opener. There’s plenty of fanfare thrown around here, and it’ll help extend the campaign’s length too -- which sadly, is pretty damn short.

Eventually, after an exposition-heavy intro, players get down to the nitty-gritty of capping familiar splicers and exploring the claustrophobic halls of Rapture’s less-welcoming areas. Sunk to the bottom of the ocean by Ryan, Frank Fontaine’s stronghold is dark, grim and punctuated by danger. This marks the most striking change in comparison to Infinite’s main campaign, as areas are far less open than Columbia, pushing stealth into the mix more than ever before. This is facilitated by the fact DeWitt is capable of sneaking up on enemies for a one-hit kill using the revamped Skyhook device. While the bread-and-butter mechanics are familiar - the satisfying cocktail of using guns and vigors (aka plasmids) in battle is as fluid as it's ever been - combat is generally tighter and more proximity-based due to the more cosy conditions. I was forced to watch my ammo carefully and rely more on surprise tactics and lining up headshots to survive.