Welcome (back) to Rapture 

Generally, I try to avoid downloadable content. I have a big enough backlog as it is, and revisiting a game long after completion for some extra, non-consequential missions usually doesn’t entice me to return. However, Bioshock Infinite was one of my favourite games of last year, and its downloadable content, Burial at Sea, looked to be more than just a few extra missions. Burial at Sea: Episodes 1 and 2 are more than just map packs or new character skins. They are an example of how to make downloadable content important, memorable, and rewarding. By the end, you won’t feel like the developers have suckered you back into a game you’ve already beaten. Burial at Sea will make you see one of the biggest franchises of last gen in a whole new light.

Fair warning to those who haven’t played Bioshock Infinite, or even the original Bioshock: A) What the hell are you doing with your life? Get on that! And B) This review is going to spoil some serious plot points for those games, so be warned. Not to mention this downloadable content won’t make a lick of sense to those who don’t know Infinite or the original. If you want to get the most out of Burial at Sea, play those two games first. Now, let us begin.

Bioshock Infinite mostly took place in the floating world of Columbia, but for those of you who reached the end, another spectacular city made an appearance. Burial at Sea takes place primarily in the underwater utopia (or dystopia, depending on who you’re asking) known as Rapture. Rapture has never looked better. It’s crisp, bright, and lively… until it goes to hell. But before the inevitable happens, it’s really interesting to see the types of people that inhabited the elitist sunken city. For those who felt that Columbia was too much like a tour around an empty theme-park, this visit to Rapture gives you free reign to explore a populated, living city to your heart’s content.

The amount of references to the original Bioshock are astounding, enough to put a smile on the face of any long-time fan. Burial at Sea rarely feels shoe-horned or gimmicky- it’s like it has always belonged in the series’ canon. Seeing Little Sisters before they were Little Sisters and Big Daddies before they were Big Daddies is a total treat.

The real kicker is seeing the Tears and Skylines of Infinite running through Rapture. It’s an effective marriage between worlds that only occasionally feels disjointed. Parts of Episode 1 especially can feel a little fan-servicey, but I did appreciate the frequently tongue-in-cheek nature of Elizabeth’s conversations with Booker. You can tell the writers were operating under the assumption that “they know that we know that they know.”

Burial at Sea offers an intriguing alternate take on Elizabeth that differs greatly from the original version. She’s more stern and forceful this time around; more a leader than a follower, a commander rather than a captive. In Episode 2, you actually get to play as the bender of space and time. It could be seen as a gimmick—one of those cheap ‘what-if’ scenarios games like to flirt with, but it’s much more than that. Playing as Elizabeth fundamentally changes Bioshock, turning it into a stealth game that actually manages to work quite well within the world of Rapture (and beyond).

You don’t blow through hordes of enemies with bullets and plasmids. You thrive in the shadows, in the vents, sneaking around and picking off foes quickly and quietly with melee attacks or crossbow bolts. Just be careful not to step in any puddles. They tend to give away your position. Plasmids are also meant to give you more options to avoid open combat. You can see enemies through walls, go completely invisible, or conjure a barrier that absorbs bullets and turns them into ammo of your own. These aren’t the deepest stealth mechanics on the market, but they play into Elizabeth’s vulnerability (just because she’s a cross-dimensional god doesn’t mean she’s good with weapons!) and offers a different way of approaching enemies you’ve fought in the past.

While playing as Booker, things are a little more familiar. The combat situations in Episode 1 are made easier than usual by the new weapons in your arsenal. Old Man Winter, a plasmid that freezes enemies in place, is basically a one hit kill. You cover them in ice, either shoot them or smack them, and they crumble into a million pieces. The Radar Range is more of a death ray than a guy. You point, shoot, and the enemy explodes. These don’t make for a much of a challenge, but do make you feel very powerful, which was what Infinite’s combat was good at in the first place 

Burial at Sea is split into two episodes, but you would be doing yourself a disservice by playing them, or even thinking of them, as separate entities. They are very much a continuation of the story set up by Infinite; the aftermath, if you will.  If you must view them as two halves, then the first is certainly weaker than the second, mostly because it sticks to combat scenarios that have been done before, but it’s all about purposeful pacing and steadily building anticipation. By the time Episode 2 hits and thinks start going completely cuckoo, you’re along for the ride.


This downloadable content may be a fraction of the length of Infinite proper, but it still offers its fair share of jaw-dropping, mind-bending moments. I refuse to spoil the specifics, but if you remember being floored by any of the twists in the franchise’s past, prepare to experience those feelings all over again. Sure, the convoluted nature of the narrative can get a little too ridiculous for its own good, but it never stops being intriguing or entertaining. I’d rather laugh at an ambitious game for its sheer preposterousness over rolling my eyes at another army dude yelling about Oscar Mikes and Danger Closes. To even attempt some of the more outlandish risks involved in Burial at Sea’s story takes some serious brass, and for that, I applaud the game.

Burial at Sea is a near-mandatory buy for Bioshock fans, as it contains some of the series’ best visuals, writing, and gameplay. If all downloadable content was like Burial at Sea, I probably wouldn’t beat half the games I do today. So maybe it’s a good thing not all developers spend the same time and effort to create quality post-game content that Irrational did before closing. If this really is it for Bioshock and Irrational, they can rest well knowing that they went out with a bang.

 

Final Score: 8/10

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