Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Episode 1 Review
Welcome back to Rapture. Mr. Ryan sends his regards.
Dewitt Investigations, just another gloomy day at the office of a private detective. Then the most beautiful dame you'd ever seen walks in and wants your help. Not only that but she wants to help you find your missing ward, a young girl named Sally. The mysterious beauty walks to the window and holds a smoke gingerly between her fingers. As I always say “Pretty girls don't light their own cigarette.” Use a little Devil's Kiss to light up this raven-haired beauty and get to work. By the way she says her name is Elizabeth.
This isn't the same Elizabeth we remember. She's more seasoned, more mature, and definitely in control of the situation. She says she's in the debt collection business. This could be an interesting case.
I was really looking forward to getting my feet wet in Rapture again, especially to see the place with the latest graphical upgrades. If you recall the first two games were done with the Unreal 2 iteration of the engine and while great for the time, did far more with light and shadow than with textures and character models. For the most part Burial At Sea does not disappoint, though as with a lot of DLC there is corner cutting going on.
The atmosphere is pitch perfect once again, with expert lighting to punctuate your stay in the city. Things are a bit dark though most of the time, probably more than it needs to be for the mood. That dark is hiding something. It's hiding some muddy textures clearly designed to look great from a distance. Up close though, nothing in Colombia was this ugly. It isn't a rampant issue, but it is a part of the presentation and worth mentioning. Most of the time the place looks great.
I noted a few issues that carried over from Infinite. Graphical glitches are minor but present. When NPCs are around chatting with each other you'll get fairly constant screen tearing when turning. It is noticeable but not horrible when the frame rate is locked and pretty darn bad when unlocked but of course that is to be expected. The NPCs look a little slapdash character model-wise but they serve their purpose. Special effects are great and the water is especially pleasing, I wish there was more of it.
Overall it's an upgrade from the Rapture of old, but not as polished a presentation as we saw in Infinite.
The same top tier audio from Infinite is present in Burial. My favorite of course are the old timey songs. There isn't much room for them in this brief episode but you will come across both the familiar and the new. That creaking, creepy omnipresent . . . presence of the city really fills out the ambiance. I couldn't get enough of the sound effects. Troy Baker is at his finest. He doesn't break character at all (which I noticed in his last two performances) and has plenty of dialogue with Courtnee Draper. As Elizabeth she really sells the more experienced, woman in charge side of her character.
I didn't catch any audio balance issues but I should note I'm not working with surround sound here, which would probably suit the analysis of this audio better. Nothing was off time and it all helped the immersion factor. I think that is of paramount importance for this DLC and if you pay attention you'll feel it. The background music is exactly what you want, no more and no less.
The approach to gameplay is nuanced and problematic. Whether you really like it or not is going to be subjective in certain areas so I'll try to explain what is going on the best I can. The control mechanics should be very familiar to you. Tapping or holding L1 uses your plasmids and tapping or holding L2 selects them. Your right hand totes your gun and a much missed weapon wheel. I'll let you figure out how to work those things. Triangle smashes things with the Skyhook, er I mean Air Grabber. Yeah they found a way to get the neat tool into Rapture along with its abilities. Elizabeth also has her tear function to help you in battle. There are a few pieces of gear for Booker splayed around for those useful RPG-like perks.
I spoke of nuance, by that I mean Irrational has attempted to jam a progressive combat system into this brief experience. You begin with two plasmids, Devil's Kiss and Possession. Your first gun is the hand cannon. For roughly the first 1/4th or 1/3rd of the quest (depending upon your play style) the DLC plays out almost like a survival/horror experience. Bullets are short and EVE gets used up very quickly. Elizabeth will still look for items for you but counting on her too much will get you killed. You've got to take it slow at the start and make with the head shots and smart plasmid usage. I think it was a great idea but the execution feels off because all of the sudden things change quickly. There is an attempt to ease you into the wild firefights by giving you few bullets with each new gun but the transition period is still almost non-existant. You go from survival/horror to bombastic blast fest too quickly.
At that point plenty of options open to you and none of them end up being very useful or game altering. There are infusions to improve either your health, shield, or EVE. You're better off using them all on one thing you want because spreading them out like I did had almost zero effect on how I could play.
The level designs are superb. If you were a little down on the marginally more linear approach of Infinite, you'll be happy to see the spacious open floor plans of Rapture again. Each area is distinctive and connected to multiple shops and alcoves for you to explore. To do this you'll utilize the familiar lock pick system of the parent game and some door codes just like in the old days.
Like some of the rest of the project they physical layout is missing the finishing touches. I literally ran into some rather significant collision detection issues. On multiple occasions I ran into unintentional invisible barriers surrounding debris. It felt like I had sticky feet sometimes. On one occasion I even got completely stuck inside a small pile of rubble causing me to have to reload my last checkpoint. After that I was more careful of my exploring tactics.
Speaking of exploration, I'm sure plenty of people are making much of the length of this DLC. They should. It's pretty brief and there's no indication that it has to be. The fact that you can rarely collect enough money to buy the weapon and plasmid upgrades available makes me wonder if they didn't plan for it to be longer originally. If you run from place to place it might take you an hour and a half to clear the expansion. I took my time and explored every little nook and cranny, inspected the artwork, located most of the items, and just plain lingered to gawk at the atmosphere. Doing so allowed me to stretch it to about 3 hours including my misadventure getting stuck inside rubble. The experience is concentrated and I actually wouldn't have minded some padding to better realize the full vision. Obviously it continues with Episode 2 but without spoiling it I think I can tell you that there is a self contained nature to this since we know we all know we will be playing as Elizabeth next time.
There is a serviceable amount of replay value in this expansion but none of it is very compelling. I'd be surprised with myself if I played it again anytime soon. Taking down all gun turrets is a side quest so you'll have to ferret them out. Exploration is rewarding for fans of the underwater city because the locations are are all impressive for the retro junkie, a class that I count myself a part of. It's also very easy to miss things so you might want to go back through for the fun of a different approach or the trophies. It wouldn't be Bioshock without a collection of audio logs to find. They help to piece together the stories of citizens that tell in their own roundabout ways how your current situation in Rapture connects to the events of Infinite. Some will want to play it a second time just to make sure they understood the story, I can see how one experience might leave people confused. There's some philosophy in here worth extracting too.
An excellent side/future plot to Infinite, Burial At Sea is a must for all true Bioshock fans. I don't think it is as accomplished as Minerva's Den and both the story and gameplay feels highly compacted. I must stress that these issues aren't difficult to overlook but there's something bigger going on that you need to know before buying. Gameplay-wise this does not feel like a true return to Rapture. Many staples of that environment are missing, leaving the gamer with the impression that instead of being back in Rapture they are in the Bioshock Infinite version of Rapture. Fans should play this, but get yourselves a season pass even if you don't care about the Clash in the Clouds add-on. You'll thank me later.
The Good: The atmosphere is unparalleled in gaming, and this DLC adds to the greatness of Rapture. 1950s Elizabeth.
The Bad: Needs more polish. The whole package is too compacted.
The Ugly: When it's done you'll ask the thin air in front of you, "That's it?"
11/14/2013 David D. Nelson