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BioShock Infinite: 'Burial at Sea Part One' review: That sinking feeling


This is a review of downloadable content for BioShock Infinite. As such, it may contain spoilers for the main campaign.

Ham-fisted is one of my favorite expressions. As a term meaning awkward or graceless, it's wonderfully evocative. You can easily imagine someone desperately trying to shove a ham somewhere it was never meant to go, perhaps into a Volkswagen's gas tank. Or you might picture a fist literally made of ham: two indelicate things, indelicately smashed together

It's also a good fit for the first episode of BioShock Infinite's 'Burial at Sea' DLC, which is aggressive, salty and often clumsy.

Gallery: BioShock Infinite - Burial at Sea (11/11/13) | 4 Photos

Burial at Sea is promising enough in the beginning. Booker DeWitt (presumably a different DeWitt than the one we all played in BioShock Infinite) has set up shop in Andrew Ryan's elitist undersea paradise, Rapture. DeWitt is still a private investigator in this particular universe, and every good private dick needs a beautiful dame with a problem. Enter Elizabeth, who's picked up Lauren Bacall's hairdo and a smoking habit. DeWitt asks what she wants. "How about we start with a light," she replies, extending her cigarette. Elizabeth is looking for a girl, a girl DeWitt believes to be dead. It's all very witty and noir, at least initially.

Returning to Rapture is easily the best part of Burial at Sea. Emerging from DeWitt's office, I realized just how much I missed it and how much I prefer it to Infinite's floating city of Columbia. At the very least, Rapture offers more interesting views – you'll see many more blue whales under the ocean than you will in the sky. Even more enticing than where Burial at Sea takes place, however, is when: December 31, 1958, prior to the civil war that ravaged the city and over a year before the events of the original BioShock.

It's a real treat to listen to Rapture's affluent citizens boast to one another and marvel at their own greatness. A bartender uses Plasmids to aid in his work, teleporting around the bar to take drink orders, lighting cigarettes with nothing but his fingers. Listen closely to the populace and you'll even pick up bits of apprehension and suspicion regarding Rapture's benevolent overlord, Andrew Ryan. If only they knew.

Even better than soaking up Rapture's details is the fact that Sander Cohen – BioShock's maniacal actor, artist, composer and general fruitcake – is still alive. He figures heavily into the plot, but I won't spoil his involvement here except to say that Cohen was still making "art" before the city imploded, and Rapture's authorities apparently didn't mind turning a blind eye to it. Cohen appropriately steals the show as one of Burial at Sea's highlights.

And that's about where things take a turn for the worse. The introduction of Cohen brings with it a meaningless fetch quest, the search for an invitation to one of his weird parties (he really does throw the best). There are three areas to investigate, giving you the illusion of choice, but the coveted invitation is always in the third place you look, regardless of the chosen order. After DeWitt and Elizabeth's run-in with Cohen, the pair are whisked off to an abandoned part of Rapture which has – you guessed it – fallen into ruin. Broken glass, leaks, blood, Splicers – everything is where you left it.

And that's fine, though a little disappointing. The second half of Burial at Sea leans heavily on combat, which mixes elements of both the original BioShock and Infinite. Most bouts are limited to only a handful of Splicers at a time, a welcome change from Infinite's seemingly endless goon squads. Plasmids replace Vigors, though they're functionally identical. You'll also get to use Rapture's version of the Skyhook, which attaches to pneumatic tubes. Elizabeth still enjoys tearing holes in the universe and, for some reason, she's partial to summoning samurai through her tears this time around. Why these samurai are hell-bent on killing everyone except DeWitt and Elizabeth is anyone's guess. Ammunition and Eve are relatively scarce, and DeWitt's upgrades from Infinite don't carry over to the DLC, which puts an emphasis on efficient use of both weapons and Plasmids. You can get by on raiding every ammo vending machine you see, but focusing on clever trap use and headshots makes things much easier.

It's only natural that there would be combat in Burial at Sea, and it's entertaining enough for the short time that it lasts, but any hint of the beginning's noir wit vanishes by the end. The premise and promise of a detective story are thrown out the window, and any emotional gravity it might have had is sapped by a lame twist ending that barely qualifies as a "twist."

And that's not even mentioning a sequence of events that sees Elizabeth severely deviate from her character. She makes no secret of her distaste for DeWitt – a gambler and a drunk in this universe – but she's no angel in the end, and whatever morality she tries to project is completely contradicted by her actions. The second episode of Burial at Sea promises to shed some light on Elizabeth's perspective, so maybe there will be some explanation of her dark turn (hopefully sans twist).

Burial at Sea is an all too brief visit to Andrew Ryan's playground. Its best and most intriguing moments are over far too quickly, and even if you hunt down hidden secrets and listen to every conversation, the adventure tops out at around two hours. It's an excuse to return to Rapture, but it's not worth much else.

This review is based on review code provided by 2K Games. Burial at Sea is available on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and PC for $15, or via a $20 season pass that grants access to other pieces of additional downloadable content.

Note: Joystiq does not provide star ratings for downloadable content reviews with the understanding that the quality of the core game's experience is unchanged from the retail release to DLC add-ons;
see: BioShock Infinite review.

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