Over a year in the waiting since the release of the main game, the second part of the Bioshock Infinite DLC Burial At Sea has arrived, so we can finally write a complete review. Was it worth the anticipation? Keep reading and find out.
Burial At Sea part one hit our machines in the middle of November last year and provided an alternate reality for us to reprise the role of Booker DeWitt, this time as a gumshoe PI in the underwater city of Rapture. Playing out a different version of Booker (linked to Infinite’s big reveal that I’ll not spoil completely here), you’re being hired by Elizabeth – your companion from Infinite, and you’re “Johnny on the spot” AI friend again in this – to find a young girl called Sally who’s mysteriously disappeared. The DLC uses this new premise as a way of introducing newcomers, and re-acquainting old hands, with the wonderful city. Better realised than ever, the city is a joy to look at, and you’re treated to what it was like to live there before the civil war took hold. People go about their daily lives in luxury; Big Daddies roam the outside working, building and adding to the pioneering city; and you get to see a lot of the sights and institutions before they’re corrupted by the greed and plasmid use.
It’s not long before things go pear shaped though, and the guided tour showcasing a city of hope and prosperity comes to an end, pretty much at the point of meeting Sander Cohen and his insane bunch of followers. Up to this point, gameplay is almost a “find and fetch” style that incorporates exploration, quite a nice change of pace to the combat. The combat comes though, and it’s a definitive change from the start of the episode. As the story evolves you start to reluctantly become involved in the uprising that brings Rapture to its knees, and a more familiar feeling of ruin and despair takes over. Plasmids are back instead of the vigours, but do the same job, and the same weapons return but without upgrades. Enemies are dispatched in the same way as tackling anything else in the Bioshock universe, and you’ll quickly get into your stride combining dishing out a violent end to anyone you encounter, and using your powers to solve environmental puzzles to keep the your progression going. Sadly this doesn’t last too long and the end of the chapter arrives abruptly and leaves things on a big cliffhanger that will have you chomping at the bit for the next part.
Part two (originally released 4 months later) picks up nearly at the same point part one finished, but with one significant difference. You’re not Booker, you’re Elizabeth. The roles aren’t quite reversed with Booker not accompanying in AI form, but he is there in the style of the original Bioshock over your radio. There’s not only the character switch, gameplay takes a turn as well and becomes a third person stealth game because you’re now a very vulnerable Elizabeth. Gone are the dimension tearing powers, which is only vaguely explained why (and a huge plot hole in my mind), and the abilities granted Booker have been cut back. The setup is very quick to establish that you should avoid combat and sneak your way around, something that Bioshock traditionally offers as an option and not the core mechanic. An element brought back though, as you’d expect from Elizabeth’s skill set, is the ability to lockpick. Done in a nice sketched-exploded diagram style that appeals to the engineer in me, picking locks to open doors and disable turrets is more of a reaction-based minigame rather than a skill to master, but satisfying when you hit the right pin. Not so satisfying when you’re getting shot by the turret you’ve just activated by mistake…
You’re not completely helpless though, stealth mechanics mean stealth weapons. Introducing a spin on the weapon of choice in most other games, we get a crossbow instead of a hunting bow, and it’s loaded with tranquiliser darts and gas pellets. I really like the darts, I’ve not had that much fun knocking people out since playing as Gabe Logan in Syphon Filter 2. Unfortunately, this version of Rapture likes to be mean with ammo, and there were many times I had to work my way around enemies or attack from behind for a quick knockout. Powers are available, and there’s a new one introduced that allows you to become invisible and silence your footsteps, but again there’s limited Eve to fuel them so judicious use is advised. Exploration is less prevalent than in part one, though there are still audio recordings to collect, and there are some nice revisits of previous locations for you to gawp over.
It’s tricky to say much more without spoiling what happens in each of the parts, and how the whole DLC fits with the story of Booker, Elizabeth and Colombia, with a seriously dark undertone even by their usual standards. Suffice to say there’s a lot of fan service in here and if you’re a long time player of the series there’s an awful lot to get out of it, even if it does feel like it’s trying to be too clever. However, I came away disappointed. My experience with the whole series is one of wonder, revelation and choice, and this wasn’t the same, especially as the ending was telegraphed early in part two (for me at least). Having seen how Irrational have linked the worlds of Rapture and Colombia with this tale, I understand that the change in playstyle forces you down a sometimes uncomfortable route, and harks back to the “Would You Kindly” illusion of choice from the first game, but it felt limited to me after the more open ended style used in the full game. Is it worth the price of admission? Probably, but the length of time I’ve had to wait since forking out for the season pass has jaded me slightly, and my enjoyment would have been without doubt higher if it had been a 6 to 8 weeks after launch instead of 13 long months.