I was late to the party with Bioshock.
I first played Bioshock & Bioshock 2 three, maybe four, months before Bioshock: Infinite was released. For years my brother kept pushing them on me:
“You’ll love them,” he’d say “they’re right up your alley”
And they were. They had everything I loved in not only gaming, but narrative as a whole:
- Phillip K. Dick “Man in the HighCastle” style alternate history? CHECK
- Staunch criticism of the work of Ayn Rand? CHECK
- An open ended story that forced the reader gamer to rely on their own interpretation of the narrative? CHECK
- Incredible art design, featuring Jaws 3-style underwater glass tunnels? CHECK (no word of a lie, a game can go from zero to hero in my books for simply including an underwater glass tunnel)
- The ability to shoot zombie things? DOUBLE CHECK
But as “up my alley” as Bioshock was; by the time I got to it, it was well past it’s best before date. The controls were creaky, the graphics, while awe-inspiring in places, were tired.
And then I played Infinite.
A lot of people were disappointed by Bioshock: Infinite. I was not one of those people. It took almost everything I loved about the first two (sure, there was a lack of Ayn Rand criticism, but that underwater glass tunnel cameo at the end more than made up for it), and then it added time travel AND skyhooks to the mix (lets face it, anything is better with motorized zip lines).
So when it was announced back in January that Irrational games would be taking the best bits of Bioshock: Infinite and transplanting them to Rapture, I was sold. As the first DLC narrative for Infinite, Burial at Sea starts strongly. It picks up in a 1950s Rapture, where an alternate universe Booker DeWitt (Infinite’s Pinkerton anti-hero) is living as a Dasheill Hammett-style private eye. He’s visited by a Rapturized-Elizabeth (his time and space tearing daughter from Infinite) and they begin a hard-boiled search of Rapture, looking for a missing girl.
The re-introduction of Rapture is hands down the best part of Burial at Sea. It opens December 31, 1958, just prior to the civil uprising leading to the city’s downfall. Rapture at the height of it’s glory is one of the most incredibly realized environments I’ve seen in gaming. Full stop. Don’t get me wrong, Colombia was pretty cool, but the art deco styling of Rapture is gorgeous. The first chapter of this game not only looks great, but it’s also filled with the same vibrancy that made Colombia’s introduction in Infinite the best part of that game. It feels alive, filled with not only real characters, but with a true, tangible history.
As mentioned earlier, I was a fan of Infinite, and didn’t have the same criticisms of it that many did. One of the big faults that kept coming up about Infinite was the jarring nature of combat in the game. Filling Colombia with wave after wave (after wave) of things requiring a good shooting felt like a waste of an impressive environment. I didn’t really appreciate that argument until Burial at Sea.
About halfway through, Burial at Sea leads to a dark and abandoned, run-down Rapture, similar to how it was portrayed in the first two games. Once there, the hardboiled style introduced earlier in the game disappears as combat encounters ramp up. Although the scope of combat isn’t nearly as epic as Infinite (the claustrophobic nature of Rapture doesn’t allow for it), the shift in tone is so abrupt that the magic and awe I felt at first had all but disappeared by the end. I think that’s what people were getting at with Infinite, and I truly get it now.
The return to Rapture should have been bigger than this. The original Bioshock is a classic because the further you went into the game, the more real Rapture became. While technically impressive, Burial at Sea is flat. It introduces the big ideas people expect from a Bioshock game (even from Bioshock DLC), and does nothing with them. It took me about 4 hours to complete a pretty thorough run through of Burial at Sea, and for the last 2 even the underwater glass tunnels were struggling to keep me interested.
+ Incredible art design. The return to Rapture is as beautiful as expected
+ Interesting reimagining of Bioshock: Infinite’s characters and themes
– The engaging narrative is quickly swallowed up by unimaginative combat