Tuesday 14 January 2014

Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea (Part 1) (DLC)

Buried at Sea
Burial at Sea assumes you have completed Bioshock Infinite

Burial at Sea (Part 1) is the first instalment of a two-part DLC series for Bioshock Infinite (my review). Released in 2013 for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC and OS X, both parts of Burial at Sea are included in the DLC Season Pass, as well as the non-story DLC "Clash in the Clouds".

Disclaimer : Standard first-person shooter violence with some slight horror themes.

The First Thing
It should be no surprise that I am a big fan of Bioshock, since I appointed it my sixth 'best game of all time'. Rapture is one of the most interesting locations ever used in a game, so the opportunity to peek at life before it fell apart is a happy one. It certainly looks absolutely fantastic, but strange FPS, obvious linearity and little story explanation prevented me from becoming immersed.

Plot & Devices
It's News Years Eve, 1958. Booker DeWitt (you) is a private detective in Rapture and asleep on his desk. A woman calling herself Elizabeth wakes him from his drunken state with information that a little lost girl named Sally is still alive and Booker is needed to investigate. Together the two head out into the city to find Sally.

We're back...

Burial at Sea feels primarily intended as a nostalgic experience. In fact it spends little time on any story, saving it for the final few moments - where it ties into Bioshock Infinite. Instead the world is filled with references to the gameplay and story of Bioshock. Nothing new is added to the lore but listening in to NPC conversations or audiologs helps paint a picture of what 'life was like' before the social structure collapsed. Gameplay mechanics such as the Skyhook or 'drinkable' plasmids which did not feature in the original Bioshock are explained in-game - sometimes a little tongue-in-cheek.

The Game
Gameplay is the same as Bioshock Infinite (my review) save a few changes that have been made to emulate the original feel of Bioshock. Some are in name only ("Vigors" are called "Plasmids") but others are alterations to game mechanics - like the removal of the two-weapon system. The game is split into sight-seeing and combat sections, with little interconnectivity between the two.

In the first part the player and Elizabeth wander around a small, linear area of Rapture. The intention is to provide a small glimpse of the city before it fell apart - something not available until now. Players unfamiliar with the story will probably not enjoy this section as much, as gameplay is restricted to exploration, a fetch quest and examining objects.

Combat from Infinite and environment from Bioshock

An interaction with a fan-favourite Bioshock character starts the second half which is more in keeping with the original game: first-person combat against splicers in dark and gloomy environments. Combat is the same as Bioshock Infinite with the only change that now all weapons can be carried at once, selecting them from the weapon wheel. Resources are also scarcer to emulate the conservation and survival feeling of the original game. In Infinite Elizabeth was constantly throwing health, ammo or eve, but here she frequently says "I can't find anything". The plasmid selection is a mix between the two games, with a new frost one added.

Traditionally DLC takes existing level design or features and adds new content, allowing developers to use their existing hard work and add more to the overall game and universe. Because Rapture does not really feature in Bioshock Infinite, it had to be built from the ground up for Burial at Sea. The result is that whilst the game feels like Infinite, it looks very different. Familiar visual style and sound assets ("Welcome to the circus of values!") does a convincing job of replicating the feel of Bioshock.

Wrap Up & Negatives
Building new environments from the ground up results in a new experience, but is developer time that could have been spent elsewhere. Burial at Sea is short, even for a DLC. Given that the experience is only about two hours it makes the price questionable too - although if you buy the Season Pass it becomes more acceptable. The shortness of the campaign negatively limits the story, which does not feature at all until the final few minutes. Given the ending of Bioshock Infinite, Burial at Sea ends in a predictably complex fashion but is undermined by the limited gameplay. In hindsight the events do not really make a lot of sense, in particular Elizabeth's overall plan.

Visually in keeping with the original Bioshock

I feel the absence of developer time has also resulted in a game that is little less technically competent than I would have liked. Bioshock Infinite ran at a steady framerate but Burial at Sea had frequent low-spikes, particularly in the starting area. Along with AI that felt 'dumb' and gameplay features that served no purpose (the upgrade system) it is hard not to feel negatively. Note: The gamebreaking bug which prevents retracing of steps through airlocks has been fixed.

For full enjoyment one will need to be familiar with the story of Bioshock, but completing Infinite will suffice. I would suggest that players briefly remind themselves of how Infinite ends because Burial at Sea uses the same complex concepts and details with its ending.

Overall I was left disappointed. Erratic FPS at the start was certainly a factor but the game was just too small. The brief campaign prevents the story and gameplay from achieving any depth and I felt compromises were made in order to put it out as DLC. The developers did a good job but Burial at Sea feels unworthy of its predecessors.

Perhaps this is influenced by the level of personal 'bioshock-fandom', but speaking as a 'big' fan I would say that whilst the experience was worthwhile, I regretted the missed potential.

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