BioShock Burial at Sea Episode 1 opens somewhat abruptly.
It’s 31st December 1958, a private eye is rudely awakened as a street smart young lady by the name of Elizabeth bursts into his office. She has a job for him; find a missing girl named Sally for her in order to help wipe away a debt she owes.
This all happens in under a minute, as dazed, confused, and with a horrible feeling of déjà vu that never quite goes away Booker staggers out into the underwater metropolis of Rapture.
But this isn’t the same decaying tomb, torn apart by conflict and addiction that Jack descended to in a bathysphere. No this rapture is, for the best part, a very different place.
Bright, water tight and alive, the populace are in a spirited mood as they look towards the evening’s festivities, the social elite are celebrating, the shops are full of new and exciting products and eccentric, sorry, psychotic artist Sander Cohen is throwing a party.
Much like the opening of BioShock Infinite’s main campaign, there’s something sinister brewing just beneath the otherwise pristine surface. As you pass a class of little sisters, Elizabeth quips “This is a place that prizes children not childhood”.
Something is definitely off, and I mean that in both a macro and micro sense, in-game Elizabeth is not the bright inquisitive girl you helped back in Columbia, she more cutting and cynical, you’re constantly left wondering if this is just Rapture’s version of her, or something else entirely.
From a gameplay perspective as well as a narrative one, this really is the original BioShock by way of Infinite. Plasmids are now drunk instead of injected, that oppressive sense of isolation that characterised previous trips to Rapture is gone as you have a companion, along with all the perks that go along with it, including Elizabeth’s ability to drag supply’s through rifts and help you out of tight spots by scrounging weapons and ammo for you to use.
It’s obvious from a practical point of view why this would be the case as they’d have to add in all kinds of animations and fundamentally change the game in ways that wouldn’t really serve it in the long run. Cleverly though, it seems that early on the developers realised that this would create unease with those fans who hold the underwater city dear to their hearts and ran with it, with the changes explained away or becoming an integral part of the narrative, in a manner that continues the variables and constants theme. Although you’ll soon come to realise that this may not just be a case of there’s always a girl and a guy, because there’s no lighthouse.
Things only intensify as Booker and Elizabeth enter the sunken prison of Fontaine’s department store, where the spliced up followers of Andrew Ryan’s disgraced former business partner have been left to descend into madness and addiction.
It’s at this point that the setting begins to feel more like the Rapture you know and love, gangs of lunatics cast imposing shadows in the distance, jabbering to themselves in hushed, hurried and furious tones. Audio logs are strewn throughout the water logged department store detailing the series of events that led to Fontaine’s demise, and public service announcements blare from tannoys to down playing the dangers of plasmid addiction whilst its victims are bearing down on you, their faces covered with whatever they could find, armed to the teeth and hungry for their next fix.
In short, it’s great to be back. As much as I love Columbia, it just never quite captured the imagination in the same way that Rapture did and Irrational have done a great job of taking players back to a familiar setting but making sure it feels like there’s still plenty to discover.
Which is why it’s such a shame that Burial at Sea is such a brief reunion, I managed to get through the entire episode in just a couple of hours, and that was mostly because I was taking my time. There’s also a distinct lack of Big Daddies. In fact, throughout the entire DLC I only remember seeing two and was only attacked once. Sure, it’s a tough fight and the bugger had some interesting new tricks up its sleeve such as firing its drill at you like a harpoon and reeling you in Scorpion style but once you’ve polished it off part one comes to an abrupt end. Problem being that I wasn’t sat there stunned by its climax, but left thinking- is that it?
If I’d decided to just buy the DLC by itself for £10 I would have been pretty pissed to say the least. It’s short and sweet, don’t get me wrong; what you are treated to is brilliant. There are great performances from the games principal cast: including a rather schizophrenic performance from Baker, as I’m sure he voiced both Booker and some of the splicers, the narrative is solid and uses the existing Infinite mythos in interesting and unexpected ways, and players finally get to visit Rapture in its heyday, which is something I’ve personally wanted to experience ever since I first played the original BioShock back in 2007.
But in spite of Burial at Sea’s quality there simply isn’t enough content to justify its price tag, because of this it is very hard for me to recommend Burial at Sea Episode 1 to all but the most die-hard fans that would no doubt buy it regardless of any reviews that are written anyway.