Thursday, 10 March 2016

Game Review - 'BioShock Infinite - Burial at Sea, Episode 1'





Burial at Sea wasn't the first piece of downloadable content to be released for Irrational Game's first-person shooter, BioShock Infinite. But, it is the first piece of story-driven content to be added - so, it was the first that I was actually interested in having a look at.

One thing that did genuinely concern me about the idea of story-driven DLC for BioShock Infinite, though, was how well it would actually fit with the story that had already been told. If you've played BioShock Infinite through to the end, then you know that things were wrapped up pretty neatly. Sure, there may have been some dangling plot-threads left over - but, by the end, they were also essentially meaningless. After all, by the end of the original game the time-line had been altered to such an extent that Columbia didn't even exist anymore - and, more importantly, it never had. Or, at least, that is how it seemed at the time. Focusing the DLC on a side character like Daisy Fitzroy, and the tension between the Founders of Columbia and the Vox Populi, may have seemed like a possibility back when people began speculating - but, it would have also been entirely superfluous.

It was something that legitimately worried me - to the extent that, if we actually were given some piece of DLC that sought to fill in some blanks in the story of Columbia, I probably wouldn't have bothered with it. BioShock Infinite was never actually about the Founders and the Vox Populi, anyway. That became increasingly apparent as you worked your way through the game. It was about Elizabeth (and, to a lesser extent, Booker) - so it makes sense that the DLC should focus on them.

In Burial at Sea, Episode 1, we are once more placed in the role of Booker DeWitt. Though, it becomes clear from the start that this isn't actually the Booker that we are familiar with. This Booker is a citizen of Rapture - Andrew Ryan's attempt at an underwater utopia which served as the setting for the first two games. Here, Booker is a private investigator, doing whatever he can to keep Rapture safe. And, in an opening taken straight out of some classic noir-style detective story, we are introduced to him just as a mysterious woman walks into his office with a job offer. The mysterious woman is, of course, Elizabeth - the player's companion for so much of BioShock Infinite. But Elizabeth, too, is different. She seems older, and not nearly as naive as she was in the original game. If she recognizes Booker, at all, she certainly doesn't give much away - and, she definitely doesn't seem to have much patience for this version of him.


The job is to find a missing girl named Sally, who Booker has a history with. Now, anyone familiar with the original games will already know what tends to happen to young girls who go missing in Rapture - so, the job should already have a built in sense of urgency for the player, even if they do go in with a fairly clear idea of where this is going to end. Booker and Elizabeth set out to track down this missing girl - following a trail of clues that leads them to a familiar face in the form of crazed artist, Sandor Cohen, who seems to be somehow involved in the girl's disappearance. And, from there, the player is lead into a section of Rapture that has already fallen into complete chaos - a department store, once owned by Frank Fontaine, which has been isolated from the rest of the city and turned into a make-shift prison for the crazed Splicers who lurk there.

Game-play will be instantly familiar to long-time fans. It is, in fact, something of a hybrid of the feel of the original BioShock and the latest game. The element of survival horror which was present in the original game, and which was lost in the latest, is back once more. With ammo and Eve seemingly always in short supply, you will be back to skulking about, looking for whatever advantage you can find - all while listening to the insane ramblings of the Splicers in the distance. At the same time, though, you will still be in the company of Elizabeth - and, despite her seeming ambivalence to this version of Booker, she is still willing and able to scrounge up supplies and to pull open tears in reality. What Elizabeth is capable of bringing through these tears of hers is much the same as you would remember from the original game - stockpiles of ammunition and med-kits, mainly. Though, bizarrely, at a couple of points you can even find yourself fighting beside a full-blown samurai - pulled through from some other time and place to hack your foes apart. Along with one of the Motorized Patriot's from the now non-existent Columbia. I admit that the appearance of the samurai, in particular, baffled me - not that I didn't appreciate the help, of course. I suppose you could just put it down to Elizabeth developing and refining her abilities, though. Hopefully, that will receive a bit more attention in Episode 2.

The only true additions to the game-play come in the form of a single new Plasmid (we're back in Rapture, so naturally we're back to calling them 'Plasmids'), and a single new weapon. The Plasmid, Old Man Winter, will let you freeze and shatter your opponents - and, will also let you freeze water to gain access to new areas. The new weapon is an odd sort of microwave gun that lets you heat an enemy's body until they burst into a fine red mist - it's kind of gross. Bother of these feel severely over-powered, when used against the Splicers you will be coming across - but, I can't really deny that they are also a lot of fun.


The biggest problem is, of course, the amount of game-play that this particular piece of DLC offers - especially when compared to the asking price. Now, an evening of entertainment is about what I've come to expect from DLC - a few hours, or so, depending on how whether you take your time, or rush through the new content. That is what most DLC packs seem to aim for - and, it is much the same here. The issue is, though, that Burial at Sea is also noticeably more expensive than most pieces of DLC I have bought over the past few years. Whether right or wrong, it has become common for gamers to measure the value of their games by the number of hours of game-play it offers. That bizarre idea of dividing the cost of a game by the number of hours you have spent playing it is something that you might hear gamers mention quite often - hell, I've done the same plenty of times. And, by that standard, Burial At Sea, Episode 1 probably doesn't have the value for money that gamers would be looking for. But, at the same time, I'm reluctant to go all out and call this DLC a rip-off. I enjoyed the few hours I got to spend in Rapture - and, I don't regret the money I tossed in the developer's general direction in order to do so. That doesn't mean I don't wish that there was more game here, though.

In the end, I felt that Burial at Sea, Episode 1 was a perfectly decent follow-up to the original story. I enjoyed it, even if I wasn't absolutely blown away by it. It was extremely impressive to see more of Rapture rebuilt with the BioShock Infinite engine - but, I do wish that there was a little more meat on the bones. I can accept that there were constraints placed on the developers, here - that the time and effort it took to recreate Rapture meant that the DLC, itself, would be shorter. But, that doesn't mean that I am particularly happy about it. On the other hand, I was very impressed that they managed to spring another surprise ending on me - especially with so little time, comparatively, to set it up.

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