BioShock 4: Burial at Sea Episode 1 Review – DLC done right
As readers of At The Buzzer already (should) know, I considered Burial at Sea, the first episode of BioShock Infinite DLC, to be like BioShock 4. Between the recurring characters from BioShock Infinite in Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth, to the recurring world (and some notable cameos) of Rapture, it’s like the Avengers crossover event of the BioShock universe.
So, I’ll avoid spoilers, but after playing through the game, I can safely say my assertions were actually more correct than I’d imagined. Burial at Sea – Episode 1 is a welcome return to Rapture, and, more surprisingly, an improvement on Infinite in almost every way.
Story and characters
Throughout the media-verse, it’s a frequent occurrence for stories and seasons to get better as they go on. For example, seasons 2 and 3 of Avatar: The Last Airbender are phenomenal in large part because of the character building that happened in the first season. Now that the audience knows and is familiar with these characters, the writers can more deeply explore and experiment with them, taking them in exciting new directions.
The same idea applies to Burial at Sea. Now that we’ve had an entire game getting to know Booker and Elizabeth, the writers can show the growth of these characters, and take them in interesting new directions. Sure, Booker DeWitt is still a fairly weak protagonist (despite another solid performance from Troy Baker), but once again, the show is stolen by Elizabeth. Within the first few seconds of the game starting, it’s clear that Elizabeth is a much different person than the woman we remember in Infinite. She’s no longer a naive young girl, and from the opening moments, the player gets to contemplate if this is simply another version of Elizabeth, or perhaps the same one we burned down Columbia with. The mystery is half the fun.
Speaking of mystery, Burial at Sea also excels at improving character investment by delivering a much more personal story, centered around a disappearing girl and influenced heavily by noire. Players get to explore Rapture before the fall, and the game notably runs at a slower pace, which I was okay with – give me character moments over mindless action any day.
That’s about the most I can go into on the story without ruining any of the revelations, but suffice it to say that if you are a fan of this series, you won’t be disappointed.
I might be in the minority, but while I appreciate the effort it took to make Columbia a fully realized, living world for BioShock Infinite, I missed the claustrophobic environment and dystopian atmosphere of Rapture. I can’t fault them for wanting to breath new life into the series by getting out of Andrew Ryan’s failed vision, but I couldn’t help but think Columbia was the weaker of the two worlds. I’ve sort of tipped my hat now, but having the opportunity to return to Rapture already made this installment a huge improvement for me.
However, it’s not a complete rehash – like I mentioned before, it’s the Rapture we know and love, but we get to see it “pre-meltdown,” and catch glimpses how Rapture actually looked before it all went to hell. The result is fascinating, but in a haunting sort of way – knowing how it all ends paints the entire experience, but for a moment, you can almost see what Ryan was envisioning. Rapture nearly seems like a place I’d like to live, if I could give over the crippling fear of being encased at the bottom of the ocean.
Furthermore, it’s new areas you’re uncovering, as you further piece together this incredible world. Nothing against Columbia, but Rapture always had more depth to it (no pun intended), and the opportunity to see more of it is always welcome.
In news that might be good or disappointing, depending on who you are, the gameplay of Burial at Sea is more or less the same as in BioShock Infinite. There are minor alterations, and encounters have been adjusted and rebalanced to encourage more stealth and resource management, but it’s still Infinite at its core. To translate, this means middle of the road first person shooting with some powers thrown in – not terrible, but much less rewarding and compelling than the mechanics found in BioShock 2 (and even the original). Thankfully, Plasmids help make encounters interesting, and the environments continue to reap rewards for those who explore every nook and cranny, and in this way, even mediocre BioShock gameplay is more interesting than most of the other FPS games out there.
To spice things up a little, Burial at Sea offers players a few new Plasmids that weren’t available in Infinite, and to this point, I used those exclusively (mostly because I thought the Vigors in Infinite were s***. Bucking Bronco can die in a fire). It was great to have my former favorite, Shock Jockey, make a triumphant return, and Old Man Winter, specifically, was a joy to use – I’m sort of obsessed with ice powers already (yeah, it’s weird), so I can’t quite explain the sweet satisfaction in freezing your enemies and then shattering them with a melee attack.
While I have fun considering this to be BioShock 4, it’s hard not to play Burial at Sea and think, in some ways, that this is what BioShock Infinite should have been. Maybe I’m just too hard on Columbia, but I have a special place in my heart for Rapture, and having the chance to return was a welcome one. It’s only one half of what the entire package is going to be, but I honestly feel like Burial at Sea trumps the core Infinite game in almost every way. DLC can sometimes be hit or miss, but Burial at Sea is a prime example of DLC done right, and is a must buy for even moderate fans of the series, especially those that may have been disappointed in Infinite’s direction.
I give Burial at Sea – Episode 1 four and a half craptastic bucking broncos out of five.