I am totally comfortable with admitting that Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite are two of my favourite games of all time; so while what follows will be my attempt at a fair and balanced review, consider yourself warned that it may not turn out that way!
When Bioshock was first released in 2007 I would’ve been very hesitant to call it revolutionary, because it didn’t necessarily introduce anything completely new to the FPS genre. I do however think it was instrumental in reversing the emerging trend in FPS games to focus entirely on the action and gameplay elements and dynamics whilst sacrificing much of the underpinning story.
What resulted was an unrelenting slew of copy-paste fps games boasting better graphics, more weapons, a new gruff and morally conflicted yet somehow mindlessly dull and boring protagonist, but never a more complex narrative, or a game that genuinely pulled you in.
Enter Bioshock – a game that I found reminiscent of Half-Life and Metal Gear Solid, in that it actually had a story to tell and a perfect setting & world in which to tell it. Rapture was a breath of fresh, decaying and volatile air, which slowly unfurled itself and enveloped the player through the course of the game. By the time it ended, I was genuinely sad that there was no more to explore or experience. Something I can say of very few games, and even fewer within the FPS genre.
In many ways Andrew Ryan’s aquatic metropolis reflected the dying FPS genre itself. The greatest minds of earth retreated to the underwater city in order to create their greatest works and thrive in a place where they would never be bound by morality or capitalism, but as people began to experiment with ways to advance the human race they became corrupt, lost control of the vision they had originally held and with it, their minds, and the society they had created began to cave in on its own extravagance.
The game’s successor, Bioshock Infinite took a different direction, but contained all of the hallmarks of the first game: a utopia removed from the rest of humanity, filled with citizens who shared the vision of an auspicious overlord, and a series of events which lead to its downfall. Where the game differs from the first, is that the player enters the events earlier, seeing the floating city of Columbia and its pioneer Zachary Comstock at the height of their success and power, before the events of the game allow you to experience Columbia’s collapse first hand.
Infinite introduced us to the idea that the universe is made up of constants and variables, and that in it’s timeline, there are events which are fixed points and must always happen, and events which can be changed, or happen differently, and it is these constants and variables which allow for the development and introduction of the ‘Burial At Sea’ expansion.
Burial At Sea puts you back control of Infinite’s protagonist – gumshoe detective Booker DeWitt, and also re-introduces the game’s heroine Elizabeth as a femme fatale, who approaches DeWitt to help her track down a little girl, with whom it seems his dark and murky past in mysteriously intertwined. The game presents a great opportunity to experience the city of Rapture at a point earlier than the original Bioshock and before the events that lead to its demise, and it feels exactly as one would expect. The world is faithfully re-created within the Bioshock Infinite engine, and every detail imaginable is perfectly inserted to heighten the brooding, noirish mood.
As one might expect after Infinite re-defined the franchise (particularly the ending, which I won’t spoil), the idea of constants and variables plays a big part in Burial At Sea, which leaves the game feeling altogether quite familiar. Having experienced the underwater world of Rapture (admittedly at a much later point in time) in the first Bioshock game, and played through Infinite enough times to know the story like the back of my hand, there was nothing that felt particularly fresh or new about the expansion. In some aspects, it reminded me of a much better executed and more human feeling Bioshock 2. If I had to draw a real life comparison, I’d say that Burial At Sea is like meeting up with an old friend, who always tells the same stories you’ve heard before, but manages not to be boring, and rather leaves you feeling warm and nostalgic.
As I previously mentioned, the developers went to painstaking efforts to re-create the world of Rapture within the Infinite engine, and their efforts really pay off. Rather than an expansion, Burial At Sea feels like a game in itself, and in a lot of respects it is, with this being just the first of two episodes to be released. The world really comes alive around you (admittedly to a lesser extent than that of Infinite) and as with all of the games in the franchise, your exploration will be rewarded.
Despite this, some of the gameplay elements feel a little tacked-on and out of place within the world of Rapture. The introduction of tears & the gameplay mechanic of the sky-rail (both key features in Infinite) don’t fit quite as well into the more enclosed & constricted environment, and the introduction of Infinite elements like the ‘Motorised Patriot’ was questionable, as it felt like there was no reason for these things to be in Rapture, although all of these things are easily written off with the blanket ‘constants and variables’ theme.
So overall, I feel like Burial At Sea is a worthwhile addition to Bioshock Infinite, and to the franchise as a whole, and while it isn’t necessarily at polished or fresh as Infinite itself, it adds a nostalgic element for fans of the franchise, and does tell a familiar story in a new way that players would otherwise not have been able to experience. Unfortunately the high price point for the game, and it’s comparatively short lifespan (it can quite easily be finished in 2 hours, but if you explore everything, as I did, it will probably take you 3-4) keep it from being as attractive and appealing as the full games in the franchise, but if you’re as big of a fan of the Bioshock series as I am, this won’t matter too much, and Burial At Sea will still provide you with at least a couple of hours of solid entertainment.