Burial at Sea - Episode 1 Review

By Jonathan Barnes, 2 years ago
When gamers learned that Irrational was planning to take them back to Rapture in "Burial at Sea", the story-based DLC for their critically-acclaimed smash hit, BioShock Infinite, the cries of joy and rapture (pun intended) could be heard from the bottoms of every sea to shining sea. Much like Rapture itself though, the ideas and fantasies behind it are much better than the actual results.

Warning: There are slight spoilers to the main story of BioShock Infinite contained within this review, so if you haven't finished the game GO DO THAT before reading on.


Let's start with the million dollar question: "What are Booker and Elizabeth doing in Rapture?"

Unfortunately, this million dollar question requires a dime store answer so as not to spoil any of the story, but the simplest explanation is that we're in another reality ("There's always a lighthouse. There's always a man.") where Booker finds himself a private investigator in Rapture on New Year's Eve 1958. In a state similar to his beginnings in Infinite, Booker wakes up in his office surrounded by bad gambling tickets and nursing a screaming hangover. Elizabeth walks in with an air and presence that's straight out of classic film noir and presents Booker with some work: find a lost girl who may (or may not) be dead. From there, Rapture calls... not the leaking, dilapidated dystopia of BioShock's past, but a gleaming, shining beacon on the hill of Andrew Ryan. The denizens are smiling, laughing, drinking, and enjoying the merriment of the holiday eve. Every inch of the city shines and sparkles. It looks straight out of Gatsby and entices you to explore every inch.

For as nice as this "restored" Rapture looks, it's barely pixel deep as there seems to be a good deal of graphical presentation issues ranging from slowed frame rates and stutters, to jagged edges on lines, odd lighting effects, and other small hiccups that detract from the experience. As glorious and polished as Infinite was, this pack seems to have dropped the ball slightly in the visual department on a technical level.


Likewise, combat has taken a step back. Playing on "Medium", I constantly found myself running out of ammunition and Eve, making combat tedious and aggravating rather than challenging and fun. For as many complaints as gamers may have had about the previous DLC pack, "Clash in the Clouds", it did a wonderful job of showing how fun and balanced Infinite's combat can be when properly staged and executed. Enemies are also incredibly generic with only two types of splicers and basic turrets standing between you and the endgame. Fans of Rapture will also be saddened to find out that there are no security systems (bots or cameras) and hacking is non-existent. This is a straight shooting experience.

The depth of Infinite's upgrade system has also been drastically scaled back. The only weapon upgrades available are for the new Radar Ranger weapon and while plasmids can be upgraded (for money, not Adam), doing so is by no means necessary and you will have to be incredibly frugal with your cash (and, in a related way, ammo) to be able to afford a boost. Gear and Infusions make a return from Infinite, but are sparsely scattered throughout Rapture, and none of the pieces create a new sense of power or advantage.

On a narrative level, there's also a weird dissonance with the Infinite gameplay mechanics and structure mixed with the Rapture aesthetic. It just feels weird to drink Eve instead of injecting it and having the names of the Infinite vigors ("Shock Jockey", "Devil's Kiss", "Old Man Winter") instead of the original, Rapture plasmid names ("Electro Bolt", "Incinerate!", "Winter Blast"), not to mention having Elizabeth revive you when you die (instead of Vita Chambers), and the presence of Sky-Hooks/Air Grabbers. These narrative idiosyncrasies are small and minor, but will be jarring for fans of the original trip(s) to Rapture.


As part one of a two part arc, "Burial at Sea" shows Booker and Elizabeth in a new light, both are cold and distant from each other. The childish innocence that was Elizabeth's calling card at the beginning of Infinite is gone, replaced with a cool antagonism that goads Booker as he begrudgingly makes his way through Rapture. Just like in the game proper, this relationship is center stage to the story, does just enough to tantalize and tease, and will require repeated playthroughs, if only to see the final scene one or two more times. Unfortunately/Fortunately, you can easily play through the entirety of the pack in about two hours, maybe a little more if you really stop to take in the sights.

Speaking of repeated playthroughs, while it is possible to pop all of the achievements in one pass, you may need a few playthroughs to pop Chain Reaction and Audio Enthusiast. The rest of the achievements are easily unlocked with a minimum of fuss.

Make no mistake about it, "Burial at Sea" is pure fan service. If you're a fan of the BioShock series, you owe it to yourself for another hit of Rapture and another adventure with Booker and Elizabeth. That being said, temper your expectations. The generic and frustrating combat, short length, and lack of depth make this pack something of a disappointment, and while the story does bring the curve up a bit, it isn't at the level of the Infinite or even BioShock 2's excellent "Minerva's Den". While this is the first part of two episodes, fans are left to hope that Episode 2 does the heavy lifting.

The reviewer spent approximately five hours with "Burial at Sea", completing the story twice and popping all of the achievements. The content was purchased personally by the reviewer.
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.