A rapturous return
If there was any videogame world that deserved exploration beyond its boundaries in this console generation, it was Irrational Software’s horror-tinged rollercoaster of a sunken objectivist utopia.I can vividly recall prowling the dark, decayed corridors of Rapture even now, wondering if I’d ever get the chance to see them restored to the height of their glory, framed in art deco marble and brass, lit by the neon glow of monumental underwater towers serving as a home to so many stratospheric egos.
The audio logs strewn about the original game provided a glimpse of a society collapsing under the weight of its own unrestrained ambition, full of wild experiments developed in the name of entertainment, art, efficiency and personal improvement.Due to the convenient concluding events of Infinite, Irrational is finally set to deliver on those wishes. Burial at Sea is set amidst the height of opulence in Andrew Ryan’s underwater dreamworld, casting an alternative version of Booker as a down-on-his-luck private investigator and a grown-up Elizabeth as a mysterious femme fatale with motivations unknown. It’s a game of two very literal halves, with an opening hour consisting of a weaponless ramble through a section of Rapture’s shopping district, followed by a gun-toting second that takes shape as an Infinite-inspired shooter set in the depths of Frank Fontaine’s derelict building.
Not quite BioshockBurial at Sea begins in a seductive fashion as Elizabeth walks forcefully into Booker’s dimly-lit office, gazes out the window and beckons for a cigarette lighter. She’s there to ask about a missing child, one of several that have disappeared without warning over the last few weeks (sound familiar?); Booker - through a thick fugue of self-loathing and alcoholism - recognises the girl in the photograph but doesn't know why, nor who she could be. It’s also clear that Elizabeth is harbouring a secret, and this is not the same relationship dynamic as Infinite. She’s switched on to something that Booker doesn't yet understand, and her mannerisms suggest he might be about to find out.
It’s a full noir opening, packed with intrigue. Armed with precious little knowledge and a single lead towards a known child trafficker, the pair step out of the door and into the brightly-lit halls.
Now, this is the scene I’d been anticipating pretty much from the moment I walked into that first bathysphere in the original Bioshock - and Irrational’s reveal didn't disappoint. Rapture is lovingly hand-crafted in Burial at Sea, looking every inch the expensive, exclusive and imaginative experiment it represents. Towering glass walls act as a framing device for whales and sea creatures swimming amidst the fully-rendered neon cityscape that stretches into the distance, Big Daddies leap from pipe to pipe, performing maintenance and hacking at the rock-bed with those iconic drills.
The hallways are a picture of brass, marble, flowing water and polished wood, and Rapture’s denizens dressed in expensive clothing, suitable for the best-of-the-best spirit they represent. Shops are brightly-lit and sparse, oozing polish and narcissism from every pore. This is the place I’d expected, rendered to the immaculate design standards we’re accustomed to in Bioshock Infinite - and it’s a glorious place to explore.
Rapture is rendered as every inch the expensive, exclusive and imaginative experiment.
But there’s a problem.
Despite the lavish design of Rapture itself, the citizens that wander its hallways just don’t convince. They’re dressed well and fit within the world, but there’s something too staged about their presence. Social groups of NPCs are mostly static, and walking in front of anyone that isn't engaged in conversation usually results in a weird animatronic stare that follows you around the room as if you were a curiosity from another dimension (wait a minute…). There are also doppelgängers galore for such a small explorable space; sometimes it’s the same head you’ll see but on a different body, or vice versa, and seemingly every group has a proximity trigger for a short burst of conversation - lending Rapture’s halls the ambience of a museum audio tour rather than a living, breathing space.
In hindsight, NPCs have never been Irrational’s strong point, and it’s the stark contrast to the natural movement of Elizabeth and the dialogue between the primary characters that forces the point home in Burial at Sea.
That first hour is nonetheless still enjoyable to play through. It’s light on content and amounts to little more than a set of fetch quests in a traditional sense, but it sets the scene neatly for what follows, and the opportunity to wander around a lavish AAA shooter production without needing to wield a weapon is something unique that can’t really be passed up. Without wanting to spoil any details, its climactic moments with Bioshock favourite Sander Cohen are worthy of the price of admission alone.
Not quite InfiniteThe second half of Burial at Sea is what most people might have expected from a return to Rapture, as Booker and Elizabeth descend into an ostracised building filled with outcasts, goons and the first true hints of what was in store for the city. It’s just as beautiful too, with atmospheric lighting, spooky house-of-horrors set pieces and similarly excellent multi-tiered combat spaces to those in its older sibling.
The flow will be familiar to anybody that played Infinite. Wide-open hallways replace the original narrower Bioshock confines without feeling forced, and the rail and skyhook combination is introduced with a knowing nod from Elizabeth to their obvious retcon back into this world. They work as they did before, as do the vigor and weapon combos, lending everything a comfortable mechanical foundation.
Ammo is extremely scarce, forcing a variety of tactics.
The necessary tweaks and changes to the Infinite combat loop come in the form of enemy Splicers that form the brunt of the opposition.
They’re a different bunch to those you may have fought in Columbia, randomising their movement and clambering out of the way to greater effect. They are also quite, quite tone deaf and dumb for the most part, which offers the first real opportunity since Bioshock 2 to properly set up fire fights with stealth kills, traps and tears rather than simply wading in head-first with victory assured through firepower. Ammo is extremely scarce for the most part, forcing a variety of tactics on players that might be surprised to have to use them.
Broadly speaking, it’s successful. Combat encounters are fun and dynamic for the 60-90 minutes it’ll take you to get through the second half of Burial at Sea - Part 1, but again, there are a few elements that temper the enjoyment.
Mission objectives are pretty bland for the most part, requiring multiple backtracking sequences and fetch quests to reach the final goal, and enemies also respawn in areas you may have cleared before, elongating what would have otherwise amounted to the approximate length of a single level in a full-fat Bioshock game. It seems a little forced, and although Fontaine’s building is designed to customarily high standards, I can’t help but feel like there should have been another section somewhere, or a few quieter moments, puzzles or set pieces to break up the flow.
- Back to Rapture
- Beautifully designed
- Open combat
- Superbly atmospheric environments
- Extremely short
- Robotic NPCs
Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea - Part 1 PC ReviewBurial at Sea Part 1 is an odd juxtaposition then. Both of its sections excel in a few core areas, and yet both fall down when judged against the games that serve as their foundation. The wandering is enjoyable, the combat is great, the environments are spectacular, yet it fails to gel together in the manner you might be used to from Irrational. Maybe it’s a pure pacing issue that stems from forming the game out of such distinct sequences, where perhaps either one would have benefited from being fleshed out into a full project in its own right.
There are also concerns of value over the roughly two hours of gameplay here, although in this age of digital sales it’ll probably be a moot point even by the time you read this. Burial at Sea doesn't feel particularly egregious in terms of pricing, but that’s only if you consider the £15.99 season pass which nets you Part 1 and Part 2 along with the excellent Clash in the Clouds arena mode. As it stands, £11.99 might be pushing it for this first part alone.
If you’re already hooked on Irrational’s world and end up taking the plunge on that season pass, there are certainly enough moments of quality to be found in the design of pre-war Rapture and the subtle tonal shift of conversation between Booker and Elizabeth. This is fan service alright, and it's enjoyable as such; but Burial at Sea Part 1 is not all could have been.
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