Set in rapture, BioShock Infinite’s Burial At Sea DLC (Part 1) is absolutely beautiful. The underwater setting is complimented by enormous glass windows, showing off the glowing city that spans across the depths of the sea. The interior is set prior to the fall of Rapture, which is seen in BioShock 1 and 2, and is a 1920’s socialite’s heaven. The floor glistens, the staircases arch elegantly between the saturation of remarkably pretentious stores, and the shop keepers are unnaturally delighted to see you. It all feels very false, but that foreign, unnatural aura makes Rapture all the more enticing.
In this alternate universe, Booker DeWitt plays the role of a detective, perhaps prior to Comstock, and is hired by a weirdly suggestive Elizabeth (seriously, stop hitting on me, I KNOW WHO YOU ARE) to find ‘a girl’. The quest leads you from an extremely twisted, lavish party to a previously unexplored part of Rapture – a conveniently unmanned prison. It’s more like a ‘people disposal’ than a prison – like a giant rubbish tip full of convicts, left to rot.
The setting is obviously different to Infinite (and just as beautiful), the splicers (Rapture’s drug-addicted madmen) are slightly different in movement and dialogue than the Vox or Comstock’s followers, but your own interactions with the world are exactly the same. You shoot things, you thoughtlessly loot everything that gleams on the screen, you fetch a bunch of things for someone else. The plasmids – which are quite like spells shot from your hands – can briefly influence your enemies, but ultimately just to make them pause while you shoot them again. In theory it’s dull and it’s repetitive, but the BioShock games do do a fairly outstanding job of clouding that with pretty environments – and they ARE pretty.
The dark, blue and busted hallways of the decaying prison in Burial at Sea give off a totally different vibe to BioShock Infinite itself. The sound of water creaking through aging pipes, the shadows of masked madmen seeping from dimly-lit rooms and the pompous voices of the deranged drug-addicts in the distance make this DLC outstandingly creepy. It does a beautiful job of making you feel threatened, alert and wary of every corner (and begs for more effective stealth mechanics), but the gameplay is just as basic and easy as the main game.
Burial at Sea actually manages highlight issues within the BioShock franchise, rather than in itself, mostly because of the story. BioShock Infinite is heralded as having one of the greatest plots in videogames to date, but the game takes roughly 20 hours to complete. Burial at Sea’s plot is almost entirely as impressive – a similar perplexing revelation (if not a more dramatic one), the same seemingly intricately constructed plot. You watch the credits scroll, thinking back to the way story breadcrumbs it’s way to the conclusion with obvious little hints and clues. It seems masterful. Why, then, if Burial at Sea can achieve the exact same awe in setting and plot in 2 hours, is BioShock Infinite 20 hours long? What did we do in those 20 hours but shoot, stare at things, and loot every bin and bench in sight? Why are there not more ways to approach the combat if we’re going to sit through 20 hours of it just for a story and some pretty environments if we can be (almost) equally satisfied in 2?
It deserves the praise for story, environment and sound, certainly. However, when the beauty in BioShock Infinite is able to be replicated in a 2 hour, condensed version of the game, it definitely raises concerns regarding the franchise as a whole. It plays you, rather than giving you the choice. I’d recommend it all the same for it’s definite pros (though $20 for 2 hours is a tad steep), but not without warning of disappointingly shallow (heh, shallow – get it?) gameplay.