“There’s always a lighthouse. There’s always a man. There’s always a city.” If so, I wonder what other versions of Booker DeWitt were doing during BioShock Infinite’s storyline. Were they all busy drowning their emotions in poker and alcohol? Or did some become athletes, poets, or musicians? Whatever their occupations, I hope they were more proficient in their professions than Burial at Sea’s Booker.
Before I elaborate further, know that I’m not slandering BioShock Infinite’s gunplay. While Burial at Sea’s action, by extension, is a refined fusion of firearms and superpowers, Booker’s head is no longer in the clouds. Rapture beckons once more, trading Columbia’s blue skies for blue whales, and reinstating welcome BioShock mechanics. For one, plasmids replace vigors, and I rejoiced at the weapon wheel’s comeback. Booker needs all the ammo he can get. With Rapture’s oppressive deep sea ambiance and malevolent, unpredictable splicers, Burial at Sea reeks of survival atmosphere.
It's good to be back, Rapture.
Irrational also throws in the goofy Radar Range, which microwaves people’s innards, and Old Man Winter, a frost plasmid that turns enemies into horrid ice sculptures. Initially, then, it seems Burial at Sea can do no wrong. Harnessing environmental hazards against splicers, like electrocuting water spills or setting oil barrels aflame, still belong among my favorite Rapture moments, yet Elizabeth's abilities, here, remain suspect. Fans know how she inherited her wormhole powers. A quantum tug of war severed Liz's pinky finger as an infant, dividing her body between realities. BioShock Infinite’s “Infinite” subtitle was no misnomer. Irrational opened a gate to thousands of unexplored dimensions, but Burial at Sea slams the door on unfamiliar territory.
While Elizabeth retains her tear abilities, fans must play dumb to their origins. Booker does not know how Liz rips holes in the space-time continuum – she calls it a plasmid – but it was impossible to conform with his ignorance when Elizabeth started summoning samurai seconds later. Samurai in Rapture. Let that sink in. As hilarious as it is watching a feudal Japanese warrior and EVE addict slug it out, Booker simply accepts Elizabeth’s powers. "I'll take this dame's words at face value," said no detective ever.
That’s right, Booker moonlights as a private investigator for the sunken utopia when not gambling away his pay. On December 31, 1958, however – the eve of the city’s upheaval – Elizabeth strolls into his office searching for Sally, a young girl presumed to be dead. And within minutes, players are off exploring Rapture's immaculate decor before psychopaths defile it. Shops display their latest art and music; waiters teleport around, offering bystanders drinks; and citizens chat about morality and what would befall Rapture if the Big Daddies rebelled. The periods of calm oppose (for the better) the civilization BioShock fans grew to fear and respect. If only Booker spent a bit more time sightseeing before chaos took over.
Booker and Liz play a role in the eventual dissonance, probing into dark machinations of a city perhaps a little more corrupt than Andrew Ryan envisioned. The developers foreshadow Burial at Sea’s ending before the search for Sally begins, too, but the reasons behind Booker’s headaches and Elizabeth’s appearance in Rapture left me speechless. How could she do that?! Why are they here?! Which Booker am I?! I suggest delving into Burial at Sea after Episode 2 releases, because Irrational piles a bathysphere’s worth of exposition on players in the DLC’s final moments. If BioShock Infinite confused you, well ...
The good news is, the ending allows Irrational to take the second half of the story anywhere. Supposedly, Elizabeth stars as the main lead, and I could not be more ecstatic. She exchanges her naïve, social pariah persona for the attire of a confident femme fatale – ruby red lips, black eyeliner, fishnet stockings, the whole shebang. Courtnee Draper adapted to the role admirably, as Elizabeth acts just mysterious enough without appearing out of character. She flaunts her assets, from her cryptic mannerisms to a bewitching voice with all the compassion of a cobra’s bite.
Liz is a paragon of 1950s beauty.
But Burial at Sea’s runtime hurts most of all, since non-season passers must pay a premium ($14.99) for more Rapture goodness. Although playthroughs usually exceed 90 minutes, I easily squeezed three hours out of the DLC while drinking in every ounce of the settings and dialogue. The rich architecture radiates sophistication and prosperity, contradicting talks of discontent and Fontaine’s death that fester among Rapture’s populace.
On that note, Rapture is a city of clones. The developers reuse the same seven or eight character models, sometimes just feet from others, and do nothing with the noir tone. Booker alludes to his interrogation skills, yet the most private-eyeing he does is nab a mask for the psychotic Sander Cohen’s party. No matter whom he asks, Booker never gets answers. Some sleuth.
Given Irrational Games’ pedigree, I harbor no doubts that they'll blow away expectations with the second episode of Burial at Sea. In the meantime, Episode 1’s gunplay suffices (even though it's not why people laud Irrational's masterpiece), and the narrative fumbles its big reveal. As a piece of content you should lose yourself in, however, Burial at Sea is unrivaled as they come.
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Irrational Games
Release Date: November 12, 2013
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3