The unveiling of BioShock Infinite’s DLC sucker-punched quite a lot of fans, didn’t it? More Booker, more Elizabeth, and in Rapture no less, who would deny their enthusiasm for the upcoming Burial at Sea add-on? But while season pass owners fawn over their impending reunions with Andrew Ryan’s underwater metropolis, the combat-focused Clash in the Clouds expansion reminds players why the firearms were not the stars of Columbia’s undoing.
A core issue is the absent story. Without a narrative crutch to lean on, BioShock Infinite’s serviceable gameplay has been forcibly wheeled to the forefront while Irrational develops content buyers really want. Clash in the Clouds might satisfy some people given the meager price, but I do not see anyone returning for more vigor-induced anarchy after several hours. It is yet another Horde mode, omitting the cooperative aspect. Booker starts with a handful of vigors and pistol at his disposal, and past wave one, players spend their accrued cash on new powers and upgrades. In contrast, every firearm is free to equip.
There is a reason behind that generosity. Clash in the Clouds generates optional goals, called blue ribbon challenges, worth extra money when completed – most require specific weapons and vigors, though some incorporate tears. For instance, one objective recommends players only use machine guns to eliminate enemies, and later missions involve sky-line strikes, friendly fire, leaving corpses unlooted, not shooting a Handyman’s heart, etc. The blue ribbons serve as a great refresher after BioShock Infinite’s campaign, where I wielded the shotgun, Murder of Crows, and Possession almost exclusively. Instead, you’re pushed outside your comfort zone here, to actually test arsenal combinations.
Characters like the Siren are relegated to standard miniboss status.
But with fifteen waves per map, the excitement quickly ramps up as the unchangeable difficulty becomes a bother. Whenever I reached double digits, I chose progress over azure knots of cloth, ignoring ribbons and relying on the same guns and gear. Is it my fault? The DLC’s? The latter, I’d say. For example, the final skirmish of the Ops Zeal map pits Booker against a Patriot and two Handymen. The challenge then required me to kill each automaton with a separate vigor, yet the accompanying frustration damned that dream immediately. I lasted a minute before the Handymen crushed me, so I restarted the current wave. A Handyman attacked before Booker even spawned, which fed into a malicious respawn loop that I barely escaped from.
I almost walked away from the computer at that point. Clash in the Clouds is already rudimentary – a series of glorified bot matches – and the combat never defined my BioShock Infinite experience. But I can appreciate the persistence. Dying does not reset upgrades you've purchased. Like your cash, they carry over between matches, from one arena to the next, making previously unruly encounters manageable.
Still, players are not dismissing plot details when they quit early. Returning to the atrium lets you unlock three additional maps (vaguely identical to the original locales), while Columbia’s Archeological Society contains hidden audio diaries, Troy and Courtney’s audition, character statues, and possibly the greatest piece of concept art ever created. Although I am not obsessed with such collectibles, in the absence of a proper developer commentary, the museum’s displays offer an insightful tease of the game’s evolution. And by comparison, Clash in the Clouds is no lesser the equivalent of other well-realized Horde modes. It’s just that, even with Columbia as its setting, it’s no better, either.
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Irrational Games
Release Date: July 30, 2013
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Like the review? Follow me on Twitter.