BioShock Infinite: Burial At Sea – Episode One Review
Format Reviewed: PC
Other Formats: Xbox 360, PS3
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Irrational Games
Release: 12 November
Online Reviewed: N/A
Remember when you woke up from that plane crash and found yourself choking on the cold waters of the Atlantic ocean? You frantically swam for the surface, gasping for air, clocking an edifice-cum-lighthouse in the mid-distance. Survival instinct kicked in, and you made for the structure. Inside, the first sight that greeted you was a glorious bronze bust of a proud man, leaning over you to proclaim in regal red and gold; ‘No Gods or Kings. Only Man.’
So the tone of BioShock was set – so the world of Rapture was established. As you explored the rusting, buckling skeleton of a great city that was – as you uncovered Art Deco dance halls, rotting gardens, flooded accommodations – you couldn’t shake the feeling that this Darwinian dystopia had such grand potential; that this mysterious ruin was once a nirvana for the world’s elite, a garden of Eden for those held back by a society that didn’t understand them.
Booker DeWitt is a perfect fit in the world of Rapture, then. Pursued by demons of his own making that he doesn’t fully understand, the submerged city offers itself as a fitting destination for a man with an almost sociopathic determination to get the job done, no matter what obstacle lies before him. His presence there is initially a mystery, but – as you’d expect from BioShock – the pieces of the puzzle eventually fall into place. We were cautious that Levine and his team were revisiting Rapture – it seemed like its story was done; neatly sewn up, closure given, with nothing left to offer.
How wrong we were. Exploring the city again – this time in its entire vibrant, vivacious colour – was like a hit of Adam into a long-healed vein. Right away, we were captivated – keen to explore this gorgeous, aspirational world, keen to examine the dirt under the fingernails of a city whose walls would soon come crashing down around us. You walk around the softly-lit glass-walled arcadia with a loaded sense of poetic irony; you – and only you – know that this city is doomed. The populace of Rapture are the best and brightest innovators and pioneers in the world, relocated to the submerged society to build a city that only they deserve. The ambient conversation buzzing in the air is thick with context – everyone chatting about the idyllic life they’ve built for themselves. It’s all laden with a grim irony, though; all the talk the citizens offer of their future is worthless – each and every one of them will end up a crazed Splicer, haunting Rapture’s barren, leaking streets hungering for one last, desperate fix of the Adam they’ve come to rely on.
This poetic tension is maintained throughout the chapter, compounded with subtle nods back to the first game. The aforementioned banner – ‘No Gods or Kings. Only Man’ – is right there when you step out of DeWitt’s PI office, replete with Ryan’s icon, smack in the middle of the best vista the game has to offer. It’s a subtle message from Irrational – ‘welcome home,’ they’re saying. And what a welcome it is – BioShock hasn’t aged too badly thanks to its bespoke art direction, but rebuilding Rapture on Infinite’s engine works. If we were going back down into the watery depths of Hell that was post-Fall Rapture, then maybe Infinite’s engine wouldn’t have done it justice, but the first half of the demo – set in the energetic, pedestrianized marketplace – is resonant with life, colour, light and personality. You’re free to roam this area, and we found ourselves sidling up to conversations, just to hear what people had to say.
From fairly early on, it’s obvious Elizabeth is a tourist in Rapture – where everyone else sees the pallid, transmogrifying faces of the Little Sisters as a utilitarian way of furthering the human race, Elizabeth sees victims of monstrous abuse. “This is a world that values children, not childhood” she remarks at one point, taking a drag from a cigarette and staring out across the neon-stripped expanses of Rapture proper. Elizabeth may be a visitor, new to Rapture’s moral coda, but she’s every part the femme fatale the world is made to accommodate.
This is still the Elizabeth from Infinite; she’s lived through the events that turned her from naïf to grifter and Booker’s Columbian pragmastism has evidently rubbed off on her. Part of Chapter One has Elizabeth distracting shopkeepers while you slink off in search of a quest item. The different manners in which she plays the vendors is inspired, another remarkable example of Irrational’s attention to charactisation and storytelling.
The DLC is let down only by its mechanics – the reintroduction of the original’s weapon wheels is a nice touch, but it still feels like Infinite, just with an extra interface to play with. Shock Jockey, Possession and Devil’s Kiss make a return, alongside the new Old Man Winter plasmid, and they behave identically to vigors, with Eve replacing Salts. The aesthetic shift to pre-Infinite wheels is all well and good, but it just serves to remind you how dialled down the combat has become since then; we miss being able to plan out our attacks – hacking into turrets, stealthing around setting up traps, voyeuristically spying on our quarry with the research camera. It’s not that it feels wrong being in Rapture without all this, it’s just distinctly different.
The first narrative addition to the BioShock Infinite delivers everything it promised – it’s an affectionately crafted homage to the first game, retroactively building on the grim story and Ayn Rand-ian themes, galvanising them with a fresh perspective whilst simultaneously tying Rapture more wholly into the Columbian narrative. It’s intelligent, indulgent and nostalgic in equal measure, left dangling on a transfixing narrative hook. It’s everything we love about BioShock, condensed.