Review: "Recycled Air" | BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea - Episode One

At the start of 2013 I assumed Bioshock Infinite would be a shoo-in for game-of-the-year. Its predecessor set the bar so high both for storytelling and gameplay, and early trailers made the game look so incredibly ambitious, but who knew if Infinite could possibly live up to that potential?

Infinite was largely a different experience than its namesake. Most of the uniqueness hinted at prior in press and promotion materials was absent from the end experience. However, and considering all the baggage, developer Irrational Games crafted an enjoyable and well-constructed roller coaster ride, but one that strayed too far from the game’s narrative tracks to make it lose some of its luster.

Even with a finely made game completed and successfully launched, a large question mark hung over the launch of BioShock Infinite: the season pass. Available for purchase on day one, Publisher 2K Games offered no hints as to what the pass would possibly entail, other than additional single player content. Irrational hadn't constructed any post-release DLC for the original BioShock either (the late 2K Marin did create some challenge rooms for the belated PS3 release).

It's unfortunate that Burial at Sea- Episode One lives up to neither the potential of its pitch nor the hope of a quality core campaign.

For Burial at Sea - Episode One, the second piece of Infinite’s season pass (the first being the wave-based survival mode 'Clash in the Clouds'), lead designer Ken Levine and his team return to the first BioShock's city of Rapture, before the revolution that lead to its dilapidated state. A hook like that is strong enough to get fans interested, but a twist was added with a detective noir theme with protagonists Booker and Elizabeth taking on new roles. It's unfortunate then that Burial at Sea- Episode One lives up to neither the potential of its pitch nor the hope of a quality core campaign.

The two primary unique additions to Burial are discarded after the first half hour or so. There is a moment, not unlike when Booker catches the baseball in Columbia, that the game radically changes into something new and not entirely desirable. Largely gone is hard-boiled detective Booker and femme fatale Elizabeth, replaced with ciphers given little to no new characterization. Also removed is the living Rapture filled with (sane) people. The new campaign mostly takes place in an even more sunken department store formerly under the ownership of Andrew Ryan rival Frank Fontaine, which is filled with all-too-familiar splicers.

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The new environment does very little to expand on the history of Rapture beyond previously revealed revelations from the first BioShock. The narrative is not the core issue with Burial; however, the gameplay bears little resemblance to BioShock 1, cribbing far more from Infinite. This leads to a dissonance between environments that are meant to be handled more conservatively with traps and plasmid/weapon combos and a playable character intended to run, gun and jump on sky rails. Burial retcons Rapture’s pneumo lines to function as rails, attached to via an air grabber in lieu of a sky hook. The two games, while thematically similar, are incongruous. Infinite’s environments are spacious, constructed for rapid traversal while BioShock’s are claustrophobic, built for bottlenecked combat.

My final judgment on the season pass’ whole value will be reserved until after the release of Burial at Sea - Episode Two. Clash in the Clouds is a thoroughly enjoyable, albeit minimalist, addition to BioShock Infinite's gameplay, but at the very least it has environments deliberately constructed to be played and navigated in a similar fashion. Burial at Sea - Episode One fails on all fronts: It lacks what made both Infinite and original BioShock so great. It also fails to deliver any new or compelling backstory to the mythos of Rapture -- the same for Booker and Elizabeth.

Most egregiously, Irrational continues Infinite's trend of bait-and-switching story and gameplay from announcement to final release. I enjoyed my time in Columbia despite it failing to live up to my sky-high expectations. I cannot say the same for my return to Rapture.

Recommended for:

  • The most die-hard of BioShock enthusiasts
  • Someone who finished Infinite and thought, “I wish I could have more of the same gameplay, but in Rapture.”

Not Recommended for:

  • Anyone who wants to revisit Columbia
  • Those expecting a return to BioShock 1’s gameplay

BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea - Episode One was developed by Irrational Games and published by 2K Games. The game is available as a standalone expansion for a suggested retail price of $14.99, or as part of a Season Pass for $19.99. It is available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows and OS X. The reviewer purchased the game and played it to completion on PlayStation 3 before writing this review. Please see our review policy.