Somewhere, beyond the sea
"BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea" combines a lot of things fans love about the "BioShock" series: the refined gameplay and amiable protagonists of "BioShock Infinite," and the dystopian setting and horror overtones of the original "BioShock."
As the first entry in a new downloadable content (DLC) package, "Burial at Sea – Episode 1" has a lot of balls to keep in the air. The new content aims to serve as connective tissue between the three "BioShock" games, while simultaneously introducing a new story arc and reimagining classic characters in new roles.
Although it's quite short, "Burial at Sea – Episode 1" succeeds from both a storytelling and a gameplay perspective. Just don't expect it to redefine the series the way "BioShock Infinite" did earlier this year.
The gameplay in "Burial at Sea" does not merit much discussion for those who have played either the original "BioShock" or "BioShock Infinite." Most changes are cosmetic, so anyone looking for a strategic, slow-paced first-person shooter with a lot of depth knows what he or she is in for.
"Burial at Sea" casts the player as Booker DeWitt, the protagonist from "BioShock Infinite." As he explores the undersea libertarian city of Rapture, Booker can fight the bloodthirsty, mutated Splicers with melee attacks, guns or plasmids that let him wield elemental forces such as fire and ice.
Unlike "BioShock Infinite," which pitted Booker against large numbers of enemies in broad daylight, "Burial at Sea" hearkens back to the first two "BioShock" games. Enemies are scarce and often well hidden, making each encounter tense — especially given the game's limited quantities of ammo.
Exploration becomes a necessity rather than a luxury as you scrounge and scrape for every spare dollar and bullet. Combat is a very different experience when expending ammo makes survival against the next enemy that much more unlikely.
Elizabeth Comstock, Booker's sidekick from "BioShock Infinite," is back in full swing, complete with her handy abilities to find limited quantities of health, money and ammo just when things look bleak.
"Burial at Sea" is nothing that fans haven't seen before, but the gameplay is still smooth, varied and tactical. Its length is something of an issue, however: Asking $15 for an experience that lasts between two and two-and-a-half hours is steep, especially considering that there's not much reason to replay it once it's done.
The year is 1958, and the city of Rapture has barely begun its descent into the anarchy that leads to the events of the original "BioShock." Booker DeWitt is working as a private investigator when Elizabeth Comstock sashays into his office and asks for a light, Lauren Bacall-style.
What follows is a film-noir investigation worthy of classics such as "The Maltese Falcon" or "The Big Sleep," but with the reality-twisting metaphysics and light touches of fantasy that define the "BioShock" series. Sleazy sex, gruesome art and backstabbing intrigue all play a role in Booker's latest adventure, with some tantalizing hints as to where the story falls in the overall series' chronology.
Since this is only the first episode of a longer DLC series, the game asks more questions than it answers, and doesn't offer much in the way of narrative resolution.