• Combat Mechanics
  • Story
  • Atmosphere
  • I want to take the ears off, but I can't.

Like most gamers, the original BioShock blew me away when it released just over six years ago now. The wonderfully developed characters and gripping plot were major reasons for its success, but the stunning environment of Rapture really stole the show. Level designer Amanda Jeffrey even noted in a recent interview, “For BioShock 1, Rapture was the main character.”

Despite the more character-oriented approach, BioShock Infinite felt blander than the original in many respects, including the memorability of its characters. Unfortunately, the return to Rapture in the freshly released Burial at Sea DLC feels more like Infinite than the original. While this is a positive in terms of combat, the whole experience is not as rewarding to fans of the series as it might have been.

First, the good stuff. BioShock Infinite undoubtedly improved upon the original BioShock’s combat mechanics and those changes are carried over into Burial at Sea. Through plot contrivances loosely tied to Infinite, the ingestible vigors from Columbia now serve as plasmids in Rapture and are just as powerful as always. Shock Jockey, Bucking Bronco, Devil’s Kiss and Possession make the jump over to the DLC, while a new vigor/plasmid, Old Man Winter, serves the same function as Winter Blast from the original BioShock.

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Although the opportunity to explore Rapture in its pre-fall glory is brief, it is an experience worth savoring.

The first hour or so in Rapture, if you take your time and enjoy the scenery, is completely without fightable enemies. In fact, Booker doesn’t even pull out a gun until you’re sinking in a bathysphere to Fontaine’s department store, where the bulk of the story takes place. In that glorious first bit of the game, you get to witness the glory of Rapture on the eve of its doom, shortly after Andrew Ryan’s takeover of Fontaine’s business interests. You spend most of the level looking for a mask of entry to get into a certain maniacal artist’s masked event, but just seeing the impressive architecture and slogans of Rapture (Innovation! Creativity! Commerce!) was nearly enough to satisfy my Rapture-lust.

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Huzzah! The weapon wheel is back.

The new additions to the BioShock lore, including the Old Man Winter plasmid, a crazy new gun called the radar range, and a splicer enemy called a Frosty are all welcome and add freshness where there was an opportunity to stagnate and rely purely on nostalgia. The skyhook has also been folded into Rapture along with mini skylines, which function as sorts of elevators inside Fontaine’s sunken department store. With Elizabeth again following around and scrounging for supplies, tears also make a return from BioShock Infinite. With them comes the possibility to bring in a samurai to fight against the splicers, and while it managed to startle me more often than it helped thin enemy hordes, it is certainly a neat addition to the already robust set of tears available for use in a given combat situation.

Audio diaries return again, although they are hardly as gripping as they have been in the past. While they filled in the world of the first game, highlighting certain moments of Rapture’s backstory and ultimate fall, they seem to be in Burial at Sea just for the sake of continuing tradition. Sure, a couple are used to supply key codes as always, but even diaries recorded by two particularly memorable characters from BioShock (I won’t spoil, promise) feel dry compared to their respective presences in the original game.

Burial at Sea’s brevity has been severely criticized already and I have little to add on that front, but I do have to say that it I was not as disappointed in the 3 hours gameplay as I was when the expansion ended so suddenly. The entirety of Burial at Sea consists of a mission to find a young girl named Sally, and it comes to a grinding halt once you do. There’s a twist very typical of a game bearing the BioShock logo jammed into the end of the short story, but it was hardly exciting enough to offset the initial surprise I felt when “Part 1” of Burial at Sea abruptly came to a close.

I played through Burial at Sea twice, and each time I ran into a virtually game breaking bug. The first time, I somehow got stuck in a tight corner with no ability to jump and no freight hook in sight. During my second playthrough, I managed to run into the airlock bug twice, forcing me to restart at the most recent checkpoint both times. Thanks to the frequent autosave, these glitches weren’t as annoying as they could have been, but reaching a point where forward progress is impossible is frustrating on any game, no less a title in such a venerable series as BioShock.

At the end of the day, I sincerely enjoyed both of my brief forays into Rapture. While the ecstasy of the return trip faded away shortly after the combat picked up, the gameplay is strong enough to deserve a few hours of your time. I imagine that those to whom I would most recommend Burial at Sea already have completed the expansion, probably multiple times by now, but even casual BioShock fans should find plenty to enjoy here. The expansions is included in the season pass if you picked that up and haven’t downloaded it yet for some reason, but otherwise the $15 price point and serious brevity prevent me from universally recommending Burial at Sea Episode One. All I can say is that the quality of the product, not necessarily its replayability and story length, make the brief expansion worth $15 to me.