15 November, 2013

Bottom of the World

When Bioshock Infinite came out there was quite a lot of talk. There was praise, there was debate, and there was also a lot of misplaced umbrage. It was a game worth considering, though, for many reasons. It was big, beautiful, and it was trying, if not succeeding, at a lot of very big, very weird ideas. Burial at Sea: Episode 1 will give birth to no such debate.

On the whole Burial at Sea is. . . alright. It's Rapture, it's vigors plasmids, it's Elizabeth and Booker on a new adventure (but not really), and Sandor Cohen shows up, and it isn't much else than that. By featuring these characters and featuring this world 2K has created a world that seems to say "Hey, here I am!" and not much else. Good for it. After the explanation of the title "Infinite" to go back to a city (albeit a well loved city) is anti-climatic to say the least.

While this incarnation of the Elizabeth/Booker/Comstock relationship has a particularly brutal origin, it fails to do anything with it (again: this only gets worse when you consider where our heroes were left at the end of Infinite). By the time the big twists of Episode 1 are are made, the game is over and you're left with a distinct sense of confusion. Why is Elizabeth here? Why is she kind of a bitch all of the sudden? Where are the twins in all this? Why is this so by the numbers?

It happened. It's over. The end. See you next time! (Because you know you are going to play the next episode and that's one of the more frustrating things about this DLC. They've got you and you know it.)

Though, the game isn't an abject failure. The combat is still enjoyable (and with samurai warriors, for some reason) and Rapture, as overplayed as it might be, is still a beautiful, amazing place. One side-quest even hints at the highs experienced in Infinite. In this quest, you're made to follow a man who, after designing the department store/prison that the action takes place in for Andrew Ryan, was then abandoned by his employer to the men he sought to condemn. It's the old Bioshock chestnut of "It wasn't supposed to be like this!" Yet, like Rapture's art deco designs and Big Daddies, it's an old tune that works. And it works in this case because that trope is played well all the way to its conclusion, which reminded me of one of the more tragic quests you would get in a Fallout game.

Of course, that mission comes to an end about half of the way through the main game, leaving you with three or four other storylines that don't seem to go anywhere (or do they? And do I care?).

Burial at Sea: Episode 1 fails to deliver either the highs or the lows that the game proper delivered when it first came out. It even fails to match the quality of Bioshock 2's much lauded DLC, Minerva's Den. As much as Minerva's Den played and looked like an expansion pack of a better game, it had a complete story that was worth seeing to the end. They tried to do something with this second-tier sequel and they succeeded. In this case, what we have is  an episode that doesn't work because it failed to reach for something bigger, weirder, bolder. It just aimed for the expected and it hit it. What were are given instead is something that is acceptable, pallatable. And I suppose that isn't the worst thing in the world.

(Also, what's the proper title for this DLC? Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea: Episode 1?)