When we first see BioShock’s Rapture, the undersea libertarian metropolis created by Ayn Rand acolyte Paul Ry…I mean Andrew Ryan, it has already fallen from capitalist utopia to Davy Jones dystopia. Your character, Jack, having survived a plane crash at sea, makes his way into the briny depths and the remnants of this once proud, decadent civilization. The most recent iteration of the series, BioShock Infinite, trades giant whales for humungous robot birds and takes place aboard a city floating high above the clouds. It doesn’t have any direct link to the first game other than some familiar themes and a steady hail of bullets. So it’s with no small sense of wonder, then, that we approach Burial At Sea Pt. 1, which melds the worlds of the original game and Infinite together in a long-awaited, brief addendum.
It’s difficult to go too deep into the scenario’s underpinnings without giving away the big twist at the end of Infinite. Let’s just say it involves tampering with the very fabric of time and space. In this context, where anything is possible, the situation at the beginning of Burial At Sea is sort of plausible because implausibility is itself implausible. Make sense? You reprise the role of Booker DeWitt, star of Infinite and soldier of fortune turned alcoholic, Sam Spade-esque gumshoe in a not-yet-dilapidated Rapture. Your companion from Infinite, the young miss Elizabeth—or rather, a more adult and breathy version of Elizabeth—walks into your office, fires up a cigarette, and tells you that she knows where a missing girl named Sally can be found. Who is Sally, and what is she to Booker? That remains to be seen, but the severed doll’s head in his coat pocket indicates a strong, possibly unhealthy history between them.
This is the first chance players have had to interact with the submerged city before its self-destruction, a fact that accounts for this add-on’s primary appeal; mixing elements of the oldest and newest BioShock screams fan service through and through. In some small ways, Burial At Sea fulfills that promise. Rapture’s glory days look as one would expect, full of advertisements, people, and shops. (The clerks in the wine shop instantly recognize DeWitt as a valued customer.) Unfortunately, your time in the squeaky clean Rapture is severely limited. There is a single mission that involves sneaking into a black-hearted artist’s show, after which you are sent into a less civilized corner of the ocean. In a way, this fits with Infinite’s blueprint. Its idyllic airborne setting quickly devolved into blood and smoke and fire, leaving barely any time to explore the scenic confines before you are forced to get out your gun. It speaks to BioShock’s increasingly apparent shallowness. All of the high-minded ideas present in each game are paper-thin, it turns out, and none of them can function for very long without the game resorting to gunplay.
As for the mode of violent interaction, it takes the same form seen in Infinite, with Booker acquiring “vigors”—ability-enhancing potions that allow him to do things like freeze water or shoot electricity from his hands—and a variety of firearms. The skyhook doohickey that allowed Booker to ride rails from place to place rollercoaster-style in Infinite is also present and results in some amusing space-time confusion between Rapture’s Booker and Elizabeth.
As you descend into the bowels of sub-Rapture in your pursuit of young Sally, Booker uses his arsenal of Infinite-era weapons against BioShock-era mutants, refilling his pockets periodically in one of the game’s many insufferably talkative vending machines. What you don’t purchase, Elizabeth will conjure out of the ether and throw to you as needed. For all her outward changes, Elizabeth’s ammo largesse remains the same. It doesn’t take long for Booker to begin suspecting she isn’t quite what she seems. He is a detective, after all, and she’s pretty terrible at subterfuge.
The story in this installment ends suddenly. Even a languid playthrough likely won’t last more than three hours. As opposed to stretches in Infinite that felt like a unnecessarily prolonged slogs, the brevity of Burial At Sea is simultaneously unsatisfying and just right. Irrational didn’t fail to expand on the premise so much as there was little to expand on in the first place.