Wednesday, May 14, 2014

On BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea

For me, this has been a journey seven years in the making. I love BioShock. I've loved it since the first time I watched a friend play it in his basement back when we were both pimply High Schoolers with bad fashion sense and overblown egos. Age has at least improved the fashion sense.

So here we are, the end of a journey, a real saga. Give me a second, this is a real moment for me. Before I wrote this, I went back and replayed BioShock, and feel like I might have overloaded my brain on Ken Levine games. If I survive writing this blog, I might crank up my copy of System Shock 2 and frazzle what's left of my brainpan. Here we go.

Set December 31, 1958 (roughly two years before the evens of BioShock) Booker DeWitt, the protagonist of BioShock: Infinite, is a private investigator working in Rapture, Andrew Ryan's underwater Objectivist Utopia before it's fall. He is hired by the mysterious Elizabeth, another character fans of Infinite will recognize, although she is far more somber than the wide-eyed girl we saw asking Mr. Dewitt what could be better than dancing on the shores of Battleship Bay. 

In keeping with the mystery of Burial at Sea, I won't spoil what our beloved Booker and Elizabeth are doing in our beloved Rapture, but I will say that, yes, their presence plays merry-hob with the canon, the timelines, quantum travel, and a logical plot structure, but maintains the same kick in the family jewels that preceded the end credits of BioShock Infinite. Personally I was delighted seeing a deeper connection between the worlds of Columbia and Rapture, and how cleverly the writers slipped the gameplay of Burial at Sea in between the existing framework of the previous games, allowing for character crossover and fleshing out I'd never anticipated.

On an interesting note, there is a welcome change in gameplay, even between Episode 1, where you play as Booker, and Episode 2, where you play as Elizabeth. To me it was one part BioShock, one part Infinite, and one part Thief. There is a combination of BioShock's inventory (in Infinite, you could only carry two weapons at a time), but the plasmid/vigors from Infinite (but, it must be said, all aspects carried over from previous games have been thankfully streamlines). The skyhook also makes a reappearance, and although the sudden inclusion of tram-lines in Rapture seemed mildly ham-handed, I was having too much fun Sky-Line Striking Splicers to care. Also, best moment ever was when I had Elizabeth open a tear to bring in a Motorized Patriot to fight a Big Daddy. Alas, I don't know where else to say this, but the usage of plasmids/vigors felt more schizophrenic in Burial at Sea than in Infinite, but that might have just been me.

Also, speaking of Big Daddies in Episode 2, when playing as a de-powered Elizabeth (having collapsed from her quantum-superposition) Big Daddies are terrifying, and the whole game takes on a far more threatening air. Elizabeth is not a melee power-house after all. 

As one of my last points, I just want to comment on possibly my favorite aspect of the game. I loved seeing Rapture at the height of its glory. Seeing how far the technology has come to allow for such an immersive exploration of the city was as exciting as anything else in the game. I keenly enjoyed having face-to-face interaction with Atlas, who finally has his own character model, and not just a modified Splicer model. Like it's counterpart Columbia, both cities are so lovingly crafted by the designers they are among the most actualized fantasy/sci-fi realms I can name.  

In an interview, Ken Levine, Lead Writer & Creative Director stated, "I think you'll get a deep level of closure that you don't expect ... Fans of both the original game and Infinite are going to walk away pretty satisfied with feeling a sense of completeness in the end of [Burial at Sea] that they really haven't had in a BioShock game before."

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