Burial at Sea is the game Bioshock Infinite needed to be.
When I think back on my time in Columbia I find myself frowning. Not because of the elaborately constructed world (complete with gaping plot holes summoned by Elizabeth herself) or because of the insensitive way race and class are approached, but because of the simple act of playing the game.
It just wasn’t very original or fun.
The smart resource management and delicate cat-and-mouse dynamics of the previous –Shock games (both System and Bio) had been swept aside in favor of waves and arenas, the kinds of faux tactics that appeal to dudes who fist bump and love box art with epic looking men with shotguns slung over their shoulders. It felt like a pale impression of the title that skyrocketed Ken Levine to videogame stardom.
So it’s smart for Levine and co. to return to their old stomping grounds with Infinite’s story-based DLC. It’s funny though, because for all the talk of length (it’s about 2 hours long, give or take) or value (and it costs $15) there’s far more to the mechanics in Burial at Sea than all 10-12 hours of the original game.
Burial at Sea echoes the original Bioshock in more ways than just setting. The actual feel of the combat hearkens back to those tense crawls through dark and dripping passages, low on resources and nervously fingering the trigger of your shotgun. Combat is quick and merciless, with enemies going down in just a handful of rounds. This Booker also goes down with similar speed, a far more fragile version of his rough and tumble Columbian counterpart.
This one minor change is enough to completely shift the dynamic of combat away from the tepid circle-strafing and endless shotgun shells of Infinite and back towards the desperate brawls of the much lauded original. There are no pathetic pea shooters or wimpy pistols, you start with a Hand Cannon and three rounds and only go up from there.
Sure it’s short and generally overdesigned for what it is, but it’s a sign that the best way for Bioshock to move forward might just be to take a few steps back.