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Monday, December 2, 2013

Bioshock Infinite, Burial at Sea Review: A Little Moth to the Flame.

It's that time of year again, where you look back on what you've played and wonder which was the best. It's a short list this year and Infinite is definitely on it, so I picked it up again to see if I still had such strong feelings for it.

Normally when I hear a dlc pack is kind of a ripoff I stay as far away from it as I can. But damn it if Colombia didn't suck me back in again, and damn it if I didn't want to see what Irrational has been up to for the last 7 months. So I sprung for the season pass which netted me the "clash in the clouds" combat arcade mode, some exclusive equipment for the main campaign and of course "Burial at Sea."

Full disclosure, I've been a rabid fan of Rapture since '07. Seeing Ken Levine take another crack at it with a brand new engine and a stronger focus on character all set before the 1959 civil war sounded spectacular. But in my heart I knew I couldn't really go home again. There's no way they could really bottle that exact magic again. As much love as I have for Bioshock 2, as well as it's dlc, neither  developer truly nailed what came before.

A week ago, the notion of a nearly 3 hour experience for $15 would make me bristle. Artistically I knew it's possible for something that short to be worth that much, but I had to see it to believe it. And quite frankly, if I didn't bet on Bioshock I knew I'd regret it eventually. So here I stand before you, a true believer. In short?

I went home again.

We all saw the noir opening re-introducing Booker and Elizabeth as citizens of Rapture rather than fugitives of Colombia. It was pretty cute the way it mocked the private eye trope of lighting a feme fatal's cigarette with incinerate, but how soon would it be until that shtick wore thin? I'm all for a new and shinier version of what is, to me at least, the most perfect possible criticism of objectivisim. But seriously, why were we here again? Why are characters from an alternate reality a good century in the past doing here? Is there truly anything left to say about either them, or Rapture in general?

I didn't get answers to those questions. For the next four and a half hours, BAS slowly made me understand I was merely asking the wrong questions. From first stepping out of Booker's new office it hit me, that feeling only video games can hit me with. A need to drink in all the atmosphere around me as meticulously as possible.

A lot of games let me down in that regard, even Infinite itself at times. But BAS passed in flying colors. If a room doesn't have something for you to loot, it has something interesting to show you. Every inch of this chapter is dripping, positively drowning, in detail and fan service. Burial at Sea is something everyone can play, but it's custom built for the Rapture faithful. The required reading is only the original, in case you were wondering. Precious little of 2k Marin's crack at the franchise is present except for the Hop-up Cola boxes and a screening of the Cohen art film "The Black Dream." I could write a whole dang article on the deafening silence that is Ken Levin's opinion on Bioshock 2, but that's not important right now, and as long as we're talking about Sander Cohen...

I would have paid $60 for more of that magnificent bastard.
There is a spectacular Cohen cameo capping off the first 3rd of BAS that just made me weak in the knees. T. Ryder Smith's performance is one of my all time favorites and his ten extra minutes in the spotlight was more than enough for me. The whole thing could have ended right there, and I would tried to be upset about it. I would have certainly written a negative review. But deep down, I would have been satisfied. But that's where the chapter starts to get violent!

Things have swung back in the direction of survival horror, and it's surprising how intense the last couple thirds of chapter one get in such a short amount of time. It feels like a demo for a full game, that's how detailed everything is. There's so many new splicers, a new microwave gun, a spectacular jingle for bucking bronco, and almost 20 audio diaries. Again, my name tag might as well say "corporate shill." But I had a f%$king great time guys, hand to god.

Yes, you can totally run through it in under 2 hours. You shouldn't. If you're a rusher, this is not for you, it's that simple. Everyone else? The folks who like eavesdropping, staring at art in a gallery, digging through trash cans, and setting up traps? This chapter gets put on the shelf that houses the most exemplary dlc I've ever played. I'd like to be more objective and take off my moldy rabbit mask...

...but I can't.

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