Irrational Games is attempting to mix two different worlds into one for the upcoming Burial at Sea DLC for Bioshock Infinite. While that might be a tall order in any other series, the possibilities introduced at the end of Bioshock Infinite mean that all options are on the table. But, when anything is possible, how will Irrational Games maintain the element of surprise and top its past storytelling success? Based on the first half of Burial at Sea, the devil is in the details.
The most intriguing element of Burial at Sea is the return to Rapture. If you've played the original Bioshock, you'll remember Rapture as a dank and violent place. However, the narrative provided a glimpse into Rapture's vibrant past, where science and art thrived unchecked, free from moral or social boundaries. This is where we find Booker and Elizabeth in Burial at Sea; entrenched in a society that's essentially doomed, yet blinded by its own "success." For the first hour, you encounter many familiar faces in new places: Big Daddies toil away, maintaining Rapture's delicate exterior; Little Sisters form orderly lines outside of their "school;" and you even bump into your old friend, Sander Cohen. What's old is suddenly new again, and you know in the back of your mind that everything you understood about Rapture could be undone at any moment.
Going back to a time in Rapture’s history that you've only ever heard about certainly has dramatic potential, but is your return trip a simple nostalgia grab? Look at it this way: Will the content here be of equal interest to someone who has never played Bioshock as it will be to someone who has? Burial at Sea doesn't provide any backstory to the player when you first jump in. All you really know is that you're playing as Booker in an underwater city filled with wealthy people and Elizabeth has a mission for you. You may have heard about Big Daddies, but until you've been pinned down by one, effectively staring death in the face, they're nothing more than a curiosity.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with curiosities given the right framework. Even if people haven't played Bioshock, there's a much better chance they've played Bioshock Infinite if they're buying the DLC. In that case, Elizabeth and Booker, not Rapture, are the main draw. Almost immediately, you learn that their relationship is fractured; Booker has no clue who Elizabeth is, for example. Elizabeth, on the other hand, seems to be a continuation of the persona that surfaced at the end of Bioshock Infinite: confident, all-knowing and extremely powerful. Here, she's stringing Booker along and he's the impressionable one. It's both a continuation of Elizabeth's story, and a reboot of Booker's. It's also a hint that you haven't witnessed the full extent of Elizabeth's role in the Bioshock series at large.
The second half of Burial at Sea Episode One takes place in a sunken prison, Fontaine's Department Store, which is immediately reminiscent of the Rapture many already know and fear. It's also the only place you'll find splicers, pre-fall; the twisted, mutated humans from the original Bioshock. Unlike the enemies in Bioshock Infinite, splicers are constantly distracted, their minds corrupted from prolonged use of genetic modification potions. They relentlessly argue with each other and fawn over corpses as if they were alive. You get the sense that they're constantly preoccupied with their own madness, and this gives Booker the opportunity to relax his trigger finger and sneak up on splicers in order to preserve his precious resources.
However, that doesn't mean that combat will feel entirely like it did in Bioshock. If anything, it's more or less identical to Bioshock Infinite's approach. Obviously, sky-lines don't exist in the confines of Rapture, but pneuma-lines sure do. Pneuma-lines are a series of pneumatic tubes that are used to deliver messages to various points throughout the city, but once Booker finds a so-called pneuma-hook in Fontaine's department store, Elizabeth clues him in to their hidden potential. She also reveals her ability to create tears. Whether it makes sense or not, you'll have the ability to summon Motorized Patriots into Rapture.
As intriguing as that sounds, it's a risky move on Irrational's part. Though Rapture is somewhat familiar in Burial at Sea, it's been retooled to fit within Infinite's design. In a lot of ways, you're expected to reset your understanding of Rapture, which feels odd. If it's not the Rapture of old, how will players connect to the new story? Bioshock Infinite fans will likely enjoy the extension of Elizabeth's tale, but why does it have to take place in Rapture? These are questions that aren't immediately answered in the first episode of Burial at Sea. After all, it’s only one half of the whole story.