With a running time of just over 90 minutes, the first episode BioShock Infinite spin-off 'Burial At Sea' doesn't stick around long enough to build the epic sense of drama and suspense that's driven full-blown games in the series, or create a world as organic or convincing as Columbia. But what this fleeting escapade lacks in storytelling wallop it more than makes up for in nostalgic thrills.
Staged in the underwater world of Rapture – the setting for the first BioShock game – this debut download will be a tremendous thrill for long-time fans as you can explore the city before it sprang a leak and its citizens became crazy, mixed-up Splicers. And while there's huge satisfaction in seeing how the city looked and functioned before its fall – and it's endless fun to eavesdrop on the smug residents prattling on about philosophy and important issues of the day – darkness pervades the experience as you know this utopian dream is doomed, and that the Art Deco stylings, beautiful gardens and glass-walled arcades will soon to become a subaquatic nightmare.
'Burial At Sea' brings new excitement to Rapture as it features the combat mechanics of its big brother Infinite, in turn making the battles feel faster and more brutal, and also sublimely chaotic as the skirmishes are confined to more claustrophobic settings that its predecessor's sprawling city. A critical lack of resources also means much of your time is spent fretting about stockpiling defensive goodies to keep yourself alive, bringing extra tension to the action as you scavenge for all the ammunition and Plasmids you can get your hands on.
While there's no denying that this budget outing feels like a brief love letter to the original BioShock rather than a full-blown feature narrative, Burial At Sea is still packed with poignant and breathtaking moments that will touch fans who've stuck with the series since day one, and is driven by the same lofty ambitions and sharp sense of style that made its forebears modern classics.
Reviewed by David McComb