The most disappointing moment of BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea - Episode 1 is when Booker, after an hour of exploring a bustling, living Rapture, lifts up a gun. I actually let out a disheartened sigh when it slowly came into view, as if I'd seen an infinite number of realities and one I was about to experience one that I didn't want.
Up until that point, Burial at Sea was one of the best gaming experiences of the year; a fun, immersive trip through gaming’s most iconic location. But then, once the gun came into view (complete with the Unreal Engine's signature texture pops), it was another shooter. No more wandering Rapture and learning about the city pre-downfall. No more seeing groups of citizens chatting or groups of Little Sisters being taught how to gather Adam. No more gazing out the thick windows at the Rapture we all wanted to see, but never did. Instead, it was another shooter.
When it’s a shooter for the final half of the two-hour episode it’s a fine shooter. You aim guns at Splicers and shoot them until they fall over in a heap, or you blast them with Plasmids until they writhe on the ground. Elizabeth continues her role of emotional core and “person who throws you stuff sometimes” throughout the game, making the few hectic encounters more manageable. Burial At Sea takes all of the things that made Infinite’s gameplay stronger than BioShock’s and tosses them into Rapture, and it functions quite well. Problem is, it's all a little forced.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t part of the camp that thought Infinite was too violent. Columbia was engorged in a bloody revolution and Booker needed to find the girl and wipe away the debt, gosh darn it, even if it meant putting a few hundred bullets in a few hundred heads. Rapture has a similar excuse in Fontaine and Ryan's civil war, but that’s not the direction Burial At Sea chooses to sail in. Instead, it finds a different justification to send Booker on a bloodthirsty rampage, and it really feels like it only does so because it’s obliged to.
Up until that moment the game wasn’t just good, it was outstanding. The winks and nods were almost unbearably well implemented, and it did a remarkable job at feeling like a violent, beautiful merger of Rapture and Columbia. But more importantly, it was a wonderful experiment in adventure storytelling, wherein a AAA game left behind its bullets in favor of conversation and exploration. Rapture, in its new coat of stylistic paint, is more beautiful than ever, and all I wanted to do was explore it more. Worse yet, it knows how much you want to experience it untainted and gives you ample opportunities to do so, making the shift to combat all the more out of place.
Sure, there’s at least some obligation to stay the course (it is a BioShock game, after all) but what better excuse to experiment than DLC? Who is buying BioShock: Infinite DLC because they want another few hours of combat? It’s still absolutely worth playing for the incredible mindfuck it provides, but I’m really hoping that Episode 2 puts down the gun and lets us experience a side of Rapture we haven't already destroyed.