Saturday, 3 May 2014

5 Failings Which Ruined Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea

A warning to all about to read this article: There will be spoilers. Lots and lots of spoilers as this is going to be discussing the whole damn Bioshock saga from beginning to end. If you've yet to play any of the games, this is one you might want to skip.

Seen by many as a love letter to the fans, Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea served as a final tribute to the worlds of Rapture and Columbia. Along with a return of many characters, it offered the player an opportunity to witness events otherwise unseen in any previous titles. To see Rapture in a time when it was relatively stable, to speak with Atlas (or Fontaine if you prefer) when he was leading his revolution or to explore Fink Industries when it had been overrun by the Vox Populi.

The issue is that, for all of this, you only needed to scratch the surface to see the many problems Burial At Sea caused. In the name of fan-service, this love letter managed to utterly wreck the stories of both worlds and cause no end of continuity issues and narrative failings. Nearly all of these served only to mix up the games' messages and dilute what was once a very strong story.

So, here's five failings which ultimately ruined Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea.

The Decay of Rapture

One of the most interesting parts of Burial At Sea was the opportunity it gave to see Rapture at a time of apparent prosperity. It was a look into the city's beautiful design before the ruins of war, before the madness set in and before even the affects of Atlas were felt. The problem is that, as great looking as this was, it was completely at the wrong time. The story of Rapture always emphasised the city's internal decay yet the city here is almost completely stable and without problems.

While Fonrtaine certainly accelerated the fall of the city with his own ambitions, cracks were already beginning to appear long before he was involved. The failings of Ryan's own ideology resulted in deaths, poverty and the common worker receiving no kind of support nor income. There was no minimum wage, and the dog-eat-dog mentality of the world meant many were left to rot thanks to the monopolisation of the industry by rivals. Many more were missing the spiritual faith which Ryan had outlawed, and even the city itself was suffering from the lack of hands maintaining it.

Even without that, within months of the introduction of plasmids the less sane examples of splicers began to appear. The novel Bioshock: Rapture, which received support and approval by Levine, shows that instabilities from ADAM withdrawals and the most violent splicers emerged very early on. Burial At Sea reflects none of this despite being in Rapture's final days before total civil war, and appears to be almost utopian in many respects. There is no violence, no problems, and you even see individuals using the highly unstable exportation plasmid without issue. 

When you finally do see the city in ruins, it is when Atlas is unleashed upon it, mere weeks later. Apparently Burial At Sea seems to impress upon the player that it took only a brief conflict to turn Rapture into a watery hell hole and not any socio-political tensions. It completely undermines the themes of the first and second games, and makes it seem as if any negative affects originated only from Atlas himself.

Of course, this is nothing in comparison to the damage done to the story of Bioshock Infinite.

Comstock's Only In It For The Money, Fitzroy Is Really A Hero

Easily the most infamous changes on this list were the sudden retcons of motivations behind Infinite's villains. As the player stumbled through Fink's Vox Populi infested factory, you come across details which completely change how to view the characters. Neither of which were the better and only served to sabotage any of the serious bite the game had when confronting its themes.

The idea behind Infinite was that neither side in the civil war was truly good. Comstock's regime was racist, blind and corrupt while the Vox Populi were bloodthirsty, manipulative and just as prone to wanton violence. Unfortunately, on the game's release many people seemed not to understand this. As a result forum posts and Youtube videos promptly exploded with people arguing how the Vox Populi should have been the good guys because they were fighting Comstock. Usually accompanied with accusations of misogyny or racism due to the skin colour and gender of Vox Populi leader Daisy Fitzroy.

So what do you think happened next? Yep, sudden retcons which turn this war of no heroes into one of black and white morality, sense and substance be damned.

Comstock was suddenly suggested to have never truly believed in his religion and merely used it for his own benefit, something strongly indicated in Fink's personal prayer shrine. The words within stating the likes of "able prophet, untold profit." This was backed by a similar shoehorned retcon jammed into the Clash in the Clouds DLC (Playing Prophet). 
Fitzroy meanwhile was suddenly turned into a martyr. One whose apparent determination to totally rid Columbia of the upper class was facade to mature Elizabeth so she could kill Comstock. She was not just as bad as Comstock, she simply had her hand forced and was sacrificing herself betterment of others and actually helping the heroes.
Both are as horribly tacked on as you would imagine, neither being the focus so much as Ken Levine saying "Oh, also this happened."

So, in order to placate the kneejerk responses of social justice warriors we just ended up with two complex characters being stripped of all ambiguity or mature themes. Unfortunately, in an attempt to address the apparent elephant in the room, the writers drew attention to the mammoth...

Elizabeth's Treatment

The second episode of Burial At Sea marked the first time Bioshock has had the player taking control of a female character. While she might have played an integral part of Bioshock Infinite's plot, seeing the world through her eyes was none the less a major step in this game. Unfortunately it's hard not to raise an eyebrow given just how she is treated throughout her Episode.

Along with being stripped of her powers, Elizabeth wakes up from unconsciousness facing down a man with a gun at her head. She is then only able to survive thanks to Ghost Booker's advice (oh wait until we get to that point) and even comes across her own corpse. Her major act which ultimately changes her into a mature figure, killing Fitzroy, is turned into an event staged by others. She is then tortured, forced to carry out the actions of a psychopath and the finally gunned down in some unknown part of Rapture. The only other protagonist who even comes close to suffering this level of sheer trauma (or so frequently cold-cocked) is Subject Delta, and he was slowly dying throughout that game!

While I hardly think this is the case of any misogyny or bias on any writer's part, it's hard not to raise an eyebrow when you realise Elizabeth is Bioshock's first female protagonist. The first and only one we have had so far. While every main character went through a vast amount of manipulation, strife and pain, few suffered to the same degree as Elizabeth did here.

Of course, this is hardly helped by the next point...

Elizabeth DeWitt - The Destroyer of Rapture

This is mostly a follow-up to the opening point noting Rapture's apparent pristine state with few to no problems, tensions or even notable issues. The moment Atlas returns everything goes to hell, devolving into full scale city-ruining war within mere weeks. Prior to that he and all of his followers were safely locked away down in the sunken Fontaine Department Store, which had been detached from the city as a makeshift prison. We'll overlook this completely ignores the role Persephone played in the city and just focus upon this - To get one child back, Elizabeth openly assists with their return to Rapture. Something which was otherwise utterly impossible and required knowledge beyond anything they understood.

To help them escape Elizabeth rebuilt an artificial rift between worlds, headed back to Columbia, and stole a device which could lift the building back up to Rapture. The end result of this, and her lack of planning, was Atlas double crossing Elizabeth, torturing her and the release of several thousand psychopaths upon the city. This seems to have only been done to help show players more of Rapture's history, but it creates no end of problems for the story. 

This failing is purely Elizabeth's fault and nothing ever done truly rectifies or makes up for the countless thousands of people she is effectively an accomplice to murder to. This one act doomed the entire city, turning it from a (again, as presented in the DLC) relatively stable environment into the blasted hellhole we see in Bioshock. It creates a barrier between Elizabeth and the player, and her sheer inability to truly prepare for Atlas' betrayal makes her look dull witted at best. It's not as if he was trying to hide his untrustworthiness, as the second episode opens up with him ready to  shoot her in the head until she offers something of value.

Even ignoring all of that, it yet again undermines the original, much more interesting story behind Bioshock. There's no gradual collapse, no spark which ignites a firestorm resulting from the downtrodden masses having no way up the social ladder nor the instabilities created from plasmids. Instead that initial uprising was perfectly contained, any dangerous splicers taken down with Atlas, and everything only went wrong thanks to Elizabeth helping them.

It's a pointless move which served only to damage both the story behind the city and the tale the DLC was trying to tell.

It's All About Jack

As if to make up for her death, the ending tries to chalk up Elizabeth's actions as being the ultimate way Atlas was taken down. Her final act before being killed is to bring the W Y K code to Atlas, opening the way for Jack to arrive in Rapture and triggering Bioshock's events. Unfortunately that just makes thing vastly worse. It effectively turns her into an errand girl, fulfilling her role so she can open up the way for the actual hero. While this was almost certainly something intended to bring the story full circle, it really diminishes Elizabeth's value to the story and doesn't provide a truly satisfying ending for her. A sad or tragic ending? Okay that works, but not one which effectively peters out after showing a few clips of Jack doing something she could have easily accomplished herself.

What doesn't help this to any degree is that Elizabeth is a true character, fully voiced and fleshed out to stand out on her own. Jack meanwhile was a cipher, a faceless drone intentionally created without any voice or history to drive forwards the plot's message. Having one die off to introduce the other is always a difficult move, but when the one replacing the hero barely counts as a character it feels like a very poorly made decision.

Perhaps the biggest error of all though is the fact that this causes Burial At Sea to have no ending or closure in of itself. Seeing some ending to Elizabeth's story, Comstock's history or even just a real focus purely upon the viewpoint characters of the DLC would have been fine. Instead what we get is just a few re-used lines from Bioshock, repeating the ending from that game. While it worked nostalgically, it really diminished the value of the characters involved with the events of Burial At Sea itself.

So those are five failings which ruined Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea. Believe it or not though, we're actually not quite done with this yet. While definitely big problems, this is just the first half of the critical failings found within the DLC's story and the biggest ones are still yet to come.

Still, we're not done yet. This was just the first part. Here's five more failings within the story which really damages the overall universe.


  1. I have not played Burial at sea, just because it did not interest me, but I have looked up the story.

    I'm not sure why they would try and staple these two together, or why they created this story at all really. I don't think Rapture is a place you should show in its prime, because the entire premise of it is flawed, picturing it as a utopia just cheapens its previous image.

    Something I like to wonder a lot is what can come from a story now that it's been introduced, all of my favourite games have aftermaths where almost anything can happen, but this seems to be, at best, filler. It doesn't answer any previous questions people had about the game, it isn't really a story that connects on from the previous game. I'm just not sure why this was made.

    1. It honestly feels like this was Levine's attempt at ensuring 2k couldn't make any more Bioshock games using his characters and settings, considering how contrived the dlc's narrative is. Also it should be worth mentioning in addition to Elizabeth being responsible for the deaths of thousands in Rapture, that she is also responsible for all the people that died on the plane Jack hijacked seeing as how she gave and told Atlas the activation phrase.

  2. While I can see a Grand Canion sized plot problem, non of your points stands a closer look.

    1. The decay of Rapture was in full force. You just go through the parts that are isolated of that, but even then you get really good hints, like abducted Girls, Cohens obvious madness and more.

    You may not remember, but I only recently played the first game. Diane has a log that states how surprised she (as a priviledged citizen) was of the events that happen the day after the first "Burial at Seas" is set.

    2. Comstocks real "Worldview" and how much his Prophetism is faked (and such he cannot somehow believe in the shit he praises) is obvious by one of the first recordings you find when the shit hit the fan after the ruffle. Fink discusses with him (like a Memo) how they could get a working class without making the "citizens" uncomfortable. It is further obvious in how he uses it to manipulate everyone around him, especially his wife and how he covers the inconsistency up with killing his wife and the Luteces, all very well known from the Infinite base game.

    I can see why one might think that the revelation behind Fitzroy might seem a bit contrived, but the story wasn't adjusted, it was foreshadowed in how much out of character it seemed for her to kill a child.

    As there was plenty of foreshadowing of the whole Rapture connection and especially Songbird and Big Daddys (there were drawings on a chalkboard of both in the basegame, Fink talks about the biologist he is watching through a tear and so on).

    3. Elizabeth was in control of the whole situation. NO ONE ELSE. Just, it was the Elizabeth of the past that like Leto in the Dune circle or the guy in Paycheck planned it all out for a time when they cannot really remember it. This is a central revelation and it is ahead of me how anyone who loves this games enough to make an analyses like this could have missed it.

    Which perfectly ties in to your No.5
    No, it is not all about Jack, he is just a brick in her building or a tool of hers. Unwittingly he carries out the plans of others, and in the end, it turns out, it weren't that of Fontaine, even after loosing his conditioning, he did exactly what was expected of him, by, planned and foreseen by an Elizabeth before she all set it in motion by going there, completely aware that she will loose her memories, with an subconsious projection of her plans in the form of her only friend (that bugs the hell out of me with the Avatar franchise, most people cannot fathom that the previous Avatars aren't seperate from the current one, but past lifes that share the memories as spiritual manifestations. No, Aang was not killed, Korra is Aang)

    4. There, you have it in the end, yes, Elizabeth set the ultimate fate of Rapture in motion. But it is not about the city, the city was doomed, something you should know especially after you read the novel.

    Elizabeth might have quickened it, but she got the people to safety she cared about. Or the person. Yes, she might have sought out a better way, where more people survived, but in the end. Well, her father didn't save the Mountains of Man, he saved his daughter. She is a DeWitt, after all.

    No part of the franchise was harmed, Elizabeth got what she wanted, but she was a death seeker.

    And that was a result of the events that shouldn't allow her to exist for the Infinite DLCs (as they do not allow for a Comstock to exist)

    If you establish that there is one Comstock that exist outside of his birth in the babtism (and thus creating Elizabeth) there is again an infinite number of both - and there is no finite conclusion.

    1. 3. Actually it is all about Jack, for everything Elizabeth does is so Jack can be the one to come to Rapture so that he can be the one to save Sally and the little sisters, not her. If she was really in control of the situation, then she would have been the one to save Sally and the little sisters. The last 20 mins of the dlc stopped paying attention to Elizabeth as a character and cared only about Elizabeth: the catalyst. The ending of Burial at Sea doesn’t take into account virtually anything from Infinite, its all about Bioshock 1 and Jack.

      4. Technically Booker did save "the mountains of man" as well as Elizabeth at the end of Infinite. No Comstock means no dark utopia that will destroy the world in the future. This also means that the people who would have gone to Columbia and died in Columbia as we have seen in Infinite would now go on with their previous lives thanks to the actions of Booker and Elizabeth.

      Back to Rapture, it still does not change the fact that in the dlc Rapture was still presented as decent-stable environment despite whatever problems it had. Also, its not the fact that Rapture would have been fucked anyways, its the fact that Elizabeth, who felt bad for the damaged she brought to Columbia, questioned Booker if it was possible to redeem herself, and now felt so much guilt for using Sally she willingly went back to Rapture to fix things, will knowingly ( before she went back to Rapture and was still omniscient) enable events that will kill thousands of people just to save one girl and apparently is okay with that. Not only is it a contrast to her character in Infinite, but it makes Elizabeth look selfish in this regard. It does not help that she will also knowingly enable the event that will doom the passengers on the plane Jack will hijack and is perfectly okay with.

      "No part of the franchise was harmed"

      Bioshock 2 is non-canon, Booker's death at the end of Infinite is mostly pointless: he failed to purge all versions of Comstock seeing as how one was still allowed to exist for unexplained reasons ( there is also the interpretation that there were more Comstocks around after the end of Infinite),Elizabeth will become the thing Booker feared and hoped to prevent by voluntarily being the one to kill Comstock and will die horrifically anyways, with her death ultimately being in service to the first game, and Columbia still exists.

      Also, the comstock in Burial at Sea did not exist outside his baptism.

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  3. bioshock 2 is canon

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    1. Good, glad to hear it. Doesn't change the fact that one of Burial at Sea's big failings is the massive plot holes it made in its universe by utterly contradicting that game's story. I get from your comments you think we're bashing on the game. We're not. The article brought up the fact that Burial at Sea utterly ignored that game's story as being a failing of the DLC's storytelling.

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  5. I stumpled upon this and as far as I can tell only SAR actually paid attention to the story. It's called "Infinite" for a reason. As emphasized basically every damn time one of the characters in B:I open their mouths, the story is set in a multiverse with constants and variables. The ruin of raputure, I suppose would be a constant but anything else that pertains to that is variable. So there you go. The idea of contradicting ANYTHING (besides said constants, which we can't tell anyhow) is irrational in a multiverse setting from the very beginning. That easy. It doesn't make sense to discuss the plausibility of anything in the DLC aslong as the constants - whatever they are (Jack?) - remain intact. Just my humble opinion though.