Last night, news surrounding a wealth of Bioshock Infinite DLC hit the net all at once. First, we learned about the Clash in the Clouds DLC, which serves as a wave-based combat arena mode and has been released today. We then learned about future downloadable content in the form of the two-part Burial at Sea expansion, which will see an unfamiliar Booker and Elizabeth interact with each other in Rapture ‘on the eve of the underwater city’s fall’. This content makes up the Bioshock Infinite season pass.
Season passes have become incredibly common in gaming today. They’re promises of future content add-ons, support for a game post-release. We buy a pass that lets us automatically download content that is eventually released for a game, usually paying a slightly cheaper price from the get-go than we would buying each piece individually. It’s safe to say that most people who buy these passes are massive fans of the game in question.
But it’s also true that season passes are being introduced to games at an incredibly early point in their life cycle. Even last year, I was being asked if I wanted to buy a season pass for games like Assassin’s Creed III and Halo 4 when I picked up my copies in EB Games or JB Hi-fi. They exist then to cash in on the initial hype for the game, to grab the person who says ‘I want this game and I want everything associated with this game’. And they also cash in on the impulse that comes with the initial completion of a game. By selling a season pass right off the bat, the developer increases profits by gaining sales from people who might otherwise have forgotten about the game by the time any DLC rolls out – they’ve already paid for it, whether or not they actually play the content becomes a non-issue.
That also means that there are instances where people are paying for content they know absolutely nothing about. Assassin’s Creed III’s season pass detailed the Tyranny of George Washington three part DLC that would come in 2013, but something like the Borderlands 2 season pass was more vague, only telling us it would cover four content add-ons through to June of this year. And in the case of Borderlands 2, it certainly worked – they delivered on that promise and some of that content was amazing – but there’s no denying that season passes can be a huge gamble if you don’t know what that content will be.
Bioshock Infinite is one such example of this. The news we were given last night is the first we’ve heard about the game’s downloadable content since it released in March. Paying for content and hearing nothing about it for months can feel a bit troubling, especially when the first piece of DLC to release, this combat arena mode, has a very generic feel to it – one that Eurogamer believes might prove to disappoint a lot of fans.
My favourite DLC has always been the content that tries to do something different from what was originally delivered in the main game. Alan Wake always comes to mind as a fine example of this: something that stuck to the core features and concepts of the main game but still moved in a different direction and wasn’t afraid to try new things with that gameplay. I’m also a fan of Assassin’s Creed Revelations’ Lost Archive DLC for taking another shot at the much-debated first person puzzle platforming sequences with a new character, and Dead Space 2’s Severed DLC for the way the characters retreaded familiar territory from the main game – either before or after Isaac Clarke had been there. The most recent Borderlands 2 DLC, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep, is hours of laughs as you play through a Dungeons & Dragons knockoff tabletop game while various characters interact and change the world around you as you’re playing. DLC that stands as something different to the original game should be celebrated: it’s an excellent format for trying something different within an established and popular universe.
Bioshock Infinite’s next DLC, Burial at Sea, is a bit of a mixed bag in that regard. While speculation suggests it’s following on from the ideas present in the main game, exploring them through Rapture has its ups and downs. On the one hand, it’s exciting to be back in Rapture – before it all went to ruin, no less! – and recapture the experiences we’ve had there in previous games. On the other, it feels like they’re relying too much on nostalgia, that Rapture is a safety net to fall back on rather than an opportunity to do something else, something much different. People who didn’t like Columbia are going to be more inclined to play this content because it goes back to something they like.
Unique to the DLC will be the chance to play as Elizabeth during the second part of the expansion. What that gameplay entails exactly, we’re not sure yet, but we haven’t exactly seen Elizabeth handle firearms before so it may be safe to rule out a lot of gunplay – which the main game featured quite heavily and which became a subject of criticism for many weeks online.
I realise I’m making assumptions based on announcements made less than 24 hours ago. And I don’t mean to discredit the work being put into this content – the combat arena maps are similar to locations in the main game but have been meticulously constructed to be different, and Rapture has been recreated in Bioshock Infinite’s engine from the ground up. So calling this content lazy is unfair based on the amount of genuinely hard work that has gone into it. But the ideas themselves do have this feeling of laziness to them: wave-based combat arenas and another trip to Rapture.
I don’t buy season passes for exactly this reason. There’s no guarantee that the DLC you’ve pre-paid for is going to be anything you’ll like. I’m quite set in my ways here: I want bold DLC. So I’m not sure what to think about Burial at Sea. Is it bold, or is it relying on the safety net that is Rapture? I just don’t know.