It’s been a good goddamn week so far. Very good, if I do say so myself. And I do. Even if I did have to work on Veteran’s Day. Because my place of employment hates freedom, I assume. Oh sure, I got all sorts of swell “thank you”s from my thoughtful coworkers, but that didn’t change the fact that I was sitting at my desk staring at Excel spreadsheets while so many of my brethren were gathering to show their solidarity, pride, and ability to block traffic on Fifth Avenue once a year as well as any other group that gets to parade through New York, such as Puerto Ricans, the LGBT community, and drunk idiots dressed as mermaids.
But still, even with my Monday spent a-working, the week has gone well from there. Tuesday night was the annual Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Heroes Gala here in New York, which I attended with my parents, as well as Tommy Moon’s long-suffering business partner/eventual attempted murderer. It’s an amazing event that celebrates my fellow veterans and those who have contributed to helping our community. Brian Williams hosted again, proving that he’s way funnier in person than when he’s reporting the news on NBC.
Jon Stewart, who is a longstanding advocate for veterans and whom I had the pleasure of meeting when he flew out to my base in Afghanistan back in 2011, was there to receive an award for all the good he does and made an expectedly hilarious acceptance speech. Another award was given to Medal of Honor winner Salvatore Guinta, who is just about the friendliest sumbitch I’ve ever met. And I am proud to say I got a good laugh out of him when I explained that I root for Army when they play Navy in football because the first time I fought with pugil sticks at The Basic School, I got the everloving shit beaten out of me by a guy who used to be on the team at Annapolis. So fuck them.
Also, I got a free steak dinner, drank a shitload of equally free scotch with some fellow veterans, and watched a frighteningly plastic surgery-ified woman conduct an auction that raised nearly $400,000 for the IAVA. So hell yeah. Other good stuff this week: I got to hang out with Lee Powers when he crashed on my couch for two nights (leaving behind a pair of socks, a shirt, and fond memories), that I finally cancelled my membership at my crappy, overly-trendy gym, and when those two American crew members of the oil rig resupply ship that were kidnapped by pirates back in October were set free on Tuesday.
But the particularly fantastic event that I will be discussing in-depth today (and to which the non-parenthetical section of this post’s title refers to), was that I was able to return, albeit briefly to one of my favorite exotic destinations. Many of you have probably heard of it. It’s a place where the artist need not fear the censor, where the scientist need not be bound by petty morality, where the great are not constrained by the small. A swell little burg called…Rapture (dramatic musical cue)!
Yes, for those of you not in the nerd-know (or “knerd”), Tuesday marked the release of the much-anticipated downloadable continuation of the awesome-tastic video game Bioshock Infinite. The game itself debuted in March of this year to widespread critical acclaim and in July when creative director Ken Levine announced three pieces of DLC would follow, fans and critics happily went apeshit. The first piece ended up being a fun but non-narrative tiered combat game that took place in the floating city of Columbia, the same locale as Infinite.
But the real excitement was for the following two additions, each of which would be another chapter in the overall Bioshock saga, entitled Burial at Sea: Episodes 1 and 2. That alone would have been thrilling enough to my fellow dorks who love the hell out of this series of games, but when it was revealed that they would take place not in the sprawling and beautiful aerial city of Columbia, but in the underwater city of Rapture where the first two Bioshock games (appropriately named Bioshock and Bioshcock 2) took place, we all peed ourselves just a little. An excited trickle, really.
A little background info for the uninitiated that aren’t familiar with this game series (read: people who are wasting their lives): I’m not a gamer by any real standard. Sure, I have an X-Box, but I use the system more for Netflix and Hulu than anything else. I own about a dozen games for it, but most I haven’t played much since I moved back to New York. Yes, I have various Halo‘s because who doesn’t, I slogged my way through what I felt was the increasingly tedious Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series, and I greatly enjoy Borderlands 2 but Lee Powers has had my copy for like six months. Video games are fun ways to pass the time, but by no means one of my favorite hobbies.
Bioshock is the exception to that. I absolutely fucking love all of the entries in this series. The first game, which I played through senior year of college on P. D. Montgomery’s X-Box while he was away from our apartment with his girlfriend or whatever (what a dweeb), totally blew me away in every aspect. The gameplay was as addictively fun as hurting Eric’s feelings and the story behind it was so engrossing that I still enjoy playing through the whole damn thing over six years later. From the first moment your bathysphere comes up on the sprawling underwater metropolis of megalomaniac bajillionaire Andrew Ryan, I was hooked.
The second game, while not as compelling in its story (which was still quite good), added a fair share of tweaks to the gameplay that gave it the little extra “oomph” to live up to its predecessor overall. It also ended up having its own downloadable epilogue to play, which brought the story quality back up to the original game’s. And when the thrice delayed Infinite came out, it topped both in scope, story, and enjoyment. After I beat it the first time, I immediately played through it again. And a bunch more times since. I always find more, play differently, and the ending always makes me stop, blink, and reassess life, family, and the infinite possibilities that we may never know have almost come to pass. It’s like being the Wedding Guest from The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, except you get to shoot electricity from your fingertips at racists and robots.
With that all in mind, I’m sure you can understand why I was jumping with joy when Burial at Sea: Episode 1 finished downloading and was ready for me to tear it a new one. Then I had to stop jumping, because it’s hard to play video games like that. Jumping complete, I played through the whole dang thing. Granted, it’s a pretty short endeavor, taking less than three hours for even the most meticulous player like myself, so no huge feat of endurance there, but still. What did you do with your Wednesday night that was so important? Went outside and spent time with friends and loved ones? Maybe even put on pants? Pssh, you weirdo.
And just how did Burial live up to its predecessors? Well, it’s good. A decent addition, even by the lofty standards I hold these games to. The gameplay throws together the weapons and abilities from Infinite and pits them up against the cramped, frenetic combat style of the first two games. And there is something truly satisfying about going toe-to-toe with the mutated splicers of Frank Fontaine once more on brand new turf. The large portions without combat are just as fun to play through as you explore Rapture, listening to the conversations dozens of citizens all around you are having, never suspecting that their city is about to go to hell in a fried chicken bucket (it all takes place the night before the city imploded in civil war, a year before the events of the first Bioshock). Visually, it’s as stunning as the main game and goes from big, open areas that make you forget you’re trapped under the sea to claustrophobic corridors and crannies that make it all too clear that trapped is exactly what you are.
I’m not going to give anything away, because I expect all of you deeply trusting, loyal readers to go out and purchase this game and spend your entire weekend playing through it (seriously, do that), but the storyline is a fine continuation of Infinite‘s complex and twisting tale. My only real complaint comes at the very end of the game. The big revelation, while not exactly predictable, fell a little flat. I was still surprised as hell and had two complete and utter “Holy fuck!” moments in the last minute of the game alone, but it just felt lacking. I wasn’t really disappointed in any way, I just wanted more. Both out of love for the game and because the ending seemed somewhat abrupt. I attribute that feeling to the fact that, since this is just part one of two, it’s an incomplete story as it stands. I have no doubts that the second half of Burial at Sea will wrap the whole thing up nicely. Those folks at Irrational Games know what they’re doing.
In conclusion, I was very pleased with what I got even though I was hoping for more. I’ll probably play through it again this weekend just to let the whole thing settle in. Even if it does give me nightmares about Sander Cohen (look him up, you stooge) and creepy little children, because it was still a great part of a damn good week. Not as good as making a Medal of Honor winner laugh, but still good.