It’s not the BioShock Infinite DLC we wanted, but for the time being it’s the BioShock Infinite DLC we have. Given the choice between “two-part narrative DLC where Booker is a noir detective in Rapture” and “a wave-based horde type mode,” almost every Shock fan would opt for the former. We’ll eventually be getting both, but those who took a risk on the ‘Season Pass’ may not be overjoyed at the direction this first offering takes.
Entirely divorced from the game’s absorbing narrative, Clash in the Clouds drops Booker and Elizabeth into the halls of the Columbia Archaeological Society and provides gateway tears to four arena-style maps that are almost (but not quite) familiar. Relatively clever asset reuse isn’t really a substitute for genuinely unseen parts of Columbia, so those hoping for a look at some brand new areas of the city will go unfulfilled.
Clash in the Clouds doesn’t attempt to add anything to BioShock Infinite’s strongest aspects; setting and symbolism. Instead, it’s all about combat. For many (including myself,) this was the weakest part of an otherwise fine title, and Clash won’t do much to change that notion.
Each of the four arenas is based on a location from the game (such as not-at-all-Finkton and absolutely-not-that-bit-outside-the-Hall-of-Heroes) and provides fifteen escalating waves of conflict for Booker and Liz to battle through. You’re given four or five basic vigors to start you off, and between each wave you have access to every weapon in the game (albeit missing their upgrades.) A first successful completion of a wave also grants you either an infusion or a piece of gear.
Murderin’ folks earns you money to spend on upgrading weapons, buying or upgrading vigors, and unlocking bits and pieces like concept art and character models in the main Archaeological Society hall.
If you die during a wave, you’re given the option to continue (at the cost of a running score,) start again at the opening wave or head back to the main hub. You never lose earned money, so there isn’t too much of a painful grind to unlock and upgrade favourite vigor and weapon combinations. Upgrading every single gun to its full potential might take you a while, but it was only 2-3 hours before I had my preferred set-up and all of the Archaeological hall on display. You’ll earn plenty of cash simply by doing a single full play-through of each arena.
If you want to scoop up even more money and add a hefty chunk to your score at the same time, then you can attempt the ‘Blue Ribbon Challenge’ on each particular wave. These reward you for completing the segment in a certain way. Maybe by only using vigor traps, or only doing skyline attacks, or getting a possessed enemy to do the work for you. These are inoffensive enough, but the big BLUE RIBBON CHALLENGE FAILED banner that pops up if you choose not to attempt them acts in the same way as the ‘Memory Synch Failed’ message in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. It turns what should be an optional test into a prescriptive set of instructions, and actively works against what appears to be the main intent of this DLC; allowing players slightly more freedom to play around with vigors.
Not a great deal more freedom though, as the arenas you fight in really aren’t very different from the closed arenas that BioShock Infinite forced Booker into. If you weren’t experimenting with vigors during the main game, you probably won’t feel the need to do it here either. The only thing Clash in the Clouds has over the original title in that respect is that it gives players access to certain vigors which don’t crop up until towards the end of Infinite. There’s definitely scope for getting the most out of Undertow here.
But that’s not really enough to elevate Clash in the Clouds beyond its somewhat underwhelming existence. Just as in Infinite, you’ll fight the same bullet-sponge enemies and the same super-quick, practically stun-proof Handymen (sometimes in groups of two at once, joy!) around the same set of skylines. Did you enjoy tackling Ghost Mum in 1999 mode? Of course not. Nobody did. But the latter stages of this DLC would have you believe otherwise.
There are a smattering of semi-hidden voxophones that add a little more detail to story of the Lutece twins, and some of the concept art provides a painful reminder that videogame artwork inevitably looks more impressive than what made it to the finished title, but none of these extras are essential.
If you already handed over $20.00 USD for an Infinite Season Pass, then Clash in the Clouds is effectively free (since the Burial at Sea two-parter will be $30.00 USD if bought individually.) At that non-price, hey, you have nothing to lose.
It’s pretty cheap as a standalone too, but given the number of games that hand out arena-style updates of this very kind for free, there’s a strong case to be made that nobody should be getting charged for this at all. Clash in the Clouds is a safe, unambitious stop-gap before the main DLC event and, like the combat from its parent game, is also distinctly average.