Party Like It’s 1998: BioShock Burial At Sea’s Thief-Like Mode

how do you like my cosplay

Irrational has (mostly) sunk beneath the gaming industry’s ever-turbulent waves, but its spirit lives on. And by that, I mean the rather tumultuous work environment gave birth to one last piece of DLC before massive (and by many accounts, inevitable) layoffs struck. BioShock Infinite: Burial At Sea Episode One was a mixed bag, but Episode Two has a shot at going out on a high note. There are plenty of solid ingredients in place: we’re back in Rapture, we get to play as Elizabeth, and apparently we can entirely avoid killing anyone if we want to. 1998 mode is a bonus option with a heavy emphasis on stealth, and if some referential fake box art is to be believed, it’s rather heavily influenced by the original Thief.

The tattered ashes of Irrational explained 1998 mode in a blog post:

“Today we’re revealing the brand new 1998 Mode, which challenges gamers to complete the narrative using only non-lethal tools. This mode will be in addition to existing difficulty modes, and the aforementioned 1999 Mode.”

“In Burial at Sea – Episode Two we put a focus on balance and stealth mechanics. As we were developing this new style of gameplay, we started to see people self-impose non-lethal playthrough’s. Given the fan reception of 1999 Mode, we thought it would be cool to give them another way to play Burial at Sea that challenged their mastery of stealth tools.”

So there you go. If you disliked BioShock Infinite’s rampant, not-quite-pointless (though not very effectively given a point) violence, this is a way around that. Sorta. Granted, stealth isn’t an easy thing to bolt onto an otherwise not-really-stealth-focused game, so it could well end up clumsy and painful. If that ends up being the case, I doubt you’ll see me at BioShock’s going-away party.

I do hope it’s good, though. BioShock’s had quite a few ups (the first game’s first half, BioShock 2, BioShock 2: Minerva’s Den) and downs (Infinite’s untapped potential, Infinite’s awkward racism, those layoffs) over the years, but the series gave me plenty of memorable moments. Infinite isn’t by any means my favorite game ever, but even it was strong in places. And while BioShock isn’t dead (2K’s simply giving it to another studio), this is the end of an era. So bye-bye-bye, BioShock. I got you this


  1. Geewhizbatman says:

    Gosh–I always forget how weird the 90’s were until I see boy band music videos. At least Spice World had some tongue in cheekness…N’Sync though–I don’t know. I just don’t know.

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      phuzz says:

      I noticed while browsing through my local ticket shop‘s wares that nsync are on tour at the moment, with a bunch of uk boy bands.
      Sometimes I wish my brain only remembered the things that are important to me :(

    • TWChristine says:

      I can’t speak for N’Sync, but there’s always the “Everybody” video by Backstreet Boys. I think you can kind of tell that they know it’s a silly video. At least I hope so..

    • dE says:

      I love how Alice Cooper is having a piss about silly Boybands in the silly music video to Gimme and at the same time runs with his silly I be Satan stick. Anyways, this is where we drop music videos from all ages, with silly dancing/walking, right?

      MOVITS! – Fel Del Av Gården

    • The Random One says:

      N’Sync feels to me like someone realized that making a boy band is a way to become famous and having lot of women pine for you when you have a skillset that usually can only get you a job as background dancer, and the only negative is a bunch of adolescent boys saying you’re gay. They rode the boy band fame until they started to go out of fashion, then they switched to pop, said that they had, in fact, always been pop, and drove it home by saying it on a song called Pop. (It didn’t work but they tried.) Justin is kind of the cynical mastermind of the operation IMO because he dated Britney Spears when that was Teen Boy Goal One and after his band sunk he saved himself through a movie career.

  2. Rao Dao Zao says:

    Looks like they laid off everything but the kitch n’sync.

  3. MuscleHorse says:

    ‘Given the fan reception of 1999 Mode…’

    You mean, “Hey, this is nothing like games from 1999 – they’ve just made everyone even more of a bulletsponge and a grind.”

    • LionsPhil says:

      If “retro” and “old-school” have made anything clear, it’s that few people who make such games actually remember anything before the mid-’00s, and aren’t prepared to put in the effort to actually dig into their GOG catalogue and refresh their memories.

    • Philomelle says:

      What I learned from such nostalgia modes is that the developer firmly remembers the game as being impossibly, monstrously hard. It always slips their mind to go back, replay the game and realize the difficulty was actually nothing special, the developer simply sucked at video games at the time and got better since then.

      I still remember a similar experience with American McGee’s Alice. I found the game completely insufferable when I played it at the age of 17, but found myself beating it in 4 hours without dying once when I fired it up last year. Players, developers included, often don’t realize how much their skill actually improves over the years until they start actively replaying classics.

      • Muzman says:

        I’ve noticed that if you hear from developers from back-in-the-day about back-in-the-day they generally feel that the games back then weren’t very good. The neater, smaller, streamlined stuff of the Xbox era is always by default better. There’s old Devs who seem to think Deadly Shadows is the best Thief. They probably think the new Thief is the best one now. I have to wonder if they have any idea at all what made the old ones great sometimes.
        It’s profoundly disappointing

        • Philomelle says:

          IMO it’s understandable because of perspective. What the players see in an old game is what they believe the game is supposed to be, and so they enjoy it for what it is. On the other hand, the developers from back in the day had to work with the strict technological limitations of the era. When they look at the game now, they probably see it as missed potential forced into its shape by the technology they had to work with.

          Very few modern artists enjoy working within rules and limitations. Plenty of them don’t realize that their audience enjoyed playing with those rules in place and took them as an intended part of the work.

          • Muzman says:

            I agree it’s not really a surprise when you think about it. It is almost as though there is a perfect experience to strive for though sometimes. Which I think is a mistake. But what they think is important to the experience vs what the player thinks is important are going to differ a lot, it’s true.

            But I do have a head full of notions about how the early-to-mid 2000s was a dark and terribly restrictive period of game design, filled with fad theorums and undercooked psychology. So a lot of these old guard PC types seemingly disavowing their lofty and ambitious goals seems to me like them just drinking a deep draught of that xbox/money green kool aid that was going around at the time.
            This impression tends to colour how I take what they say when I hear it.

            In any case, I think it’s true to say we can’t really expect the makers of these old games to go back to making things that way again. We can only really wait for people who grew up with those old titles to get into the games industry instead.

        • Geebs says:

          Deadly shadows was very good, and I’m not sure that the received wisdom about small levels is even true. Part of the reason thief TDP’s levels seem so big is that they were made huge for no reason, and another part is that they are almost featureless and provide no real sense of direction. Deadly Shadows’ more focused approach was an improvement in some ways.

          • Muzman says:

            Could not disagree more and, more over, I think this view is incorrect. It’s been the received wisdom itself since Splinter Cell heavily simplified Thief’s ideas but it’s almost a completely different kind of game for it.
            The levels don’t seem bigger, they are bigger. About the only level comparable in size and complexity in Deadly Shadows is the Museum (ie, the last level). And naturally it is cut in two. Nearly all the rest are comparatively tiny. (aside from things like Return to the Cathedral which are pretty small in area).

            While there’s argument to be made for easing the player in to the skillset and reminding them how to navigate in an unfamiliar and hostile space undetected (something regular people don’t really face all that often) the reasons for having complex spaces that are one piece are pretty strong.
            Just the continuity of space actually aids navigation, because the space performs as expected. Console games substitute simplicity and navigation aids instead It also makes for generally more interesting possibilities for emergence too.
            Thief’s levels are not filled with wasted space but full of spaces you would expect to find in a real place. Some effort went into giving these places a certain architectural life; mansions have bits you could see as expansions or where they met the landscape half way. Evidence of things built over and modified etc. Obviously it’s limited somewhat by the visuals of the day and they didn’t always get it perfect, but that kind of thought went into it. It’s storytelling through architecture (and this of course continues into when the architecture starts to break down in some of the weirder levels). Original Thief levels at their best are not merely a discrete selection of stealth challenges but an entire building system you have to defeat. It’s geometrically more interesting than the general stealth standard.
            So the idea that a room that doesn’t serve an obvious game purpose is wasted is, to me, an example of that poisonous streamlining thinking. Now, some people like this stuff and that’s fine. But when the one stealth game that aimed so much higher starts adopting the rather ordinary standards of 90% of stealth in games – and worse, that sort of notion becomes just “how stealth is done” to most people – it’s a pretty big loss.

  4. Anthile says:

    They also promised us the 1999 mode would be a System Shock 2-esque experience but instead it was really just a run-of-the-mill harder than hard difficulty level. “Given the fan reception of 1999 Mode” is a very peculiar phrasing here.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I’d really love something like Bioshock but more like Deus Ex, which is what I hoped Bioshock would be like (most of my negativity about Bioshock was finding out that you very rarely had meaningful interaction with anyone in it beyond shooting them). If you’re going to create a new society, it’d be wonderful to see the cogs turn, or at least a decent simulacra of it, rather than go through a broken-down puppet show.

  5. The Sombrero Kid says:

    They’re going to put legs on the Bins so it feels like pickpocketing.

  6. Smashbox says:

    Great job guysyourefired.

  7. Alien.Nated says:

    “His life is like Enron, circa 1999. So wild. … ”
    Close enough! Man, I miss 30rock almost as much as 90s non-hand-holding videogames :-/

  8. TWChristine says:

    I like how they even replicated the shape of the box. I believe Omikron had a weird shape as well. Oddly enough, for some reason it made me feel really awkward buying them because the box just “felt wrong.”

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      What? Thief didn’t have a funny shaped box, it had a regular rectangle one.

      Did we UKers get ripped off with a boring box? I demand my funny shaped box!

    • Hidden_7 says:

      Every Eidos game from around that time had a box like that (in North America, at least). It was their “thing.”

  9. Lagwolf says:

    Would be amusing if the stealth in this DLC were better than the piss-poor stealth in the current dull-fest called Thief.

    • jonahcutter says:

      It will be amusing.

      And then it will be frustrating, them finally realizing after the main game and the first story DLC that this should of been the gameplay for Infinite all along.