My review for Burial At Sea – Episode 1, while positive, lamented the fact that Irrational Games chose to expound upon the idea of parallel universes for their DLC, a decision that I now understand and, surprisingly, support after playing the second episode. One reason for this is that the latest chapter is simply better than the first in that it offers a stronger story, enhanced gameplay and even manages to tie the series as a whole together. Even though some of the individual pieces don’t come together perfectly, BioShock Infinite: Burial At Sea – Episode 2 wraps up the series in a way that fans need to experience.
The story picks up directly after Episode 1’s ending, with Sally falling into Atlas’ hands and Elizabeth desperate to get her back. To ensure Sally’s safety, Elizabeth agrees to return the department store prison that houses Atlas and his men back to Rapture so they can wage war on Andrew Ryan. What follows is an adventure that spans Rapture and Columbia while bringing back a majority of the main characters, both heroes and villains, for one final bow out from the series.
While the plot is significantly stronger than the first time around, it still falters at times, especially when you stop long enough to think it through. While the summary above sounds succinct and simple, numerous details are introduced that only serve to make the overarching story more confounding than it already is. Parallel universes are notoriously sticky scenarios to introduce, and it’s nearly impossible to keep every character, event and timeline straight. Some of these plot pieces are absolutely spellbinding and will leave more than a few jaws dropped, but several will leave fans scratching their heads and scouring forums for the next few weeks.
One revelation in particular about Elizabeth and her journey to Rapture raises the stakes significantly, effectively giving this episode a feeling of finality that fits perfectly into the story. But for every element that works, there are two that just don’t. What bothered me in the first episode and continues to irk me is Elizabeth’s desire to free Sally from Rapture. It’s never shown just why Elizabeth is willing to risk her life (and the future of mankind in general) for this one girl who honestly isn’t that interesting of a character. Sally stays in the background as a tool to push the story forwards, but without understanding why it’s so important she survives, Elizabeth’s time in Rapture feels forced.
However, some of the story elements do work perfectly to tie together BioShock and Infinite in clever ways that actually make sense. The discovery of the origins of the Big Daddies and the creation of Songbird and its relationship to Elizabeth are quite powerful, and there are a handful of truly gorgeous moments included within the episode that reach Infinite levels of goodness. They’re just not consistent throughout the five or six hours it takes to reach the ending.
This time around, the gameplay has a much stealthier focus, as Elizabeth isn’t quite the bullet-sponge Booker was. This new direction is used to introduce some new weapons and abilities that are surprisingly useful and fun to play with, including the Peeping Tom plasmid, which is used to see enemies through walls, and a crossbow that can create noisy distractions, gas an area of enemies or knock them unconscious. While the pickings are slim for both weapons and plasmids, what’s provided is more than enough to keep the gameplay interesting and varied.
While they are welcome additions that fit Elizabeth’s style, even the stealth mechanics can’t escape the weakest aspect of every other BioShock title: fetch quests. In fact, more than other entries in the series, Burial At Sea feels like one long fetch quest broken up by bits of plot that require whatever maguffin you’re seeking to keep pressing forward. The worst example of this is when a character locks you out of Rapture, trapping you in Columbia until you steal a lock of hair and bring it back. This is a fetch quest that occurs while you’re working to grab yet another object, creating some sort of temporal wormhole in which you have to fetch one thing just to be able to fetch more things that will lead to future fetchings.
Recent stealth games have a tendency to force players into massive shootouts that throw the stealth elements out the window, and Burial At Sea is no different. As fun as it is to sneak through a room of splicers, taking them out or avoiding them methodically, it’s equally frustrating when you’re thrown into a fracas that’s completely unavoidable. While Elizabeth can handle herself in a gunfight, these moments feel incredibly forced and would take away from the total experience if it weren’t for some fantastic character moments that are had during these battles. One confrontation with Ryan’s thugs features a dialogue between Elizabeth and Booker that helps build tension and genuine sympathy for Elizabeth’s struggle, highlighting just how good the writing for this series can get.
Even if some battles are forced and the fetch quests are unavoidable, the gameplay is still top notch, with the graphics and gunplay polished to near perfection. As I’ve said before, just about any BioShock game, no matter the story, is going to have better gameplay mechanics than most FPS titles on the market. Complimenting the BioShock series on gameplay is like complimenting BioWare on a well-told story: it’s a given at this point.
In the end, the story is the main draw, and whatever weak spots leave fans reeling for answers don’t ruin the experience enough to not recommend it. BioShock Infinite Burial At Sea – Episode 2, when compared to other story-driven DLC, is fantastic, and every fan of the series owes it to themselves to explore Rapture one last time. Elizabeth’s tale is intricately woven and gives fans the chance to see behind-the-scenes of some of the best moments from the series, even living out events only tangentially mentioned in previous games. Even if the first part left a bad taste in your mouth, give the final chapter a chance to blow your mind.
This review is based on a PS3 copy of the DLC given to us for review purposes.
Boasting a new focus on stealthy gameplay and a fascinating (if convoluted) conclusion, Burial At Sea - Episode 2 ties the BioShock series together in ways both surprising and confusing.