Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea – Episode Two
This isn’t fair. This was supposed to be just another piece of DLC. A piece of DLC from a major franchise and a beloved developer, but still, just some new content. Unfortunately the recent shuttering of Irrational Games has shackled Burial At Sea – Episode Two with the weight of being Irrational’s swan song, as well as perhaps an epitaph for the Bioshock franchise itself. It’s hard not to play Burial At Sea Episode Two without carrying that baggage along for the ride. I tried to judge the game on its own merits, but it’s impossible avoid ascribing greater importance to this content knowing that it’s possibly the last thing to ever bear the Bioshock name.
I’m pleased to report that Burial At Sea – Episode Two is a great piece of DLC that while certainly not the franchise’s very finest hour, is a very satisfying conclusion to the Infinite saga. It’s immediately and consistently better than BaS Episode One – my review of which you can read here. Remarkably, it actually elevates that solid but brief first part by virtue of simply giving it a natural conclusion, and turning it into a more cohesive experience. In fact one could expect a solid 8-10 hour playthrough – depending on one’s style – of the entire Burial At Sea story. If you’re familiar with part one and inclined to do the math then you know that yes, part two is considerably longer, and therefore a much better value. I like to take my sweet time exploring the rich environments of the Bioshock series, and I reached the credits in six and a quarter hours, which I found to be a really solid playtime for the money. The achievements list further extends the value. I spent another hour going back and finding audio diaries that I missed, and then over three and a half more hours completing a non-lethal playthrough. That’s nearly 11 hours for a single piece of DLC, and though gamers more expedient than myself will finish it much faster, I have zero qualms about BaS Episode Two from a value standpoint.
Of course none of that would be worth a damn if the game wasn’t good. Luckily, part two bests its predecessor handily in quality as well as quantity. As you may know, the player takes control of Elizabeth this time around, and the experience has been retooled so that the character switch makes sense. Stealth and non-lethal weaponry play a big part this time around. You’ll still pick up a shotgun, hand cannon etc., but ammo for these is fairly scarce, and they’re cast more as secondary options than your main arms. The game-changing addition to your arsenal is the cross bow, a silent weapon capable of shooting sleeping darts, noisemakers, and darts that release a cloud of knockout gas. It totally changes the Bioshock experience into something entirely different, and I loved it.
Naturally, plasmids make a return as well. Just like your guns, the traditional offensive ones like Devil’s Kiss and Old Man Winter return – along with fresh addition “Ironsides” – but the star of the show is Peeping Tom. Peeping Tom allows you to get a glimpse of enemies through walls and if the trigger is held down, Elizabeth is rendered invisible. As per tradition, it can be upgraded, and by the end of the game, it’s absolutely invaluable. Like the cross bow, it’s a fun addition that remixes the gameplay in a really meaningful way. Together, these new components make for a game that feels refreshingly different from Booker’s exploits – fun as they were – and the more stealthy and patient you choose to be, the more this feels like a totally different experience.
Peeping Tom and the bow get a lot of the credit for sure, but it should come as no surprise that they are part of an obviously conscious and deliberate design decision. Clearly this second episode was intended to play much more like Bioshock and Bioshock 2 than Bioshock Infinite and BaS Episode One. The two latter titles played like modern shooters. Action packed and full of scripted waves of enemies that would come at you until defeated. There was no sneaking up on anyone. Decisions about how to tackle a group of foes were made on the fly, in the heat of combat – not beforehand. Like the first two games, you get to set the tone and push the pace a lot more here. You’ll enter an area and more or less be able to immediately assess the number and type of enemies around you before deciding how to proceed. By my memory, you don’t once trip an invisible line to trigger a shooting sequence, and what scripted waves do come, you’re given time to hide and prepare for.
There are no sky-lines and while there are freight hooks, here they’re much more akin to the gargoyles of the Arkham games than the hooks from Infinite. I’m not going to make a case for one flavor over another, but I think this was absolutely the right choice for this piece of content. It makes much more sense for Elizabeth as a character and for the more confined and segmented areas of this episode. While episode one brought back the weapon wheel, this felt like a half-hearted compromise between the first two games and the third. That first part played like Infinite somewhat awkwardly crammed into Rapture, and ended up feeling a little wonky and inconsistent. Part two is more seamless and of a whole. It takes a much more confident stance design-wise and feels purposeful and complete where part one was scattershot and truncated. It’s true to the roots of the series, while still feeling like part of the Infinite saga, and I really liked it for that.
The gameplay really benefits from the strong design approach. Sneaking around with Peeping Tom, diverting enemies with noisemakers or putting them to sleep with darts is very fun. Enemies can be avoided entirely, and there are vents that can be used to subvert situations to your liking. Exploration is rewarded as usual, and there are some solid optional objectives to flesh things out for those who care to do some digging. As Peeping Tom becomes more powerful, it can be used quite often, and Possession returns and compliments the stealth options nicely. It’s definitely still fun to open up the guns at times, and when you do, new plasmid Ironsides is a decent addition to the traditional shooting action. It’s primary function casts a protective shield – oh yeah, no built-in shield for Elizabeth, back to just a bar and health packs, I wasn’t kidding about that “back to the roots of the series” thing – and the secondary function actually stops bullets in their tracks and adds them to your own ammo stock. It’s pretty cool new plasmid, especially for those that want to be more offensive. All in all, the game plays well no matter how you choose to tackle it. It nicely shuffles together elements of the three main series titles into something legitimately fun.
There are some flaws present that mar the experience a bit. The stealth gameplay works well, but the enemies are just a hair sensitive when it comes to hearing Elizabeth. Stepping into water causes every nearby enemy to leave their “passive” state and begin searching for something, – and they’ll spot you immediately if they’re close – no matter how delicately you go about it. As the game went on I learned to work my way around hiccups in the enemy AI as best I could, but annoyances did pop up. Occasionally I would have no idea how I had alerted enemies to my presence, though this was rare. Again, my experience was mostly fun and smooth, but not without some undue frustrations caused by AI and programming flaws. Also, my goodness does the enemy dialogue repeat. I know I took my time playing and I played the game through twice, but there is a glaring lack of variety in the things you’ll hear foes say. It absolutely got annoying, while also hurting the immersion factor.
Those are really all the negative things I have to say about Burial at Sea – Episode Two. It’s a nice little piece of content that doesn’t revolutionize the genre, but knows exactly what it wants to do, and does it well. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention how great a job it does of adding to and concluding the Bioshock story, and not just that of Infinite. Obviously I won’t spoil anything, but the series plot revelations here are really astounding, and way, way, more than what we’re accustomed to getting in a mere piece of DLC. For that attribute alone, series fans must pick this up, but because of all the positives I’ve already mentioned, I can really recommend this to pretty much anyone interested in a quality gaming experience. This episode has a lot of heavy lifting to do in terms of closing out the Bioshock legacy – to say nothing of Irrational’s – and while it doesn’t reach the same lofty heights of the franchise’s best moments, it’s great in it’s own right. If this is indeed the last Bioshock game, the series certainly went out on a quality note.
*played on an Xbox 360*