C’EST LA VIE EN BLEU
BioShock Infinite and Burial at Sea Episode 1 spoilers follow ahead.
In another parallel reality, Irrational Games is working on another BioShock with Ken Levine at the helm. In our universe, it’s completely wishful thinking. Irrational’s last piece of work concludes the two-part Burial at Sea expansion of BioShock Infinite.
The second episode picks up a few moments after the first. Elizabeth has successfully killed the last remaining Comstock and finds herself caught up with the revolutionary figure, Atlas. Elizabeth feels the weight of guilt over using the little sister named Sally as bait and strikes a deal with Atlas, who has the girl. For a few minutes, you seem to have a solid, linear understanding of what’s going on. Given that this is a game of the Shock series, you’re thrown off course in your knowledge of what’s going on and who’s who. In the spirit of Infinite, confusion comes in the form of metaphysics.
A BioShock Infinite veteran who hasn’t played the first game might not get the same reaction or understanding to all of the revelations that play out. There’s still an optional BioShock 1 recap that you can view before you hop into Episode 2, but there are a lot of callbacks to the original that are missed with the recap. These moments feel like an ode to the fans and I couldn’t help but feel thrilled to see most of them play out. Part of this also comes around as an issue as there are segments of the episode that did feel stretched out for the sake of tying this universe to Elizabeth’s. This all might seem convoluted with the necessity of its backstory, but it works because Burial at Sea is for the veterans, especially those of the original.
Actress Courtnee Draper returns as Elizabeth with fine execution. She allows Elizabeth to feel different from the innocent one in Infinite and the darker, grittier one in Episode 1. We can accredit the scriptwriting to this as well, but Draper really shows off Elizabeth’s loneliness and slow loss of sanity. There are points of the game where we really do feel like we’re in the mind of Elizabeth. Episode 2 utilizes her bookworm knowledge and even goes as far to illustrate it with unique blueprint-like animations.
What separates Episode 2 from the rest of the series is the incorporation of stealth. While playing as Elizabeth who, by the way, doesn’t have her ability to alter the world around her, players will become dependent on the newly introduced stealth mechanics. It’s convenient – I know, but it (sort of) explains how Elizabeth is now a normal person, I think.
The stealth is a welcome addition and it works surprisingly well. Episode 2 doesn’t allow the gun-blazing-Booker mechanic of Infinite and it doesn’t even encourage the part-stealth, part-action approach in Episode 1. Instead, it goes completely into stealth territory; having Elizabeth use sound distractions to evade being detected and using a crossbow equipped with sleep-tranquilizing darts.
There’s even a plasmid that allows the player to go into an invisible, ethereal-like state in which you can also see through walls. It heavily compliments the stealth approach and helps you carefully plan out your next plan from point A to point B. At one point, I fully upgraded this specific plasmid so that it didn’t use any EVE if I was standing still. Having these two upgrades gave me a massive advantage over the AI to the point where playing on the hardest difficulty with this plasmid was a cakewalk. It also brought out the worst of the AI, showcasing the obvious: the enemies in Infinite were obviously not initially designed with stealth mechanics in mind. In the end, most of Elizabeth’s foes become nothing more than foolish once she’s fully upgraded.
Unlike the first episode, Episode 2 allows for more thoughtful exploration. The brevity and lack of content of Episode 1 is something that kept it back from being a satisfying BioShock experience. Here, Rapture comes alive through the progression of story and discovery of audio logs. Exploration is certainly encouraged and pleasantly rewarded.
The more I played Episode 2, the more engrossed I became with the gameplay and Rapture. Sure, I was pretty much a ghost that wandered the areas of Rapture knocking out every splicer I snuck up on, but I preferred this type of gameplay over BioShock Infinite’s. Trying to uncover every single detail felt natural and I never felt like I was going off-course. Even the fetch quests were something I looked forward to because it gave me another chance to backtrack to an area I haven’t felt like I didn’t fully explore.
For the most part, Burial at Sea feels like the ultimate fan-service and that’s okay. The universe of BioShock becomes more distinctive and unique with Episode 2. With this being Irrational’s last outing, finishing the episode was bittersweet. Given its complete scope, this episode feels like a must-play for any fan of the series. There’s about five-to-six hours worth of exploring and hiding to do before you realize that it’s all over. Episode 2 expands on the lore and deepens the connection between the player and the series.
Verdict: 8.5 out of 10
Burial at Sea Episode 2 accomplishes what Episode 1 couldn’t: become the essential tie-in between BioShock and BioShock Infinite. Despite a few shortcomings in gameplay balance and lore additions, Episode 2 manages at times to be more interesting and accessible than Infinite. In its own terms, it serves as a suitable ending to the BioShock universe and is even better represented as an appropriate swan song of a talented studio.