BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode Two Review
The BioShock games have never truly connected with each other in terms of narrative. It’s curious then, that the last piece of the BioShock series spends a lot of time tying together, the old with the new. BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode Two is the last bit of downloadable content to be produced by Irrational Games, who are closing down. It’s a mostly successful swansong from the studio. The narrative heads in completely unexpected directions and establishes connections between BioShock and BioShock Infinite. The stealth-oriented gameplay results in a unique experience that contrasts previous games. For the most part, Episode Two accomplishes what it set out to do. It’s unfortunate that it couldn’t have aimed higher as it falls just short of being a masterpiece.
Episode Two picks up immediately after the previous episode’s fantastic twist ending. The player controls Elizabeth, who awakes to find BioShock bad-guy Frank Fontaine pointing a gun at her. She strikes a deal with him, offering to help Fontaine escape his underwater prison in exchange for Sally, a little girl in Fontaine’s possession who has been converted into a little sister.
To discuss the plot further would be to divulge serious spoilers. Needless to say, the plot has many legitimate twists up it’s sleeves and will keep you guessing up until the final minutes. Memorable moments include a surreal dream sequence to open the game and a cringe-inducing torture segment towards the end that had me flinching more than once.
Elizabeth once again steals the show, though there aren’t any interesting characters to complement her. She’s caught in the middle of a civil war between Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine though neither side is particularly interesting. BioShock was never known for having interesting characters and that flaw has never been more obvious than in this episode.
Elizabeth spends most of the narrative talking to herself; her dialogue is further revealing of her personality which is more flawed than the previous episode implied. She’s less mysterious as a result but her personality is deeper than before. There’s a theme of being trapped within her own footsteps which echoes the philosophies of existentialism yet the narrative can be a bit clumsy at times. Elizabeth loses her ability to create tears for example yet the reason is far too complicated for me to even attempt to explain. BioShock Infinite walked a fine line between narrative brilliance and outright convolution, unfortunately Episode Two is closer to the latter.
The anxiety of unpredictability is strong enough to carry most of the narrative but whether you will be satisfied with the story depends entirely on the player. Episode Two avoids the narrative clichés that plague nearly every one of its contemporaries, aside from the standard video game goal of rescuing the girl. However the story wonderfully subverts this trope in a way that may not be obvious the first time playing. It’s as much a statement on the medium as the ending to BioShock Infinite.
Unlike Booker, who can blast his way through every his enemies, Elizabeth is weaker. She doesn’t have a regenerating shield though she can find several health kits scattered about Rapture, there’s nobody to revive her when she dies either. Episode Two is heavily focused on stealth gameplay as matter of practicality, providing a unique experience to the BioShock series. The player must pay greater attention to their surroundings as walking on glass or stepping in a puddle will alert nearby enemies. There are even musical cues for when an enemy hears or sees the player, further increasing the tension.
Elizabeth is equipped with a crossbow that can take down enemies non-lethally, she can also sneak behind them for a non-lethal takedown. She can crawl through vents making it possible to avoid enemies entirely. When worst comes to worst, she can shoot her way out of an encounter though she doesn’t carry enough ammo to make this a viable option. There’s a feeling of vulnerability when playing as Elizabeth that perfectly complements the focus on stealth. Elizabeth’s resources are limited which creates tension in the gameplay though it’s inferior to other games such as the winter chapter from The Last of Us.
The enemies in Episode Two are diverse but unfortunately the AI doesn’t always hold up outside of combat. There were frequent occasions where an enemy would walk right by without noticing me, despite me being in clear view.In spite of the breaks in immersion, the areas are so well designed that the atmosphere quickly returns.
If Episode One was a tour through the glamorous side of Rapture, Episode Two is a showcase for the ugly side and by extension, all the aspects of Rapture society that doomed the city to failure. Areas include a propaganda-laden school, dingy bars and a store that sells adult-magazines.
The world is once again fleshed out through audio diaries and kinetoscopes. While it’s practically par for the course at this point, the art direction is outstanding and the narrative encourages exploration. Most of the objectives have the player exploring their environment, looking for a list of plot-related items. This may sound repetitive as every BioShock game has resorted to this tactic, but like previous games, the environment is so well-realized that it won’t even matter.
The narrative crosses over with several moments that happened before the events of the first game and during the events of Infinite. The origins of crucial parts of BioShock and BioShock Infinite are revealed though it’s hardly necessary as neither game benefits from this knowledge. It’s quite clear that none of the connections established in this episode were planned during the creation of either of these games as they’re largely inconsequential.
If you’re expecting a farewell to the BioShock series in line with Bioware’s Citadel DLC for the Mass Effect series, then expect to be disappointed. After everything the player went through trying to save Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite, it’s a shame that the best Burial at Sea Episode Two can offer is an ending that’s needlessly depressing and underwhelming. Even if you prefer a sad ending, it’s hard to accept that there’s no payoff for the hard work the player went through in Infinite.
If you played BioShock and BioShock Infinite it’s likely that the ending to this story will leave you wanting more. Anyone who hasn’t played both of these games will have little chance of comprehending the narrative and anyone who has will have expectations that the game will fail to meet. The story heavily leans on the success of BioShock, falling into a trap that BioShock Infinite so expertly avoided. It’s tragically ironic that with everything that the BioShock series did well, this last chapter is undone by its own design. Episode One felt like a love letter to the first game; Episode Two is a date with an old crush that ends with a bittersweet goodbye.