Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Episode 2 Review
In the first episode review I said that it didn't feel like a true return to Rapture. This time we are definitely back.
Enter Rapture once again as Elizabeth to uncover the truth that belies the connection between Columbia and the city beneath the waves.
That is what you'll get deep into while trying to save the little sister Sally who played a part in the previous episode. Elizabeth will go through Hell, doubt, madness, and manipulation to accomplish her goal and the result is a truly stunning piece of DLC that crushes the dissatisfied feeling associated with finishing the first Burial At Sea episode. They may be from the same story but this second part feels more like a full add-on than a padded mini-story.
Before I get on with the analysis I'd just like to focus a little on why this is more than your average DLC. As you progress through the quest you'll meet with and hear from familiar characters like Andrew Ryan, Atlas, and Dr. Suchong. Don't worry, you won't be alone, Elizabeth still has a mysterious connection to Booker. With his help you'll quickly come to understand that you are not doing extraneous things in Rapture so as to get your moneys worth; your story is actually running parallel to the events of the first Bioshock game and the story in Bioshock: Infinite and thus the content expands on the plots of those games.
You'll learn in detail about the things hinted at in Infinite such as the connections between Big Daddies and the Songbird, how the Luteces factor into Rapture, and the scientific partnership and competition that gives rise to all the strange abilities we are familiar with in the Bioshock universe. It also manages to act as a sequel to Infinite in that we get to (more or less) finish Elizabeth's story. What is most impressive is how Levine works all of this into a game we played many years ago, it fills plot holes that were just regular circumstances to us at the time. I'll miss Levine's skill in the writing arena as he moves onto smaller projects.
The gameplay has been altered to favor the less aggressive nature of Elizabeth. While still ready for plenty of action if you choose to take that route, the focus this time is clearly on stealth. You can sneak up on foes and knock them out with your skyhook or be kind and take them down with tranquilizer darts. If you want to be more brutal you'll also have access to the shotgun, hand cannon, and the radar range (which can cause enemies to explode if the beam is focused long enough). Enemies have alertness statuses similar to those in Dishonored, there's a few empty bolts above their heads that fill up to tell you about their status. The crossbow also can fire gas arrows and noisemakers.
The plasmids are more focused on stealth this time too. Returning powers include Possession and Old Man Winter and the new ones are Peeping Tom and Ironsides. Peeping Tom is very useful, while held down it makes you invisible and reveals the locations of enemies through walls. Ironsides makes you highly resistant to damage and collects bullets fired at you. Since it is mostly a stealth adventure bear in mind that things like ammo, Eve and health are easy to deplete and run out of. So stay sharp!
Remember Elizabeth's neat lock picking? Now it's a little more interactive. As with some other things she figures out, the locks rise up out of the game and to the front of our screens as a Leonardo Da Vinci style drawing that shows the inner workings of the lock. As the bolt passes back and forth it crosses red, blue, and clear pins. Stopping on a clear pin opens the lock cleanly, hitting the red pin sounds an alarm, hitting a blue pin drops a noisemaker that you can use as arrow ammo to give enemies a distraction.
Stay low, go slow, and work in the shadows. It isn't perfect, it's quite clear that the enemy AI isn't used to behaving this way. As such they act like amateurs most of the time, but it doesn't detract much from the fun and the effectiveness of the gameplay. It is especially effective in this episode not just because we are controlling Elizabeth but because of the horror aspects which are on full display here. I've never really considered Bioshock in the realm of horror, though it has borrowed from the genre and scared plenty of people, but horror is especiall prevalent here. It works hand in hand with the tension of the stealth gameplay.
Don't expect any big changes in controls here, everything is familiar, on time, and tight. There are upgrades for your plasmids in out of the way places and they function automatically. The maps are large and while there is some backtracking it isn't a huge bother and makes discovering new places exciting. There is plenty of opportunity for exploration and a decent sized collection of areas you need to lock pick into or use a code on to uncover. Lock picks are highly useful and I used a lot of my money on them at the vending machines. Although some items are sparse, there's plenty of looting to be done as usual.
Gameplay is occasionally broken up by stuttering, brief freezes, and inopportune loading spots that halt or slow the action. Icky stuff but not crippling or common.
The visuals are on par with what the first episode had on offer. While in general Rapture and its new locales are a graphic delight, you don't want to get too close to them. When you do you get a real sense of the time schedule Irrational must have been on. New, muddy textures and set pieces made of few polygons stand in stark contrast to ones that have seen more care put into them. The awesome lighting (some new effects are present) makes up for some of this but again a good portion of the content is trying to be hidden by keeping your surroundings especially dark. So much so that you'll wish you had a flashlight.
New enemies are on tap which is cool, you'll see some splicers who have let their powers take them over and effected their physical deformities. They too look a bit slapdash if you are close up. Ultimately these drawbacks feel forgivable because the total package continues to deliver on the franchise's promise of ambiance and environmental impressiveness. Special effects, cut scenes, and lighting really feel like the stars of the visual presentation. When the game flows into a dramatic cut scene just sit back and enjoy because everything looks beautiful, except when Elizabeth encounters a mirror. In that case it's really cool to look around during the scene and examine the subtlety of her character model as her head follows your viewpoint. Very cool stuff.
I'm such a sucker for good voice work when it comes to the audio in a game. I can tell you that everybody involved with the voice work came to work and delivered. One of the signatures of the series is the way the unique characters come through with just their voices. Since a lot of the cast is available by radio it feels a lot like being in the first Bioshock again. Excellent performances all around but nobody can eclipse Courtnee Draper as Elizabeth and Troy Baker as Booker. Their chemistry is palpable once again and it's great fun to hear them interact with the old character cast.
Whoever is in charge of picking out the old time music is right on the ball and the new jingles are brilliant. The way that radio tunes echo through the hallways is just as satisfying as ambient music that follows you through corridors and battles. Sound effects are on time, very clear, and high quality. These are common worries with DLC as perfection with them is easy to miss but this comes close.
I like the replay value on this one. There's no multiplayer or anything to extend it into infinity but what you do have is exactly what Bioshock fans should be happy with. For one it's easy to get wrapped up in the narrative and miss certain areas and locked rooms. You'll want to explore all of this and it could take a second play through. I know I missed a room or two. Even if you got into them all you might not have used your lock picks properly and could have missed out on items in a safe for instance. The story is another thing worth experiencing more than once. The plot is clearer to the average gamer about what is going on than Infinite was (especially concerning multiple dimensions) but it's also very deep. I had to sit and think a minute after the credits rolled to wrap it all up into a neat package in my mind. As such I believe some things here are easy to miss and so a second play might make you appreciate it even more.
Then there's the basic gameplay, you don't have to be stealth. If you want to switch things up and be a mean motor scooter then you sure can, or if you desire a better performance as a non-lethal force there's that option too. Bioshock has always been about variety in combat. Sadly a lot of people mistake it for a simple FPS and just shoot at their enemies with whatever they have instead of combining powers and weapons to do crazy things. Burial At Sea Episode 2 mixes fewer combat abilities but is no less impressive when it comes to providing imaginative approaches to encounters. That alone makes the whole thing worth doing over again.
Burial At Sea Episode 2 fulfills the promise that gamers felt was made to them when they shelled out for the season pass. Amazingly it does so alone, but together with the first episode it easily eclipses the Minerva's Den DLC for Bioshock 2. Where the first episode was short on story and could be argued short on content (getting 3 hours out of it was a stretch) this addition is very heavy on brilliant storytelling, content, and memorable questing. I didn't watch the clock but I know it took me more than 3 hours to finish.
If you are even a mild fan of Bioshock then you should definitely play this expansion, it is single player greatness that redeems the former episode.
The Good: Well paced stealth gameplay that sockets into an incredible story. Excellent atmospherics and inclusion of horror.
The Bad: Enemy AI seems a little slow on the uptake for stealth gameplay.
The Ugly: Don't get too close to the textures.
4/9/2014 David D. Nelson