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BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea 2 delivers a scrappy end to the saga – opinion

Tuesday, 25 March 2014 09:00 GMT By Dave Cook

BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea – Episode 2 takes us back to Rapture one last time to round-off Booker and Elizabeth’s story. Dave Cook finishes the final DLC and comes away confused and somewhat disappointed.

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(Warning: this article contains spoilers from BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea – Episode One)

”There is one horrible scene in particular that made me squirm and lose all hope for Elizabeth, as she desperately tries to think of a way out. She once had all the answers and used them to her advantage, but now she is vulnerable and lost. That’s both powerful and at times, quite depressing.”

Narrative ambiguity is a curious thing. As we observed from the Mass Effect 3 ending uproar, it’s a matter that splits opinions across the board. Some like to be told explicitly what happens to a game’s key players before the credits roll, while others like some elements left to their imagination. This is a personal choice, and it’s one that surfaces again in this, the second DLC episode from Irrational Games.

Burial at Sea – Episode Two opens directly after the events of the first instalment, with Comstock – who had been posing as Booker to escape his guilt – lying dead at the hands of a Big Daddy. We learned that Elizabeth was systematically travelling to all of the alternate timelines created throughout the events of BioShock Infinite and slaughtering each incarnation of Columbia’s ruler one by one. With no more Comstock’s left to slay, why then is Elizabeth back in Rapture? What unfinished business does she have there?

This is just one of several mysteries threaded throughout Irrational Games’ swansong, and like its parent title, Burial at Sea’s conclusion is an almighty head-scratcher that will likely dance a jig all over your brain as you struggle to comprehend what, exactly, just happened. Most of the outcome is clear yet, in true series fashion, there are unanswered questions that may either irritate or excite you depending on your approach to ambiguity.

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One thing is clear; Elizabeth is back in Rapture again after an undisclosed time away, and has no recollection of why she came back. She awakens with Atlas standing over her, and for reasons I won’t reveal here, they forge an uneasy alliance to each get what they want. Her ability to open tears has also become – at first – inexplicably stunted, so she has to rely on stealth and gunplay to reach her goal, and while the chance to see the world through Elizabeth’s eyes is welcome, the same cannot be said for the sneaking mechanics.

”BioShock Infinite’s final hour simply falters due to its limp stealth play.”

They’re simply ineffective and prone to failure. By sneaking up on a Splicer you can knock them out with a swift Air-Grabber blow to the head, but all too often I was able to do this while the enemy was looking directly at me. You can see how aware they are of your presence by a ‘spidey-sense’ marker above their head. Once the gauge fills, you are detected, but the rules are often unclear. In most situations I was able to noisily run up to a Splicer and clobber them before the bar filled without penalty.

Despite there being a sound mechanic – which alerts foes whenever Elizabeth treads on glass or in water – nearby enemies rarely seemed to hear me battering their buddy over the head just a few steps away. Your stealth prowess is bolstered further by a new Plasmid called Peeping Tom that enables the player to see enemies through walls and become invisible for a short while, which is useful for slipping past the DLC’s patrolling Big Daddy, or skirting around rotating auto-turrets. It’s a neat power.

The same cannot be said of Ironside, which is another new Plasmid that grabs incoming bullets out of the air before adding them to your inventory. It’s fun to use and is similar to the Vortex Shield ability in Titanfall, but I was never really that bereft of ammunition, not when I could easily take out Splicers with melee attacks. As such, it felt like a weak addition, while returning Plasmids Possession and Old Man Winter fill out the power set. They’re each as useful as ever when coupled with Elizabeth’s new crossbow weapon.

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”When it’s a BioShock game it’s absolutely acceptable and at times intriguing, but as a spiritual nod to Levine’s work on Thief it simply can’t stack up.”

This slick new toy is actually great fun, and comes with a few bolt types. The first is sleep darts, which as you’d imagine, knocks out foes on impact. I never actually witnessed any Splicers waking back up however, but I feel I may have moved on to new areas before this happened. Fellow enemies will go on alert if they come across one of their slumbering chums, although you can just as easily knock them out if they get too close. You also have gas bolts that create an area-of-effect sleep attack, and noisemakers which cause Splicers to walk away and investigate.

One of the DLC’s more interesting quirks is the ability to see objects in the world through Elizabeth’s learned disposition, with all of her book smarts and technical knowledge. So now, instead of simply asking her to pick a lock as before, you are treated to a basic lock-picking minigame that can either raise alarms if botched, or award you with more noise-makers if you hit a special pin. It’s both inoffensive and simple, but feeds into other story points that see Elizabeth explaining complex scientific jargon, complete with a quaint schematic art style.

What’s interesting here is that her explanations are sign-posted often in this manner to underline her high intelligence, but later on you start to feel that all of her knowledge and visions of different universes – with all of their variables, constants and outcomes – are worthless when facing a threat comprised of raw muscle that cannot be reasoned with. There is one horrible scene in particular that made me squirm and lose all hope for Elizabeth, as she desperately tried to think of a way out. She once had all the answers and used them to her advantage, but now she is vulnerable and lost. That’s both powerful and at times, quite depressing.

As you flick between Rapture and Columbia, you’ll piece together new insight into the creation of Songbird and why the Big Daddies are so attached to their Little Sisters, constantly witnessing familiar themes that are largely focused on parental attachment. One scene in Fink’s lab comes close to nailing the same sense of profound revelation you may have felt while taking a golf putter to Ryan’s skull, while another forces you to reappraise everything you knew about the original BioShock. The latter left a sour taste.

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I like that Levine has tried to retrofit new mystery into the first game, but this goes back to what I was saying earlier about ambiguity and disclosure. Some mysteries are most effective when they’re left unsolved, where any attempt to further clarify or expand on the matter reduces its impact. Your understanding of the 2007 original may change after the climax although whether or not you take the bait is entirely dependent on how willing you are to further suspend your disbelief. I can see this ending being picked apart for months to come.

That’s my interpretation of the complex plot of course, but all thematic musing and debate aside; BioShock Infinite’s final hour simply falters due to its limp stealth play. It’s laid out like a core mechanic, but it handles like a wonky sneaking section in so many other shooters. To its credit, the campaign is much longer than that of the previous episode, and does a great job of keeping the narrative tension and body-count high. Going back to Columbia for a while is a nice way of bringing things full circle, and the meat of Irrational’s gunplay is still adequate enough.

By the end I felt I had just played an episode of Lost, but one of those utterly bewildering ones made long after JJ Abrams had left the show, leaving his subordinates to some-how piece together all of those initial, dangling story threads. When it’s a BioShock game it’s absolutely acceptable and at times intriguing, but as a spiritual nod to Levine’s work on Thief it simply can’t stack up. My gut tells me that you should play this one to get full closure on his over-arching story, but to be aware that you might not like what you see come the end.

Disclosure: To assist in writing this piece, Irrational Games loaned Dave a studio Steam account with BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea – Episode 2 included.

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    As much as Matt Martin loves GTA 5, he can’t recommend upgrading from console to PC just for a slick editing suite and even prettier graphics. “This is the third time in as many years that I’ve bought GTA 5.” I have a Grand Theft Auto 5 obsession, as I’m sure you know if you’ve […]

  • The Forest engine updated to Unity 5, major graphical and gameplay improvements made

    The Forest’s latest patch added substantial improvements to the game. The Forest version 0.16 is now live on Steam with plenty of new additions. The game has been ported over to Unity engine version 5. The plant and skin shaders have been replaced or rewritten. Many other visual tweaks have been made, such as model […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront banner leaks from Star Wars Convention

    EA has been setting up the Battlefront booth at Star Wars Celebration, and one leaked picture shows what could be the game’s main art. Someone on Reddit posted a picture of the game banner at EA’s booth. Here it is: Lots of things happening here. There’s a Star Destroyer in the distance, TIE Fighters and […]

  • Get GTA 5 working with Oculus Rift using this tool

    There’s a way you can play GTA 5 in VR if you own an Oculus Rift Dev Kit and have a bit of cash to spare. VorpX, the go-to program for adding VR support to games has received an update recently to support GTA 5. This is far from perfect, as it only translates the […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team: week of April 15 team revealed

    This week’s Team of the Week is now available for anyone to challenge in FIFA Ultimate Team. The team members get selected each week based on their performance during the weekend matches. You can fire up FIFA Ultimate Team on any platform and challenge this squad. You’ll also find some Team of the Week items […]

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will let you stealth all encounters, including bosses

    Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will bring back one of the original game’s major features. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is considered by many to be a great game and worthy of bearing the franchise name. One of its grating issues though was its boss fights. You only had one way to fight them: be confrontational. The […]

  • Project Cars PC specs and supported wheels announced

    The release date of Project Cars is inching ever closer and more details have been revealed to answer all your burning questions. Project Cars developer Slightly Mad Studios has revealed the full list of supported steering wheels on all platforms, as well as the minimum and recommended PC specs. Minimum specs CPU – 2.66 GHz […]

  • GTA 5 gets custom FOV mod on PC

    Those not satisfied with GTA 5′s built-in field of view slider can use a new mod to push the number even further. The PC versions of GTA 5 – just like its PS4 and Xbox One counterparts – lets you switch between third and first-person view in shooting and driving. The game has an FOV […]

  • Win! GTA 5 on PC!

    Want to win a Steam key for Grand Theft Auto 5 on PC? Just enter here. GTA 5 released on PC this week and is going down a storm. We like it a lot, which is why we’re giving away a Steam code for Rockstar’s latest. All you need to do is enter your email […]

  • GTA 5 topples Skyrim’s record for highest concurrent players on Steam

    Not factoring in Valve games, GTA 5 is the new king of concurrent player numbers on Steam. GTA 5 is very popular on PC, even more popular than games like Skyrim in its heyday. The number of concurrent players for GTA 5 has peaked today at 301,246. This makes it the only non-Valve game to […]

  • Mortal Kombat X: what does a modern fighting game look like?

    Mortal Kombat continues to evolve as NetherRealm adds RPG systems and daily challenges to a solid fighting game, says Sherif Saed. “Mortal Kombat X takes many cues from games like Destiny, Call of Duty, and GTA Online with hourly, daily and weekly events.” For as many of its familiar facets, Mortal Kombat X has enough […]

  • J-Stars Victory VS+ coming west in June – new trailer

    J-Stars Victory VS+ will make the jump (see what I did there) to the west after all. J-Stars Victory VS+ is the western title for the fighting game which stars characters from a variety of Shonen Jump-published manga. Bandai Namco has announced the fighter will release in Europe on June 26 and in the Americas […]

  • Codemasters F1 license good through 2016

    Codemasters has at least one more F1 game in it. F1 2015 isn’t out yet, so Codemasters is naturally not talking about what it might get up to in the future. We do know what it can get up to, though; Codemasters’ Steven Embling told Videogamer has the option to continue the series. “We have […]

  • Project Cars has pretty deep graphics options on consoles

    Project Cars offers players a wide variety of ways to customise their graphic settings on PS4 and Xbox One. Project Cars is a graphics showcase and all early indications suggest it’s going to be one of the best-looking games out there. Slightly Mad’s commitment to graphics seems to go deeper than making things pretty, though: […]

  • Super Smash Bros. patch nerfs Diddy Kong – report

    Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U is great but Diddy Kong is a beast and must be stopped. The latest Super Smash Bros. 3Ds and Wii U patch seems to have nerfed Diddy Kong, a character so over-powered that serious tournament players generate controversy by choosing to use him. Nintendo doesn’t publish patch notes, […]

  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer shuttered

    Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer 2K Australia has been closed down. Kotaku broke the news, and also had word from an anonymous source, who said that all staff have been let go. 2K responded to our request for comment with the following statement: We can confirm we have taken steps to begin the studio closure process […]

  • Samorost 3 trailer shows Amanita still in fine form

    Samorost 3 looks as delicately beautiful as its siblings. Samarost 3 developer Amanita Design has a reputation for gorgeous, slightly surreal world building. This new trailer for its latest adventure looks just as if not more lovely than the previous Samarost games and Botanicula. Samarost 3 is coming to Mac and PC later this year, […]

  • Amnesia dev’s new project SOMA now in beta

    SOMA is nearly here and I am torn between excitement and horrified dread. SOMA is the latest horror project from Frictional, the team behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent. We’re pretty excited to see what Frictional comes up with next, and we won’t have too long to wait, apparently; the developer has announced that SOMA is […]

  • Steam Guard mobile authenticator now in beta testing

    Steam is now testing its latest security measure. Steam helps you protect your account by offering two-factor authentication, a solution so beautifully elegant and effective that it’s astounding every gaming network doesn’t do the same (looking at you, Sony). Valve’s version is called Steam Guard, and it works via email. This isn’t always super convenient, […]

  • Godzilla battles Mothra in new trailer

    Godzilla lets you stomp around cities and battle classic kaiju. I’m in. Godzilla is coming to PlayStation 3 and PS4 in early July, but we haven’t seen a great deal of it since its December reveal. The new trailer below gives you an idea of just what Natsume has done with one of the biggest […]

  • Tales of Zestiria to launch this year – new trailer

    Tales of Zestiria continues Bandai Namco’s delightful new habit of bringing the popular JRPG series to the west before the shine wears off. Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, the publisher has announced. That’s not a bad turnaround, given it first hit Japan in January, and localisation of text-heavy titles is expensive […]

  • Project Cars release date locked down, new trailer released

    Project Cars finally has a release date. Project Cars will release on May 8, Bandai Namco UK has announced. We haven’t yet had an update from Namco Bandai’s other regional offices, but its probably safe to bet the racer will release around the same time in the Americas, Europe and ANZ region. We can now […]

  • Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains trailer shows combat, online multiplayer

    Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains has plenty to offer fans of the anime. Previously known as Attack on Titan: The Last Wings of Mankind, the Spike Chunsoft action game is coming west thanks to Atlus. Gematsu reports it’s due in both Europe and North America in May, via the 3DS eShop. The trailer below […]

  • Bloodborne stamina recovery rate affected by equip weight

    Bloodborne players have unearthed an important gameplay detail not mentioned in the game’s menus or manual. In Bloodborne, players need to manage their stamina carefully for best results. A far more aggressively-tuned affair than past Souls games, Bloodborne does away with equip weight limits, and items have no listed weight details. As far as players […]

  • Street Fighter’s Ryu, Fire Emblem’s Roy spotted in Super Smash Bros. patch – rumour

    Street Fighter’s Ryu is rumoured for future Super Smash bros DLC following datamining of the latest patch. Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U were updated recently, and hacker shinyquagsire23 claims to have found some interesting files while poking around in the 3DS patch data. As detailed on Reddit, the audio files included a new […]

  • Suikoden 3 PEGI rating suggests PS2 Classic re-release

    Suikoden. Suikoden 2. And now: Suikoden 3. Suikoden 3 has been rated by PEGI for PlayStation 3, presumably ahead of an upcoming re-release. Gematsu turned up the rating, and although we have no further information at this time, it’s not much a leap to assume the RPG will turn up as a PS2 Classic on […]