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.
(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.
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.
”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.
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.