To say that BioShock Infinite‘s Burial at Sea DLC has the weight of an entire franchise on its shoulders would be to put it mildly. While many pieces of post-release DLC seek to expand on a side story or character, Burial at Sea instead decides to go for broke with a story that doesn’t just inform the narrative in BioShock Infinite but one that, if successful, could change everything fans know about the BioShock franchise as a whole. So, now that Burial at Sea: Episode 2 has released, was this DLC experiment a success? Read on to find out.
While Irrational Games promised Burial at Sea: Episode 2 would finally put players in control of Elizabeth and offer new gameplay opportunities, that initial tease was a bit misleading. See, although Elizabeth is the main focal point of Episode 2‘s action, an event in the DLC reveals that she has lost the the ability to create tears. In essence, Elizabeth has lost much of what makes her a unique character, becoming instead a standard FPS protagonist.
That said, Burial at Sea: Episode 2 does try to flip the conventions of the series on their head by casting Elizabeth as a stealth-focused assailant. Rather than engaging in open combat with the Splicers and various other baddies of Rapture, Elizabeth keeps to the shadows, using her weapon and Plasmid to avoid detection. As a result, Elizabeth’s primary weapon in Episode 2 becomes the crossbow, a new offering specifically geared towards sneaking, not attacking. The crossbow comes equipped with three types of darts — sleep, gas, and ‘noisemaker’ — which can be used in a variety of ways, either for luring enemies to desired locations, or rendering them unconscious. Ultimately, though, the crossbow is a tool for defense, which is a unique spin on the usual BioShock combat.
The same amount of change is brought courtesy of the new ‘Peeping Tom’ Plasmid, allowing players to see through walls and become invisible. At a glance, ‘Peeping Tom’ may seem an overpowered addition for a stealth-focused experience, but Irrational wisely populates their levels with enough enemies to require players use every tool at their disposal to progress. It should be mentioned that many of the offensive weapons from Infinite are available as well – pistol, shotgun, radar range – but Elizabeth is far too susceptible to damage for them to be used in any but the most dire situations.
The same emphasis on stealth also manifests in the enemy AI, now sporting three separate phases of alert. Instead of the typical, binary on/off aggression, players can now pass briefly in the sight line of an enemy without drawing their full attention. If players tempt fate long enough enemies will still go on the offensive, but only for a limited time before they go back into a non-alert state.
However, while the introduction of stealth into the world of BioShock is a welcome change of pace, it isn’t without its faults. As was the case with the first Burial at Sea episode, Episode 2 is largely a series of fetch quests, requiring players to collect a series of items scattered about a level in order to progress. Players will find reason to collect said items for the story details they unlock (more on that later), but the actual objectives become rote fairly quickly.
For as refreshing a change as the gameplay represents, it also bears many of the pratfalls of genre; for starters, it’s usually unclear how much leeway there is between being visible and hidden. There were plenty of times when the game let me jump right into the sight line of an enemy to kill his partner, but didn’t actually alert him. Then there were a few instances where an enemy would spot me or hear my footsteps from what seemed like a football field away. Ultimately, the stealth works well enough that it won’t cause players any undue frustration, but it’s also readily apparent that these were tacked-on mechanics.
Beyond all that, though, what will have people talking about Burial at Sea: Episode 2 for at least the next few months is the story. Where Episode 1 only teased some slight connections between the first BioShock and Infinite, Episode 2 outright explains how the two franchises are linked. It’s hard to discuss specifics without delving into spoilers, but we will say this: for those gamers who wanted clearer explanations for the peripheral elements of Infinite, Episode 2 delivers. It won’t help clear up any confusion over Infinite‘s ending, but things like Songbird, Vigors, and Daisy Fitzroy are further fleshed out here.
Moreover, Episode 2 also provides some additional details on Rapture’s various moving pieces, and how those elements came to be. In a lot of cases, however, the answers themselves are fairly straightforward, which might be a disappointment to some. But the fact that Irrational was able to provide them in such an organic way is impressive.
Make no mistake: there are some substantial revelations in Episode 2 as well. Again, without giving spoilers, fans should know that Burial at Sea has firmly cemented its place within the BioShock canon and should not be missed. Irrational teased that there would be broader implications to the story – that would even extend past Infinite – and the finished experience does just that. In a way, Burial at Sea functions like the video game equivalent of Back to the Future — leveraging time travel to add new dimension to the story, and make the entire experience feel complete. The ending might be a little tidier than fans expected, but since this is the last time Irrational will touch the franchise appropriate, and is extremely well done.
Burial at Sea: Episode 2 is a perfect send-off for a franchise that defined a generation of console shooters. It isn’t without its faults, but the new stealth gameplay is a welcome re-purposing of the tried and true BioShock mechanics. More importantly, Episode 2 is a marvel of storytelling: a careful navigation of the existing BioShock universe that provides new insights into a narrative that was already rich with detail. Finally, against all odds, Irrational stuck the landing, bringing everything full circle as only they could. Needless to say, this is a must-play for fans of BioShock.
What did you think of Burial at Sea: Episode 2? What did you like about the DLC? What did you not like?
BioShock Infinite — Burial at Sea: Episode 2 is out now for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.
Follow Anthony on Twitter @ANTaormina to share in his BioShock withdrawals.