Editor’s note: Seeing as this review concerns a piece of DLC, it may contain things that could be considered spoiler-ish. If you haven’t played Infinite or the first Burial at Sea episode, perhaps go do that before reading this review.
While BioShock Infinite was a stellar game that whetted our appetites for more, the first two eagerly-awaited DLCs were a bit of a let-down. Clash in the Clouds was an ill-conceived attempt to bring some Horde-style gameplay into the world of Columbia, but the less said about it the better, especially when one considers the fact that the combat was one of the very few criticisms against Infinite. Burial at Sea Episode 1 was a far better and more ambitious attempt to reunite us with Booker and Elizabeth, but the short length, uneven gameplay and unresolved ending left many fans wanting. Luckily for us, the third time’s a charm, as the latest installment in the Burial at Sea sub-series is a satisfying conclusion to everyone’s favorite story-driven FPS.
It would appear that Irrational Games listened to the aforementioned gripes about combat and tweaked Episode 2 accordingly. The game is far more stealth-orientated this time around, with enemies being considerably stronger and ammo in far scarcer supply. A new Plasmid allows the player to see enemies through walls and even temporarily render themselves invisible, giving them a tactical advantage or allowing them to avoid combat entirely; a prospect that may seem rather wimpy, but might actually be a far better plan than you realize.
The reason why the combat is so different is because players finally get a chance to play as Elizabeth, who isn’t as tough or as skilled with the weapons. Unfortunately, all of her trademark powers are missing: after the demise of the alternate version of Booker, she sacrificed everything to return to Rapture and find Sally, the little girl who served as the MacGuffin for the first episode.
While Elizabeth made an interesting companion, I was always annoyed at how she kept drowning the player in ammo and health; it cheapened the experience and made it feel like I was playing with training wheels. The chance to go “raw” and tackle the game solo once more was a welcome change. To make up for the lack of a physical companion, Elizabeth frequently converses with her own mental projection of Booker. If you thought that this revelation makes Elizabeth’s sanity a matter of debate, you’d be correct: her internal struggles and journey from helpless girl to capable woman are a central theme of the game, and make it an altogether more emotional, more introspective affair.
Perhaps the best aspect of Episode 2 is how it neatly ties up all the various loose ends; the original BioShock and Infinite are both given additional backstory, and how they both relate to one another is finally explained. As Elizabeth, players will return to both a pre-ruin Rapture and a civil war-ravaged Columbia in the midst of the siege by the Vox Populi. Old characters such as Atlas, Daisy and even Andrew Ryan make an appearance, and in a few cases, are even given new lines which completely alter our preconception about their motives. It’s all very revelatory stuff.
There are a few annoyances to be had though. Perhaps the worst offender is a short animation that plays whenever the players dies; there are several, so thankfully you don’t get the same thing every time, but it quickly wears thin. Another deal-breaker is the quirky checkpoint system; it’s easy to cheat it by moving back to a previous checkpoint zone and tricking the game into saving your progress. Finally, there is a bit of an over-reliance on fetch quests: one example is near the end of the campaign which has the player fetching electronic components to power a machine, and forces the player to retread the same Splicer-infected plaza time and again. Stealth is awesome, but when you have to repeatedly avoid the same enemies over and over, it starts to wear on one’s nerves.
Ultimately, Burial At Sea Episode 2 is a fun little return to Rapture that doesn’t overstay its welcome and provides a satisfying (if sombre) closure for the series. The story is interesting, the characters are enthralling, the gameplay is absorbing and the settings are unforgettable. If you’re one of the faithful, I recommend you get raptured immediately.