DLC Review: Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode Two

Note: I’ll be avoiding spoilers for episode 2 in this review, but given both the story-heavy nature of the DLC and indeed what the story covers if you don’t want to know anything about the plot at all, I advise you to leave now.

I suppose I should have seen this coming, really. Ken Levine dismantles Irrational Games with their last product being the final piece of DLC for the excellent “Bioshock Infinite”? I should have known it’d wrap everything up and bring a decisive end to not only Infinite, but also its universe, including the original game (but not Bioshock 2 because that one doesn’t count). Characters are given extra, previously unseen depth, plot holes are filled (including, interestingly, ones that reviewers picked in “Infinite”) and everything gets tied up, “Metal Gear Solid 4” style (although disappointingly lacking in old man fights). Take one last walk into the lighthouse with me, people, as I tell you whether or not this is a journey worth taking.

(SPOILERS FOR BURIAL AT SEA EPISODE 1) Having brought about the demise of Comstock hiding out in Rapture and pretending to be Booker DeWitt (SPOILERS END), Elizabeth finds herself on the wrong end of a revolver belonging to a thug working for Atlas from the first Bioshock. A hallucination of Booker appears and gives her just the right words to save her life, but now she’s working for Atlas in an attempt to raise the sunken part of Rapture up to the rest of the city and rescue a little sister named “Sally”. The story goes to some interesting places from there, but apart from a few instances I wouldn’t consider it to be essential information. It is, however, very interesting information that supplements established elements and characters nicely, and best of all cements and explains links between Rapture and Columbia. It seeks to fill in as many gaps as it can, with time being given to things like Songbird and where vigors came from, which can sometimes result in them answering questions you never asked. The story flows pretty well, but can sometimes feel like “Oh hey, someone left some previously-hidden backstory lying around on the way to your objective. Maybe you should look at it, it might be pretty sweet”. The ending initially left me in two minds as to whether I thought it worked, and while I’ll still be mulling it over for a while I do think it was pretty good, and it does wrap everything up in a way that makes sense in the grand scheme of things.

The biggest change here is the gameplay. Elizabeth does not have access to her powers and tears because plot reasons, so the name of the game here is stealth. Enemies can be taken out with a melee attack from behind, there’s a new knock-out crossbow and Elizabeth dies really easily. Fortunately health kits can now be carried around with you for later like in the original game, and there’s a new plasmid called “Peeping Tom” that makes you invisible and lets you see through walls. Money and ammo are incredibly scarce, and enemies seem a lot more resilient to gunfire for some contrived, rather annoying reason, making gunfights a bad option. Also, you restart from checkpoints now as opposed to respawning. So the gameplay’s quite a lot different then, but does it work?Well yes and no. The knock-out crossbow takes down enemies in one hit, enemies have a detection meter above their heads meaning you have time to react if they see you, and the melee takedown is generally effective. However, apart from said detection meter the game design hasn’t really been changed to accommodate a stealth focus, and “Bioshock” is not a stealth series. It’s hard to keep tabs on enemies and taking them out one-by-one, coupled with the low ammo and Elizabeth wearing noisy high heels meant that I often ended up being spotted, and then running through large groups of enemies to my objective. The fact that you can use this as an effective tactic doesn’t bode well. The first group of enemies you meet is genuiely tense and has a great horror atmosphere, but after that it all starts to feel like Bioshock, but with enemies not being alerted as soon as they see you. It could have been handled better, basically.

Elizabeth is still a great character, and finally getting to play as her is a nice touch. Given her place in the Bioshock canon feels right to play as her for the series’ conclusion. Booker also returns in the form of a hallucination based on her memories that acts as a sort of invisible sidekick, and although it would have been nice for him to have a physical presence, this is Elizabeth’s story.

Overall, this is a success. Whereas Burial at Sea Episode 1 felt like a fun aside to the main story until it suddenly formed an important link at the end, this one is hell-bent to bring the Bioshock universe to a conclusion and tie up as many things as it can along the way, and I think it does it well. As I said, it’s not all essential information, but everything show here feels valid and interesting. The gameplay is more of a mixed bag, with the stealth being reasonably handled and the shootouts feeling arbitrarily difficult. It was a nice try and I appreciate them doing something different, but it could have been handled better. As a piece of DLC it has some issues. As a conclusion to the “Bioshock” series and Irrational Games’ last product, it’s a triumph.

“I may not always love you, but long as there are stars above you, you never need to doubt it. I’ll make you so sure about it; God only knows what I’d be without you.”

By James Lambert

Metal Gear Solid V Ground Zeroes Review

So. Here it is. The prologue to what has been my most-anticipated game for some time now. A budget-priced taster of what’s to come- giving people a glimpse of the new gameplay mechanics, plot and tone. Many have called it a paid demo, or at least commented on the game’s short length. Is it worth paying for? Or should it have just been released as a free demo?

First of all, yes- the main mission “Ground Zeroes” is about ninety minutes to two hours long, if you either take your time or don’t know where you’re going. Yes, you can get through it in a matter of minutes if you plan your route properly. There are five side missions (counting the two console-specific ones) with different objectives and set at different times of the day all within the same base. So in terms of content, there isn’t a lot here. However, I would consider this to be a case of quality over quantity for the most part.

Despite being small, the map offers multiple routes towards your various objectives, depending on where you are. It’s not particularly expansive, but it does give you a fair bit of room to plan your route through, and feels adequately designed for both an action or stealth playstyle, as well as a mix of both. It includes two prison areas, cliffs, a heliport and an administration building, with each area feeling organic enough to feel non-linear while also feeling like defined paths are also present if you need them. Unfortunately your objectives never change location except for one mission, so whichever route you take you’ll mostly end up in the same place. The time of day (here determined by the mission) actually makes quite a big difference, both graphically and practically- the “Ground Zeroes” mission sees the base drenched in rain at midnight; enemies have a harder time seeing you and the whole thing is beautifully atmospheric. Every side-op bar one is set during the day. Enemies can see you from a whole lot further away, and the sense of space improves at the sake of you feeling more exposed. Considering the base is the only location featured in gameplay, the game manages to squeeze enough out of it to keep it interesting for a while. The graphics are pretty incredible. The new “Fox” engine handles lighting, textures and details brilliantly, and the game looks fantastic in motion. It looked good in trailers, but it really does have to be seen running to get the most out of it. I played it on Playstation 4 which is apparently the best looking one, but I can’t imagine the other versions look bad.

Gameplay wise it’s similarly excellent. It plays like a refined version of “Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker”- over-the-shoulder aiming, dynamic CQC moves and smooth controls, with new freedom of movement. Big Boss can now sprint, climb over obstacles ranging from small barriers to tall fences and move while prone, amongst other things. The metal gear series  has been refining its controls gradually with each release, and this really feels like the culmination of its efforts- everything works smoothly, and makes you feel entirely in control of the situation, or at least capable of solving any problems. The big new feature is reflex mode- get spotted by an enemy that didn’t know you were there and time slows down, giving you time to solve the problem with the good old fashioned method of “Shoot them in the face”. It definitely makes the game easier, but two things counteract that: it can be turned off, and you won’t always be able to hit the enemy in question. The tranquilizer pistol has crap range and even the silenced assault rifle can’t hit enemies from too far away. Enemy alert and search phases are now relegated to audio cues as they report in to their command post, and text in the corner alerting you to what they’re doing. This is helpful enough, but it’s worth mentioning that the countdown timer from previous games is gone. Though it’s definitely not the game’s intention, it’s entirely possible to play the game as a shooter, and the controls handle this fine. The shooting is tight and responsive, and the expanded CQC moves help.

Arguably the most important part of the “Metal Gear Solid” series is its story, which is sparse here. The one story mission follows on from “Peace Walker” and involves Big Boss sneaking into Cuba-based US Naval base “Camp Omega” to extract a double agent named Paz and rescue his thirteen-year-old recruit Chico, who went into the base to rescue Paz. Anyone who followed the various trailers for both parts of MGS V will know pretty much what happens here: (SPOILERS FOR IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MGS V TRAILERS) Big Boss’ home base “Mother Base” from “Peace Walker” is destroyed by new villains XOF and Big Boss falls into a nine year coma. The biggest problem here is that the destruction of the base isn’t playable. Granted that was never explicitly stated, but it would have been nice. (SPOILERS END) The cutscenes themselves are far shorter and more concise than in previous games, and the codec conversations and slide-show cutscenes are gone entirely. What you won’t be aware of having watched the trailers are certain plot details, including some particularly dark bits. When series creator Hideo Kojima said MGS V was going to be far darker and more adult than previous games in the series, he wasn’t messing around. Christ was he not messing around. New character Skull Face is easily the most monstrous, villainous antagonist the series has- his badass look, nihilistic speeches and penchant for a whole new level of horrific torture makes him a force to be reckoned with, and I can’t wait to see what Kojima does with him in “The Phantom Pain”. Actor James Horan delivers the best voice acting in the game in this role. Seven collectible tapes recorded by Chico fill in the backstory of his and Paz’s time in the camp before Big Boss arrived, and it’s unpleasant to say the least. This is a genuinely dark, disturbing story, and I’m interested to see where it goes from here.

One big point of contention has been Kiefer Sutherland taking over the roll of Big Boss from series mainstay David Hayter. I’m decidely mixed on the subject. His performance is subtle and fits the tone of the game well, but my question is: if Kojima wanted Sutherland to portray a more measured, older Big Boss, why is he in this game? This game takes place very soon after “Peace Walker”. If Sutherland portrayed Big Boss only in “The Phantom Pain” nine years later, that would make sense. I’m sad to see Hayter go, but I can’t deny Sutherland does a good job.

You probably know whether or not you’re going to buy this game. As a massive “Metal Gear Solid” fan I pre-ordered it some time ago and have been waiting to play it ever since I first saw the trailer. If you’re not already a fan you’re not going to get the greater context of the story and can only really enjoy it at face value, which is a shame because there isn’t a lot here, though what there is is great. I paid £23. 86 for it, which some would consider steep for what you get, but I consider the game worth paying at least something for, and appreciate the price coming down from £50 on Playstation 4.  Whether or nor you want to pay for it is up to you, but do consider it carefully- this is very much quality over quantity in a big way. The gameplay is superb, the graphics amazing and the story fantastic, but there is not a lot here at all, at least in terms of fresh content. The value here comes from replaying the missions, which the game does have- replay value is definitely a factor here, at least for me. Do I recommend it? Yes, if you’re a fan of the series and/or you’re willing to pay for it, and replay the missions a lot to get the most out of it. If not, then this isn’t for you.

Oh, and the use of Joan Baez’s “Here’s to you”? (seen in the trailer) as an integral part of the plot, used to convey various tones and most effectively used for the story’s darkest moments? Beautiful.

By James Lambert