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