Bioshock: Infinite was a lot of fun, a weapons and powers filled head trip that might have stretched its good material a little thin over a lengthy campaign. The first DLC pack Burial at Sea – Episode 1 delivered up a concentrated version of that experience – with fairly dull combat and a jarring narrative that did little to actually explain anything.
I’m pleased to say Episode 2 is an entirely different affair.
Pleased, but also very surprised. The Infinite experience to date has been far from a subtle affair, chock full of opportunities to spam powers and pummel enemies with bullets until they decide they’ve had enough.
But Episode 2 instead offers all manner of new elements – from getting the chance to play as Elizabeth herself to turning the entire mechanics of the game on its head and emerging as a sneaky stealth em up that rewards careful play.
It’s quite the revelation, revealing the pack as far more than just a cosmetic reskin. Elizabeth’s time on Rapture (and other places) is filled with opportunities to come at encounters from an oblique angle. There are vents, plenty of cover and new powers which focus on defensive abilities.
Moving around in a crouch, you can use Peeping Tom to see through walls while you’re still, knock out enemies from afar with a tranquiliser dart or get in close for a takedown. New abilities like these mean you can actually make it through the episode without killing a single person – something that’s a requirement in the challenging 1998 mode. Cause a single death and its game over.
Actually playing as Elizabeth isn’t quite as game changing as you might imagine, mostly because she loses the majority of her powers through some storyline shenanigans. It’s a bit of a cop out on the part of Irrational, leaving the player unable to open tears and far from the invulnerable mobile inventory of Infinite but when it’s backed up by the gameplay changes it feels more palatable.
In the wake of the bloody events of episode 1, you’re still on the case to find the missing young girl/little sister Sally which sees you crossing paths with none other than Irish accented baddie Atlas. This added character, plus some time travelling moments, sees the game split open the timeline of the entire Bioshock series and give some real insight into the journey players have been on since 2007.
These elements are generally well handled, if a little less sweeping than you might imagine. Story elements from Infinite are teased out and we even get to find out more about the Big Daddies and Little Sisters. Then there’s the inevitable settling of some Comstock and Booker related business. Honestly, these elements didn’t quite come together for me but maybe smarter fans will find some closure.
The return to Rapture, in Unreal Engine 3 this time, looks as well as you might expect – Irrational knows how to build atmosphere and goes all out in dramatic poses and layered noir lighting. But there are few assets which look new and the stylised art can’t quite paper over the spotty character animation. Plus, this engine clearly wasn’t designed for sometimes sticky vent navigation.
For anyone who has already devoted dozens of hours to the world of Bioshock, the Burial at Sea DLC remains an essential purchase – providing context and some answers and also a lovingly crafted send off for Irrationals last visit to this strange alternative fiction. With new gameplay elements and more great vocal performances there’s plenty to enjoy here, marred only by fairly dull missions and a story which is still baffling my brainpan.