Burial at Sea: Episode One left players in a very interesting position, without wanting to spoil it for anyone who has not played it. This second and final episode is the last piece of content for Bioshock Infinite, and centers around a whole new playable character – Elizabeth Comstock.
The episode starts with our beloved heroine enjoying a glass of wine on the bank of the Seine, looking out over Paris and the Eiffel Tower. A man approaches her and offers her a picture, which Elizabeth says she cannot accept. The man insists, saying he drew this picture of her because she was beautiful, and wants to give it as a gift. She accepts it, thanks him and leaves. Walking through the streets, Elizabeth is almost a celebrity. The men adore her, the women want to talk with her, and the kids all want to play with her. Everyone refers to her by name, and they all seem to understand her, irrespective of whether she replies in French or English. If you stop and take your time, you can enter a bookshop to browse. When you ask for a particular book, the owner tells you the book you requested has not been written yet. This is a fantastic little insight into Elizabeth’s head, and a well-earned rest for our heroine. Elizabeth grew up in a gilded tower, with nothing but a giant mechanical songbird for a friend and guardian. She always dreamed of freedom, and freedom to her was Paris – the city she dreamed of escaping to. A character we know and love deeply, it is touching to see her finally living her dream. Elizabeth is happy, and seeing her happy just makes you smile.
The dream quickly becomes a film-noire style nightmare however, and Elizabeth is plunged back into the murky depths of Rapture in order to settle a score. Sadly, the cost of her expedition strips her of her powers. We’re not given the power to open tears, and Elizabeth is forced into being a normal woman. This immediate sense of powerlessness is the first part of what proves to be an emotional rollercoaster. You are now forced to survive in a whole new way, as you can’t simply hide in another universe. Elizabeth is a well known, well defined character in the Bioshock universe, and is the one of the main characters in Bioshock Infinite; even if you couldn’t directly control her actions at any point, you grew to learn how she thinks as a human being, how she views the world. As fans of strong female characters in videogames – who are, sadly, in short supply – being able to see the world through Elizabeth’s eyes is a nice touch on Irrational’s part; but playing as Elizabeth is a very different kettle of fish to what we have known before. Jack, Subjects Delta and Sigma and especially Booker were incredibly violent people, but Elizabeth is very much not the type who is able to take a life easily – despite her past experiences.
You find a crossbow, the new weapon in this DLC pack, and set about tranquillizing splicers. You have an “Air Grabber” – Rapture’s name for the Sky Hook you used to to zip around Columbia, and to zip around Rapture’s new Pneumo postal service in Episode 1; but rather than the gory executions we are used to with Booker, Elizabeth simply hits splicers with it like it were a brick. You obviously find lethal weapons as you take down splicers, so if you want to take the lethal route, there is nothing to stop you bar your own conscience – but Episode 2 is obviously designed with a more stealthy, non-lethal approach in mind. In order to help Elizabeth through the new stealth-based gameplay, you can change the bolt you have in your crossbow from a tranquillizer to a ‘Noisemaker’ which is designed to draw enemies away from you. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work – it just puts enemies on alert, who then start searching everywhere. Alternatively, you can fire a bolt which releases knock-out gas capable of taking down a group of enemies at once.
This brings us neatly on to our first complaint. Episode 2 lacks polish. When you receive your first Noisemaker bolt by successfully completing a lock-picking mini-game, it replaces the weapon you already have equipped – in this case, the tranquillizer bolt. This forces you to swap to a pistol, which is taking up the second weapon slot, and look for the Noisemaker bolt on the floor. Only, it isn’t there. Entering the weapon-select menu and selecting ammunition leads to the discovery that Elizabeth now has two crossbows to swap between, as opposed to simply being able to swap the ammunition.
As you progress, you can pick up a shotgun and a Radio Range microwave gun and add them to your collection. Oddly, while Booker seemed to struggle under the weight of more than two weapons, somehow Elizabeth does not. It’s a minor inconsistency perhaps, but it would have been nice if Irrational had picked one option for how players can manage weapons and stuck with it.
There are a few issues with the graphics too; played on the highest settings, some of the textures remain very low-res next to the beautifully sculpted faces of Elizabeth and other NPCs. A section in Paris displays flowers which look as though they were crafted from cardboard. Likewise, splicers disappear after a few seconds upon death, leaving drop-boxes instead of bodies for Elizabeth to loot. This is not a mobile game like Deus Ex: The Fall. Modern consoles and PCs have the processing power to cope with a few knocked-out splicers, so having bodies disappear in this fashion breaks your immersion in the world. That this fizzling-out of corpses coincides with waves of new enemies makes it feel as though the engine isn’t quite up to the job of handling the developer’s vision.
The game is not entirely unforgiving in combat, however; a creepy new Plasmid is unlocked early on into the story. The new Peeping Tom Plasmid is the perfect counterpart to the Possession plasmid, and almost as unsettling; it actively promotes itself as a way to spy on your neighbors, allowing you to see through walls and become invisible. While a fantastic addition to your insight into Rapture (there is fantastic sexual health video in the game advising you draw up a contract of expectations before you have sex, and that your pleasure is your own concern during sex), and your arsenal of stealthy options, this voyeuristic aspect to the gameplay is at odds with Elizabeth’s character.
There’s also another issue with this new Plasmid, and it’s the fact that the game’s AI simply isn’t able to handle how to deal with it.
For example, you can find yourself in a room filled with 10 splicers and a Big Daddy. The Big Daddy wants to kill you and will attack on sight. You see it lumbering towards you, so naturally, you make yourself invisible. Having fully upgraded the Plasmid, standing still while using it requires no Eve, but move and it starts to drain – and your supply is almost empty. The Big Daddy is still walking towards you, and you now know that you are screwed; moving will cause your Eve to run out, revealing your location. However, you are right in the path of the Big Daddy – you have to do something. What do you do? Simply turn and look the other way! Now, when he walks into you, instead of instantly attacking and killing you as would happen if you were facing him, he simply nudges you out of the way – and you shuffle along the floor until you are pushed into a wall and the Big Daddy passes.
That is ridiculous. Stuck in the game? Just hold the right mouse button until everything dies down! That is not stealth.
There are a couple other minor bugs. Eventually, you’ll end up traveling back to Columbia on a fetch-quest. The Dollar Bill vending machines from Infinite are still there, and can be used. That is not the issue and I won’t even berate the game for using the same dollar coin in both vending machines – but one glitch saw it greeting Elizabeth with the same welcome spouted by the vending machines in Rapture. Combined with occasional clipping issues and the problem with the Big Daddy mentioned above, a little of the shine is taken away from an otherwise excellent experience.
Discussing the story in any detail will simply spoil it, but it’s worth mentioning that despite the flaws mentioned here, Burial at Sea: Episode 2 is still an almost essential piece of content. Being able to walk around a school in Rapture and see what they teach their children is horrifying. The encounters that Elizabeth had provide both a feeling of being overjoyed and enraged, depending on the situation, and the sheer amount of back-story and lore on offer will please fans. That said, a lack of polish often threatens to mar the experience. But overall, this is a fitting end to the story of Bioshock: Infinite. Ignore the fact that it’s rough around the edges, and there’s plenty here to enjoy.