Written by Gav Russell.
Spoilers ahead for the whole Bioshock series.
When Burial At Sea was first announced, it seemed odd that Irrational would have constructed a world for Bioshock Infinite as dense and lovingly detailed as the lofty heights of Columbia, only to later supplement that adventure with DLC set back in its underwater paradise-gone-wrong city of Rapture. The setting for the first two entries in the Bioshock series is a wonderful and evocative one, and any further excuse to explore it some more is quite welcome, but when the creator abandons it’s new world so readily, it only helps to supplement the outcries from fans that, for all it’s visual splendor, Columbia, and by extension – Infinite as a whole, was a hollow experience. The general feeling was, if we were heading back down there, the reasons better be damned good.
In the first DLC installment, Burial at Sea Part 1, it felt quite odd being back in Rapture with a pair of protagonists as talkative as Infinite’s Elizabeth and Booker DeWitt, re-imagined here with a new thrust to their actions. No longer exploring its leaky corridors as a silent anti-hero constantly being barked at by voices over your radio, here you were exploring it’s not-leaking-yet corridors constantly philosophizing with each other. Due to the behind-the-curtain reveal of Infinite’s ending, Irrational’s writers had a captive audience; players lapping up every word that these two characters said to each other as they traversed a pre-collapse Rapture , desperately listening out for the next piece to the narrative puzzle; silently praying that we’d actually understand it this time.
Ultimately, Episode 1 failed. The curse of DLC was ever-present here; proceedings felt weightless and convoluted, and mechanics from Infinite felt jarringly out of place. Only in its final moments, as the writers showed their hand and Elizabeth dropped the damsel-in-distress facade to deliver justice to this universe’s Booker, who is revealed to be the final alternate-Comstock; hiding out in Rapture in an attempt to escape the past and his guilt, did things click into place. You see, for this Comstock, that harrowing child abduction scene which we witness in Infinite doesn’t go quite the same, with his daughter Anna losing a little more than just the tip of her finger as the dimensional tear closes around her. Confused? Yeah, you will be.
Episode 2 picks up a few moments after Episode 1 finished; Comstock lies dead on the floor in a pool of blood, Elizabeth is being restrained by Atlas from Bioshock 1 (just one of many, many wonderful moments of fan service here) and his goons have captured Sally, a Little Sister who Elizabeth is bent on protecting. And so a rescue-the-little-girl plot kicks off; a seemingly simple conceit that will drag you through self discovery, existential despair, put a new spin on some events from Infinite and will ultimately see you forcibly kickstarting the arrival of Jack in the original Bioshock. Yeah, Burial At Sea is every bit an Infinite final act as it is a Bioshock origins tale; creating a slick, looping narrative that fits with Irrationals multiverse ramblings and ties everything up in a neat, if a little convoluted, fashion.
Allowing you to take control of Elizabeth for the first time is the games masterstroke. Elizabeth is arguably the Bioshock universe’s most interesting, sensitive and intelligent character, and walking in her shoes is a delight. She’s smarter than everyone she talks to (every radio conversation ends with her musing on how she can see the next move) and she picks her way through the world deciphering scientific scribbles on scraps of paper, uncovering the links between Rapture and Columbia and slowly coming to terms with just where she fits in all of this. It’s a touching tale, given all the more impact thanks to Courtnee Draper’s marvelous voice performance.
But it’s not just the story that benefits from having Elizabeth as the primary character, as Bioshock Infinite’s much criticized combat mechanics get a complete overhaul to suit. Although the initial proclamation that Elizabeth is far more under-powered and couldn’t possibly match most of her foes in a fight danced a little too close to sexism, it does encourage you to take part in the series biggest innovation yet: stealth. Indeed, by using this new mechanic and upgrading the tools given to you, you eventually become a badass silent assassin, running rings around your bumbling pursuers as you drop from above without a sound and crack their skulls in with a melee weapon, before using a Plasmid to vanish from sight and dashing back into the shadows, looking for your next victim. To further ram home the point that going loud isn’t your best option, the Plasmids this time around are all defensive and only really serve to bolster your talents as an invisible angel of death. Chief among them is Peeping Tom, an ability that lets you see enemy locations through walls and floors with the tap of a button, and lets you disappear completely when the button is held down. After eventfully upgrading this power so that it reduces the drain on your Eve as long as you’re not moving, I barely used anything else. Standing still, turning invisible and then luring a Splicer towards you, only to emerge from cover to knock them unconscious with your Sky-Hook is enormous fun, especially with those dramatic, orchestral stabs that accompany a successful enemy takedown.
Irrational have created some fantastic playgrounds to use your new skills in with a number of large, wipe-open spaces that encourage varied stealth tactics. One early set piece sees you faced with a dimly lit plaza teeming with Splicers and one solitary Big Daddy. By carefully sneaking around the area and using Possession on the Big Daddy as his path intersects that of the Splicers, you can get him to wipe everyone out without you touching the trigger of your weapons. Alternatively, you can traverse the area by using the air vents (classic trope ahoy), allowing you to complete the objectives without a single skull being cracked open. Rarely did the temptation to crack the shotgun out ever emerge, such is the joy of becoming a silent predator. This new method of combat syncs up with Elizabeth’s personality perfectly (you only ever knock an enemy unconscious providing you use your stealth skills), allowing the narrative to shine, no longer at odds with the outrageous bursts of blood-soaked violence.
The story eventually leads you back to Columbia after all, dropping you back there at a time and in a location that intersects with Booker and Elizabeth’s original adventure, seeing events from a different perspective, overhearing characters secret discussions and witnessing the aftermath of all of those violent retributions. Stumbling into the area where Daisy Fitzroy’s and Jeremiah Fink’s bodies lay, blood still warm on the surfaces that it had splashed onto, and without the chaos of a battle behind you this time around allows a profound sadness to sweep over you. So much death and misery, so much plotting and scheming, and for what?
There’s a moment, back in Rapture, as the endgame is rushing towards you, where you discover a Big Daddy slumped against a wall in a room with two Little Sisters. Struggling to stand, he’s injured and clearly in pain; his rumbling moans and the sheer sight of him terrifying the cowering little girls. You’ve so far learnt that the doctors behind the Big Daddies are struggling to link them with the Little Sisters, and without establishing a bond between them the system just won’t work. In true Elizabeth fashion, you crack the code and work it out, drawing on your own experiences from when you were manipulated into the arms of Songbird and, for better or worse, you successfully forge the bond between Daddy and Sister. It’s a fantastic farewell to one of the most iconic characters of this gaming generation, as he clambers to his feet and beckons for the Little Sister to join him. Bioshock has always been about awful men trying to control the world through whatever means necessary (Booker included) and the inclusion of such a powerful scene between a woman, two children and the monster that man has created is an incredible and touching one. We see the lives that have been ruined across multiple dimensions, brought together into one room at a pivotal moment for all of them. The Little Sisters are given a protector, enhancing what little life has been left for them and the Big Daddy is given a purpose and someone to live for; a reason to be imprisoned inside that hellish metal suit. Something that might just make the misery worth it.
A little further down the path, after fulfilling the terms of her deal with Atlas having come to terms with the inevitable double cross, Elizabeth sees ahead. She sees Jack, she sees the plane, she sees the justice he brings, she sees the lighthouse and she sees the girl. She earns a moment of clarity that allows her to see that it all, at least, meant something.
Played on Xbox 360 for 5 and a half hours up to completion