Burial at Sea Episode 2 is Irrational Game’s swan song, one final bow that puts a coda on Bioshock Infinite and ties a neat (but rather convenient) bow around the whole series. As a final piece of work by a beloved developer, Episode 2 stands up very well. It’s not only miles better than the hugely underwhelming first episode, it stands head and shoulders above Bioshock Infinite itself. Burial at Sea Episode 2 is the most interesting instalment of the three, it’s easily the most fun to play and shows a great deal more imagination than the previous entries. It has its problems – and is often guilty of unearned retroactive continuity or just making things too convenient – but it’s a much needed breath of fresh air to the overtly conventional Infinite franchise.
Much like the first episode, this instalment is focused on bringing Bioshock Infinite and the original Bioshock together. However, while episode one was hugely clumsy, episode two handles things far better. It doesn’t feel like it is stepping on the originals toes as much as the other, it fits in more naturally and manages to comfortably separate Infinite and Bioshock while bridging them nicely.
Unlike the first episode, this one gives Rapture the treatment it deserves and uses this setting in an interesting way. The story in Rapture fits right into Bioshock one, but not in a forced way. They manage to set up the original without encroaching on its turf, allowing it to stand by itself but enabling it in a neat way. This episode makes it clear that the focal point of the entire series is the first game and it treats it with respect. It adds in a lot of back story that was never intended, but this back story doesn’t have much overlap. It fits in with the first and enriches one of its key themes.
It’s all retroactive continuity, but only a few of the alterations really stand out as egregious. Oddly, it is Bioshock Infinite that is undermined here, not the original. In a memorable segment based around collecting a lock of hair (a plot point that ultimately doesn’t quite make sense, but adds a welcome step to the journey), a certain conversation is overheard that casts a key event of Infinite in another light. It sanitises a major theme of the game and, though the moment changed is one that I (and numerous others) reacted negatively to, this alteration feels like an unearned attempt at pleasing everybody. It comes off as a recognition of a common complaint, where the solution is to retroactively change things to get around the issue. It just doesn’t feel right and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It’s an inauthentic alteration that tries to pardon a sin already committed.
The narrative in episode two is strong though. You play as Elizabeth this time and she’s a much more compelling protagonist than Booker ever was. The story has a smaller and more personal scope than in Infinite, and this works greatly in its favour. It’s a somewhat predictable, but enjoyable, ride that doesn’t fall back on twists and turns to be effective. Things work out as you expect, but this through line gives a lot of opportunity for great moments.
It is in gameplay where episode two really excels though, providing a welcome change of pace from the pedestrian shooting of Infinite and episode one. The change in protagonist not only enriches the narrative, it alters the core gameplay entirely. The game has gone from a conventional shooter to an enthralling stealth game, as Elizabeth has lost her powers and lacks the combat prowess of Booker. She does have a crossbow though, armed with tranquiliser rounds, and this soon becomes your best friend.
Episode 2 uses the tropes of Bioshock rather creatively in order to create a great stealth game. New abilities give you powers to go invisible, see through walls or just add clever stealth twists to old favourites. It’s a very fitting way of handleing stealth, it’s implementation is more like Bioshock 1, where they do a good job of contextualising your powers in the world. The end result of this is a very fun, though rather forgiving, stealth game. The mechanics are well handled and it’s just very enjoyable to play, and has cleverly built environments that compliment this.
This slow stealthy approach places the focus back on meaningful exploration and Irrational have gone out of their way to make this worthwhile. You go to a number of great places, ones that are cleverly made and enjoyable to traverse. Some locations are highlights for story reasons and many manage to capitalise on Rapture very well. They feel appropriate and are cleverly implemented, a nice change from the previous episode. There’s a lot to see and do, with satisfying side objectives and hidden audio diaries that further incentivise joyful exploration. The stealth approach also adds a sense of risk and empowerment to exploring your surroundings. The tense atmosphere is back and discovery feels earned rather than served to you. They make places worth exploring and they make the act of exploration worthwhile.
Burial at Sea Episode two is more creative and imaginative than the other parts of Infinite. It feels well thought out and the gameplay structure has a deliberate feel that matches the story very well. It allows for slow character focused storytelling, which is great. Rapture no longer feels alien, it fits in authentically with the Rapture you know (and the one it’s supposed to be), this enriches this episode but makes the first seem even more disappointing. Luckily, this episode holds up on its own very well and is not brought down by the numerous pitfalls of its prequel.
In places, episode two feels like the ambitious and interesting game Infinite could have been – if it focused on things outside of core narrative and wasn’t just a shooter. This final piece of work shows how good the studio can be; it also displays some of their issues with storytelling, but above that it reflects a talent for world building. It’s a very tidy universe in the end, but it’s still an impressive one. The story is nice and well told, but it isn’t genre pushing or remarkable like the narrative in Bioshock one. However, standout moments and superb game design make this episode excel. It steps on the toes of its franchise, but mostly manages to cohabitate peacefully, only rarely causing you to roll your eyes or look down on it.
Episode two makes great use of a wonderful location and manages to cleverly utilise core gameplay to enhance the experience as a whole. It feels like a cohesive package, more so than past Bioshock Infinite instalments, and is hugely enjoyable. Encounters are meaningful, the story is well told and the act of exploration has been greatly improved. It’s a game that recognises its strengths and manages to capitalise on them. With a smaller canvas Irrational have been able to express themselves far better, which makes their loss sad but makes Ken Levine’s new focus on smaller titles oh so enticing.
Burial at Sea Episode 2 is an excellent coda to the series, one that excels both its predecessor and Bioshock Infinite.