Now that the novelty of Rapture’s return has been dealt with, BioShock Infinite’s second slice of subaquatic DLC has greater intent on exploring new gameplay opportunities without compromising the complexity of the mythology.
Stepping into the (noisy) high-heeled shoes of Elizabeth, events pick-up moments after the conclusion of the first episode, Elizabeth lifting the mantle from Booker as the new gun-slinging, plasmid-wielding protagonist on a quest to save a young girl.
Thankfully, Irrational has avoided repurposing mechanics, painting the cuticles with some nail polish and branding it a new experience; Elizabeth’s approach to combat and navigation through the familiar backdrop of Rapture is skilfully considered.
BioShock has always been about soaking in the environment, tracing around the edges to discover it secrets and picking apart notes and audio diaries for further revelations about its distorted and tormented denizens. Surprisingly, the second part of Burial At Sea appreciates this design better than any BioShock release to date.
The introduction of stealth mechanics in episode two refreshes the formula and forces you to spend much more time poking around every darkened corner of the haunted cityscape. It also pays homage to Levine’s previous work – particularly in its 1998 Mode – with Thief: The Dark Project a clear conceptual touchstone that impacted the tone of Infinite’s finale.
Broken glass, carpeted flooring and leaking water pipes are all potential hazards that can alert enemies, while Elizabeth’s book smarts enables her to effectively pick locks and delve further into the depths of Rapture. There’s also the introduction of a couple of new Plasmids, the primary addition, Peeping Tom, bolstering the furtive gameplay mechanics, endowing Elizabeth with the ability to briefly turn invisible and see through walls.
If there’s a complaint to be had then it’s that too much of a concession has been made to a more general audience. After all, BioShock Infinite geared itself around action-packed setpieces and, while the stealth mechanics are strong, the scenarios haven’t been built to effectively utilise them – enemies are far too easy to outwit or subdue. Higher difficulty settings obviously scale the challenge, but the average player will find Burial At Sea far more concerned with telling its story than engaging fully with its gameplay.
It’s fair to say that the narrative is the main draw for the majority of returning players and in that regard it doesn’t disappoint. Without divulging specifics, it all goes a bit Lost Season 6, as timey-wimey existential pondering trumps characterisation, but the appealing characters are enough to ground proceedings.
If this is to be Irrational’s last hurrah then it’s a mixed but compelling swansong for a company that often took bold, divisive design and narrative avenues. It might not hit the highs of some of its best work, but it’s a fitting testament to the studio’s unbridled creativity and theatrical magnificence.