BioShock Infinite had an interesting run, with player reception all over the board. Some loved it, some hated it, others reveled in its celebration of violence, some disapproved. It's probably going to be a long time before we get to debate the merits of another BioShock game again though, considering the fact that Irrational Games has dissolved, and is handing over the franchise to 2K.
So that leaves Burial at Sea Episode Two as Irrational's last hurrah, and I'm pleased to say it's a vast improvement upon the foundation that was built in Episode One.
[Be warned: there are minor spoilers involving Episode One below.]
BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode Two (PC [reviewed], PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Released: March 25, 2013
MSRP: $14.99 (included in Season Pass)
After a fantastic opening that links the worlds of BioShock and Infinite, this episode of Burial at Sea picks up right after the prior DLC, but this time we're in control of Elizabeth. Elizabeth will find herself drawn into both the world of Rapture and Columbia, as she interacts with a variety of characters from both franchise worlds. She'll have to do this by way of stealth, and without the use of her magical "tearing" ability (which is explained by way of the narrative). Just in case you need a quick refresher, a "Previously on BioShock" video is very helpful for those of you who forgot the gist of the first game.
Simply put, the transition into Elizabeth not only works on a macro level, but the stealth ploy is actually fun, as well as unique. Instead of the same old "shoot everything" strategy typically employed by Jack and Booker before her, Elizabeth must instead rely on tools like sleeping darts and stealth knockouts to stand a chance. Irrational really took a chance with the switch to a lower-key approach, and it paid off. In a nutshell, Elizabeth's style is Thief-like, which is a good franchise to draw inspiration from.
This dedication to stealth is seen through nearly every facet of her gameplay. When slinking around carpeted floors muffle her steps, and objects like broken glass or puddles can give her away. Through the use of a brand new Plasmid called the Peeping Tom, she can also see through walls and momentarily cloak herself, adding a new dimension to your approach should you wish to use it. I had a lot of fun coming up with new ways to utilize Elizabeth's style, and it felt like I was playing something utterly different -- which is an accomplishment for a DLC episode, in my mind.
Although she might have less health than Booker she is still very much a formidable hero with a variety of weapons at her disposal like Noisemaker Darts to distract sentries, and gas darts to put multiple foes to sleep -- plus, she still has a few standard guns like the handcannon and shotgun. Her only real weakness is the inability to take out enemies with melee attacks if she's seen, but a quick cloak or a few moments of going into hiding will fix that.
In addition to the uniquely improved gameplay, you'll also get a lot more big-picture story in Burial at Sea Episode Two. I'm talking tidbits fans really want to see, like more info on Big Daddies, Little Sisters, and a lot of the big personalities in the Bioshock universe. You'll also see a few appearances from the Lutece Twins, and characters you didn't necessarily get to hang out with in person in past games. If you were disappointed by the lack of new revelations presented in Episode One, you'll get them here.
Although the length of a game doesn't typically bother me, the fact of the matter is you're getting more bang for your buck with Episode Two, as the core story will last you around five hours. The environments as a whole are also much larger than Episode One, so it's really easy to get lost as you look for secrets and experiment with Elizabeth's newfound tactics.
Irrational also went above and beyond with the implementation of 1998 Mode -- a new difficulty level that challenges you to complete the entire DLC without killing a soul. I never thought the core game's 1999 setting really added anything significant as it was basically the exact same experience, but with even more emphasis on stealth, playing 1998 felt like a whole new game. It was so fun in fact that I was compelled to go back for a second playthrough of Episode Two immediately -- a feeling I didn't experience with the first DLC.
BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode Two blows Episode One out of the water. It improves upon nearly every shortcoming of the first outing, and with all of the lore additions it's a must-play for fans of the series. It's worth picking up the Season Pass just to see this story through to the end.