Second episode of 'Bioshock' expansion disappoints
This is not an article I thought I would ever write. I knew I would be writing a review of the recently released downloadable content, "Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea: Episode 2," as far back as last November, but I never thought I'd be writing it like this. Before I go on, however, I strongly suggest you play through the game at least once before you read this, as I will not be holding back whatsoever on the spoilers.
Unlike "Infinite" and "Burial At Sea: Part 1," in which you play as the gun-toting hero, Booker DeWitt, "Part 2" takes a more subtle approach. For the first time, you play as Booker's daughter and ward, Elizabeth, and the differences are much more than cosmetic. Unlike her father, who relied primarily on clearing a room of enemies with guns blazing, Elizabeth takes a more stealthy approach. As a character, she's significantly weaker and inexperienced with gunplay (unlike Booker, who was a former United States soldier and Pinkerton agent), and so she must instead take on a stealthy approach to defeat those who would do her harm.
The stealth gameplay/combat relies heavily on the more defensive "vigors" (biological abilities) that we had in the previous installments, such as "Possession" and "Old Man Winter" along with two new ones, "Peeping Tom," which allows Elizabeth to turn invisible and see through walls, and "Ironsides," which gives Elizabeth a temporary shield, and absorbs all gunfire shot at her. She's also equipped with a crossbow, which fires tranquillizer darts that knock enemies unconscious, and noisemakers that can distract them to lure enemies away from a certain area. In addition, Elizabeth does have access to some guns, but her low proficiency with firearms means that she deals less damage, and more often than not, will simply end up leading more enemies to her location.
As far as the gameplay goes, it actually tends to work pretty smoothly. As long as I planned and paced myself, I found that taking out each enemy could actually be a more rewarding feeling than just blasting a hole in their heads, a la Booker. There's just something that feels great about sneaking up on an unsuspecting baddie and knocking them into unconsciousness.
My issues with the game come in terms of plot. If you're at all familiar with the works of Ken Levine and the stories he's written for the "Bioshock" series, this should come as a surprise. The stories in each game are typically lauded as the best part of the game. In fact, up until this installment, I would absolutely agree. "Bioshock Infinite" is my favorite game of all time, not because of its gameplay, but because of its beautiful story and well-manicured environment (as a side note, the environment of "Rapture" in Burial At Sea is possibly the most beautiful incarnation of it we've seen so far, but I digress).
Yes, it was the one thing we all expected to be the absolute best part of the game, the story, which ended up disappointing me. The game begins with Elizabeth gaining consciousness after a brief dream of time spent in Paris, whereupon she realizes she is being held at gunpoint by the revolutionary, Atlas, and that the Little Sister, Sally, she used in order to kill Comstock in the previous title, is now also being held by Atlas. In order to get her back, Elizabeth embarks on a quest throughout the sunken portion of Rapture, searching for a way to return Atlas and his revolutionaries to Rapture proper, for which he promises to deliver Sally safely to Elizabeth, and let them both go free.
All of the proceeding information - sans the bit on Paris - was included in the trailer for the game, and I will tell you honestly that it had me very excited. In fact, I was remained excited throughout most of the game. As far as the plot goes, it was excellent, until the very end of the game. Once again, I must warn you that severe spoilers lie ahead.
During the final few minutes of the game, Elizabeth is stripped of her weapons by Atlas, who has (not too shockingly) betrayed her. She is sent into Dr. Yi Suchong's laboratory in order to obtain something known only as Atlas' "Ace in the Hole." Guided by brief flashes of memory, she finds and returns the Ace, which turns out to be the activation phrase for Jack, the main character of the original "Bioshock," with which Atlas will set the events of the original game, leading to his eventual demise and the saving of the Little Sisters. With the activation phrase in hand, Atlas proceeds to bash Elizabeth's skull in with a wrench, leaving her to die amongst the ruins of Rapture, Sally at her side.
To this ending I say, Ken Levine, you have lost your mind? How can you possibly justify this? If you want to kill Elizabeth, fine, I understand that in the real world, endings aren't always happy (despite me wanting to see the kind Elizabeth see a happy conclusion), but this ending feels like nothing but your ego getting too large for your skull.
First of all, are we really to believe that Elizabeth would simply lay down and die? That isn't to say she wouldn't die if it were the only way to accomplish her goals and save Sally, but that isn't the case. Elizabeth spent the entire game capably fighting off enemies far stronger than her through naught but her wit. But now we're expected to believe that she'd simply walk into a trap, completely accepting that there's no way she could possibly fight off Atlas or his men? Sorry Ken, not buying it.
The second of my complaints is the fact that this had to tie into the original "Bioshock" at all. Could the conclusion to Booker and Elizabeth's story not have stood on its own? Did it really need to tie everything together, coming full circle with "Bioshock?" In this reviewer's opinion, it absolutely did not. To me, "Bioshock" concluded in 2007. This felt like it devalued everything that Booker and Elizabeth did throughout "Infinite," subsisting only as support for Levine's original masterpiece.
The ending of "Infinite" seemed to conclude Booker and Elizabeth's story in a way that simultaneously left things open for discussion, but also gave us a positive sendoff for the pair. "Burial"'s ending instead drags that happiness through the mud, firmly establishing Elizabeth's death, and making it very clear that she will likely never be used in future content. Was this really necessary, Ken Levine? Was it necessary to crush our spirits in a way that didn't make sense? It seems to me you killed her because you wanted a depressing ending, not because the story truly called for it. To me, that is possibly the worst form of storytelling imaginable. Your story should write itself. Clearly, in this case, it did not.
I am saddened by Ken's decision, because it seems the only reason it happened is because he recently disbanded Irrational Games, and wanted to ensure that Rapture and Columbia will never be used in future "Bioshock" content, produced by 2K Games (Irrational's owner). If this is true, then I am especially disappointed in his selfishness. Whatever the case, I will choose to remember the story of Booker and Elizabeth as what I played through in "Bioshock: Infinite."
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