home bio blog armyofdarkness media projects contact

Newest Entries

Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Ep. 2
Review and Reflection

  As those who have experience in this matter will tell you, when I am let down by humanity, I usually let down a long, exasperated sigh.

  Whoops, that just told you everything you need to know about Burial at Sea: Episode Two! On the upside, it seems like it cleared the air just a little. On the downside, the rest of the air is clogged up with the stench of a decomposing franchise. So let’s set up an industrial fan to clear out the odor, shall we?

  Oh, the Bioshock series. There was a time when I thought that you couldn’t do anything wrong. Even your spiritual predecessor, System Shock 2, has a special place in my heart. And it shouldn’t be to the surprise of anyone involved that one of the main reasons I loved those games is because of their stories. Although heavily reliant on audio logs, the games managed a commitment to an overall tone of horror and darkness that lent itself quite well to feeling like the world was against you. Even Bioshock 2, which I’m now forced to assume is non-canon because reasons, is at least interesting for all of its plot fuckery.

  And then we got to the downloadable content for Bioshock Infinite, and I should have just stayed away.

  It doesn’t seem like that long ago I was busy ragging on the DLC’s prequel for being a rushed, poorly optimized piece of dreck that did the seemingly impossible task of undermining itself and the source material of whence it came. Being a buggy mess made playing the short campaign more of a headache than anything else. The story was convoluted and didn’t fit in with anything we had established about Elizabeth’s character. Oh, and it also completely ignored the ending of the core game it was fucking based on.

  Despite the cynical part of my brain very rationally highlighting the fact that the next entry was going to be terrible, I did hold out a little hope that maybe Episode Two was going to fix something. I didn’t know how that was going to happen, but I had a little bit of faith that Ken Levine was going to call “do over” and the narrative weight behind the first Bioshock Infinite would be restored.

  Insert long sigh here.

  Let’s get the basic stuff out of the way. Yes, you now play as Elizabeth. Due to contrivance, she is no longer able to open doors to other realities. She is also locked into an overly long sequence of stealth sections as opposed to action. Sure, there are lethal weapons, but the game basically tells you that you’re better off stealthing along. All your plasmids (read: magic powers) are now almost purely defensive in nature and broken as fuck. There’s one that lets you see through walls and turn invisible, and the upgrades you get one right after the other take away all cost in using it provided you’re not moving. Since your surprise attack knocks enemies out in one hit, there’s almost no point in using anything other than that. Find their walking path, turn invisible, wait until they stroll up to you, and whack them on the face.

  Now, I don’t mind Elizabeth not being a soldier. It made sense for Booker to use violence as a solution for everything, because that was a fundamental part of his identity. But Elizabeth? No. But that same rationale is the exact same reason that her letting the Big Daddy skewer Booker/Comstock/whomever at the end of Burial at Sea: Episode One made no fucking sense in terms of her character. The only time she killed someone in Infinite was when she thought a kid’s life was in danger. It’s like they didn’t even know how to write this character anymore.

  What bothers me the most about the forced stealth is that it’s utterly trivial. In short, this is neither Metal Gear Solid 3 nor the original Thief. I can’t tell you the number of times I just sprinted between heavily guarded areas because I got bored trying to plot out the path of least resistance. And that was when I wasn’t incapacitating anyone and everything in my way. Good stealth games incorporate things like shadow or the environment in unusual ways to keep the gameplay exciting. They also give you a bevy of tools that let you distract people while making sure you always know just how hidden you are. Bad stealth games give you a couple of overpowered items and a playground full of dipshits with myopia to use them on.

  And that’s not including the fact that the game is just littered with bugs. I didn’t run into any game breakers on my run (unlike the first episode, which resulted in my brain believing that hard crashing to my desktop is Bioshock canon), but there were plenty of graphical glitches, like people’s heads just disappearing.

Ointment. That's what you need when your head's been cut off.
Ointment. That's what you need when your head's been cut off.

But then there was the horrible, constant slowdown. I played vanilla Bioshock: Infinite just fine – any hiccups were due to loading. In this episode, the frame rate was constantly choking on itself. And here’s the thing: there was nothing all that visually impressive going on to warrant it.

  All of this could have been forgiven if the game’s story had actually been worth telling. But it isn’t. Not in the least. What we get out of this entry is a pained, desperate attempt at connectivity between Infinite and the original Bioshock. All the neat little hints that Andrew Ryan’s Rapture and Comstock’s Columbia were connected that we got in the original Infinite are spelled out blatantly.

  Elizabeth’s story manages to be both trite and unjustifiably pleased with itself. Basically, there’s a little girl that she wants to rescue. That’s it. That’s her entire arc now. Elizabeth, a character of limitless potential, basically becomes a bland and less competent Ripley with a screaming emphasis on the surrogate mother issues. Stripped of her reality bending powers, she also becomes surprisingly stupid. And we are forced to experience her stupidity. When it’s clear she’s going to die because the bad guy is a bad guy (fuck you, it’s not a spoiler), you can do nothing but watch her do it. This is a character who has (apparently) read almost all the fiction and non-fiction of the 19th century and earlier. You’re telling me that she never once picked up a fucking copy of The Prince? Jesus.

  I could think of a million ways to wrestle a semi-happy – or at least fulfilling – ending out of all this, but that was never the point was it? It was all about connecting the dots. And it was completely unnecessary.

  In fact, in the desperate bid to make sure everyone’s questions were answered, all that happened was generating more questions. For instance, if the plasmids were responsible for Rapture’s residents becoming tumorous psychotics, why did the same thing not happen to Columbia’s citizens when they were using tonics? After all, you blatantly spell out that they were the same thing. That means they should have the same grisly side effects, but they most certainly do not. Remember that one of the reasons we had Booker kill himself in the original was because Comstock’s legacy would eventually lead to Columbia destroying the surface world, right? It would be hard to do that if the denizens of Columbia were uncontrollably fucking bonkers.

  Or here’s one for you: if the bad guy is just going to kill Elizabeth and she’s aware of that, why doesn’t she leverage that information to get her out of his grasp? Why doesn’t she negotiate her way out of trouble, instead of getting bludgeoned to death and still giving the bad guy the code word? In fact, the little girl she wants to save is right there, watching her getting beaten to death. How hard would it have been to just have Elizabeth say “Hey, asshole, I’ll give you the code once I’m safe.”

  And if the bad guy was just going to kill Elizabeth, why does he then leave the little girl he was threatening her with behind? She’s a Little Sister, a genetically modified child that’s full of plot device goop called ADAM. He announces earlier that “She’s worth her weight in gold,” and he just marches off without her. It’s canon that the bad guy of the first Bioshock, who tries to incite the player character in that game into harvesting these children for their ADAM, just leaves one behind after all this obnoxious, overwrought bullshit. What would have happened (and what should have, if narrative consistency was a thing), is that he would have ordered one of his goons to drag her off to be harvested, leaving Elizabeth to die alone.

  Ultimately, this is the perfect example of a sequel doing substantial, practically irreparable damage to the source material. The core series of Bioshocks are fun. They are atmospheric games that tell pretty well-crafted stories. But the Burial at Sea entries, if I have to take them as canon, completely and utterly ruin it. It feels like nothing but a bunch of inconsequential nods and winks to the audience, trying really hard to wring artistic merit out of something that just doesn’t even need to exist.

  There were ways that this could have been interesting. There were ways that all of this could have worked. This was most certainly not the way to do it. Since the company is closing down and the series is pretty much tarnished beyond repair, I think we’re just going to have to pull an Indiana Jones at the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and claim these shit entries just didn’t happen.

Purchase Project Northwoods at Amazon.com.   Purchase Washed Hands at Amazon.com   Purchase Improbables at Amazon.com.


AdviceFictionGamingGeneral MusingsReviews