Bioshock: Burial at Sea, Episode 2 PS3 Review

Bioshock: Burial at Sea. Irrational Games

The final chapters of “Bioshock: Burial at Sea,” the second episode of which was made available this week on the PSN and now ends the “Bioshock Infinite” saga, actually brought tears to my eyes. I’ll miss Elizabeth. I’ll miss Rapture. I’ll miss Columbia. And I’ll miss the attention to detail, addictive gameplay, and mesmerizing world that these games transport you to more than just invite you to play within.

After a few relative disappointments in the world of gaming, “Burial at Sea” has reminded what truly great video games can do. The developers of “Bioshock Infinite” and “Burial at Sea” cut no corners, waste no time, and work in such complex, deeply philosophical ways that they operate on an entirely different level. Built almost entirely from the ground-up instead of just the “deleted scenes” approach of many other DLC add-on releases, “Burial at Sea” may be the best game of 2014 so far on the PS3 now that it’s over. While “Episode 1” was fun and engaging, “Episode 2” is deep and masterful, especially in the way the developers seamlessly integrate plot arcs and characters from both “Infinite” and the original “Bioshock” with an all-new, stealth-based gameplay.

Fair warning: If you though the final act of “Bioshock Infinite” made “Inception” look downright simple to understand, “Burial at Sea” will make your head hurt.

It’s more tear-jumping, time-shifting, history-revising narrative as Elizabeth ventures through Rapture largely in an effort to figure out how and why she ended up there. As the narrative folds in on itself and back to events that take place in “Infinite,” it really does take on the Russian nesting doll philosophical aesthetic of something like Nolan’s masterpiece.

Take this fantastic exchange when it looks like events of “Burial at Sea” will intersect with events from “Infinite”:

Booker: “What happens if we run into ourselves?”

Elizabeth: “We won’t.”

Booker: “How do you know that?”

Elizabeth: “Because we didn’t.”

And then add to that bit of alternate reality brilliance the fact that Booker isn’t really there and is offering sage wisdom from deep within Elizabeth’s broken psyche and you get some idea how complex the storytelling can be here. Without spoiling the narrative, this is much more complex, rewarding stuff than “Episode 1” of “Burial at Sea”. Whereas that game was mostly just a fun return to familiar gameplay, “Episode 2” takes the now-set stage and runs wild on it.

Don’t worry. The gameplay is still incredibly tight but its focus has changed. Elizabeth does not have a lot of weaponry or high-powered Plasmids to blast her way through foes. “Burial at Sea” demands honest-to-goodness stealth, encouraging you to sneak up on enemies and bash them before they notice you. My weapon of choice through most of the game? A crossbow with a tranquilizer dart. Not only is it efficient but it uses ammo that can often be regained from searching the body.

If you think you can plow through “Burial at Sea” with a hand cannon blazing, think again. Even the Plasmids of choice in this DLC are less explosive—I used Possession a lot to get enemies to turn on each other and save me ammo—until the great Old Man Winter returns from some action straight out of “Frozen”. Overall, there’s a sense of danger around every corner in “Burial at Sea” and death often comes quickly and unexpectedly. It brings back an aura of survival horror that the first “Bioshock” certainly had but was somewhat lost by the sunnier third chapter. There were moments when I was honestly scared and other times when I actually avoided combat, sneaking through vents and taking corners to get away from a rambling, maniacal splicer before he even noticed me.

“Burial at Sea” is $20 for both episodes plus the other DLC available for one of the best games of 2013. It’s an amazing deal; made even more remarkable when one considers that the notably shorter and less satisfying “Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes” is getting a lot more attention right now. Whereas so many 2014 games have come out of the factory disappointing, my two most memorable experiences of the year to date on my PlayStation 3 have been downloadable episodes—this masterpiece and the latest installment of Telltale Games’ “The Walking Dead”. What does this say about where video gaming is going? When downloadable episodes that only run 2-3 hours feel more satisfying and complete than multi-hour, on-disc games? The market is changing. And Irrational Games and a series called “Bioshock” is helping to lead the way.

Disclaimer: The Publisher provided a review copy of this title.