Over the last year BioShock Infinite has gone from being a critically acclaimed darling to one of the most divisive games in the industry.
Irrational's FPS currently sits at the heart of a swirling vortex of debate and its participants are as likely to hurl hyperbolic invective as they are reasonable complaints.
I've seen one critic call it one of the most compelling games of this generation. I've seen another state that anyone who gave BioShock Infinite any praise at all had now lost all credibility. This game provokes an extreme reaction, possibly because of the way it was critically lauded in the first place. That, and the fact that it tossed cultural jibes and disturbing scenes at the player in equal measure, in a plot where the nature of reality was pontificated upon at length.
Interestingly, the only common ground that exists between the two schools of thought on BioShock Infinite is that both think its FPS mechanics are pretty unremarkable. That's not to say they're rubbish - they're not - but they've not really moved on that much since Jack stepped out of the Bathysphere in Rapture in 1960. You enter an area filled with enemies, juggling superpowers and firearms. You proceed to clear it and then you move onto the next area. Rinse. Repeat. Hardly ground-breaking stuff.
Perhaps this is why, for its swansong, Irrational Games decided to add the extra element of stealth to the proceedings. Burial At Sea Part 2 sees the return of a lot of the same elements of its predecessors - which makes sense - but it's the first time in a BioShock game where tactically removing enemies from your environment one at a time and as quietly as possible is the order of the day.
To that end, players are kitted out with a new Plasmid - or Vigor, if you like - called Peeping Tom, which allows them to see through walls and turn invisible. Once they augment this Plasmid, it doesn't use up any Eve if they remain completely still. Irrational also throw the Iron Sides Plasmid into the mix, which allows players to absorb and pocket any bullets fired at them, but this is nowhere near as useful - or as fun - to use as Peeping Tom.
The third new addition to the game's arsenal is the crossbow, which fires three types of bolts. There's one that puts the target to sleep, one that expels a gas cloud that knocks out multiple opponents and one that draws enemies away from the player by making a loud clanging noise on impact. This final bolt, by the way, is constructed by the player if they successfully solve a lockpicking mini-game in which some tumblers sound an alarm when touched and others allow them to pull the alarm from the lock altogether.
These new additions aren't the only ordinance the player has. The shotgun, the hand cannon and the radar range all make a return, but all of them give away the player's position and unless they turn invisible quickly, they'll soon find themselves overwhelmed. The character the player controls, Elizabeth, has a small health bar and no shield. One well-placed shot or blow from a Splicer takes off nearly all of her health (on Normal difficulty) so players who prefer the direct approach are in for short shrift.
Resources and cash are as scarce as they were in the last DLC pack. Furthermore, Elizabeth no longer has her 'tear' ability available, so the player can't pull through racks of carbines or turrets or Medkits or... er... a samurai from parallel dimensions. It's a contrivance that makes sense from a mechanical perspective but story-wise it feels a little too convenient.
This isn't the only time that Burial At Sea Part 2 feels like it's running up against the confinements of BioShock's history. The problem the DLC has had since the beginning is that it's been presented as canon. To wit, fans of the original BioShock are now expected to accept that Booker and Elizabeth were in Andrew Ryan's underwater city before the arrival of Jack, and furthermore, as evidenced by the events that take place in the Burial At Sea DLC, they played pivotal roles in Rapture's downfall.
This feels less like a natural progression of events than it does an attempt by an author to claim BioShock's lore as their own intellectual real estate by tossing in characters from an earlier timeframe. Even if you buy into the notion of parallel realities criss-crossing one another, Burial At Sea Part 2 is still a hard sell. Elizabeth and Booker felt like organic parts of Columbia. Here, they feel like they've been crowbarred into Rapture's history because the writers wanted to make a point.
Consider a scene that occurs in the final hour of the DLC, which shows visually what an audio diary in the original BioShock could only reveal aurally. The scene in question involves the death of one of Rapture's most loathsome characters after one of his experiments was so successful it cost him his life. Having played BioShock to death - and then some - it was interesting seeing this scene play out visually. But once it had concluded I could only fixate on how different the environment looked from the one in which I originally found the aftermath of this scene in BioShock.
In attempting to take ownership of BioShock's lore, Irrational has also dismissed the efforts of those behind the rather superb BioShock 2. The likes of Sofia Lamb, Augustus Sinclair and Gilbert Alexander - who the Cult Of Rapture now know were key players in the city's history - are completely ignored and unmentioned in the DLC. It's almost as if the authors would rather they didn't exist and, in light of the richness of BioShock 2's narrative, this feels more than a little petulant.
But mainly, it makes you long for a time where creators and moneymen were in sync to the extent where they could recognise lightning in a bottle. It would've saved all of us a whole lot of debate and a whole lot of mud-slinging. BioShock needed neither a sequel nor an extrapolation. It's a testament to the talent involved in both instances that the iterations following it are as enjoyable as they are.
Irrational's swansong adds stealth to the gameplay mix, but will be remembered for awkwardly recontextualising a beloved story to take ownership. And for doing so by casting aside the best parts of BioShock 2.
- Back to Rapture
- It's nice to see old friends
- If you want stealth, you got it
- If you don't want stealth, too bad
- Narrative feels forced at times
- Please don't make another sequel (and we know you're going to!)