Following on from the cliffhanger ending of Episode 1, the game continues the story of Booker and Elizabeth looking for a missing girl in the sunken city of Rapture.
This time around, rather than playing as Booker DeWitt, protagonist of Bioshock Infinite and Burial at Sea Episode 1, his companion Elizabeth takes centre stage. Moving away from the two-fisted ex-Pinkerton makes for a marked change in gameplay, leaving you thinking twice about engaging enemies head on, scrambling for a bolt hole when you hear the tell-tale groan of an approaching Big Daddy.
While the game could have traded on the frenetic gunplay featured earlier in the series, Elizabeth's relative fragility coupled with the claustrophobic, waterlogged passageways of Rapture makes Episode 2 a tense, stealthy affair. In fact, armed with a nonlethal crossbow and infused with supernatural abilities, Episode 2 seems to take cues from Arkane Studios' Dishonored more than anything else.
This does mix things up, but be warned - you'll be sneaking up on splicers to silently knock them out, not dropping down from sky-lines like death incarnate. The change-up to gameplay style doesn't come across as polished as the experience Bioshock or Bioshock Infinite provided, and we found ourselves missing the chances to truly cut loose as you could in the previous games.
Burial at Sea Episode 1 was justifiably maligned for its brevity, and while Episode 2 was a little longer, it doesn't really rectify the issue. While the stealth gameplay worked well to build atmosphere, it also made the game feel a little padded, spending time hiding and sneaking rather than clearing rooms with guns blazing. Perhaps Irrational would have been better served releasing both episodes as a single package, but even then the final experience is still quite short. Playing both episodes back-to-back took about 7 hours, and that included hunting down hidden collectibles and eavesdropping on NPC chatter.
It's hard to consider Bioshock games in isolation, though, and that goes doubly for this DLC. While the individual plots work as self-contained stories, they should be taken as parts of a whole. Burial at Sea Episode 2 comes with a 'Previously on Bioshock' cinematic for a reason, feeling more concerned with the overarching story. It's the chapter that ties the whole series together, bringing back the major players who plagued Rapture in the original game.
That's what was most impressive about Burial at Sea. It felt as if it was building towards an inevitable conclusion to everything that came before it. It tied together the disparate threads of Bioshock's Rapture and Bioshock Infinite's Columbia into one cohesive story, and did so satisfyingly.
It wasn't just about Elizabeth trying to find a lost girl. It was a story about a city on the verge of a violent, doomed revolution. A story about overlapping realities and repeating patterns. It's not designed as the second half of Burial at Sea so much as a conclusive bookend to the entire Bioshock franchise.
Despite some niggling concerns with gameplay and length, fans of the series would be doing themselves a disservice to miss out on Bioshock's final chapter, and with the developer behind the series closing its doors, Burial at Sea is a remarkable swansong for Irrational Games.
Burial at Sea Episode 2 is now available on Mac, PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.