BioShock Infinite: Burial At Sea Episode 2′s memorable moments make for a fitting finale

Publisher: 2K Games Developer: Irrational Games Format: 360, PC, PS3 Release: Out now

I finally ‘got’ BioShock’s ending about an hour after I went to bed. I finished playing the second half of Burial at Sea after a marathon session that ended at about half past midnight, after which my brain unclenched and started shuffling the pieces of its weird, convoluted jigsaw puzzle around in my subconscious. The little men went off to the filing cabinets where they’d stored the memories and thoughts I’d had about the previous instalments, blowing dust off old blueprints and corkboards with all the characters’ photographs connected by pieces of string. They studied them, drank black coffee, argued over their significance. Then an hour later, one of them ran up the stairs into my higher brain, barged open the door to where I was just falling asleep and went, “we’ve got it! This is what it all means!”

He said it in a respectful sort of way, of course. He works for me – he knows who keeps the lights on around here. But even so, underneath his cheerily professional demeanour, I caught the subtext. “Don’t worry!” he was really saying. “You’re not stupid after all!”

That’s always been my worry with the BioShock series: that for all I like games that do stories, I secretly find BioShock confusing. I know, rationally, that isn’t my fault. Its story has a habit of disappearing (sorry, ‘spatio-temporally-shifting’) up its own arse from time to time, whitewashing over its plot holes with magical plot-hole-fillers like Adam, Tears and, in Burial At Sea Episode 2, the Lutece Particle. But I still wanted to get it, though, if only so I could give its sillier elements a bit of loving roasting. Which I now do, so now will.

See, I like BioShock when it’s not trying to smother me in pseudo-science or quasi-philosophical prattlings about the nature of free will. That’s at the heart of my BioShock insecurity: I’m at my happiest when it just lets me walk about on a nice beach in Columbia, or a New Year’s Eve gala in Rapture. Anything else feels to me a bit like a sunny holiday where you spend half the time trudging round museums because the guidebook says you should.

Burial At Sea Episode 2 provides its best moments outside of the game’s plot and combat sequences.

Burial At Sea Episode 2 has my favourite non-museum segment in the whole series. In the opening scene, you quantum leap into Elizabeth sitting in a Paris cafe. She’s eating a croissant, drinking red wine and looking out at the river and the Eiffel Tower beyond. A friendly man gives her a sketch he’s done of her for free. It’s all very nice and no-one bursts out of a window to kill me with a shotgun or shout at me about Determinism.

Then it’s off for a stroll along the embankment. The sun is shining and everyone knows my name, asks if I’d like to join them for a glass of wine, offers to sell me cheese, invites me to look around their quaint little book shop. There’s a little boy in a school uniform who’s just so damn happy to be French that he’s dancing in the street waving a baguette over his head. All soundtracked to Edith Piaff warbling La Vie En Rose.

I go up to a couple sitting on a bench and there’s a newspaper next to them. On the front page, there’s a photo of me. Or rather, a photo of Elizabeth. A photo of me would have ruined everything. Under the photo of Elizabeth is the headline, ‘Who is this beautiful girl?’

At this point, clearly, something’s a bit off. I’ve been to France and nothing like this ever happened. But it’s all so nice and colourful and bursting with bloom that you can push the growing sense of unease aside. You don’t have to think about what it all means or if it makes sense, or whether it’s all going to end in tears, because you’re in Paris and it’s wonderful.

Burial At Sea’s trip to Paris is one memorable moment in a series that has brought us several.

Which is, of course, exactly what Elizabeth is doing. She’s not there; has never been there. This is the vision of Paris that she’s constructed from postcards and poetry and Voxophones over a lifetime trapped in her tower in Columbia. Her life is so horrible, so lonely, and this her escape: a romanticised child’s fantasy of a place where her life is all about playing and reading and being pretty.

As you go on, you know you’re realising all this before she is – that it’s not real, that soon it has to end and she’ll have to go back into the dank dungeons of Rapture, where the game’s main business of freezing people to death and shattering them with the Hand Cannon can resume. But the combat and all the guff about Tears and Lutece Particles and big junk-science ideas just detract from what I love about BioShock Infinite: these little human moments, the stories it can tell with a clever bit of set design.

I know how BioShock ends now, and I know what it means and why this thing caused that thing and how this character relates to the other (and because I was playing a review copy, all without the help of the Wiki – for which my ego awards double smugness points). But in a few weeks the little men will have filed it all away again in a drawer somewhere in the basement, and all I’ll remember clearly will be Jack’s first ride in the bathysphere, Elizabeth dancing on the beach at Battleship Bay and Paris.