Episode 1

Game of Thrones Episode Companion – Season 5 Episode 1

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This article is to be read after the episode has been seen, as and as a result may contain spoilers up to the episode that it’s covering, but no further. So if you haven’t seen the episode yet, go and watch it. Then come back and read this. Then watch the episode again. Then read this again.

It’s that time of year again! I thank you for taking the time to visit. Like last year, I will be writing spoiler free (beyond this episode) episode companions for Game of Thrones season 5. These companions will serve to clarify certain points in what can often be quite a convoluted plot. Now, George R. R. Martin has actually gone out and said something along the lines of “book readers are going to hate this season because it’s so different”. Personally, I’m excited to see where the show deviates from the book – it will be exciting to see new and interesting things and spoilers that I’m unaware of…so, I will try try try not to fill these reviews with WELL IN THE BOOKS THIS HAPPENED!!!. Try. I won’t be able to help myself a bit.

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One of the first things you may notice in The Wars to Come was a little addition to Winterfell in the opening credits: it now displays the flayed man sigil of the Boltons. Lovely detail. The episode kicks off with a flashback from Cersei’s childhood, in which she meets a witch called Maggy the Frog (not Osha!). This is the first actual flashback we have seen in the show so far. Interestingly, the books are full of ‘em (see, I can’t help myself), and show headers Benioff and Weiss went on record to say that they wanted no flashbacks, dreams or prophecies. Yeah….that’s…that’s never going to work. For those who didn’t pick it up, Cersei was supposed to marry “a prince” (Rhaegar Targaryen). Maggy says in her prophecy that Cersei won’t marry a prince; she will marry a king. Which she did, in Robert. That is, until a younger, more beautiful comes to take her place (Margaery Tyrell). Robert will have twenty children (all of his bastards), but Cersei will only have three (Joffrey, Tommen, Myrcella). If you think back to season 1, Cersei mentioned to Catelyn that she and Robert had a son that died in infancy – whether this is a show continuity error, or whether Cersei was simply lying to Cat, we shall never know. One thing they omitted in this scene from the books was a third piece to Maggy’s prophecy, which I shan’t ruin in case it pops up….but it seems pretty important in the books so here’s hoping. #Valonqar. In real time, Cersei appears to be becoming more and more paranoid – emphasised in a strong scene between her and Jaime, degraded only by Twyin’s omniscient googly-eyes.

Bovvad?
Bovvad?

Sticking in King’s Landing, we once again are reunited with Lancel Lannister. Lancel was Robert’s cupbearer in season 1, and played a part in his death. In season 2, he bedded his cousin Cersei before suffering a wound on the Blackwater. He has now cut off his luscious blonde locks and found religion. We also see the return of Kevan Lannister, Lancel’s father and Tywin’s younger brother. Kevan, like Lancel, appeared in seasons 1 and 2 but was omitted in 3 and 4. Thankfully, he’s back, with the same actor playing him. With the Lannister name now in peril, how will this new family dynamic affect their future? There was also mention of the Sparrows, who are a group of pious folk, who we will see more of in future episodes. My qualm with this episode follows Loras’ scene. Loras Tyrell’s sole purpose in the show seems to be that he is gay. It defines his character. In the books (sorry), he is one of the best knights in the Seven Kingdoms. After Renly, his love, his killed, he becomes angry and seeks to avenge him by joining the Kingsguard. He is arrogant, rash, and a total bad-ass, looked up to by Tommen – somewhat mirroring a young Jaime. He’s still a homosexual, but it is nowhere near as prominent as it is in the show…and there is no OlyvAR either. But it has enabled me to use the word ‘qualm’, so I guess I’m thankful for that.

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Across the Narrow Sea, we know have two main characters! I’m glad to see that Varys is travelling with Tyrion – hopefully we get to see some super dynamic adventures between the two of them. They arrive in Pentos. Cast your minds back to the very first episode. Pentos was the place where Viserys and Daenerys lived, before they went off with Drogo. The “colleague” that Varys mentions, Illyrio Mopatis, was the large man from season one: a magister in Pentos. It is revealed here that Varys intends to put Dany on the throne. Will be see some Dany and Tyrion action? Goodness I hope so.

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Speaking of the Mother of Dragons and so on, what a heartbreaking scene that was, with the Unsullied that just wanted to be cuddled. They are eunuchs – castrated at a young age – so they feel little to no sexual desires towards the women….they just want someone to hold. Which raises questions about Grey Worm and Missandei’s relationship; again, another show-only inclusion as she is about 10 in the books. It’s a nice relationship, don’t get me wrong, but I think it will backfire if they add a sexual aspect to it. The man that killed the Unsullied was a member of The Sons of the Harpy – the Harpy being the animorph for the slave Masters or Meereen, a statue of which we saw being destroyed at the beginning (along with half of the CGI budget – though did anyone else notice the rope graciously caressing the harpy’s bottom? No? Just me. Moving on). The Sons of the Harpy are, as you would imagine, quite angry at Dany for abolishing slavery. Ruling isn’t easy, but at least she has sexy Daario to suggestively stroke his dagger hilt at her. Emilia Clarke’s acting seems to have improved slightly too, which is a plus. Oh, and the others two dragons’ names were finally mentioned in-show: Viserion and Rhaegal, named for Daenerys’ brother and son respectively.

Looked wicked-cool though.
Looked wicked-cool though.

There were some scenes around the Vale of Arryn with Sansa, Littlefinger and Brienne and Pod…but that’s all quite self-explanatory. Young Robin Mumbreast has been left in the care of the Royces, a family sworn to the Arryns, in order to make him more lordly. And to remove him from Littlefingers plans. Which leaves us with the events at the Wall. With proposals for a new Lord Commander imminent, and the captured Wildlings getting restless, tensions are high…not entirely helped by the arrival of the one true king, Stannis the Mannis. As a side note, Janos Slynt, the guy that follows Alliser Thorne around everywhere, ex-captain of the City Watch in King’s Landing, seems to have been given the stereotypical coward treatment. In da books, he was a buffoon, but not a coward (and often referred to himself in the third person, yes he did). Someone on reddit compared this to The Hobbit’s dreadful display of “the funny coward”…I can’t even remember that character’s name as I have blocked it from memory. Anyway, The Wars to Come ends with the execution of Mance Raydar, the King Beyond the Wall. A scene that gave me chills, I have to say. Up until the recent emergence of the White Walks, Mance was the biggest threat to the Seven Kingdoms. He was able to unite the Wildlings under one king; a feat that has not been achieved in…well, ever. Though different from the books, I loved Ciaran Hinds portrayal, and am sad to see him go. This scene, however, was significantly altered from the books, and it seems like they have omitted an entire future storyline because of it. A very cool story line. They have also butchered Stannis; he seems to just care about conquering the North, whereas book Stannis was a lot more conscious about the threat of White Walkers. I’ve said before, but it’s important to be aware that the books and series are very different – it’s an adaptation – but that doesn’t stop me from wallowing in pity and crying “BENIOFF AND WEISS WHYYYYYYYYY”. Either way, Jon Snow’s actions of mercy killing him old friend will have consequences I’m sure. Also I’m putting money on him and Melisandre getting it on. He does have a thing for red heads…

Heh, references.
Heh, references.

Next week (or a few days ago, if you were naughty and watched the leaked episodes online), we get to take our first trip to Dorne, home to my personal favourite house, the Martells. See you then and stuff!

I erm....couldn't find another suitable image from the episode to close with...
I erm….couldn’t find another suitable image from the episode to close with…

 

 

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Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games series – Episode 1 review

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The emotions that you will experience whilst playing this game are awfully akin to the series itself… Also these screenshots are taken from the internet and are not my own…sorry.

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It’s about time we had a good A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones game. There is one, aptly named Game of Thrones, that I was going to do a review for, but it was so bad that I couldn’t play it. I’ve heard it gets better but….my goodness. So, thank you, Telltale, for a much-needed filling of an empty void!

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I won’t go over what Telltale Games’ games entail; I’ve written about four of them now so go and read some of my old reviews, you lazy rascal. What’s instantly unique about Game of Thrones – A Telltale Game Series when comparing it to other titles such as The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us and Tales from the Borderlands is the departure from the somewhat signature Telltale ‘cartoony’ graphics. Instead, Game of Thrones meets us half way, forming an amalgamation of animation and real-life style graphics. The result….well, it grows on you. When I first started playing I was immediately disheartened by the seemingly bad graphics. The combination just didn’t seem to work – it seemed a shame, therefore, that Telltale had ditched their old ways for this title. Personally, I think seeing a Game of Thrones title utilising these graphics would have been pretty interesting! Instead, we have a watercolour painting gone wrong. The backgrounds are beautiful, a bit like an Edward Hopper painting (I Googled ‘watercolour artists’ and his name came up….), but the character models are a let-down. As you well know from my past reviews, Telltale characters tend to have quite a woody appearance at times as it is. Due to the ‘realism’ displayed in Game of Thrones, this vastly exaggerated. Characters just look dead-faced more often than not, resulting in a break in immersion that is only really saved by the pretty good voice acting. You do get used to it, after a while, but the resent lingers like the odour of yesterday’s ham.

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But the main thing with any Telltale game is surely the story, right? Well, fortunately, Game of Thrones thrives in this category. It’s important to note here – which has disappointed some fans – is that this is a Game of Thrones game, not A Song of Ice and Fire. The reasons for this are probably numerous, but largely I think that it is down to the sheer popularity of the show. I love the books, but I feel Telltale made the right decision in basing it on the series: it enables them to utilise resources readily available to them, without the inevitable backlash from fans claiming that the Iron Thrones still hasn’t been accurately portrayed. The story kicks off at the end of season 3, and will lead up to season 5, running parallel with events from the TV series. The opening scene is set in a camp site. Bawdy men are joking about killing and fighting and other manly things. Your character, a squire named Gared, is sent off to fetch some supplies. Now, Gared is the squire to Lord Forrester, head of a Northern house loyal to the Starks. As Gared wanders past festivities left, right and centre, you’re greeted by a weaselly looking man wearing a stupid hat. “Oh!” I cry. “A Frey!” Suddenly, it all clicks, as the camera pans up and the Twins are revealed. “I know where we are…” I say to myself, as the Rains of Castamere begin to play. Then, all hell breaks loose, as the Red Wedding is in full swing. Gared must stumble back to Lord Forrester, amidst the battle waging around him. The emotion is there, but the whole area just seems pretty deserted and empty; sadly, despite being in a camp full of soldiers, this whole execution seemed pretty lacklustre. With current-gen consoles you would think that someone could have programmed in a few more fighting soldiers to, you know, make the whole thing seem a bit real. But hey. Moving on. So, yes, Gared is one of three characters that you play as in Episode One: Iron From Ice. The other two are Ethan Forrester, one of Lord Forrester’s sons, and Mira Forrester, a daughter who is in service to Margery Tyrell at King’s Landing. Like Tales from the Borderlands, jumping from character to character could be disorderly and incoherent, but the game pans out just like an episode of Game of Thrones, and with that in mind, it works. There are plenty of “oh shit!” moments, accompanied by some emotional heartbreaks and violent action. So your standard Game of Thrones recipe (albeit no boobs…yet). Without giving too much away, the events brilliantly kick-off this new chapter in the GRRM universe and leave you wanting more.

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As mentioned, voice acting is close to top notch in Telltale’s Game of Thrones. Natalie Dormer, Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey and Iwan Rheon all lend their voices to the game, enabling this little adventure to sit canon with the series. Speaking of, Ramsay Snow gets some more limelight here, ever emphasising what a cruel, brilliant character he is. Ethan Forrester’s voice initially makes you want to punch him in the face, but you get over it pretty quickly. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what other beloved characters show up to aid (or hinder) the Forrester’s tale.

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Like all Telltale games, episodes will be released at regular intervals, so you have plenty of time to catch up before Episode 2: The Lost Lords is released in February. Of course, if you want the full experience, then wait until all episodes are released and play in one fell swoop. Although, unlike previous Telltale games, Game of Thrones will feature six episodes instead of five, so see you in a year! There are a few bumps in the road, but all in all Telltale have created another wonderful addition to their portfolio, and have finally given fans the Game of Thrones game that George R. R. Martin would be proud of!

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Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1 – review

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The Walking Dead has emotion. The Wolf Among Us has intriguing lore. Tales from the Borderlands has sheer hilarity.

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If you’re a frequent reader of this blog (of course you are!) you may have picked up that I’m a big fan of Telltale’s games. Now, admittedly, it’s only been in the last year that I have actually discovered these little gems, so I shan’t claim to be a diehard devoted long-time fan, but I really cannot recommend their games enough. Tales from the Borderlands is no exception.

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So where to begin? First and foremost, this feels like a Borderlands game. Now this review will feature a couple of tiny spoilers from Borderlands 2 – just what happens at the end – but that’s all. Here are some line breaks whilst you evaluate whether you want to carry on reading or not.

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Good. So Tales is set following the events of Borderlands 2. After Handsome Jack’s death, employees from the infamous Hyperion Corporation have been vying for power. The first playable character, Rhys, is one such employee. But after he is duped by Patrick Warburton, he finds himself on the planet of Pandora, caught up in a scheme involving a rare, invaluable vault key.  Despite the obviously different gameplay style from past Borderlands games, Tales fits into the lore and overall saga perfectly. Whether this will bridge the gap between Borderlands 2 and 3, or whether it will just be a standalone story set in the same world, is currently unknown – whatever the outcome, so far it’s very promising. It certainly links to the greater Borderlands world – without going into spoilers (though you can probably guess one Borderlands character’s involvement from the episode name, Zer0 Sum…and yeah, it’s awesome).

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The graphics are a clever amalgamation of your typical Walking Dead/Wolf Among Us style ‘cartoony’ graphics combined with Borderlands’ classic….um… ‘cartoony’ graphics. Telltale have managed to create a seamless blend between the two that doesn’t look out of place at all. The game still suffers from the standard Telltale defects, such as the odd clunky movement or sudden facial expression reminiscent of Sims 2. Or the occasional clipping issue, but apart from that, s’all gravy. I mean, these are the things that you kind of look over in Telltale’s games as they seem almost inevitable…for whatever reason.

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The script is just what you would expect from Borderlands: violent, in your face, and hilarious. Episode One: Zer0 Sum, which is, at time of writing, the only episode out, made me laugh out loud on several occasions. One of my favourite moments was near the beginning when they take the somewhat iconic running-over-a-skag skit to another level. This is definitely a Borderlands game.

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As mentioned, you play as two different characters – Rhys and Fiona, telling two sides of a story via flashbacks. Both characters play very different, but with enough scope for you to mold them how you want to. For those unfamiliar with Telltale’s style, the game is essentially an interactive story. During dialogue, you’re presented with numerous options regarding how you respond – one might be cocky or arrogant, another might be submissive, or aggressive, or even just silence. The game adapts to choices that you make (to an extent) and develops as such (…to an extent). None of the choices you make are going to cause a revolutionary difference – judging from past games the overall outcome will remain the same – but it’s how you get there that might be executed differently. But what would a Borderlands game be without action? As well as the dialogue options, you’ll also be greeted with quick time events, a bit of exploration, and even some shootouts. Whilst not quite as fun or detailed as your standard Borderlands game, these moments add a nice change of pace, sticking true to the source material.

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There are a couple of other new inclusions within Tales too. Firstly, when playing as Rhys, you have the chance to activate your ECHO-eye implant to scan certain objects in the environment around you. Scanning things doesn’t affect the story as a whole, but does allow you to gather some background information on Pandora’s finest, which is usually pretty hilarious. When playing as Fiona, you can use cash to buy certain things. Again, thus far, this has purely been aesthetic (with one exception in which I bribed someone) but it’s a nice little distraction.

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It’s hard to judge an episodic game from the first episode alone, although thus far I am pretty impressed. However, unlike previous Telltale games, if you are unfamiliar with the Borderlands story or style and want to just try Telltale games, then I don’t think you would really get on-board with this. If this is the case, then go and play through the other Borderlands games first. For numerous reasons. Telling the same story from both Rhys and Fiona’s perspectives could initially seem jarring, tedious and confusing, but the change in dialogue options and perspective really enables you to get into the other character’s shoes. I, for one, think that this is a fine addition to both the Telltale and Borderlands library, and cannot wait for Episode 2. It’s a game for fans of Telltale and Borderlands games alike! Next time: Telltale’s take on Game of Thrones!

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Games of Thrones Episode Companion: Season 4 Episode 1

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This article is to be read after the episode has been seen, as and as a result may contain spoilers up to the episode that it’s covering, but no further. So if you haven’t seen the episode yet, go and watch it. Then come back and read this. Then watch the episode again. Then read this again.

“Two Swords”

Let’s kick off with the big new characters introduced in this first episode of the new season (squee). As the Game of Thrones cast is so big, it can sometimes be difficult to keep track of who everyone is in relation to whom.

DorneSo here we go. Let’s start with arguably this season’s most prominent new character, the Red Viper himself, Oberyn Martell. The Martell’s are the presiding family over Dorne, located at the very south of Westeros. The lord of Dorne is Doran Martell, who suffers from gout, and is rarely seen in public as a result. The men of the Martell family are also known as ‘princes’, though this is just Dornish custom, and essentially has the same meaning as ‘lord’. Oh, Dorne is also where Myrcella (Joff’s younger sister) was sent in season 2, to be betrothed to Doran’s son. Oberyn is a fan favourite, as well as one of my own, and is often described as a ‘wild card’. He’s a sexual deviant, fathering many bastards, and hell-bent on seeking revenge for the death of his sister at the hands of Gregor Clegane, the Mountain. His sister was Elia Martell, who was married to good old Rhaegar Targaryen before he ran off with Lyanna Stark. Marriage, guys; it’s complicated.  Also Oberyn’s paramour, Ellaria (not to be confused with Elia!) is a bastard – her surname is Sand. Obvs King’s Landing frowns upon bastards at court, so this will be fun to watch.

We were also introduced to Styr, the Magnar (leader) of a group of Wildlings from a place called Thenn. He was the big Xerxes-looking guy, with the bald, scarred head and crazy eyes.  Since Jonathan killed Orel (Mackenzie Crook) last season, the Wildlings south of the Wall don’t have a Scooby as to where they are going, so the Thenns have come to lend a not-so-helping hand. These guys are terrifying. Interestingly, in the books these guys aren’t cannibals, and are actually implied to be a lot more civil than the rest of the Wildlings, so it will be interesting to see the developments in their characters.

Now some recurring characters who we haven’t seen in a while! The drunk guy that was following Sansa is Dontos Hollard. Cast your minds back to the very first episode of season 2 – Dontos was the knight that was too drunk to fight at Joffrey’s name day, so Joff tried to kill him. Sansa spoke up and Dontos was made the serve as the court’s fool instead. He just stopped to say hello. At the Wall, Jon was seen speaking in front of a board of Night’s Watch members, including Alliser Thorne (the guy that made Jon’s life hell in the first season), and Janos Slynt, who was the old commander of the City Watch at King’s Landing, before Tyrion sends him to the Wall for betraying Ned. Oh Ned…. Lastly, in the climactic scene of the episode, we see an old friend of Arya’s, Polliver. This was the guy who killed Lommy and took Needle from Arya back in season 2. God that last scene was awesome. And has sprouted various Sandor Clegane-chicken memes. Rightly so.

One last shout out to a recast: Daario Naharis. He was introduced at the end of season 3, played by actor Ed Skrein, but was recast after Skrein went on to pursue other things. I’m still not sure how I feel about this – Michiel Huisman seems like a better actor, but I miss Skrein’s smarminess. And something about Huisman just makes him look like generic guard #5. Still, it’s early days to judge.

The title of the episode – “Two Swords” – comes from the opening scene, where we see Ned Stark’s fat off greatsword Ice melted down into two brand new Valyrian Steel swords. One went to Jaime, and the other….?

IceOverall this was a great first episode to what promises to be an outstanding season. The speech-less opening was very powerful, and symbolised the Lannister triumph over the Starks, whilst the end scene almost represented the opposite: one Stark sword is lost; another is gained. The Hound was hilarious, and you can real feel Tyrion’s growing disdain for his family. Also Jaime picked up on Cersei’s drinking. Well, someone needs to tell her. I didn’t really like how Oberyn’s ‘characteristics’ were almost spoon-fed to the audience though – oh, he’s in a brothel. Oh he’s obviously in an open relationship. Oh he’s bi too. Oh and he wants to kill every Lannister he sees? Still, Oberyn’s character goes a lot deeper than that, so maybe this was just a preliminary introduction to establish his nature: he will either kill you, or have sex with you. Soon we will see why House Martell is so freaking awesome. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.

 

Also, Jaime’s 40?Jaime wave

 

Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Episode 2 – Review

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A fantastic end (?) to an outstanding series.

This review will not contain any spoilers for Burial at Sea Episode 2, I promise. It may contain teeny weeny slight spoilers for Episode 1, Infinite and Bioshock 1 and 2. If you haven’t played these games then oh my god go and play them now. I’ll be waiting here.

Well goodness me and my giddy aunt. I’m going to cut right to the chase and say that if you’re uming and aring (erring?) about this, bloody play it. It’s quite pricey at £11.99, the same as Episode 1, but it’s worth it for the story. Episode 2 gives players approximately 5 – 6 hours of new story, and takes place immediately after the events of Episode 1. As opposed to playing as Booker as you do in Infinite and Episode 1, Episode 2 puts you, for

This was my face throughout playing.
This was my face throughout playing.

the first time, in Elizabeth’s feminine shoes.

The gameplay is more or less what you would expect from a Bioshock game – you have a small armada of weapons (more than two, which is nice) and access to vigors/plasmids, which you must use to overcome enemies large and small. You can also use the Air-Grabber (Rapture’s counterpart of the Sky-Hook) for melee weapons, although as Elizabeth is dainty and squishy as plums, this only briefly stuns enemies and deals no damage. Due to her squishy nature, playing as Elizabeth feels completely different from Booker, Jack and especially Big Daddy Delta. You can’t just run in gung-ho with weapons blazing – if you do, you will end up sleeping with the fishes. Heh. Because it’s underwater. No, instead, Episode 2 advises you to take a more stealthy approach. Whilst this is quite a nice change of pace, the stealth mechanics are definitely the worst aspect of this wonderful DLC. Overall, it feels like a bad Dishonoured clone. Dishonoured did stealth right, so it’s no surprise that a game will try and mimic it, but unfortunately, Bioshock hasn’t done this too well. The main problem is the environment – it just doesn’t feel like it was bit for stealth. Whilst arguably this creates more of a challenge, it’s just frustrating. It’s quite hard, at times, to gage where enemies are, even with the help of the new “Peeping Tom” plasmid. There is also no real quick way to move around the rooms, apart from the occasional vent or hanging hook. But even that takes quite a while. There is also ‘cover’ mechanic – you just have to rely on crouching behind a wall and assuming that no one can see you. One new addition that does work quite well is how different terrains change the volume of your footsteps. But eventually this becomes less of a tactical, strategic decision and more of a “I shouldn’t walk on all that broken glass over there” scenario; you just learn to avoid it. I guess if they added too many new mechanics then this wouldn’t feel like a Bioshock game, but eventually I just grew bored of the combat. But then, we don’t play Bioshock for the combat, do we?

No, we play it for the story and the environment! I promised that this would be spoiler free, so I won’t delve too deeply into it, but I will just say that it rounds the series off stupendously. I was on the edge of my seat, begging for more. As Episode 2 takes place directly after Episode 1, the date is 31st December 1958, which, as every Bioshock fan knows, is the day that Rapture fell. As a result, players get to witness Rapture pre-decline, albeit not as much as in Episode 1. Even still, the story, along with the numerous audio logs you find along the way, sheds new light on Rapture, unveiling still hidden secrets, and giving you a deeper insight into certain significant figures. Indeed, if you thought that Burial At Sea was just Elizabeth and Booker gallivanting around in an alternate reality Rapture, by Jove are you in for a treat!

 

It’s hard to say more without giving too much away. But I will summarise with this: the Bioshock series is proof that games are an art form. Burial At Sea brings the incredibly intelligent and compelling story to an brilliant close, and answers a lot of unanswered questions, whilst opening up more (gosh darn it…). Whilst Irrational Games has, very sadly, recently gone under, I can only hope that the Bioshock franchise isn’t dead. I don’t know when or how we will see another game, but I, for one, cannot wait.