Bioshock: The Collection brings two of the greatest games not only of last generation, but perhaps of the medium, and another decent entry, together in one package. For PC players who own either Bioshock or Bioshock 2 already, the remastered editions will pop up for free in their Steam libraries. For console owners, the collection offers the chance to finally play these games in 1080p at (pretty much constant) 60fps for the first time, with the games often falling so low as 20fps last gen. For console gamers, this is objectively the best way to play these classics, and a bargain at that.
For PC gamers, the question is not as settled. Audio mixing is certainly somewhat more ‘flat’ in these remasters than the originals, with less reverb and echo in general. Often without headphones on I’ll lose some of the protagonist’s chat in the sound mix. Lighting effects have also been changed in places – YouTube videos of side-by-side shots will show the altered mood and atmosphere this sometimes gives. In game I doubt many will notice the changes, but they’re definitely there, and PC gamers with the ability to play the originals in 1080p 60fps may prefer the older titles. As with everything PC, the choice is yours.
I’ve predominantly been playing on console, and perhaps the greatest compliment I can give is that the games look and play as my nostalgia remembers them – for reference I first played Bioshock on PS3 way back in 2008, and Bioshock: Infinite on Mac in 2013. As the version of Infinite on offer here is basically the PC version running at max, this is to be expected. As such there are still occasional skips or hangs as the game loads the next stage or area, but as these are problems ingrained in the version of Unreal engine being used they’re almost par for the course, and certainly no more present than in the original version.
Much as Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection saw an overhaul to the first game’s graphics and character models, and the Halo collection saw the second title remade from the ground up, the first game in this collection has received the most work, by a considerable margin. This leads to the irony of the oldest game, at least visually, feeling the newest. Often I am struck by the beauty of Bioshock and feel lost like the first time within Rapture. It may not look ‘new’, but it certainly doesn’t look just shy of a decade old.
Where to begin? Bioshock shook the games industry when it landed on Xbox 360 way back in 2007, and much of what made it so compelling back then shines as clearly today. Set in Rapture, a self-obsessed city at the bottom of the sea, Bioshock examines the concept of objectivism and asks what a truly capitalistic and state-free society could become. Physical and genetic manipulation runs rampant, science runs free of moral qualms, and essentially all economic policy is laissez-faire at best.
Rapture is undoubtedly one of the most developed and influential game locales ever devised, a world that feels lived in and indifferent to your presence, teeming with horrors to be discovered and explored. The city tells its own story through remnant voice recordings and environmental details, the remains of a New Year party, the hollowed out restaurants and social spaces. As crucial as the city itself are the occupants, from the now iconic Big Daddy to the always unsettling splicers. Never does Rapture feel anything less than alive.
Easily the most dated part of the experience presents itself in the gameplay. The player has the opportunity to use various weapons and plasmids (effectively genetically induced superpowers) throughout the game, but never can they be dual wielded. An awkward and frustrating pipe mapping minigame appears whenever hacking, and interactions with non-hostile NPCs can feel jilted and awkward, often with windows or objects preventing direct contact – while this happens for narrative purposes, it is apparent that its use is to stop us looking too closely at character models. The game also leans on ‘fetch quest’ mechanics a tad too often, leading to repeat visits to completed areas before the story can progress.
Aside from this, the narrative issues are, of course, unchanged. There are still multiple endings for little to no reason, and the final boss fight is still disappointing. Also more apparent now than at first release is the fact that multiple shotgun blasts to the face may not take down the most common enemy in the late game. The difficulty ramp comes not from more intelligent enemies, but simply beefing their stats.
Never does Rapture feel anything less than alive.
But Bioshock has always been more than the sum of its parts, and that aspect isn’t going anywhere. The twist shocks as much as it did all those years ago, the questions raised about player agency as apparent and thought provoking as ever. Truly, Bioshock is a triumph in games as an art form, and a miracle in AAA game making, at once enjoyable to play, intelligent, thought provoking and immensely popular and influential.
For every Back to the Future, there’s a Back to the Future Part III – Bioshock 2 is indeed a good game, but suffers from the fact that it is a sequel to the original. The only game of the trilogy not made under the direction of series creator Ken Levine, Bioshock 2 was unnecessary from the start, at the time released with tacked-on multiplayer (not present in the collection), as if to underscore how ‘design by committee’ the product was.
But much of the original team worked on the sequel, and the reality is that, gameplay wise, Bioshock 2 is simply a better game. The narrative was never going to be as shocking, as new and awe-inspiring as that first meeting with Rapture, but it does its job of reacquainting us with the city a decade later, and adds some intriguing and new perspectives on its demise. Whereas we played as an ‘everyman’ in the original, Bioshock 2 puts us in charge of one of Rapture’s infamous Big Daddies, an impressively hulking engineered beast, lending this second trip a ‘power fantasy’ aspect which stops the player ever feeling quite as vulnerable.
Also included here is the standalone story DLC, Minerva’s Den, perhaps one of the best single player DLCs ever released, and best gone into completely blind. But overall, perhaps best played last of the three, Bioshock 2 is certainly worth a playthrough, and as part of the package feels more a ‘perk’ to the main event than of equal standing to the games that precede and follow it.
Set in a different place and time to the first two, Infinite throws us far into the sky, the floating city of Columbia giving us a glimpse into the logical endpoints of American self-obsession, a city that reveres the founding fathers as the religious view their prophets, a city marked as much by its blind-faced optimism as its wilful ignorance of the mistreatment of blacks and workers in an all-American dream. Often as striking as the original Bioshock, Infinite takes us from the oppressive and claustrophobic to the wide open and bright, from the dark and hidden ideals of a city afraid of outsiders to the sun soaked city of arrogance.
Infinite is easily the most developed and modern feeling of the three games – combat and movement are fluid, dynamic, natural. The game is rarely truly ‘challenging’ on standard difficulties, but again this is more a narrative wrapped around a game than a Dark Souls style challenge to be defeated. The scope of the story being told here is breathtaking, and perhaps the most ambitious of any game ever told. If one leaves Infinite sure of themselves or their reality then they have missed the point.
Booker and Elizabeth are the most interesting protagonists of the series, and finally playing a character who speaks lends towards immersion greatly – less so a blank canvas carrying us throughout the story and more a presence within the world, the characters of Infinite feel alive and present in a way few other games, bar those made by Naughty Dog, often even attempts.
Also included are the two story DLC packs (as well as some single player survival challenges), and these help round out the narrative as a whole. While first time players may struggle to reconcile Infinite as a part of Bioshock at first, by the time the credits roll on the DLC, the transformation is complete, finishing the loop and tying the package together, ready to be explored and experienced and lost in all over again, with lessons learned and new perspectives gathered.
Bioshock: The Collection will make you think. About what it means to be a player, about how one man can effect the world around him, about the limits of objectivity and patriotism and the all too easy corruption of seemingly positive and optimistic ideals. It is a collection vital to anyone who considers themselves a gamer in any sense of the word. Would you kindly pick it up?