2007 was a booming year for the games industry. Microsoft was still riding high on the coattails of Master Chief thanks to Halo 3, while Ubisoft’s unrelenting marketing campaign paid dividends, with Assassin’s Creed quickly becoming a household name. Meanwhile, Activision forever changed the landscape of online gaming thanks to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and families worldwide doubled their dosage of Nintendo with both the DS and the Wii. It’s hard to imagine that Bioshock even stood a chance.
And yet, despite being up against fierce competition, Irrational Games’ spiritual successor to the System Shock series, which had lain dormant for the better part of a decade, secured its place as the must-have game of the season. From the moment we first clasped our eyes on the underwater city of Rapture, to that sucker punch of a plot twist that sneaks up on you like a splicer wearing a bunny mask, Bioshock deserved every iota of praise that was showered upon it by critics and fans alike. So, just shy of its ten year anniversary, what lingering secrets are left to discover amidst the buried ruins of the Bioshock universe?
The answer is surprisingly few, despite Blind Squirrel Games’ best attempts to give us good reason to return to Rapture nine years down the line. Featuring all three games from one of the best series’ in recent memory, Bioshock: The Collection is a must have for anyone coming into the franchise fresh. As for the rest of us, while a remastered update of the original game would be a welcome addition to any game collection, there’s little else to draw you back into this world other than pure nostalgia and great value for money.
Like a plasmid straight to the veins, Bioshock understandably has been given the biggest dose of remastering magic as far as this collection is concerned. Sure, it looks dated compared to current-gen heavyweights, but it’s a small price to pay just to see this game running at full capacity. Glossy and smooth, Rapture still holds its own as a place made up of equal parts horror and wonder, thanks to a higher resolution and superior frame rate. Despite some minor performance errors, Bioshock is still aesthetically stunning and exploring the vibrant, bloodied, art-deco corridors of this underwater nightmare in full high-def reminds you just how much detail had gone into crafting this utterly unique setting.
As soothing as it is to feel the memories come flooding back, you can’t escape the fact that beneath the surface, this is the same Bioshock that we saw back in 2007. Aside from the easter egg hunt that consists of seeking out hidden director’s commentary showreels littered around Rapture, you’ll know exactly which path to follow from the moment you step out of the bathysphere. Make no mistake, it’s a welcome trip down memory lane that reintroduces us to familiar faces such as the maniacal Andrew Ryan, the volatile Atlas, the creepy Little Sisters and the monstrous Big Daddies, all as intriguing and scary as they were nine years ago. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the gameplay, which is now beginning to show its age. Fumbling between weapons and plasmids lacks the fluidity we’ve come to expect from modern shooters - something that would be rectified in both sequels.
Often overlooked as the black sheep in the Bioshock family, Bioshock 2 didn’t live up to the high expectations set by its older brother when it was released in 2010. Headed up by 2K Marin rather than Irrational Games back in the day, this game on paper should have stood on its own two feet rather than being relegated to the shadows. Playing as a Big Daddy from the get-go introduced dual wielding gunplay to the series, a mechanic that now feels sorely missed from the original game. But while technically better in the shooting department, what let Bioshock 2 down was that it couldn’t quite muster the levels of tension and courage that the first visit to Rapture delivered so brilliantly.
The majority of Bioshock 2 takes place eight years after the events of the first game. While the period shift is reflected in its ruggedness, it’s clear that this incarnation of Rapture has not been given the same impressive overhaul as the first game. However, as a sequel it still ticks all the boxes and delves deeper into the mythology of the damned city. Upon its original release, Bioshock 2 also included a multiplayer mode that, despite feeling a little tacked on, still used the series’ narrative to its advantage. Few will mourn its absence from this collection, while others may wonder if this is truly the complete package without it. Thankfully, the one piece of downloadable content that was eventually released for the game, Minvera's Den, is included, and for those who missed it first time will surely give them another reason to return.
Last but certainly not least in the collection is Bioshock Infinite, the most divisive and controversial of the three games. Set somewhat apart from the first two games, the game puts players in the role of former detective Booker DeWitt, who is tasked with rescuing a young woman called Elizabeth from a mysterious city floating in the sky. Released in 2013, Bioshock Infinite was initially showered with praise for its fast-paced gameplay and thought-provoking storyline that delved deep into matters of race, religion and the notion of causality. But the game’s conclusion in particular was what divided people, perplexing and fascinating players alike.
The game was only released a few years ago, so Bioshock Infinite has been given next to none of the remaster treatment that its predecessors have been treated to. But in fairness, it doesn’t really need it. Benefiting once again from better resolution and frame rate, anyone who visited Columbia before on a high-end PC system will see little to differentiate it from this updated console version. But while tonally different from Rapture, that doesn’t make Zachary Comstock’s very own picturesque paradise any less of a joy to explore again. In fact, setting aside the controversial ending, the one downside to Infinite is that we can only wish that the original Bioshock had been remade using the same engine.
To make up for that small niggling point, as with Bioshock 2, this collection also features all of the downloadable content that came subsequently after Infinite. Acting as a bookend to the entire series, Burial at Sea was a two-part expansion played via the perspective of parallel versions of both Booker and Elizabeth, this DLC explored the downfall of Rapture from a new angle, all while further exploring the mind-boggling ending of Infinite. Adding in some stealth elements along the way, Burial at Sea is the icing on the cake, functioning as both a satisfying prelude and epilogue to the series as a whole.
This collection as a whole has some minor technical flaws. Across all three games, frame rate is susceptible to dropping during some of the more explosive firefights. Some of the audio dialogue from the tapes scattered around each game also has a tendency to skip or repeat at random, while at times sound levels will erroneously become jumbled, lowering sound effects such as gunfire and explosions in favour of heightening the background noises. At one point during Burial at Sea, we had to restart the game due to whale noises seemingly drowning out everything else in the game.
This biggest disappointment however is that we’ve seen all of this before. Aside from the additional director’s commentary and an impressive overhaul of the first game, there’s just not enough to distinguish each game from its previous incarnations. It almost makes you feel envious of those coming fresh to the series, who are yet to experience the iconic twists and turns for themselves. But for three fantastic games, Bioshock: The Collection is great value for money, regardless of whether you’re newbie or a veteran to Irrational Games’ masterclass in storytelling. After all, there’s always a man. There’s always a city. There’s always a lighthouse. And there’s always a reason to revisit one of the finest trilogies in the modern gaming.