Simply put, the first BioShock game is one of my all time favourite games, nay experiences in general. I remember playing it on Christmas Day in 2007, a wee young whippersnapper of 14, and instantly falling in love with the world of Rapture. It had it all – not only was it a master class in storytelling and environmental design, but the world building was unlike anything I had ever seen before. You genuinely felt like you had been transported to a metropolis on the bottom of the ocean, which was a difficult thing to achieve with the technical limitations of 10 years ago. I remember one of the big lures for me was hearing that Irrational Games had an entire team of people dedicated to the water effects. Imagine that, a whole team of people on just water! And yes, the water looked sensational. Truth be told, these days you would expect something like that on AAA title, but it was a different time in 2007.
BioShock 2, I also enjoyed, even though it was little more than an topsy turvy rehash of the same thing – Rapture was simply too interesting a place to leave after one game, so I could forgive 2 for lacking some originality.
BioShock Infinite however, was an overwhelming disappointment. It seemed to try too hard to have all those twists and turns of the original, but lacked that gravitas to pull it off. It felt like plot twists for the sake of plot twists, and even then they were guessable from very early on in the game. BioShock had such a simple premise and overall storyline, whereas Infinite struggled to find its own identity and, I think, was left scrambling to recreate the shock and awe of the original, but with less heart. Instead of an underwater city, it was a city in the clouds; instead of a secret son, it was a secret daughter. Unlike BioShock 2 which was quite brazen by its copy/paste approach to game design, Infinite spent so long insisting it was new and interesting, only to go over the same plot twists with a new shiny coating that it left me, personally, numb towards the end. By the time the revelation of ‘There’s always a man, there’s always a city’ came around, it was too little, too late. It could have been so much more, and indeed it should have been. Even the gameplay felt soulless; BioShock had a very clear progression of character abilities that felt intuitive and natural, but Infinite quickly became stagnated.
This review, however, is about The BioShock Collection and more specifically the real focus of the Collection (in my opinion): BioShock. Although Infinite has been left au naturel, the first 2 have been remastered for current gen consoles, and to great effect. It doesn’t match up to a current gen new release game, but it certainly ups the visual game of this marvelous series significantly so that it no longer looks dated or out of place. The textures have been enhanced to add more detail and the lighting looks frankly spectacular, if perhaps a little too dark at times, but where BioShock still shines is in the gameplay. Even now it has so many ideas to keep you hooked all the way through; from the pipe dream hacking mini game to the ingenious combat mechanics, BioShock feels at home on the Xbox One or PS4. Hell, even the research camera is a unique bit of fun; I’ve spent far too much time just wandering around Rapture trying to take photos of all the enemies and max out my research level. Little bits and pieces like that really add to the longevity of the game. For example, if you successfully hack healing units any enemy that uses them will end up being damaged. BioShock excels at giving you an entire world with an enormous amount of gameplay options and just saying ‘Have at it’.
I personally can’t walk pass anything like a turret, or a vending machine, without hacking it. I simply can’t, it just won’t do.
If you’re new to the series, try and go in with as little knowledge as possible. The story is fantastic and there are some moments in it that should be encountered for the first time spoiler-free. The original game is heavily influenced by Ayn Rand’s work, specifically The Fountain Head and Atlas Shrugged, and although the politics of the woman in question may be questionable to say the least, the execution of them in BioShock is truly exceptional.
For me, nostalgia is also a key part of the experience. Yes, if you’re new to the series you’ll love it, but if you played the original it feels extra special, like a secret only you know. When I started playing the BioShock remaster I could vividly remember how I felt the first time through; like when you picked up the shotgun – and the surprise that followed it – or how I felt my heart pounding in my mouth when I picked up an item in the frost filled dentist’s office only to turn around and come face to face with a splicer that was just LOOKING at me. There are so few games that are capable of evoking emotions like that, and it’s a privilege to be able to play through it again without being disappointed at the visual quality, because this game does not deserve disappointment. The art deco environmental design shines even brighter in this remaster.
Another added little gem in the remaster of the original BioShock is the inclusion of Developer Commentary ‘Imagining BioShock’ which is available throughout the game as hidden ‘Golden Reels’. Innocuous in appearance and treated as an Easter Egg, these commentaries take you behind the scenes in a series of interviews between gaming journalist Geoff Keighley, creative director Ken Levine and lead artist Shawn Robertson and show you more about the history and development of the game. They’re both fun and informative – for example, did you know that the voice behind the famous ‘Welcome to the circus of values!’ is none other than Ken Levine himself? Now try and unhear that! – and offer a deeper insight into not just game development in general but the mindset behind the process itself.
The only real downside to the game is the fact that you’re limited to using either plasmids or weapons, not both at the same time which feels clunky and is definitely a sign of the time the game was built in. Unfortunately, it’s unfeasible from a game developers perspective to change this as it it would require such a massive overhaul of the engine it would be like building an entirely new game. Frankly, if they were going to do that i’d rather just have a new installment in the series, so it’s a negligible niggle to have.
Considering that the original BioShock was a game that I thought was pretty damn perfect as it was, it’s astounding that they’ve managed to improve it AND throw in the other 2 games in the series to boot. Although BioShock 2 and BioShock Infinite aren’t as revolutionary as the original, they still merit playing through anyway, even if it’s just for the completionist in you.
Now, would you kindly go buy The BioShock Collection and see for yourself?