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  • Writer's pictureJames Stephanie Sterling

BioShock: The Collection Review – Why Even Ask?

Would you ADAM and EVE it?

Developer: 2K Marin, Blind Squirrel Games (remaster), Irrational Games Publisher: 2K Games Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One Released: September 13, 2016 Copy provided by publisher

It’s become somewhat fashionable to deride BioShock in some sectors of the world, to claim it wasn’t actually very good, a recipient of undue praise from easily swayed simpletons.

I’m happy to report it’s not a stance I agree with. BioShock is nine years old, but returning to Rapture after all this time still feels new. The world crafted around it, the environmental interactions, and the inventive toys on offer work to create an experience that still hasn’t been adequately mimicked by any other series.

The BioShock Collection brings BioShock, BioShock 2, and BioShock Infinite together with enhanced graphics that run at sixty frames-per-second. Downloadable content is included as standard, including season pass bonuses for Infinite and the critically acclaimed add-on campaigns, Minerva’s Den and Burial At Sea.

Surprising nobody, the multiplayer portion of BioShock 2 is nowhere to be seen. So much for chasing that gravy train.

From a sheer content perspective, the collection is a steal. The three main games have enough between them for tons of entertainment, and that’s before the additional chapters are considered. I’ve been going through everything since launch and, a week later, have plenty left to do.

BioShock is, of course, the first port of call – an undeniable classic of the last generation. Despite retrospective sneering it remains a hugely enthralling game with ideas that remain inventive in an increasingly uninspired “AAA” marketplace.

Rapture itself was BioShock‘s greatest achievement – a place bursting with its own personality where highly advanced technology stood in stark contrast to the 1940s aesthetic. Even outside its deconstructive allusion to objectivist ideals, Rapture was a masterclass in worldbuilding from a sheer visual standpoint – every aspect of the environment was crafted with such attention to detail and stylistic boldness that it created too many memorable locations to name.

BioShock has aged supremely well for a game almost a decade old. In fact, its biggest problems are not so much down to age as they are questionable control schemes that were a little bit “off” even for the time.

Later games would allow for plasmids and guns to be wielded at the same time, one in each hand, but BioShock requires a less efficient swapping of arms every time the player needed to go from genetic enhancement to conventional weaponry. Furthermore, the tile-based hacking minigame is tedious and far too frequent.

So much else seen in BioShock, however, simply remains so successfully unique to the series that many aspects of the original game feel like they could have been seen for the first time yesterday.

The way elemental effects play into the environment is expertly realized. Controlling enemy Splicers by setting them alight and then frying nearby water with an Electro Shock plasmid when they jump in to douse the flames? It’s almost a cliche to bring it up now but that’s only because it’s still so good and has rarely been attempted elsewhere.

With the use of such abilities as fireballs and telekinetic attacks, Rapture’s trap-laden environment is a devious playground full of stuff to throw, burn, and hack in order to turn a hostile world upon its inhabitants.

BioShock‘s story, in retrospect, suffers from a lack of subtlety that would come to plague later installments in the series. While not so bad here, its themes of extremism and references to the work of Ayn Rand aren’t so much on-the-nose as they are a sledgehammer to the face of the audience.

Despite its blatancy and exaggerated characters, however, BioShock nonetheless provides a fascinating world full of unforgettable antagonists. From the generic Splicers to the likes of homicidal artist Sander Cohen, everyone oozes personality. Even things as simple as turrets, jury rigged from engines and office chairs, offer a glimpse into the history and mindset of Rapture’s broken populace.

Time will cause one’s opinion of most things to degrade, but BioShock is still a damn strong production that holds a firm place in my heart. Inventive, evocative, and host to one of the best twists in gaming, it’s still more than worth playing today.

BioShock 2 is, mechanically, a far better game than its predecessor, despite not achieving the same iconic reputation. As Subject Delta, players step into the clunking boots of a Big Daddy, a prototype version of BioShock‘s intimidating Little Sister guardians, in a Rapture overtaken by Andrew Ryan’s foil – the socialist cult leader Sofia Lamb.

2K Marin’s sequel struggled to make itself fit into the canon, retroactively shoehorning Lamb into Rapture’s history.

While it weakly handwaves the idea that Ryan tried to remove evidence of her existence, it’s still quite a leap to believe she was some huge part of city life – big enough to where she’d have impassioned public debates against the city’s own founder – despite us having never heard of her even a little.

There are a lot of things Ryan tried to bury in the first game, yet we still find dozens of audio logs providing evidence of them.

Had Lamb been introduced as a new figure, rising up to take advantage of Ryan’s fall, her presence would have been less of a noticeable issue. The retrofitting, however, only cements how narratively unnecessary the game was, clawing at relevance and justification.

Nevertheless, it’s a lot more enjoyable to simply play.

Gameplay is faster, with quicker access to plasmids and a hacking system that takes a fraction of the time it did in BioShock. The plasmids themselves have evolved to include additional effects when upgraded rather than just doing more damage, leading to such things as bee-ridden corpse traps and sustained sprays of lightning.

BioShock 2 offers new weapons, many of which can create their own traps on floors and walls – allowing players to surround themselves with death while they adopt Little Sisters and hold their ground against the Splicers that mean to kidnap them.

It says something of videogames as a medium that I can find a sequel wholly unwarranted and still be glad it exists. Replaying BioShock 2 for the first time since it released, I can only appreciate it even more and I’m happy it was made despite my protests at the time.

If nothing else, the drill is something I really would love to see again. Few weapons are as delightful to wield as that heavy spinning bastard.

BioShock Infinite is the third – currently final – main installment in the series, and the years have seen it become a divisive entry. While it was heavily praised at the time, it took only a few weeks after launch for the backlash to occur.

Game critics especially, those who did not review it at launch, were almost gleeful in their takedowns of the game. I recall more than a few instances of combative social media activity from pundits who were determined to fight about how bad they thought the game was, antagonistic without provocation.

One critic, who I otherwise admire, said they’d think less of any other reviewer who liked the game. It exemplified the attitude of the time – Infinite brought the smugness out of a lot of people, often the same people who abused the term “ludonarrative dissonance”, a term that itself was coined erroneously, to write off the game without applying critical thought to it.

This is not to say BioShock Infinite is untouchable. There are many charges it can be brought up on, not least its culmination of the series’ “both sides are just as bad” leanings that led to some very unfortunate implications when the “sides” in question were racists and the victims of racism.

Infinite applied the same sledgehammer used in previous games to far more sensitive subjects, subjects its writers were not perhaps best equipped to deal with. With its Klansman caricatures and awkward, cartoonishly allegorical imagery, BioShock Infinite is a game that so earnestly wanted to say something about the social issues it brought up but didn’t quite know what to say once it took the opportunity.

When it isn’t stumbling over cultural non-commentary however, Infinite is one hell of a ride. As BioShock 2 improved over BioShock, so too does this Irrational-helmed chapter feel faster and more efficient than its predecessor, with high speed combat that emphasises quick thinking and more aggressive playstyles than before.

The vigors, BioShock Infinite‘s totally-not-plasmid abilities, range from conventional fireballs and lightning bolts to waves of murderous crows that blast from one’s hand and combat tentacles that can pull enemies and keep them bound in watery traps. They’re a lot of fun to mess with and upgrade.

Columbia serves as the backdrop, a visually stunning city in the sky with a Stepford air about it, a fantastically crafted blend of twee merriment and underlying nastiness. While not as arresting as Rapture, Columbia is still an amazing place to explore, and its bright golds against blue skies looks utterly gorgeous in remastered form.

The meat of the game’s story, playing with multiverse theory and offering an extensively detailed timeline of events, has come under fire over the years for being contrived and even nonsensical. I can’t say I share the same view. Maybe I’ve just watched too much Rick & Morty in the years since, but I love the game’s premise and ending, and certainly don’t think it’s particularly difficult to follow.

In fact, I’d argue the twists and plot leaps in the original BioShock could be seen as far more convoluted than Infinite, which relies a lot less on luck-based, highly complex gambits to explain itself.

The frothing joy with which some people put down Infinite appears to have dissipated, but it remains a somewhat controversial entry with a large share of detractors. Going through the game once more, I can see the point of those who bother to offer actual criticisms, but I remain a big fan, and still believe it was one of the finest games to come out of 2013 – itself a pretty damn good year for games overall.

The BioShock Collection‘s remastering does a fine job of bringing each game up to par. Already beautiful games thanks to rich art direction, the extra details and polish have kept them looking right at home next to modern releases. The original game’s weird glitchy physics have been fixed to a significant degree with items no longer appearing as if stop-motion when moved, and all three games run smoother than they did before.

Sadly, a number of bugs and problems still manifest across all three games and their DLC expansions. Framerates aren’t consistent, sometimes dropping or stuttering in certain areas, while corpses often ragdoll at a noticeably lower rate. I’ve had some instances of doors not opening and forcing me to reload a checkpoint, as well as prompts remaining onscreen long after I’ve performed the actions they were prompting.

There’s nothing here that breaks the game, just several minor annoyances that nonetheless occur frequently enough to warrant mention. Oh, and it wouldn’t have killed anybody to allow one to select between BioShock and BioShock 2 within the collection’s main menu, rather than force one to quit the application when switching.

And another thing… that lengthy slew of pre-game corporate logos is a total drain on my patience.

With three great games and additional content that some would say is even better, The BioShock Collection is worth picking up for pretty much anybody interested, be they existing fans of totally fresh to the series. Despite some annoyances, each game runs better and looks better than ever before, and the content to price ratio is more than favorable.

Also, this is how you write a BioShock review without any memetic references to that Andrew Ryan monolog.

8.5/10 Great


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