By Andy Humphreys
If you’ve had even a passing interest in video gaming over the last decade, you will have no doubt heard of the Bioshock series. Each game had critics raving, and even today they are frequently mentioned among the best of all time.
And now there’s Bioshock: The Collection, a bundle bringing together all three games, remastered and optimized for the current generation of hardware.
There’s never been a better time to return to Rapture (or Columbia in the case of Bioshock: Infinite), or, if you’re yet to experience the series, a better time to discover these stone-cold classics for the very first time.
But don’t just go back because I say so. Do it for…
…the graphical overhaul.
All three of the games have been fiddled with to varying degrees, and optimized to run like butter on modern machines. Bioshock appears to have been given the most drastic treatment, with textures, lighting and resolution amongst the elements receiving an upgrade. Bioshock 2 has increased fidelity too, but the tweaks seem surface-level, and in many ways the sequel now looks inferior to its predecessor. Infinite, the most recent game, has understandably been given the least attention, the version here being essentially the PC release on high-end settings. An increased resolution is your reward, along with a smoother frame-rate.
Yes, the quality of the remaster is a little uneven across the three games, but the key thing here is that everything looks as good as you remember. It would be difficult to revisit, say, the original Bioshock nowadays and see past the blurry textures and muddy lighting to the brilliant game within. These upgrades allow the games to be experienced as they should be, for new and returning players alike.
…the director’s commentary.
The original Bioshock has not only received the most graphical attention. Inserted into the game are film reels that, when discovered, unlock nuggets of developers commentary describing the game’s progression from its original inception, through the development process, and to release. These videos are invaluable to obsessive fans of the series, and of games in general, giving a rare and genuine insight into the making of a top-tier title.
Sure, it’s disappointing that this treatment doesn’t extent to the other games in the collection, but it’s perhaps best to think of the commentary’s inclusion as merely the cherry on top of an already tasty (and particularly jam-packed) cake.
…the beautiful design.
The undersea metropolis of Rapture itself is surely the most well-realised, most conceptually complete environment ever designed within a game. Every corridor, every room, feels absolutely tangible in its sense of place and convincing history. Some of this is due to technical mastery, some of it is the superb sound, but the real stand out is the art design, which is truly phenomenal, and at the time really redefined what can be achieved in a modern AAA game. Although influences can clearly be identified, nothing feels generic -- the setting, the enemies, the presentation -- it’s the originality that sticks with you.
And after Rapture was revisited and expanded upon by new team 2K Marin in Bioshock 2, the return of Irrational to the series prompted the move to a new setting, with the developers defying expectations by bravely leaving behind the comfort of their painstakingly-created oceanic opus, and creating a new setting for Bioshock: Infinite. Columbia.
The developers deftly showed that Rapture was not a fluke by once again creating that tangible sense of place that was so perfect in the first games, only this time in an incredible city-amongst-the-clouds. Whereas Rapture’s beauty lies in its peeling paint and claustrophobic corridors, Columbia’s feeling of open space is what drops the jaw; a glistening, fallen utopia that not only feels amazing to explore, but necessitates a significant change in play-style from the first two games.
Why hasn’t anyone made this into a movie yet? You’ll think, not for the first time.
…the chance to play differently.
The original Bioshock and its first sequel famously gave the player an agonizing choice: Option #1, free the enslaved little sisters and receive a small boost to your ADAM reserves, along with a much larger boost to your general sense of well-being; Option #2, mercilessly harvest the poor little things and toss them casually aside for a much greater power-boost and a big ol’ heap of dick points.
You saved all those little scamps the first time didn’t you? And you slept soundly in the knowledge that you did the right thing. Good for you.
But that knowledge never stopped you wondering just what sort of god you’d have become if you’d harvested all those kids instead of saving them. So what if this time you did exactly that? Played the game the mean way?
And if you harvested on your first run-through…well firstly, what the hell is wrong with you!? And also, if you want, you could always sample life as a decent human being for once, and save the children. You monster.
…the grown-up story.
The Bioshock games have often been praised for their exploration of truly adult themes, something that is still far from commonplace in modern videogames. This maturity of storytelling is made possible not only through the excellent script, but also the supreme quality of the voice acting throughout.
In the original game, themes of individualism and objectivism are explored, whilst this is spun on its head in Bioshock 2, where closet-commie Sofia Lamb, the game’s main antagonist, imposes a collectivist philosophy on the crazies still kicking around in Rapture.
Infinite tackles themes of racism, nationalism, and American exceptionalism (themes that have never been more relevant than at present), and is particularly celebrated by many for its non-committal, ambiguous ending, which, despite leaving some cold, is nonetheless a commendable attempt to bring something which is commonplace in movies to the gaming industry.
…all the extras.
The one missing element amongst this collection -- Bioshock 2’s multiplayer -- the omission of which may irk some but was never really the focus of the game, is made up for by the presence of the entire catalogue of extra story content that was released for the games.
None of this DLC is bad, and much of it is truly great (Infinite’s excellent Burial at Sea immediately springs to mind as a standout), and if you never got around to playing it the first time around, there’s never been a better time. Because more Bioshock can in no way be a bad thing.
So there’s a lot going for these games, its fair to say. But Bioshock as a series is far more than a simple summation of its (admittedly incredible) component parts. There’s real alchemy at work here. What really stands out, and, what has ultimately allowed the series to endure and will continually do so for years to come, is the ever-present feeling that from the first moment of the original game to the close of the third, Bioshock was made by people who truly cared.
And boy, does it show.