Remasters seem to arrive with a frightfully quickening pace this generation, with games that are less than half a decade old making the leap to a new console generation simply because the hardware held them back at the time (though there are some straight up attempts to claw back money with little effort). It’s fair to say the further the distance between original and remaster the better, because there’s always more things to improve from earlier titles. See Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune in the Uncharted Collection last year for how. Irrational Games and 2K’s Bioshock: The Collection also features a first title in a series that would welcome an overhaul to keep it more mechanically in-line with its successors (though it’s already a very good game), but does it get that treatment? Not really. It does however, look nicer.
Related: Watch the Bioshock: The Collection trailer
BioShock Remastered: Welcome (Back) To Rapture!
Bioshock is easily one of the breakout stars of the last generation; an offshoot of the PC classic System Shock series that went on to eclipse its origins with its impact on gaming culture. Bioshock and its subsequent sequels were/are smarter the average game for storytelling -both through the environment and the usual audio narrative channels- and remain great examples of games with a sense of place to this day. I have fond memories of the underappreciated Bioshock 2, and fell in love with Columbia, the city in the sky that houses Bioshock Infinite’s tale, but there’s been a glaring hole in my Bioshock appreciation.
Until now, I had never completed the original Bioshock, despite having finished its successors. I’m of course aware of the twisting narrative, and perhaps my knowledge of its then jaw-dropping story revelations and oft-quoted dialogue served to prevent me from being all that fussed with it. I have, however, played the first 20-30 minutes on several occasions. That opening is incredibly strong after all, as it features that famous descent to Rapture. Quite why it took until a remastered version came along nearly a decade later for me to get past that opening segment is my own personal mystery.
Bioshock has had quite the visual upgrade here. It sits comfortably as a PS4 title without being a consistently jaw-dropping visual feast. It’s competent to the point where the whole package is so gleefully vibrant and visceral that you only truly notice the age of it during a couple of cutscene interactions where depth of field is grossly misinformed and the animation is horrendously awkward.
Otherwise, Rapture remains a masterclass in world-building. There’s a depth of detail to the underwater city that shames many games half its age. You’ve arrived at a time where Rapture’s decay is very much present, and visually, Irrational ensure you know all about it. Eye-catching hints and clues to violent power struggles, and the EVE-fuelled descent in madness of Rapture’s population litter the Neon-soaked city, telling a story without a single word being uttered. Indeed, your interactions with the Little Sisters and their now iconic protectors, the Big Daddy, speak volumes from just watching them in action. A heartbreaking story of companionship and paternal bonds between a Hulking brute and a frail yet dangerous waif, founded through manipulation and experimentation that is expanded upon excellently in the sequel.
When you do hear the story of Rapture via recordings and expositional dialogue from other characters, it’s just as rich. Sure, the story is nothing truly original when you apply it to the realms beyond videogames, but it’s how that story is told using the medium that makes it work so effectively. It’s the very reason it sticks in the minds of so many as a good example of strong storytelling in videogames. It certainly does a fine job of masking the less desirable aspects of the game.
Yes, Bioshock stands up well, snazzy graphical upgrade or not, for several reasons, but the actual mechanics of it remain the weakest part, and sadly, no effort was made to try and bring it in line with the mechanically superior Bioshock 2. It’s not awful, just an underwhelming and occasionally frustrating setup for a game that involves a fair bit of shooting.
Elsewhere, the ‘boss’ battles are largely laughable encounters that damage the fine work the storied history you’re given beforehand has done to build up these people as intriguing individuals with motivations and beliefs. The final battle is up there with the Joker fight from Arkham Asylum for clunky shoehorning, and it’s not like it’s all that memorable beyond the obvious imagery it brings up.
It’s part of a strange problem with videogames as a medium that hasn’t been shaken in the sequels, nor in a vast majority of games since the birth of story-driven games. The issue of trying to be mature thematically, while getting it tangled up the false maturity of excessive violence and gunplay to validate it is still a problem now, and one that doesn’t necessarily hamper enjoyment of a game, but it sure does waste potential. It’s all well and good bringing Ayn Rand’s ideas into your videogame, but the balance perhaps needed to be a little less in favour of clunky gun-toting bloodshed to get the full impact. At least with the original Bioshock you can accept this has more to do with ambition meeting the norm, and finding something close to a compromise at a time where what was considered ‘good’ storytelling in games wasn’t a particularly high bar to aim for. Still, Bioshock tried, and mostly succeeded where countless others had and would fail.
Bioshock 2: Average remaster, great game.
Bioshock 2 next. It gets a bad rep, but as the years go by, it begins to get more of an appreciation, with some quarters arguing it might be the best Bioshock of all. I’m not one of those people, but Bioshock 2 was the first in the series I finished, and I thoroughly enjoyed the viewpoint of a progenitor Big Daddy, and with the original Bioshock now completed, it adds a layer to the story of Big Daddies and Little Sisters that enriches the lore of the entire series massively. It also manages to give some validity to the use of weaponry and violence because the character type and its motivations are established somewhat from the first game. You are a protector, a creation that was once entirely a man, but now caught somewhere between humanity and slavery. The introduction of the Big Sisters is something that works well too. A more sly, aggressive, and nimble counterpart to the diving suit behemoths, managing to make even you, a Big Daddy, feel inferior and intimidated.
The combat got an upgrade for Bioshock 2 as well. Rather than fiddling between your plasmid-riddled left hand and gun toting right, you could now dual-wield, a great mercy on the middling combat from the original. It’s still a bit at odds with the game it’s in, but easily manageable.
As for improvements? Well Bioshock 2 appears to be adorned with the least care. It’s competently upscaled for the current generation, but not close to the other two games in the collection. On the upside, it features the Minerva’s Den story DLC, a slice of Bioshock that’s utterly essential stuff.
Bioshock Infinite remaster brings color and depth
Finally then, to Bioshock Infinite, a curious beast that rode into existence of waves of praise and adulation, before eventually being battered by criticism for an inconsistent tone and general smartypants smugness. The truth of it is somewhere in between of course. Infinite’s mind-bending story is quite affecting in places, and utterly compelling for larger swathes. Infinite’s floating city of Columbia is a frankly fantastic place to be in, mashing jingoistic Americana with a steampunk retrotech, and more than a smidgen of organised religion.
The remaster is surprisingly good if you’ve not been on the PC version. It bathes the city in sumptuous color and detail, making that opening ascent into the clouds feel fresh, and as a result the place feels more open to exploration. I’ve been through that opening calm twice before, but I felt compelled to wander it far more this time round. I love the design and history of Rapture, but Columbia just has something for me that outstrips it. I still feel it’s a shame you don’t get to see more of a pre-chaos Columbia, but it does remain a pretty interesting locale throughout.
Enemies are a little more hit n’ miss than the previous Bioshock titles. The darkly beautiful design of the likes of the Firemen and the Songbird are easy standouts, but the lesser foes are largely unmemorable, while the major antagonist, Comstock, is not quite as effective as the Ryan character in Bioshock.
Infinite is the best of the three games as a shooter, refining that dual-wield mechanic from the second game and generally being a bit snappier, albeit a little dull in places. The Vigors are inventive enough to separate from Bioshock’s Plasmids too, somehow being a bit more grim.
The failings of Infinite remain of course, it’s narrative is ambitious, but scattershot in delivery. That in turn effects a plot that jumps from time and place with regularity. When Infinite hits its notes the game sings with songs of excellence, but when the bum notes arrive, the game slows to a crawl of bullets and blood, leaving you begging for the next set piece proper to arrive. Protagonist Booker De Witt is a bit of a damp squib at times, coming off second best with any interaction with leading lady Elizabeth Comstock. The story flows through Booker too often, when it should be revolving around him.
As with Bioshock 2, the most interesting part of Infinite now is the DLC. Burial at Sea Pt 1 and 2 caps off the Bioshock series under Irrational Games’ tutelage in fine fashion.
Bioshock: The Collection Review – Final Word
Bioshock: The Collection is a decent remastered set of three very good games and some of the finest story DLC of the past decade. Your mileage from that entirely depends on the time you’ve previously invested in the series. There’s little new here for veterans except for an insightful commentary track and the ease of having all three games readily packaged together.