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Review: ‘Bioshock: The Collection’

Three ‘Bioshock’ games are revamped and re-released -- with mixed results -- for a new generation of gamers.

Developer: Blind Squirrel Games

Publisher: 2K Games

Release Date: September 13th, 2016

NOTE: Bioshock: The Collection was played on the PlayStation 4

This current generation of consoles has seen its fair share of remasters and remakes. Ratchet and Clank, the upcoming Return to Arkham, The Uncharted Collection and the re-released and up-scaled versions of Resident Evil 4, 5 & 6 – just to name a few. Bioshock 1 & 2 and Bioshock: Infinite have now been re-released and revamped for newer players who missed the Bioshock games last generation and older fans of the franchise that have been entrenched since 2007. And while the three games still retain what made them great, including the upgrade to 60 Frames Per Second and 1080p resolution, the Collection highlights questionable design decisions across the three games.

Bioshock 1 (2007) starts with the player character – simply referred to as Jack – surviving a plane crash after landing in the ocean. He comes across a lighthouse that takes him to the underwater city of Rapture. Rapture has separated itself from any moral or ethical restrictions on science or the arts and is headed by Andrew Ryan, who channels Uncle Walt one minute and a fascist dictator the next. You come into the city as it’s in rapid decline. The environments and ambiance of Rapture are still testaments to why Bioshock has been so prevalent in the industry 10 years later. The city of Rapture runs on ADAM, which comes from a magic slug at the bottom of the ocean. Powered by EVE (no, really, that’s in the game), the denizens of Rapture have spiraled into insanity and aggression.

The player indulges in Plasmids – magic powers like freezing, lightning, and fire – and each can interact with the environment in different ways. Light an oil slick on fire and set your enemies ablaze. Or charge a pool of water and electrocute a group of foes. The final pieces of the Rapture biome are the Little Sisters and the Big Daddies. Little Sisters gather ADAM and the Big Daddies protect them. Combating a Big Daddy is still as riveting and challenging as it was ten years ago but the binary choice system on whether the player kills or saves the little girls has not aged well. The first time, when a Little Sister crawls away from you with no Big Daddy to protect her, is still a powerful image but you’re left “gaming” the system on how powerful you become or what kind of ending that you want. It undermines the importance of that choice each and every time you fell a Big Daddy.

The Collection’s newest addition is a set of film reels that play developer’s commentary from director, Ken Levine, and lead artist, Shawn Robertson. While these can be watched outside of the main game, they are horribly intrusive into the experience – especially for a first time player. While the game does warn you about potential spoilers, it’s jarring for a game to essentially celebrate how great it is. It’s also incredibly irritating to place the responsibility on the player to collect all of the film reels throughout such an expansive world. These developer docs are strewn about the three games but they are particularly shameless in Bioshock 1

Bioshock 2 (2010) – considered by many to be the black sheep of the Bioshock series – has the player stepping into the shoes of a Big Daddy who is searching for his own Little Sister. While the premise of Bioshock 2 is more “game-y” than the rest, it improved in gameplay application. The most noticeable of these improvements is that the player is able to use the aforementioned plasmids and weapons at the same time rather than separately. This evolution of gameplay allows the player to experiment more with the given set of tools. Bioshock 2’s more tedious additions, such as defending Little Sisters that you can adopt and defend as they acquire ADAM for you, are less welcome but the importance of the gameplay improvements cannot be emphasized enough. Bioshock 2’s multiplayer hasn’t returned for this outing so that’s one of the more disappointing features of the collection, although the addition of the excellent Minerva’s Den DLC does soften the blow.

Bioshock: Infinite takes place in the aerial city of Columbia - an emancipated city that saw the Founding Father’s as Gods – led by Father Comstock. The player takes control of Booker Dewitt who has been instructed to “bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.” The city of Columbia is not nearly as interesting as Rapture as it often feels like you are visiting a museum rather than interacting with a world. Characters talk to Booker but the player never directly has any agency and what agency they do have is borderline meaningless and trivial, such as what kind of frivolous jewelry your magical companion will wear. However, the art design is certainly noteworthy as there are posters all over Columbia shops and boutiques that echo the American Exceptionalism that permeates Bioshock: Infinite.

Elizabeth is the Rapunzel of Bioshock: Infinite and she has power beyond the scope of imagination for the characters. But she is too much of a Disney princess to be believable. A social recluse would be more apprehensive when meeting new people but the first thing she does once out of her prison is dance with strangers. Her character does reflect the murderous Booker and evolve over the story but the initial introduction was rushed. She does aid in combat though as she will often throw Booker health, ammo and even money. Elizabeth is very proficient in only bringing in specific items from other realities but can’t seem to make a door or a flanking position with her powers. It feels like phenomenal, cosmic, power and strict limitations, if we’re sticking with the Disney theme. Her intimidating, flying monstrosity known as The Songbird always feels like its purpose was undermined sometime during the development process. He appears a handful of times as a poorly executed Deus Ex Machina and then concludes with a very dreary climax.

The gameplay of Bioshock: Infinite is, at most exciting, but at worst is confusing and nonsensical. It’s perplexing, to me at least, why 2/3 of the Bioshock games give the player a slew of options while Bioshock: Infinite is reduced to a two weapon limit. The weapon upgrade system fails in this respect because you’re often moving to new areas that may not have ammo for your upgraded guns. The hacking in Infinite was also removed and replaced with a Plasmid rather than working to improve it in the way that Bioshock 2 had. Rather than work to improve upon aspects that were weaknesses in the previous games, Bioshock: Infinite was designed to get rid of aspects and make certain parts even worse such as fighting a literal ghost towards the end of the game.

For the price of a full retail release game, you can certainly do worse than the Bioshock Collection. The Bioshock games ooze ambiance and atmosphere, even if certain design decisions may not always hit the mark. The gameplay is fun and strategic, rewarding the more thoughtful players and the performances are top notch across the board.