Welcome Back to Rapture.
I’m willing to wager that for many gamers, the BioShock series is not only about visiting the underwater city of Rapture, but also about being submerged in its big ideas. Most are aware that the city‘s founder, Andrew Ryan, is a not so subtle fictional, gender-swapped version of real-life Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand, yet how many have actually read her novels, The Fountainhead or Atlas, Shrugged? (I haven’t because, well, have you seen the size of those books? Yikes!)
Still, as one who’s played the original BioShock several times—and couldn’t wait to replay all three titles with The Collection‘s newer, prettier 1080p/60fps sheen—I feel like I know all there is to know about what’s right (and wrong) about Ayn Rand’s way of looking at the world when pushed to its extreme.
And that’s the thing. BioShock is so good, so pervasive at whipping players into a frenzy that it's entirely possible that after the game’s twenty-hour campaign, players might think they could actually teach Philosophy 101 at the local community college. Obviously, they'd be wrong to even attempt this, but could anyone really fault them for not wanting to be constrained by such petty requirements like a teaching certificate or other such nonsense? Clearly, Andrew Ryan himself would reject such notions.
If there’s one thing that to be learned from our time with plasmids, Little Sisters, and Big Daddies, it’s that ambition and the expectations that come from such a feeling often comes up short in the real world. (Or even in a game, like BioShock‘s much criticized final boss stage.) With that in mind, if you’re new to the series, stop what you’re doing and buy this for your Xbox One or PS4. The original is a masterpiece of atmosphere, design, and, yes, ideas. BioShock 2 isn't as stellar as the originla game, but it’s still a solid game overall. Infinite, the third, is an incredible adventure that is both true to the spirit of the first while wholly it’s own thing.
Along with the visual upgrade (more on that in a moment), all the DLC has been added along with a new fetch quest in BioShock that gives players access to a sort of developer commentary by way of collecting "Golden Reels." (Fellow GameRevolutionary Jeb Haught wrote a guide about this here.) But before going into each specific titles, fans who have played Bioshock on the last generation of consoles should know that the $59.99 price tag is worth it. You’ve never seen the original look this good…
Most of the much-hyped remastering or tweaking (or whatever you want to call it) work was done on the first game, and it was well worth it. I never noticed a frame dip (ahem, BioShock 2) as I explored Rapture for my fifth time. Even the load screens are gorgeous with their accompanying rich, saturated red or green leather-bound textures that are like some idealized image of a novel from a mid-20th century library. From the marble floors, the gold-plated doors, and especially all that Art Deco, Bioshock is a treat for the eyes. In actuality, the polygon count here is lower than other modern games, but I can’t imagine anyone complaining about this rendition of underwater hell.
The only thing that sort of felt dated was the field of vision. As you use your right stick to look up at the glass ceiling after leaving the first bathysphere, the composition definitely appears narrower than new shooters do. It’s not a big deal, but it is noticeable. In terms of remastering, this is more of a cleaning up of the original than what transpired when Nintendo remade Majora’s Mask for 3DS from the ground up.
From what I can tell, this remake is still based on the original code, but treated with the most up-to-date graphics processing available in 2016. The closest game I can think to compare itto is that PS4 remastering of The Last of Us Remastered. Running at 60fps (which should be standard by now but isn’t) is a real treat. The greenery in Arcadia’s tea garden has just as lush a look as the overgrown plants in Joel and Ellie’s journey. Visually, Rapture has always been a world steeped in deep blacks contrasted by neon-lit neon surfaces like the metallic vending machines of the Gatherer’s Garden or the Circus of Values. Overall, I can’t think of any real criticisms. This is a stellar, near-perfect version of one the best games of all time. (5/5)
The best reason to boot up the sequel is to see just how good BioShock looks by comparison. With muted colors, frame issues, and very obvious lower-rezzed cut-scenes, BioShock 2 is the game that 2K needed to include, but clearly didn’t want to put any money in.
It’s a shame since, while the game did get a mixed reaction upon release, the BioShock follow-up is a solid effort, featuring a “still fun to be in Rapture” tale in which players take on the role of a Big Daddy. Kevin Levine, the original and Infinite‘s creative director, was absent from this production, but the developers at 2K Marin did a good job and deserved a little more polish for the current generation.
Note: Multiplayer has been removed, but I don’t see that as a major debit. (3.5/5)
Okay, I love Infinite. A new city located up high in the clouds, Columbia is more watercolor lush than the neon menace in the original. Booker DeWitt and Lady Elizabeth could give Joel and Ellie a run for best videogame pairing ever. The way Kevin Levine and his team delved deeper into American politics with a setting that didn’t shy away from early 20th-century racism is to be applauded. And unlike BioShock, Infinite sticks the landing by way of a fantastic finale.
So how’s the remaster? Well, it’s essentially the PC version so it looks and plays a tad better than the 2013 PS3/Xbox 360 versions. I could tell early on as I made my way around the city that movement felt smoother, and there was no screen tearing even when chaos ensued at the town fair. (4.5/5)
As for extras that are included in BioShock: The Collection, BioShock is featured with Museum of Orphaned Concepts which was on the previous PS3 version, and the new director’s commentary in the form of golden reels. BioShock 2 has Minerva’s Den and Protector Trials DLC. BioShock Infinite has all episodic add-on content and weapon backs.
If you are a PS4 or Xbox One owner, Bioshock: The Collection should be in your, um, collection, whether in the 2-disc physical format or digital download. Unfortunately, I’ve read reports that the PC version has issues. (Like bad ones.) As such PC players should wait for the (fingers crossed) eventual patches.