The BioShock trilogy is something of an anomaly in the videogame canon. Critically lauded and commercially successful, it’s an FPS franchise with literary aspirations and layered narratives that poses philosophical, societal and political questions to its players while allowing them to blow the hell out of numerous targets.
To a lot of players and critics, it’s a trio of games that elevates the intellectual cache of both the FPS genre and the medium as a whole. In the years since their release, however, the BioShock games have become topics of hot debate. Some critics have called the first BioShock, which became a standard bearer for high-minded fare in the gaming industry, overblown and overrated. Others have called BioShock Infinite, one of the most anticipated games on the last generation, pretentious and reprehensible. Still more have pointed to BioShock 2 being the best of the bunch, even though its initial release was greeted with a lukewarm response.
The fact that this trilogy is such a lightning rod should be enough to attract anyone who hasn’t played it – and really, anyone who hasn’t should stop reading now. The BioShock games are pretty much required reading for videogame fans and The BioShock Collection – which packages all three entries together for current gen platforms – is the best entry point for newbies. Do yourself a favour: if you’ve never played any of these games, buy this compilation. You won’t regret it.
Returning veterans, on the other hand, are faced with a bit of a mixed bag. The three BioShock games contained in this collection offer a paucity of new content for the Cult Of Rapture– and really, is there any other sort of BioShock fan? – and, controversially, the package has removed one of the most played features in one of the games: BioShock 2’s multiplayer. It’s true that when the second installment in this trilogy was released, many players and critics dismissed its online fragfest as surplus requirements, but it became a playground for diehards, so it seems a little unfair that it isn’t included here.
Furthermore, The BioShock Collection’s much-touted visual upgrade only seems to have been applied to the first game. With the exception of some improved lighting effects and a reduction of visual pop-in, BioShock 2 looks pretty much like it did on the last generation of consoles, while BioShock Infinite only seems to have been upgraded to the visual standard it enjoyed on PCs when it was first released.
The first BioShock has received the lion’s share of attention; it was always a good looking game but the subtle touches in visual representation and lighting make a heap of difference. The game’s iconic opening sequence (in which the player descends into the underwater city of Rapture) is simply eye-popping, and there are numerous visual tweaks and tucks that help the – quite preposterous – Rapture environment feel genuine and lived in. Beyond that, the BioShock entry in this collection also contains ‘footage’ for players to collect, which when activated allows them to watch a series of interviews with Irrational head Ken Levine about the creative process that gave rise to the first BioShock. There’s even a museum filled with art and characters that landed on the cutting room floor that they can wander around in.
Both noobs and returning players also get access to the story DLC for Bioshock 2 and BioShock Infinite. In the case of the former, they have the superb Minerva’s Den, which spins a gripping yarn that not only is as good as the base game’s story, it ties up several loose ends from the main plot. In the case of the latter, players return to Rapture for the two episodes of Buried At Sea. While this story initially seems like tangential fanfic, it ends up rounding off the narrative for both BioShock and BioShock Infinite in a rather neat way.
The BioShock Collection feels like an essential part of any gaming library; even if one falls into the camp of players who thought these games were bloated and overrated, it’s hard to deny they made an impact and even harder to deny they brought a lot of much needed intelligence to a genre mostly associated with testosterone-fueled machismo. The extra content is decent fan-service, and the visual scrub is good to have, but really this package feels like a publisher making the rather wise decision to keep a great book in print. Returning players will find Rapture and Columbia as every bit as enticing as ever and as for you players who are new to these games…. well, let’s just say us veterans envy you. You’re in for one hell of a ride.
- The BioShock Collection was reviewed on an Xbox One. A retail copy was supplied by the publisher.