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BioShock: The Collection Review | In the eye of the beholder

BioShock: The Collection Review | In the eye of the beholder
Carl 'Malkaurai' Phillips

I had to double check this fact was correct, although doing so made me feel so damn old. It turned out to be right, though – it’s been almost ten years since gamers took their first steps in the underwater dystopian city of Rapture. Nearly a decade has gone by since I and other fans of the System Shock series were excited by the promise of a spiritual successor from the same minds who created it. We ultimately learned that the intention was never to truly follow in the sci-fi horror RPG’s footsteps, instead forging its own path as an action title with plenty of narrative twists.

And, oh boy, did it deliver on that front at the time.

In my mind, the series declined in its promise and spectacle over the course of its two sequels, but it remained an artistic achievement and rightfully remains a regular selection on many favourite game lists. It’s because of this that I looked forward to revisiting Rapture and Columbia once again in this remastered collection along with its accompanying DLC – something I never experienced at the time. Perhaps most of all, I was curious if one of the most influential series’ of the last generation could still deliver an engaging experience on modern machines.

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While summing up the series for newcomers is certainly a challenge, here’s my take – each of the BioShock games takes place in a connected world where some elites have rejected the status quo and created their own utopia. Free from the restrictions of government and religion, the underwater metropolis of Rapture (BioShock 1 & 2) and the floating city of Columbia (BioShock Infinite) thrive, bringing about technological and philosophical wonder. The golden age doesn’t last, though, as both societies eventually buckle under the weight of their own hubris. It’s at this point that the player emerges into these worlds, harnessing the technological advancements as they discover the secrets to each dystopian downfall, and fight back against the opposing forces that stand in their way.

I have of course been very light on the details here, and with good reason – each game is at its best when you’re discovering the twists and turns for yourself.

While the Collection boasts remastered visuals, it’s important to note that we’re not talking about reskinned textures but improved resolutions. As I played through BioShock I found NPCs and posters lacked the detail of other modern titles, but that doesn’t mean that the game fails to visually impress overall. No, what helps BioShock maintain its visual wonder is the improved lighting and particle effects, something I immediately noticed after stepping out of the travel pod and into Rapture proper for the (second) first time. The end result gives the game more pronounced stylised look, and in some ways is all the better for it.

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While the visual overhaul has improved BioShock 1, I felt the best results were found in BioShock 2. The vibrant and expanded colour palate due to nature’s reclamation of Rapture is to thank for this and is part of the reason why the forgotten middle child of the series is more engaging this time around. In fact, I actually feel that BioShock 2 was my personal highlight of the collection. Maybe it’s because I was less forgiving back when it was released, but the near re-treading of its predecessor’s plot didn’t bother me anywhere as much as I played through its remastered version.

Meanwhile, BioShock Infinite remains, well, BioShock Infinite, at least on PC. While the console remasters has been powered up to match the high-end PC specs of 2013, the PC version remains visually unchanged. Then again, it never needed the same level of spit and polish. Infinite still manages to shine with its bright visuals amongst the clouds, remaining one of the best looking games in recent times and acts as an effective counterpart to the underwater darkness from the previous two entries.

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While the visual upgrades improve things overall, the end result hasn’t been flawless. The aim of 60 FPS is achieved for the most part, but busier gameplay moments – such as fights against large groups or facing off against a Big Daddy – caused the frame rate to drop. Likewise, I had to tweak my .ini file and enable vSync before the visuals were stable (especially the shadows.) Considering my rig should be able to handle it with minimum fuss I was disappointed that I had to do any legwork to begin with. There were also a few incidents where the game crashed, but it wasn’t happening with the same frequency some Steam users have reported. Thankfully 2K have stated that a patch to fix stability is incoming, which I hope arrives sooner rather than later.

From a gameplay standpoint, I actually felt the controls are much tighter in the collection than they originally were. There’s a good chance this is more to do with the improved frame rate, but my actions felt much more responsive. It ultimately meant that I was much more gung-ho than I was back in the day, but there are other reasons this is the case, too. After all, I already knew where most of the enemies were lurking, and how they behave. The mystique of Rapture and Columbia has lost its advantage in slowing me down with jump scares, which is to be expected, but it did make the game feel even more linear than it did before.

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Thankfully there’s an addition reason to play through the original BioShock thanks to the director’s commentary. I found the retrospective musings of Ken Levine and Shawn Robertson to be incredibly interesting, but I was disappointed that it BioShock 2 and Infinite didn’t get the same treatment. Even if it had been some other developers chatting about their work, I do feel it was a missed opportunity, especially as a previous player of the series.

In the end, the value of BioShock: The Collection boils down to how much of the series you have already played. The DLC for all three games is a bonus for me, but hardcore fans who have already paid and played it will only have the commentary for BioShock 1 as an incentive. It’s also important to note that if you had issues with the BioShock series before – be it a lack of more RPG elements, its linear nature, or frustration over boss fights – this collection won’t change anything. It is, after all, a remaster and not a remake.

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For newcomers, the value for money here is absolutely fantastic. You get to play through one of the most critically acclaimed series of recent years from start to finish, along with all its additional content (including the rather excellent Burial At Sea.) The fact there are some technical issues is annoying, but I honestly didn’t think they were game-breaking. As such, with deals as low as £30 already, the gameplay-time-to-money ratio is incredibly high here.

 

Pros:

  • While unable to hide all signs of age, the visual upgrade does breathe new life into BioShock 1 & 2.
  • The director’s commentary for BioShock 1 is interesting and insightful.
  • For newcomers, the value for money for this critically acclaimed series is strong…

Cons:

  • … but with no new gameplay content, existing fans might find it lacking overall.
  • Technical issues on PC aren’t game-breaking, but are annoying and shouldn’t be there in the first place.
  • If you had an issue with the series before, the remastered versions won’t change your mind.
The Short Version:

The mileage of the remastered games will vary depending on what previous players are looking for, but it’s hard to argue against the value for money in BioShock: The Collection in terms of sheer content, especially for those who have never experienced the critically acclaimed series before.

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Platform: PC (Tested), PS4, Xbox One

Developer: 2K Boston, 2K Australia, Irrational Games, Blind Squirrel

Publisher: 2K Games