“Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?” These eleven words can strike a heavy dose of goosebumps depending on how much you love the Bioshock franchise. However, regardless of your affinity to Bioshock, this statement encompasses the whole theme of Bioshock. What happens when a person is unbounded in their work? When ethics, morals, and the powers of rationality go out the window? Whether it’s a city built at the bottom of the sea, or a towering metropolis floating in the clouds, there’s always a reason to fear mankind’s pursuit of knowledge.
The Bioshock Collection is a package of remastered ports of the Bioshock series (Bioshock, Bioshock 2, and Bioshock Infinite), which includes directory commentary, all downloadable content, and some never-before-seen gameplay. As a package, it’s a pretty good deal: three games in their entirety are offered for only $60 USD. It also helps that the Bioshock series is one of the most revered franchises for narrative in all of gaming history. Sure, Bioshock 2 is sub-par, but 2K Games created a beast of an experience. Their work has earned respect, accolade, and overtly positive critical and gamer reception. How does the series hold up 9 years after release? Does the series stand the test of time, or is it just another collection of games tinted by our rosy nostalgia goggles? This review will tell you all you need to know. Story is up first.
There’s a few things you can accept as fact in this world. Death, taxes, and Bioshock having a good narrative. If there’s anything that Bioshock is known for, it’s the intricate story woven across several titles. Not only is the story intricate, but it’s told in an easily digestible way. This makes some of the more grandiose ideas and themes easier to handle.
For newcomers to the series, the Bioshock games don’t follow a continuing story. They tell a story that spans across characters, time, and even dimensions, without you ever knowing. The first game follows the character Jack, a voiceless protagonist that winds up in the ocean after his plane crash lands. After swimming to a nearby lighthouse, he discovers a bathysphere that takes him under the ocean. What waits below the waves is the city of Rapture: a city created by a man named Andrew Ryan. Rapture is a place of no gods, no government, and no laws. Where the pursuit of knowledge and invention wind into the deepest gutters of the macabre. It’s neon and bright, but has the tone of the 60’s. From there, the story unfolds. Bioshock Infinite, by comparison, follows Booker DeWitt. A fully voiced, fully storied protagonist that finds himself on a boat in the middle of the sea. After approaching a nearby lighthouse, he finds a device that propels him up into the sky. Beyond the clouds is the city of Columbia. A close-minded, racist, and bigoted metropolis in which Booker must find his daughter. It’s bright and vibrant, recalling days of polka dotted dresses and striped bathing suits. A warm feel of the 20’s, but with the teeth of the Civil War.
Regardless of the differences and similarities in narrative, there’s a string of facts. There’s always a man. There’s always a lighthouse. The wheels of time are ever turning, except for when they are broken. This enigmatic theme shrouds the mysteries within the Bioshock series, and when the climax comes to a head, you’ll spend hours basking in it’s revelations. It’s a story that grips you, and forgives most of the technical and gameplay blunders. From a narrative perspective, however, Bioshock is a narrative marvel… a masterpiece.
One great aspect cannot stand on it’s own in the realm of video gaming, and Bioshock is the same as any other in that regard. The gameplay of Bioshock has it’s slew of positives and negatives. The story is told from behind a gun. First person shooters are often the hardest stories to make relatable (it’s hard to relate to a character who is murdering everyone constantly), but Bioshock seems to make it work. The games follow a similar gameplay arc. You start with a single gun and a single power up. These power ups come in different thematic forms, but are always represented by a serum being injected, drank, or consumed. These serums give the body mutated powers; the ability to shoot lightning, use telekinesis, throw fireballs, control insects, and more. Coupling these powers with standard gunplay fares decently, but it never feels as polished as the script. There’s a distinct lack of precision in shooting. In fact, you can play through the entirety of Bioshock 1 without ever aiming down the sights. The combat is rarely complex, but merely a vessel to continue the story. The problem arises when the game fails to understand that, and throws cliché gaming tropes at you. There’s a few interesting gameplay mechanics, like the ability to harvest or rescue Little Sisters. These are children corrupted by ADAM, the powerful substance that genetically modifies the body to accomplish the aforementioned super powers. You are rewarded for your cruelty or mercy when deciding the Little Sisters’ fate. These gameplay decisions that echo narrative structure are great, but few and far in between. Bioshock Infinite doesn’t offer anything like that, and relies more on the actual gunplay. This yields varying results as well, and Bioshock Infinite often feels like a shooting gallery on your way to the next story arc.
The game controls well, though. The gunplay is tight and responsive, and the combat is satisfactory at first. There’s nothing inherently wrong on a technical level. The issue is simply the lack of variety as repetition sets in. Luckily, the narrative is so engaging that you often forgive these gameplay hiccups with ease.
Visually speaking, the games looked great at release. They look even better in 2016, as the original two games have received a fresh coat of paint. The frame rate on consoles is good, and there’s rarely stutter. I encountered some glaring audio and visual glitches on the Xbox One version, but the Playstation 4 version didn’t see as many. The PC version is a whole other story, and disappoints on a technical level. If you’re playing on a console though, you won’t have much of an issue. The real showcase here isn’t the visual fidelty, but rather the theme and tone of the games. As previously state, there’s an great deal of care and passion put into the atmosphere of these games. Bioshock 1 is one of the most atmospheric games of last generation, truly pulling you into the world. Every inch of Rapture screams of a city torn apart from the inside. You can feel the pain of the current inhabitants: frenzied drug addicts willing to murder children for a fix. You can hear the echoes of the once happy citizens before it’s collapse, played before you purely in stylistic choices. Each room feels as though you walked in on an event. The different sections of Rapture all look and feel different, and serve a different purpose within the narrative and need for variety. This rings true for Infinite as well. Bioshock 2 winds up feeling a bit repetitive in its tone, but is still a good looking game. All around, Bioshock looked great nine years ago, and looks even better now. If anything, the first game shows how atmosphere and a dedicated tone can enrich an experience from a visual standpoint.
Speaking on presentation, the package itself is pretty nice. You have two discs, one which contains Bioshock 1 & 2, and the other containing Bioshock Infinite. I would’ve preferred one disc, but the amount of extra content here makes it passable. The first Bioshock includes directory commentary, a museum of sorts, and brand new content that I believe was shelved DLC. Bioshock 2 contains similar outings, but the inclusion of the Minerva’s Den DLC (the best part of Bioshock 2) is all it took to make me a happy camper. Bioshock Infinite lacks the kind of overhaul that Bioshock 1 received, but the Burial at Sea DLCs are included to complete the narrative. Bioshock is a great series, but to truly experience the entire narrative, you have to play the Burial at Sea DLCs for Bioshock Infinite. These were a bit on the pricey side when they released, so having them included in this definitive collection makes the $60 price tag even sweeter.
The Bioshock Collection is a great deal. You get three full games that are all stellar in their own way. Even Bioshock 2, widely considered the black sheep of the series, is a good time to replay now. You get all of the DLC, and some fresh content that wasn’t available for purchase originally. All of the games look and play great, and hold one of the greatest video game stories of all time. If you’ve never played Bioshock, now is the time. If you’ve already played them all, this is a perfect excuse to dive back into Rapture. For fans of first person shooters, the suspense/thriller genre, or great stories, the Bioshock Collection is a no-brainer. If you’ve never played these titles, do yourself a favor and go purchase this collection. For franchise veterans, it’s a welcome addition to the library. I fully recommend purchasing The Bioshock Collection at full retail price.