BioShock: The Collection
- Street Date:
- September 13th, 2016
- Reviewed by:
- Levi van Tine
- Review Date:1
- September 15th, 2016
- Game Release Year:
- Xbox One
- 2K Games
- Irrational Games, Blind Squirrel Games
Digital Xbox One version reviewed. For specifics regarding to the quality of 'The Collection,' see the Video section.
'BioShock' was released in 2007 to critical acclaim and is widely considered one of the best games of the generation, and a significant landmark in multiple areas of production. It was followed up by a direct sequel and a more spiritual one (in more ways than one), set in a different city and time period than its predecessors. The franchise is itself a homage of 'System Shock' with many of the same developers crossing over. The 'BioShock Collection' includes all three 'BioShock' titles, upgraded to 1080p and "up to" 60fps on the Xbox One, as well as all single-player DLC.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
The 'BioShocks' are all first-person shooters, but they are in a class of their own. Gunplay takes a back seat to immersion and narrative (although the gunplay is still quite good). In all three games, the guns are joined by quasi-magical powers called plasmids and vigors. These are superpowers - lightning bolts, telekinesis, flamethrowing, and much more. Not only can they be used directly against enemies for elemental damage, they can be paired extensively with the environment to create elaborate traps to cut through swathes of enemies while the player watches, often with only minimal input.
In the backstory of the first two games, the underwater city of Rapture has been created as a testament to the objectivist philosophy of real-life author Ayn Rand. Objectivism, loosely defined, is a libertarian ideal that takes an extreme view of individual rights, government involvement, and self-interest. Andrew Ryan, the city's founder, was tired of the taxes and ethics forced upon him by Earth's governments. He descended to the depths of the Atlantic to make his own Galt's Gulch, where he spirited away a horde of scientists, merchants, and artists to create their own objectivist society. Unfortunately, Ryan's paranoia and the megalomaniacal ambition of some of the city's residents led to its downfall after barely a decade of operation. When the player enters Rapture, it is in a more or less deceased state, with only some junkies wandering about, desperate for their next fix.
These junkies are addicted to a stem cell cocktail called ADAM, developed from a species of sea slug found on the ocean floor. ADAM is the material responsible for those magical powers, although prolonged use leads to mental and physical breakdown in humans. In Rapture it is prepared for consumption in a particularly horrific way: the sea slugs have been implanted into the bodies of little girls, who must eat the ADAM from corpses for it to be reused. The girls have been heavily indoctrinated in order to carry out this gruesome task, and they are protected by a similarly brainwashed force of massive brutes called Big Daddies. The Daddies are the minibosses of the first two 'BioShocks' but fighting them is almost always optional. However, if you want that ADAM from the Sisters to fuel more powerful plasmids, you have to go through their Daddies. Somehow, even with all of these disparate story elements (objectivist philosophy, the fall of the city, plasmid development, etc.), 'BioShock' manages to not only keep it all together, but offer a city oozing with its own special blend of dilapidated, dystopian charm. It is the rare example of a video game environment that feels less like a collection of objectives and more like an autonomous construction that lives on its own terms, outside of the player's influence.
In Rapture, every level is filled with splicers (unstable humans who use ADAM), Big Daddies, Little Sisters, and automated security. Between plasmids and the security, I could make a room a hazard for anyone but me to be in, and then lure in an unsuspecting Daddy to get sliced up my traps (hopefully). Splicers can be manipulated to attack each other, and even Daddies can be fooled for a time, which whittles down their health to more manageable levels. 'BioShock 2' turns plasmids up to eleven by allowing them to be placed on surfaces as booby traps, just waiting for a splicer to walk over them and get blasted with fire, electricity, a plague of locusts, or some other terrible thing. Traps can be chained together to hilarious effect.
In the first game, the player character is a man named Jack whose plane crashes into the Atlantic just over Rapture, and he makes his way down to the city. He soon becomes involved in the simmering civil war between Andrew Ryan and a rebel named Atlas. Along the way he meets Dr. Tenenbaum, the scientist responsible for turning little girls in the monstrous Sisters. She is remorseful and has stayed behind to save the girls, and wants Jack's help to do so. It is completely up to the player whether they save the girls or destroy them to harvest more ADAM. It is a binary morality choice, the likes of which we've seen in many other games, but seldom so poignantly. The gameplay and plot are so enriching that I don't mind the highly linear quality of the storyline, where objectives are meted out one after another by distant NPCs with no player input.
In 'BioShock 2' the player is a Big Daddy, the very first one to be created, in fact. He has been revived a decade after his death at the hands of Sophia Lamb, a psychiatrist/cult leader who has been in control of Rapture since the departure of Andrew Ryan. The Daddy, named Delta, was bonded with Lamb's daughter Eleanor before his death, when she had been stolen from her mother and transformed into a Little Sister. She wants to overthrow her mother and enlists Delta's help. Like the first game, Tenenbaum is present and offers players the option to save the girls. This time, Delta can collect more ADAM from the Sisters because they view him as their protector, so long as he can hold off waves of splicers while the ADAM is gathered.
The mechanic of the Little Sisters is brilliant and simple. The extra ADAM gained from harvesting them is very useful, but it kind of looks and sounds like a little girl so as the player it is nearly impossible for me to kill them. This is especially true in the second game where the girls look up to the player as their actual father - how could I possibly exploit that and murder them, just for more power? The combo gun/plasmid gameplay is likewise inspired, and the level design of Rapture makes emergent gameplay very easy to accomplish. Pools of water can be electrified, cyclone traps hidden on the walls, turrets and bots galore can be hacked and set upon enemies. A favorite of mine is to place a fire trap in a pool of oil, use telekinesis to move any explosive objects nearby, and then finally cast a decoy on top of the trap to attract local splicers. They enter the oil and are immediately incinerated in an explosive fireball, setting fire to anyone nearby and ragdolling their hapless bodies around the room while they shout hysterically.
'BioShock Infinite' is a departure from its predecessors in both gameplay and setting. Instead of a mild discussion on philosophy and government decay, it is a more intense story about religious fanaticism, racism, and awful parenting. It is set in 1912 in the floating city of Columbia, a jingoist remnant of America that seceded after the Boxer Rebellion (apparently the US government frowned upon the use of Columbia as a superweapon against Chinese civilians). Booker DeWitt is a private detective hired to kidnap a girl from Columbia and return her to the surface. The girl, Elizabeth, has the ability to create "tears" in the fabric of spacetime that permit time travel, extradimensional contact and other crazy things, making Columbia a very strange place. Booker can learn vigors, which are fancy plasmids with much the same abilities. 'Infinite' has no Sisters or Daddies, little in the way of automated security, and a less sandboxy level design than the first two games, but it does have an amazing story. It also has a very fun element of platforming in the skyrails, roller coaster-like contraptions that Booker can use to fly around the city and get the drop on foes. Once Elizabeth joined me, combat took on an otherworldly element. She can use her tears to accomplish incredible things, like dropping in enemies or weapons for Booker to use against his foes. She can also summon environmental hazards, automated turrets, and, at several points in the story, bring them through tears into other dimensions.
The time travel and dimension stuff make it much more complicated than 'BioShock', but 'Infinite' is still a fascinating experience. The fast, brutal gameplay partly makes up for the loss of plasmid diversity from the previous game, and darting around on skylines is exhilarating. It also has an ace in the hole in the form of Elizabeth, who is a very entertaining and useful sidekick for Booker and probably the best character across all three games. She is naïve, charming, and indefatigable, and it doesn't hurt that her AI is actually pretty good.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
The video for all three games has been souped up to 1080p, which was more of a chore for the nearly decade-old 'BioShock' than it was for the barely last-gen 'Infinite'. All of the games look excellent, with levels of detail far beyond their original incarnations. Water and lighting have been greatly improved, such as the volumetric lighting cascading from Columbia's clouds. Other effects are also outstanding, not quite up to the level of modern Xbox One stuff, but still far greater than most other remakes would bother with.
Blind Squirrel has stated that the Xbox One version of 'BioShock Collection' would have "up to" 60fps. That statement is not very convincing, but the framerate of all three games is high. It was rare that it took any dips visible to the naked eye, and they were always small. 'BioShock 2' lags a bit in the visual upgrade, with blotchier shadows and an occasional green tint, but otherwise a decent transfer.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The soundscape of all three games remains the same. Music, effects, and acting are all of an extremely high standard. The licensed music is perfect for the setting, from the Ink Spots and Rosemary Clooney in Rapture to the withdrawn hymnals in Columbia. The time travel in 'Infinite' permitted Columbia's artists to plagiarize future works, so you will hear a song from the Beach Boys being sung by a 1912 barbershop quartet and other interesting oddities.
All of the single-player DLC across all three games has been renovated and brought along. This includes the 'Protector Trials' and 'Minerva's Den' for 'BioShock 2' and the 'Burial at Sea' doubleheader for 'BioShock Infinite', set in Rapture instead of Columbia. They even added the content from the 'Ultimate Rapture Edition', like the Challenge Rooms and the 'Plasmid Pack' title update. The collection does not include the controversial multiplayer component from 'BioShock 2'.
I enjoy the 'Protector Trials' and 'Minerva's Den', the latter of which is a few hours of usual Raptureness with its own storyline thrown in. 'Burial at Sea' is worthwhile DLC, especially the second episode which features Elizabeth as the player character and experiments with stealth plasmids. It also describes the relationship between the two cities and how they came to share so much technology.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Also included are some pieces for design enthusiasts. The Museum of Orphaned Concepts is an interactive level from the 'Ultimate Rapture Edition', featuring splicer and Big Daddy models left on the cutting floor, and lots of concept art. There is also a director's commentary from design lead Ken Devine and lead artist Shawn Robertson for the first 'BioShock', which is really the only new content to be found in the 'Collection'. The commentary can be unlocked by finding film reels scattered around Rapture
'BioShock' is one of the few series that justifies a remaster. It was a watershed moment in gaming in 2007 and the gameplay still holds up after all this time, not to mention the beautiful, sad city of Rapture that remains one of the most interesting destinations to date. 'BioShock Infinite' is nearly as good and even the stepchild 'BioShock 2' is a blast to play. There's very little in the way of new content, but these titles are so enjoyable that I still enthusiastically recommend 'BioShock Collection' to old fans and newcomers alike.
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