It’s somehow been almost a decade since Ken Levine and Irrational kicked off Bioshock by hurtling everyone into the Atlantic Ocean in a small passenger jet. While morality plays about Ayn Rand and the ethics of murdering children haven’t exactly remained in vogue, it’s tough to make the case that Bioshock and its sequels didn’t leave a mark on how games use environments and interactivity to tell stories. If you missed them the first time, 2K, with some help from Blind Squirrel Entertainment, has remastered all three games in the Bioshock series for Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
Bioshock: The Collection will be released in the US on September 13 and contains versions of Bioshock, Bioshock 2, and Bioshock Infinite tuned to run in 1080p and at 60FPS. The multiplayer from the second game has been excised, but the Minerva’s Den DLC is included. Bioshock Infinite’s optional rewards packs will be available to players who pre-order the collection.
In addition to the graphic overhaul, Blind Squirrel has stashed golden reels around the games (“mostly” the first one, apparently) that will gradually unlock Imagining Bioshock: Making Rapture Real, a new ten-part interview with series director Ken Levine and animation lead Shawn Robertson talking about the genesis of gaming’s most infamous underwater art deco stem cell dystopia.
We’ve played a bit of the remasters, and the first two games do look a good deal better (Infinite looks fine, but it just came out three years ago). The improved textures and depth of color accentuate Rapture’s majesty and decrepitude in ways Levine and his cohorts could hardly have imagined the first time around. The remasters will certainly place a renewed emphasis on the games’ graphics—and the clarity they lend Rapture’s innovative level and environment design. Revisiting the Medical Pavilion’s sense of foreboding and Fort Frolic’s creepy theatricality struck me with what was great about them the first time around.
Despite nearly equaling its predecessor’s sales numbers, Bioshock 2 feels nearly forgotten in comparison to the original and Infinite. Its inclusion here, and especially the inclusion of Minerva’s Den, merits a close look. Minerva’s Den, besides having acted as a sort of farm program for well-known indie developers, remains a supremely impressive example of narrative DLC. (There’s a case to be made that the brevity required from a 4-5 hour DLC actually improves upon the series’ tendency to bloviate about righteous altruism or having to hear both sides.)
Walking along the ocean floor early in Minerva’s Den felt sufficiently great for me to realize that Soma—maybe the best walking-along-the-ocean-floor game ever—lifted a surprising amount of its vibe from Minerva’s Den. “The weird one” in a series tends to slowly but surely pick up steam (Yoshi’s Island forever), and it feels distinctly possible that The Collection will serve as a well-deserved moment in the sun for Bioshock 2.
Much was made of Bioshock’s story at the time it was released, with its high-minded feints towards Objectivism and the nature of free will standing in stark contrast to the mid-’00’s parade of space marines and increasingly linear JRPGs. Over time, though, the shockwave created by the game’s plot twists has softened some, and these remasters have come along at just the right time to suggest that, maybe, Bioshock’s environments and mood were the best things going for it all along. That kind of reappraisal is the best thing that can come out of reissues such as Bioshock: The Collection. Besides, it seems like a pretty Randian move to put your best foot forward in the name of cementing your own legacy.
Joe Bernardi is a writer and web developer living in Brooklyn. His words have appeared in Dusted Magazine, the Boston Phoenix and Tiny Mix Tapes, among other places. He’s got both a Twitter and a blog.
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