BioShock: The Collection Review

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It’s easy to get wound up by all the remasters/ re-releases/ re-whatevers of older games doing the rounds nowadays. Say what you like about them – at least it’s a chance for a new audience to dig into a title they might have missed the first time around. That’s exactly the case with me and BioShock.

Because I missed out on the first one, I ended up missing out on the entire series – with the exception of the opening few minutes of BioShock Infinite a while back. I knew the games were critically acclaimed, but I never went out of my way to play them.

Now, finally, I’ve got round to it. And I see what I was missing.

For one thing, the games feel refreshingly old school in 2016. This isn’t a bad thing in any way – it’s just that, as shooters today seem to be getting faster and faster, it’s easy to appreciate BioShock’s more measured pace. With the sense of character progression quietly ticking away in the background, and opportunities for customising your approach to any given fight, at times it feels more like a dungeon crawler than a shooter.

As someone who preferred, say, the Battlefield series when it was slower and more methodical, I welcome this.

Besides, that slower pace means that you have a chance to absorb some of the incredible atmosphere. Surreal outdoor landscapes (be they sea or sky), art deco-meets-steampunk style and character design that’s at times curiously reminiscent of the Timesplitter series all collide to make the series incredibly distinctive and – sometimes – deeply, deeply unsettling.

And it’s great you’re given time to let it all soak it in. There’s so much atmosphere and character to these games that it’s not unusual for a one-on-one duel or creepy moment to be much more memorable that some of the larger, explosion-and-testosterone-fuelled set pieces in other series’ titles.

The plot’s doled out at an engaging pace too. Each section feels just open enough to let you explore and experiment, without ever being so open that you get lost, distracted or – worst – bored. Every nook and cranny seems to offer more information about the world, helpful kit, or brilliant little set-piece.

So, as a relative newcomer to the series, it’s easy to understand what all the fuss was about. However, those returning to Rapture and Columbia might feel a little deflated. The first BioShock’s received plenty of spit and polish, and BioShock 2 has been spruced up a bit, but Infinite is ‘just’ the PC version. Besides these graphic tweaks, there’s not much in this package for long-term fans, which is a bit of a shame.

If you played the originals to death, you have to ask yourself if BioShock’s museum (charting the initial development of the game’s enemies and environments) and unlockable Director’s commentary videos really makes it worth splashing out again. They are insightful – and spoilerish, newcomers – but nobody would blame you if you wanted to just be left with the happy memories of those first playthroughs.

It’s also worth noting that BioShock 2 has jettisoned its multiplayer for this release. Now, I’ve never met anyone who raved about it anyway, but if anything, I might be inclined to argue this collection is better for leaving it out. Nowadays, it feels like a lot of shooters focus on the multiplayer and tack on a solo campaign, so I applaud BioShock: The Collection’s focus on single player thrills. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good single-player-focused fps titles out there, but even they are getting faster, more complex and a bit overwhelming.

Here, the relative simplicity lets you enjoy the story, the atmosphere… Well… Just playing the damn thing. You’re not going to get bombarded by minimaps or so much data you don’t know where to start. You’re not going to have to worry about what camouflage you’re wearing or choose between dozens of gubbins to bolt to your gun. There’s some customisation, sure – but its enough to make it interesting without being overwhelming. Best of all, for once, you’re not even going to have to have to download a hefty day one patch when you install it. The overall result is that the whole package seems to harken back to some (relatively) old-school roots in a very endearing way.

If you missed out on the BioShock games the first time and were always curious, it’s a great chance to catch up. But, above all, this collection might also be worth checking out for those of us who aren’t too keen on the idea of constantly having to mute smack-talking 12 year olds on this year’s version of “VeryOnlineCrazyComplexHyperKinetic’Military’Shooter 9”.

 

Richard Horsefield

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