Looking back at 2007 we can see how absolutely crazy a year it was for video game releases, and first person shooters in particular. World of Warcraft released its first expansion to millions of fanboys and fangirls, Halo 3 became a system seller for the then-new Xbox 360, the Orange Box turned Steam into a digital powerhouse almost overnight (not without growing pains, admittedly), Rock Band re-imagined the “party game”, and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare became the model for almost all multiplayer shooters for the next decade and a half (and counting). Throw in The Witcher, Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted, Mass Effect and God of War 2, as well as others, and you are looking at a year in gaming that has probably been unmatched before or since in terms of sheer quantity of quality. In among all that you would expect that perhaps there was no room for any other titles to live and survive, and yet at least one other title managed to make serious waves that year: BioShock.
Released in August 2007 BioShock came out before most of the titles I listed above, and that is probably what kept it from obscurity. Well, that and a riveting singe-player story that kept fans playing and replaying the game over and over, year after year. Clocking in at between ten and fifteen hours of gameplay for a single playthrough the game should have been a fun, dark diversion for gamers before the main course of the holidays set in. Instead it developed a following as devoted as any multiplayer shooter, and has been held up as an example of how to do a single-player campaign ever since.
Nine years later we are finally getting an update to BioShock as part of the BioShock The Collection. In addition to the original game we also get the sequel from a few years later, BioShock 2 (which was by a different creative team) and, if you are on console, the significantly better sequel by the original team from a few years ago, BioShock Infinite. All three of these titles originally released on the Playstation 3, XBox 360 and PC gaming platforms (some of them also appeared for Linux and Mac OS, too), and now they are being re-released for the modern generation of gamers. For this review we got code for the PC remastered version, which is unfortunate since it is the one that benefits the least from the upgrade.
BioShock, as the oldest title, obviously gets the biggest update as part of this collection. That said, despite being a nine-year-old game BioShock’s graphics hold up surprisingly well, especially on PC. Because of that the upgrades to the PC version only amount to texture improvements and a (much appreciated) optional bump up for the game’s field of view. Additional changes have been made to particle effects, lighting and the like, but they aren’t as noticeable going from the PC version to the PC remastered version. On the downside, there were issues with the original BioShock PC release in regards to controls and inputs, and many of those crossed over as well. The most notable one is issues with mouse acceleration that can make quick targeting more difficult than it should be. Whether or not you will actually notice this is another question entirely, and I suspect most casual gamers will never have a problem with the default settings. There are probably workarounds available for more dedicated gamers (there were for the original release), but there shouldn’t have to be.
On the other side of things, if your previous experience with BioShock is with the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 then you’ll find a hefty jump up in quality, regardless of which platform you get the remastered version on. The resolution gets a bump up to 1080p and holds steady at 60 frames per second for the most part. Your mileage for resolution and FPS will, of course, vary depending on your computer setup, but I think most people with even budget level computers will find they can run this game without issues. It is after all nine years old and this upgrade didn’t make many, if any, under-the-hood changes. However, there are not many settings available to tweak on the PC, and people used to customizing their graphics options are going to be underwhelmed. It is clear that this is a console game first, and a PC game second.
BioShock 2 gets a similar upgrade, but since it is a more recent title it is a bit less noticeable. Again, going from last generation consoles as opposed to the PC you will see a bigger jump. One thing to note is that the multiplayer component of BioShock 2 has been stripped out and does not exist within the remastered version at all. Honestly this is not a big loss as multiplayer was never BioShock’s selling point, but I’m sure it had its own community as most games do. I actually forgot BioShock 2 even had a multiplayer segment until I booted it up again for this comparison.
In addition to BioShock 2 you also get its add-on level, Minerva’s Den, as part of the package. I never played this back when it was first released so this was new to me, and I suspect to many other BioShock fans as well. Since it was built on the BioShock 2 framework it gets the same updates that the base game got. It is a nice addition to the package, but hardly a selling point on its own.
Console gamers also get BioShock Infinite as part of the remastered package, but on PC it is not included. This does make some sense since the consoles are basically just getting an upgrade to the already released PC version of the game anyway, but it is sad to see it not included by default. This does mean that the PC version only costs $19.99, though, while the consoles are getting it at $59.99. Additionally, the PC version of BioShock gets Steam achievements added to it, which is a small update, but one some fans will appreciate. BioShock 2 already had Steam achievements, but since this is technically a new release you can get those achievements a second time by playing through the remastered version.
There is one new bit of content in the BioShock The Collection, which is a director’s commentary track. Throughout the levels of BioShock you will find film reels which let you watch interview sessions conducted by Geoff Knightly with Ken Levine and Shawn Robertson from the BioShock design team. These are entirely optional and never intrude upon the gameplay, but they are a nice addition for fans who want to get some behind-the-scenes information. If this is your first run through BioShock I recommend not watching them since they do contain spoilers.
For the PC the upgrade to BioShock The Collection isn’t particularly noteworthy, but it is a big enough jump that if you are new to the series I would recommend just getting the new versions rather than saving a few dollars on the old. The great news is that if you already owned BioShock, BioShock 2 or Minerva’s Den on Steam then you have automatically received the updated version of that particular title credited to your account, for free. If, however, you own the game as a physical copy or the Game for Windows Live version you’ll need to send proof of ownership to 2K Games and they’ll send you keys that you can redeem. Console gamers will not be getting such an update and will need to buy or rent the game if they want to play it regardless of previous ownership. You will get BioShock Infinite as part of the console deal, though, and that is an excellent selling point all by itself.
For a nine year old game BioShock is still an excellent experience, and one most people should at least try. If you have tried it in the past and couldn’t get into the story for whatever reason then there is no need to venture back in because nothing has changed on that front. If, however, you have never visited Rapture, or (like me) it has been so long that the experience is practically fresh again, BioShock Remastered is the way to go. At a discounted price tag on Steam and GOG there aren’t many reasons not to take the plunge. And, frankly, even if you go the console route and have a $60 price tag staring at you I would still give it a solid recommendation. You get two excellent games (BioShock and BioShock Infinite) that will combine for more than twenty hours of narrative gameplay, as well as a third decent game and it’s DLC (BioShock 2 and Minerva’s Den).