Bioshock: The Collection Review (Nintendo Switch)
Bioshock has been around for so long at this point it’s almost difficult to remember how excited people were when it first came out. Through broken street dates, fights over comparisons to System Shock, and evaluations of objectivist philosophy, the one thing the game hadn’t done was appear on a Nintendo console. Now the original, sequel, and adventure in the sky Bioshock: Infinite are available to take with you on the go on the Nintendo Switch.
This was really sort of the dream when Sony came out with the PS Vita, having full-fledged console experiences available with you on the go. The Bioshock games are a great fit for on the go gaming as well, particularly since outside of an odd shot at multiplayer in the sequel, they’re single player games. If you’re planning on keeping the full collection on your Switch, though, you’ll need a supplemental SD card. The download size for all three games tops 40GB, and amazingly, even if you with the physical edition, you’ll still need 30GB available. This feels like a pretty big oversight, and particularly for the Switch, it takes away a big reason why gamers might choose to go physical over digital.
Since the file sizes are big though, gamers are in for a treat in terms of the presentation. Given that it’s been 13 years since the original game was released (and almost four since the first batch of remastered editions) the graphics aren’t going to blow anyone’s mind who is seeing them for the first time, but all of the games hold a steady framerate and feel in line with something that could have been released today. In fact, the only issue I had with the graphics in any of the three games was needing to bump up the brightness a bit for handheld mode. There is one other visual quirk worth noting though, and it only occurs in Bioshock: Infinite. For some reason in Infinite, the menus on the pause screen don’t fill the screen, regardless of whether you’re playing in handheld or docked mode. It’s a truly odd choice and hopefully one that will be remedied with a patch down the line. Take a look below at a screenshot from the original Bioshock menu compared to the one in Infinite.
While it’s hard to recreate your first entry into Rapture or Columbia, one thing that keeps you there is the audio, which holds up very well. We’re more used to cinematic scores than ever, but from Rapture’s melancholy strolling music to Columbia’s terse strings, the music in all of these games is still great. More and more games have been going the audio log route for exposition and background so it’s nice to see that the games that helped popularize this method of plot development don’t feel dated. The interspersed old-timey music really completes the feel the games are trying to achieve as well, whether it’s the radios in Rapture, or Columbia’s famed flying barbershop quartet.
The collection is available as a complete package for $50 for the trio of games or you can pick them up individually for $20 a pop. For longtime fans of the series, it’s pretty much a no brainer. The remastered versions of these games come with all the DLC, so there’s plenty of content in a well made package. Your most difficult decision will likely be deciding what to delete to make room for these large files.
For everyone else, or for people who haven’t even played a game in the Bioshock series, it’s worth considering how well they hold up as both games and stories. Honestly, I’ve always found the controls in Bioshock to be a bit off-putting, After so many years of using the left trigger to zoom, it still throws me that I need to click a stick to zoom, or that the jump button varies across games. Luckily there’s a decent amount of customization options available, so you should be able to make the controls work for you. Coming back to these games after years away was a bit like a warm blanket, because even after fumbling with the controls a bit, I was quickly using electricity/wrench combos and easily diving off skylines onto enemies. The standard “medium” difficulty for all of these games requires you to pay attention, but is never too difficult.
I actually appreciated the lack of achievements on the Switch for once, as I did feel compelled to play through the game on its hardest difficulty with revives disabled just to earn a virtual badge. As you progress through the three games, the focus on combat increases, to the point where Bioshock: Infinite feels much more like a standard shooter than the original. I actually found myself surprised by the fact that I really was only using my abilities to get money from vending machines and very rarely had Elizabeth open a tear in battle. The action comes down to shooting more enemies who are significantly weaker to advance the plot. Where Infinite stands out compared to other entries in the series is its very realized world and an ability to interact with more of it than is available in Rapture. Infinite is still a rather straightforward game that will be easier to progress through for someone new to the series.
The original Bioshock isn’t going to win any awards for its controls and is never going to feel as tight as a Call of Duty game, but it makes up for it by encouraging the use of a variety of plasmids and ammo types, which create a more thoughtful approach to combat than seen in Infinite. There are still remnants of the dated gameplay design that you’ll have to work through, including a fairly confusing map and the good old hacking minigame, which is likely to tire on you even faster this time around. In terms of gameplay, Bioshock 2 is the best of the bunch. With significantly more satisfying weaponry, the ability to dual-wield, and smarter and more interesting enemies, it sets the bar for gameplay in the franchise, even if the story doesn’t quite live up to the original.
Story isn’t something to just gloss over in a franchise like Bioshock as it is with many other shooters. Bioshock takes a look at what happens when someone with objectivist and libertarian principles leans into the power he’s obtained, leading to the collapse of society. We hear of the working class struggle and revolt, but it feels a bit on the nose when considering how society has progressed since the original release. The “would you kindly” twist still shines as an example of subverting the player’s expectations though and has earned it’s place as one of gaming’s most memorable switcheroos.
While all of the Bioshock games let you know that anyone can be evil, Infinite switches from the class warfare of Rapture to focus on race. While the game’s creators have explained that it presents a reflection of the reality of things in the early 1900s, it’s hard to not feel that the game is beating you over the head with the idea of racism, rather than exploring the more insidious ways it presents itself in society. The Bioshock games generally purport to be a bit deeper than something like Wolfenstein (nazis are bad, shoot them) so it’s disappointing, particularly in 2020 to see how little nuance there is to the story. Infinite features over the top dialogue, a quasi-KKK, and a two-tiered class structure divided by ethnicity. Daisy Fitzroy plays a Malcom X-type role in fighting against the racists, but that’s really the extent of it. Looking back on Infinite is looking back at a game that put things in black and white terms that needlessly showed overt racism as the ‘bad guy’ that you’re fighting.
It’s disappointing given that the Bioshock games do interesting things with their story, but it’s clear that the sci-fi narratives outshine those related to social commentary, particularly now. Between mind control and parallel universes, Bioshock is at its strongest when it’s telling a story that subverts your expectations, using surprising and exciting plot devices to make you question what led you to a certain point. That’s where these games still succeed alongside any push to use the unique skillsets of each of the three protagonists. The games hold up, and have been ported to the Switch quite well despite their size. The franchise lets you take a unique approach to gaining pieces of the plot and fighting enemies, but its attempt at societal critique is best left in the past.