"There's always a lighthouse, there's always a man, there's always a city," says Elizabeth softly in Bioshock Infinite, and at that moment we were sure of it. The game was a full-blown masterpiece, although at times incoherent and complex. Then again, all three Bioshock games are. They're filled to the brim with obvious flaws and bad design decisions, but they're all pearls, diamonds in the rough. That's why they're perfect for the remaster treatment, and after what seems like ages, 2K has finally given in to demand. It's time to revisit Rapture and Columbia, two of the most iconic places in modern games, and rediscover exactly why these are all held in such high regard.
Bioshock: The Collection consists of all three games in the series, with all their respective pieces of single-player downloadable content, and all this is presented in crisp 1080p as well as what appears to be a somewhat stable 60fps. If you have yet to familiarise yourself with the series all together, then there's certainly a reason to invest in this collection. All you need to know is that this is Bioshock, one of the very best modern gaming series, and that, we assure you, is reason enough.
That's not the audience this collection needs to prove itself to, however, because it needs to make itself essential for hardcore fans of the series, those who have strong memories from each title in the trilogy and who are looking for a loving, caring restoration of all the technical aspects beneath the impeccable design. Every game already boasts incredibly stylish visual flair, and this of course is even clearer in Bioshock: The Collection. Therefore it's in the technical aspects of this remaster that we must deem its ultimate worth.
The jump to 1080p doesn't really say anything about the game's visual quality. It's perfect for marketing speak because it represents an obvious jump in visual fidelity, but when it comes to the eye's actual exploration of the image quality on screen, the difference between Bioshock and Bioshock as a part of the new, updated collection is quite minimal when considering resolution only. Luckily, a slew of technical enhancements have been added to improve the overall look of each of the three games. Everything appears to have been tinkered with, from the rotten halls of Rapture to the clouds gliding over the sky in Columbia, everything is crisper, more clearly expressed. At the same time, a lot of the textures in the background have been fiddled with, and even though each original title was a thing of beauty at the time of release, these backgrounds add a whole new sense of place to the experience. The bubbling water running down the walls in Rapture is now clearly visible, and the wind pulling and tugging the flags in Columbia adds a new level of detail.
All of this visual panache runs at what 2K has said to be "up to 60fps". That doesn't sound especially confident but they're right to be cautious in this regard. It is, however, true that as you ascend towards Columbia, and as you descend down into Rapture, the experience is quite smooth, but then again, the frame-rate is unlocked, so you can expect a dip every so often, which does take you out of the experience, and that is even more apparent when there's a lot of action on screen.
An uneven frame-rate is a lot easier to forgive in regular games. After all, the frame-rate in each of the original games wasn't the best part of them, but when this console generation is known for its many, many remasters and re-releases, it's utterly important that the technical improvements that are introduced work and are apparent immediately, and that's just not the case here. It's very, very difficult to criticise the overall quality of the actual games within the collection, but the package they're delivered as part of isn't on par.
Even so, with updated textures, something that at least resembles a stable 60fps and a higher general resolution does provide newcomers with the opportunity to enjoy the Bioshock series on a new level, and nostalgics like us will be able to revel in its beauty all over again in an improved version of something we already love. This is not the best remaster, nor is it close to being the worst, and with that, we're pretty much in No Man's Land.
Luckily, there are other treats in the package for all the hardcore Bioshock fans, and these are one of the prime reasons why'd you'd choose to purchase the collection. To start with there's the Museum of Orphaned Concepts, which is available in all three games, where you can explore a gigantic gallery in-game filled to the brim with concepts that were either never fully developed or never left the drawing board. There can be no doubt that Ken Levine, the series' creator, is among the smartest modern game designers, so a more in-depth look at the studio's design process is the perfect treat for any Bioshock aficionado.
In addition you'll get a commentary, which is all par for the course at this point, and which as available for all three games. In any other title these would be excruciatingly boring, but in this case they contain a lot of clever and funny thoughts from Levine and other key designers, and it becomes clear that there's an incredibly deep philosophy behind even the smallest of objects in the series. Both Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite spent a notoriously long time in development, and if you take your time to listen to the commentary on each title, it's really not hard to understand why.
Closing off, you get the "Imagine Bioshock" series, a short series of little interview videos, where Ken Levine and a few select designers talk about the series as a whole, but these videos are served to you for free because you actually have to look for collectibles in each game to unlock each episode of the series. Really smart, sure, but the deepest conversations are all to be found in the commentary, and these very short videos rarely go into as much depth as many fans would want.
After the release of each game the developers put out a couple of challenge maps, where players were tasked with testing their fighting abilities in a completely separate universe from the actual story. These are of course included in this collection in updated form, and they are, surprisingly, really lovely to have accessible from the get-go, as you can hone your skills without the fear of progressing the story. Apart from that there's the interesting Burial at Sea expansion for Bioshock Infinite, where you can play as Elizabeth in Rapture, and most importantly, the Minerva's Den expansion for Bioshock 2 is included as well, which is one of the very best stories in modern gaming.
Judging a collection like this is, of course, quite tricky. In a way, all three games are masterpieces, and therefore it's quite tempting to simply smack a big, fancy 10 on Bioshock: The Collection with the reason being that the games are worthy of that score, regardless of the wrapping. But that's not what remasters are about. They're about pleasing the fans out there as much as potential new players, and this is where, critically, Bioshock: The Collection simply fails to impress. Yes, there are memorable new additions to get stuck into here, but all in all, it's just not enough. Maybe it would've been different if there was more extra content, more "wow factor" in the updated visuals, or even something completely new, but for now, Bioshock: The Collection is three masterpieces in a serviceable package. So while we would've liked a bit more from this collection, something that's reflected in the score, if you've never played Bioshock then you owe it to yourself to take a look.