Earlier this week 2K confirmed that a new BioShock game is in development, sending the gaming community into meltdown, and understandably so. After all, as 2K said in their own announcement, "BioShock is one of the most beloved, critically praised and highest-rated franchises of the last console generation". And so hearing about a new one on the way is big news indeed.
With 2020 just around the corner, the last entry in the series - BioShock Infinite - is almost seven years old at this point, and so BioShock fans have been starved of stories in the universe ever since the DLC cycle for Infinite wrapped up with the excellent Burial at Sea story in 2014. The original BioShock is even older, with the original and the sequel coming in 2007 and 2010 respectively, providing full experiences in Andrew Ryan's underwater city of Rapture.
Along with the excitement around another entry in the acclaimed franchise, there are also some questions, as is to be expected. With such a strong legacy, fans are wondering where the series can go from here, and that's why we're speculating a little and asking many of the same questions as we look ahead to the future of BioShock, which "will be in development for the next several years", we should remind you.
First things first is the glaring point that Ken Levine - the developer who created the series and who also worked on other immersive sim classics like System Shock 2 - is absent from this project. He's currently working on a mysterious project with Ghost Story Games, but that's by the by. All you need to know is that he's not here, and instead Cloud Chamber is going to be leading the charge with this new BioShock.
Cloud Chamber is helmed by Kelley Gilmore, the global studio head and the first woman in 2K history to launch and lead a development studio. She's got a lot of experience with 2K's Firaxis Games, working on the Xcom and Civilization series, and so while people might be mourning the loss of Levine, let's just remember that this isn't a small undertaking, especially since Cloud Chamber has offices in both Montréal and San Francisco, with former Zynga general manager Ken Schachter becoming studio manager for the former.
As development progresses, these two teams will staff up, and it's safe to say that 2K knows the stakes for this project. They are aware how popular the BioShock brand is, and that's why they're committing several years to this project; to make sure they get it right and deliver the project fans want. In a time when there's so much cynicism around studios and publishers, we can't imagine 2K is taking the responsibility lightly.
Let's not forget that BioShock is a series about ideas more than anything. The original concept of Rapture in the first and second games dealt with ideas around objectivism, dystopias, and Ryan shirking off the ideologies of 20th century countries, like the US with capitalism, the USSR with communism, and even the Christian faith of the Vatican.
Infinite continued this exploration of big ideas by commenting on American exceptionalism and racism with the community of Columbia in BioShock Infinite, and the series has been known for making thought-provoking points about history and ideas of how to live. Levine made clear the core themes in various interviews, and it seems as if Cloud Chamber wants to experiment with content in this new project as well.
"We founded Cloud Chamber to create yet-to-be-discovered worlds - and their stories within - that push the boundaries of what is possible in the video game medium," said Gilmore. "Our team believes in the beauty and strength of diversity, in both the makeup of the studio and the nature of its thinking. We are a deeply experienced group of game makers, including many responsible for BioShock's principal creation, advancement and longstanding notoriety, and honored to be part of the 2K family as stewards of this iconic franchise."
Of course, there's no shortage of ideas to talk about (especially if you want to make things relevant to the current world, although publishers and studios are known for distancing themselves from political stances in recent years), but one big question remains - if we've gone under the sea and into the sky, where is left to set the game, without retreading old ground?
The final frontier of space has obviously been unexplored by BioShock specifically, but the danger with this is that System Shock and, more recently, Prey have both taken the immersive sim genre to outer space, so it doesn't seem like a boundary that BioShock needs to push, considering its reputation for doing new and exciting things. Might we instead be heading underground? Or could the series explore the interdimensional themes touched on at the end of Infinite?
When talking on our Christmas Calendar podcast, the Gamereactor team speculated about going back to Rapture or returning to Colombia, but it seems as if those places have had their stories wrapped up too. Colombia hasn't been seen since 2013, and BioShock has had two games and the Burial at Sea DLC storylines to show it pre- and post-collapse, so both seem to be done to death at this point.
We don't really have an answer for what we want, since being on the ground might destroy the idea of these isolated societies that we've seen so far in the series, but then again, with a totally new project perhaps that won't be such a bad thing. After all, the best sequels use the originals as a foundation to create something new, and as much as we'd love to see more of these two communities, we feel it's time to see something else that's fresh and innovative.
From a gameplay perspective, it seems to go without saying that the new project needs to be an immersive sim as well, just like the previous games. BioShock has always emphasised player choice, letting you mix weapons with Plasmids/Vigors to deadly effect, which can also be used to solve puzzles as well. None of the games were open-world, but each had separate areas with various secrets to encourage exploration, and we'd love to see all of this return in the new project.
Perhaps most of all though, we'd love to see the new game mix what makes BioShock recognisable with the new ideas it's going for. It's always a hard balancing act with sequels, but it's important to retain the elements that unite the previous games - like detailed environments, immersive sim gameplay, and interesting discussions - with some fresh takes on the genre and the universe, one which may even tie into the previous two games as well. Another question worth asking comes with regards to multiplayer. Will Take-Two want to implement online modes to increase player engagement, or will Cloud Chamber be allowed to focus on crafting a single-player-only experience?
It's very easy to be sceptical about a sequel for a fan-favourite series, but we're hopeful that 2K can deliver what fans would like to see, especially with a talented and experienced team leading the charge. They're big shoes to fill, but we can't wait to see what Cloud Chamber does when given such a rich and enticing license to play with. Just make sure you don't do a boss fight like the first game, okay?