Regarded as the ‘Big Daddy’ of world design and storytelling in video games, the original Bioshock in 2007 proved to the world that games should be taken seriously as art. Nine years on, this modern classic has arisen again in the form of a remaster.
Bioshock Remastered is a free re-release of the original Bioshock for PC players who own the game on Steam. It was overseen by the studio Blind Squirrel Games and involves a revamp of the original’s graphics and performance, as well as a new series of documentaries titled Imagining Bioshock that explore the creation of the game with original key developers. The remaster can be purchased on steam for $19.99 USD or as part of Bioshock: The Collection on PS4 and Xbox One.
Considering the original is now edging on ten years old, it’s a testament to how revolutionary Bioshock was that it still holds up. The story follows protagonist Jack when his plane crashes into the ocean in 1960, only for him to discover a mysterious and derelict underwater city run by the enigmatic Andrew Ryan. This city, Rapture, is the soul of what makes Bioshock so incredible. Not only is it an amazing setting for a game, it’s created through world design that was unparalleled at the time of release. Mysterious shadows creep up the walls, water leaks across the floor, and its crazed citizens fill the air with blood-curling screeches. It’s a place that has clearly descended into hell, and manages to convey so much with saying very little. Environmental storytelling is the main device that original developer Irrational Games utilised to tell its compelling narrative, and it’s astonishing how much story they can create from something as little as a tape, a teddy bear and a body in a drain. To put it simply, Rapture quite literally drips with story and is at the crux of what makes Bioshock so special.
The other pillar of the Bioshock experience, the gameplay, obviously cannot live up to the storytelling side but still manages to be compelling enough to happily see you through the twelve hour campaign. The game is ultimately a first-person shooter, and so uses the typical run-and-gun mechanics of the genre as well as an assortment of different genetic abilities known as Plasmids. The gunplay, particularly after the progress FPS’ have made in the last ten years, doesn’t hold up incredibly well. It’s still enjoyable enough, but lacks the weight and finesse expected from a modern shooter. This shortcoming is luckily covered by the Plasmids however, as they not only allow you to mix up combat in interesting ways, but also add some much needed dynamism and RPG elements to the gameplay outside of simply filling enemies with lead.
So while it has been established that the ‘Bioshock’ part of the title is still incredible, it’s unfortunately the ‘Remastered’ aspect that drags the overall product down. To get the good additions out of the way, Blind Squirrel Games did a decent job improving the graphics to a solid level, and the additional documentary is likely to be fascinating for new and old fans alike. However, the technical support is where the problems lie. At launch, the game missed a number of significant graphical features, several key resolutions and suffered from a whole swarm of frustrating bugs. Granted, many of those issues were fixed in a patch released almost a month later, but even after that I still continued to suffer from frustratingly frequent crashes to desktop. I estimate that I lost almost two hours of gameplay to lax saving and a subsequent crash. It is genuinely disappointing considering the quality of the game itself, and makes this remaster feel more like a cash-grab than a loving re-release of a modern classic.That being said, this is still the best way to experience this masterpiece of game design.
Certainly the technical side is frustrating, but the sheer quality and richness of the experience on hand almost makes trudging through the bugs and crashes worthwhile. If you haven’t dived into Bioshock before, would you kindly purchase this remaster because everyone deserves to go on this incredible journey under the sea.