BioShock: The Collection Review

It’s easy to forget that the Switch is a predominantly handheld console. Sure, you can attach it to your TV, but the real wonder of Nintendo’s outrageously successful hybrid is that it really is the first handheld console that can ostensibly compete with its home console brethren in terms of both playability and visual fidelity. Admittedly, if you’re playing the numbers game, the Switch is a long way behind the Xbox One and PS4, but somehow, despite its diminutive form factor, developers (and not just Nintendo for a change), are really starting to work technical miracles with it.

There might be a glass ceiling to what can be achieved on a purely technical level with the Switch, and yes, playing certain games in docked mode does occasional highlight the hardware’s deficiencies, but in handheld mode games like Doom, Wolfenstein, and more recently the likes of Overwatch and The Outer Worlds, have showcased what is arguably an industry first – a handheld that can deliver home console quality performance. Ok, so the Vita did a decent enough job of that, but you never felt like you were playing genuine home console quality releases on it – there was always too many concessions to be made. And then there was the form factor – it might have looked lovely, but the twin sticks on the Vita were pants. The Joy-Cons might not be the best controllers in the world, but again, they are certainly comparable to the DualShock, and along with the core Switch tech, ensure that the dream of home console quality gaming on the go is finally here.

That might have all sounded like a rather long winded advert for the Switch, but I think it’s important to remember just how impressive it is to have a trilogy of games of this quality on a handheld device. Are they as pretty as the recently(ish) released HD ports for Xbox One and PS4? No. But they are certainly comparable, and in handheld mode in particular, the differences feel genuinely negligible. Honestly, playing these games on the Switch often felt like something of a revelation, and they have to be amongst the finest ports on the console.

With impressive framerates (striving towards, and often successfully achieving, 1080p in docked mode) visual fidelity closer to the HD re-releases than the 360/PS3 originals, fantastic performance across the board and all of the DLC (sans BioShock 2’s much maligned multiplayer mode – don’t worry, you’re not missing much), this collection really is something quite special. It’s technically at its best in docked mode, but the real point of this Switch port is being able to play these games on the go, and that’s undoubtedly where they shine brightest.

Of the three games in the collection, the first is still held in the highest regard, but honestly, even upon its initial release, the original BioShock, despite its amazing introduction to the world of Rapture and its still impressive implementation of complex political issues housed inside a mechanically adventurous shooter, was, and still is, my least favourite of the three games in this collection. Now, I say ‘least favourite’, but that’s obviously a relative term. It might be my least favourite, and the one that has perhaps unsurprisingly aged the worst, but it’s still a fantastic game in its own right, and given the structure of its world, one very well-suited to handheld gaming.

As good as the original BioShock was (and still is in many respects), I always struggled with its somewhat shonky core mechanics. There are some great ideas in here and some brilliant uses of the games’ Plasmid abilities, but its core shooter mechanics didn’t feel great then and invariably don’t feel great today. Still, while they will take some getting used to, the narrative, themes and artistic design that drive the game forward are as impressive (and sadly unique) as ever. Most will know the game’s major twist by now, but it still feels like a genuine storytelling bombshell 13 years (how the hell did that happen!?) after its original release.

BioShock 2 is often seen as the black sheep of the collection, but thanks to its much improved mechanics, greater scope and exceptional DLC in the form Minerva’s Den (perhaps the only example of DLC that is arguably more famous than the core game upon which it is based), has always been criminally underrated in my opinion. Due to its aesthetic similarities, it could never have the same impact as the first game, but thanks to is far more refined shooting and more visually varied take on Rapture, it is, for my money at least, the superior gaming experience.

Then there is Infinite, a game that took forever to come out and, despite its brilliance, managed to split critical opinion. Now, I know a lot of people have issues with it, but it’s undoubtedly my favourite game in the BioShock collection and the one that, while taking a bigger performance hit than its two predecessors, stands up most successfully to a modern day critical review. There is no need for rose-tinted glasses on this one – BioShock Infinite was great in 2013, and comfortably remains so in 2020. I think it’s fair to say that nothing in the game (other than perhaps its spectacular final hour or so) quite matches those opening moments traversing the sky city of Columbia, but in terms of marrying up the unique, and often challenging tones and themes that drive the narrative with genuinely top-tier gameplay, BioShock Infinite stands, if not head and shoulders above its predecessors, certainly at the top of the BioShock class. And with its own, less famous but equally strong DLC (Burial at Sea), also included, you are looking at a game that could arguably still warrant a full price release on Switch if released on its own.

Of course, given the fact that you can find these games much cheaper on PS4 and Xbox One means that some will likely scoff at the asking price, but again, being able to play these games on the go is a genuinely unique selling point, one that shouldn’t be overlooked, and one that, in my opinion at least, makes this the most enticing reason to return to the unforgettable worlds of Rapture and Columbia.

BioShock’s uniquely dystopian look at a fictional past remains quite unlike anything else in video games. From a purely mechanical perspective, some of the games have aged better than others, but in terms of its storytelling and narrative ambition, the BioShock trilogy and its industry-leading DLC remains as impressive as ever. The Switch collection might not be the most technically impressive way to relive these games, but the opportunity to play them on the go feels genuinely special, and with impressive performance and limited concessions across the board, playing on Switch (especially in handheld mode), in no way feels like a compromised experience. Whether you be new to the series or a veteran of the previous generation, this Switch release provides a perfect opportunity to revisit one of gaming’s most important trilogies.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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BioShock: The Collection Review
  • Gameplay - 9/10
    9/10
  • Graphics - 9/10
    9/10
  • Sound - 9/10
    9/10
  • Replay Value - 9/10
    9/10
Overall
9/10

Summary

Whether you be new to the series or a veteran of the previous generation, this Switch release provides a perfect opportunity to revisit one of gaming’s most important trilogies.