Stepping back into Rapture after an extended time away felt like coming home in BioShock: The Collection. Bringing together the trilogy of games and all of their respective DLC, The Collection offers the best opportunity for newcomers to dive into some of the most memorable first-person shooters of the last generation. Longtime fans of lighthouses, Big Daddys, and plasmids, on the other hand, will find uneven rewards across the three games.

IGN gave BioShock a 9.7 upon its original release, calling it “one of those monumental experiences you’ll never forget.” And that memorable exploration of objectivism and utopian ideals wrapped in a collapsed Art Deco underwater city remains an impactful one. What struck me most about starting up the original BioShock as part of The Collection was just how evocative the introduction remains.

The original BioShock receives the most noticeable visual upgrade — Rapture looks as beautiful and haunting as I remembered the 2007 version appearing in my head. Sure, even with the visual polish it can’t quite stand up to some of the detailed worlds being produced today, but Rapture’s dank, collapsing corridors are still a wonder to behold based on their style if not their technology.

As an experienced BioShock player back for more I’ve searched every nook and cranny of that underwater city several times before, and yet I still found myself scouring corners once again because there’s now a new incentive to explore all of Rapture: an unlockable director’s commentary video series called “Imagining BioShock.”

The multi-part series, found via film reels hidden in Rapture, is the only major content addition to any game in The Collection, but it’s a good one because we get to watch Irrational Games’ Creative Director Ken Levine and Animation Director Shawn Robertson breaking down the original BioShock from its initial conception to the final product. After that cohesive and entertaining look back it’s disappointing that neither BioShock 2 nor BioShock Infinite have any new content at all.

It’s disappointing that neither BioShock 2 nor BioShock Infinite have any new content at all.

Speaking of those two sequels, BioShock 2 (which IGN originally gave a 9.1 in 2010) has a more subtle visual update. It’s mostly seen in the improved lighting of the still-crumbling Rapture so the difference isn’t as stark as BioShock 1’s revamped textures. It still plays well, though – while the plot feels like a retread of the themes and concepts that made the first such an intriguing story, the smart changes to gameplay (dual-wielding plasmids and weapons seems like a revelation when compared to the first game) and focus on wave-based combat during certain scenarios are a welcome upgrade.

In fact, the biggest change to BioShock 2 in The Collection is that it lacks its multiplayer this time around. Though it worked surprisingly well for a tacked-on multiplayer mode of that era in the original version, its absence isn’t a deal breaker in a collection focused on strong single-player experiences. (Note that the Uncharted series’ Nathan Drake Collection also dropped the old multiplayer modes — this may be a trend.)

BioShock Infinite (which IGN gave a 9.4 in 2013), meanwhile, is a more modern game to begin with, so the only perceptible change to the Collection version as compared to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 edition is the higher resolution, better texture quality, and smoother 60 frames per second frame rate that finally matches the PC version. The beautiful floating citadel remains picturesque and bright, which is a welcome change after two go-arounds submerged in the depths of the ocean. But as a returning visitor, Infinite’s beauty is less immediately striking than it was, and the lack of upgrades or new content left me less motivated to explore.

With that said, Infinite and its fantastic Burial at Sea parts 1 and 2 expansions still feel like the ambitious follow-up the original BioShock needed. Not all of its twists and turns work, and the middle section can still be a slog to work through (the Lady Comstock battle will forever be a pain). Yet Infinite’s world is still one imbued with a sense of wonder that remains worthy of playing through.
The Verdict

As a veteran returning to play through the three games of BioShock: The Collection is a pleasure, but it’s a bit disappointing to watch the updates and behind-the-scenes content to each entry gradually decline. The original BioShock receives the greatest overhaul and flourishes with new textures and lighting that bring it almost up to modern standards, and a Ken Levine retrospective, while BioShock Infinite is essentially the PC version Of course the ideas and gameplay presented and executed in all three are as memorable as they were when first released, and anyone who missed them a decade ago should definitely consider rectifying that. If you intend to play one of these fascinating and fun adventures for the first time or the tenth, the BioShock Collection is the best way to go about it.