Few games are as influential as BioShock was, and few games manage to maintain momentum and quality as the franchise grows and reaches a broader audience. So, what made the original BioShock special, how did the sequels expand upon it, and what does the future of the franchise look like?
Read on and find out!
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Release date: August 21, 2007
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows, macOS, iOS
There was virtually nothing that was unremarkable about the original BioShock, from the story and the premise alone to the amazing art direction and engaging gameplay mechanics that combined FPS and RPG elements into an effective whole, all of it adding up to create what is arguably one of the best games ever made.
The game places the player in the shoes of a (mostly) silent protagonist named Jack who, after surviving a plane crash in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, discovers the underwater city of Rapture, an anarcho-capitalist dystopia that is undoubtedly one of the most striking and memorable settings ever conceived.
And once Jack finds this underwater paradise-turned-hell, he teams up with a mysterious voice on the radio who introduces himself only as “Atlas” and enlists Jack’s aid in a quest to rescue his family and kill Andrew Ryan, the city’s founder who had become something of a tyrant in his own libertarian utopia.
Going forward, Jack has to face hordes of splicers – the city’s inhabitants who had devolved into violent addicts, dependent on the gene-altering substance known as ADAM – and he has to take on the greater challenges posed by the game’s signature enemies: the Big Daddies, the unyielding protectors of Little Sisters who harvest and recycle ADAM around Rapture.
The game’s plot features multiple complex layers, dealing not only with morality and politics, but also delving into sociological, psychological, and philosophical matters.
As mentioned above, BioShock features a dynamic mix of FPS and RPG elements, featuring a number of weapons commonly present in old school shooters while spicing things up with various “superpowers” in the form of plasmids. Enemies, including the weaker ones, are quite resilient and ammo is not always in ample supply, so the player has to be clever and make full use of their arsenal in order to overcome Rapture’s many challenges, especially on higher difficulty levels.
Most enemies in the game are the above-described splicers, who come in several flavors. These include melee, firearm, and grenade-armed splicers, stealthy Spider Splicers who can scale walls, use both ranged and melee attacks, and take considerable amounts of damage, and Houdini Splicers who use illusions, teleportation, and plasmids to take on the player.
Apart from them, there are also the aforementioned signature (mini)bosses – Big Daddies, who come in both melee (Bouncer) and ranged (Rosie) flavors. They are the hardest enemies to kill, but also offer the best rewards, as they are the sole guardians of the Little Sisters that the player needs to rescue/harvest in order to obtain ADAM and new abilities.
Overall, as mentioned in the introduction, BioShock is one of those rare games that manage to leave a lasting impact. Not only is it a downright amazing experience in nearly every regard, but it also played a pivotal role in helping video games break into the mainstream and become a legitimate artistic medium.
BioShock was originally released for the PS3, the Xbox 360, and the PC, while a remastered version of the game was released for the PS4, the Xbox One, and the PC in 2016. The remaster was also brought to macOS in 2017. Furthermore, the game was also ported to iOS in 2014 but was eventually removed from the App Store due to compatibility issues with newer iOS devices.
Release date: February 9, 2010
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows, macOS
Following in the footsteps of the original game, the sequel – BioShock 2 – was released in 2010. The game also takes place in Rapture, after the events of the original game, but with a twist –player assumes the role of Big Daddy this time around.
The game opens with a familiar scene – a Big Daddy escorting and protecting a Little Sister. Only this time, the player views the process through the eyes of the iron-clad guardian. After a brief glimpse of what Rapture looked like before the fall and after a violent encounter with a splicer gang, the protagonist is forced to shoot himself in the head by the game’s primary antagonist, Dr. Sofia Lamb, whose daughter – Eleanor Lamb – was apparently converted into a Little Sister.
The protagonist, known as Delta, is an early Big Daddy prototype who was bonded to a single Little Sister, so after he is revived years later with his Little Sister gone, he embarks on a similar quest through the dilapidated environments of Rapture.
As the original BioShock was quite thorough in its depiction of a dystopia, it mostly focused on the dangers of libertarianism and hardly touched upon the subject of religion. In contrast, BioShock 2 fixates mostly on the dangers of religion and collectivism.
The game plays more or less the same as the original BioShock, with some tweaks to the player’s arsenal. Most notably, the wrench is replaced by the Bouncer drill and the revolver is replaced by a lightweight version of the Rosie Rivet Gun. The other weapons are also tweaked so as to reflect the Big Daddy’s formidable nature, though they are fundamentally more or less the same as in the first game. Furthermore, unlike the Big Daddies encountered in the first game, Delta can actually use plasmids, which also remain more or less the same as in the first game.
Splicers remain the most common enemies and all the five types make a return in BioShock 2, though there are a more (mini)boss enemies this time around. These include three new types of Big Daddy – the mine, grenade, and turret-equipped Rumbler, Delta’s own Alpha Series colleagues, and the Big Sister, who keeps all the toughness of a Big Daddy while being far more agile. On top of that, there is an extra type of Big Daddy called the Lancer which is introduced in the Minerva’s Den DLC and which uses a powerful ion laser as its primary weapon.
Ultimately, BioShock 2 definitely feels like BioShock, though the player character is, ironically, nowhere near as impervious to damage as regular Big Daddies are. Furthermore, the quest for gathering ADAM no longer comes down to killing Big Daddies, as the player can actually “adopt” and escort Little Sisters on their mission to harvest ADAM as a means of getting extra ADAM from them.
At the end of the day, though it is a great-looking high-quality game in its own right, BioShock 2 felt like something of a lukewarm sequel to the original BioShock. But of course, it’s always difficult for a sequel to measure up to the original, especially if the original sets such a high bar. It doesn’t manage to pull off the atmosphere as well as the first game does, but many feel that the gameplay had actually been streamlined and improved.
Just like the original, BioShock 2 was originally released for the PS3, the Xbox 360, and the PC, and was subsequently ported to the PS4, the Xbox One, and re-released on PC as a remaster. Meanwhile, only the original version of the game was made available for macOS in 2012.
Release date: March 26, 2013
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows, macOS, Linux
The third BioShock game, BioShock Infinite, was actually a prequel to the original game which featured not only a new setting which stood in stark contrast to the damp and occasionally claustrophobic environments of Rapture, but the gameplay was also refreshed and adapted to the growing popularity of fast-paced FPS games. However, many felt that Infinite’s greatest merit lay in its plot and storytelling.
BioShock Infinite takes place in 1912, in a floating American city of Columbia. The open, bombastic steampunk environments are the complete opposite of Rapture’s gloomy underwater halls and corridors, while the themes present in Infinite are appropriate for the time and setting. Mainly, it deals with theocratic rule, capitalism, and racism, but it touches upon many other subjects as well.
The protagonist, Booker DeWitt, is a former detective and war veteran who was hired by two mysterious figures to rescue a girl named Elizabeth from Columbia and who would accompany the player for most of the game. But though the Big Daddy-Little Sister relationship may echo here, Elizabeth is far from a helpless ADAM harvester, as she wields strange space-warping powers that can be utilized in combat, providing the player with useful advantages.
Ultimately, BioShock Infinite feels more plot-heavy than either of the two prior BioShock games, which is understandable considering that the protagonist is not silent for a change, and the game’s plotlines wrap up remarkably well, though discussing them in any greater detail would be potentially spoiling some of the surprises that the game has in store.
As mentioned in the intro, BioShock Infinite revamps the combat system to make it more fast-paced and streamlined. Namely, it features a regenerating shield on top of the player’s HP bar and the player can only carry two weapons at a time (a change not everyone was fond of). The main melee weapon is a “sky-hook”, which is not only to used to deliver melee attacks and finishers but also as a means of boosting mobility, as it allows the player to ride Columbia’s many “sky-lines”, popping in and out of combat at will.
On top of that, plasmids make a return in the form of “vigors” which function more or less the same way. However, their effects are tweaked to reflect the changes to the combat system, and they are more suited to fast-paced shootouts than the more strategic approach that one would have to take in the previous games. BioShock Infinite also adds a variety of equipable gear to the mix – hats, shirts, pants, and boots that provide passive bonuses.
And of course, the game introduces a variety of new enemies. While Columbia’s police and military forces replace splicers as the main enemies, there are also a variety of heavy enemies that replace Big Daddies as the minibosses of the game, including the massive Handymen, the slow but powerful Motorized Patriots, and several others.
All in all, BioShock Infinite ended up being the most popular entry in the franchise, but whether it is the best of the bunch, only the player can decide. It received a two-part story DLC titled Burial at Sea which was something of a nostalgic Noir-style sendoff that revisited Rapture for the final time.
The game was originally released for the PS3, the Xbox 360, PC, and macOS, and was subsequently ported to the PS4, the Xbox One, and re-released on PC in 2016. A Linux port was also released prior to that in 2015.
Though the franchise was immensely popular and influential, the developer (Irrational Games, now Ghost Story Games) had decided to move on following the release of BioShock Infinite’s DLCs, while the BioShock IP remains in the hands of 2K Games. The company had announced that a new BioShock was in the works back in 2014, though we are yet to hear anything concrete regarding a new entry in the series.
In any case, BioShock is definitely not done yet, for better or for worse. Even though the original team has moved on, it will be interesting to see how new developers will handle the franchise and whether the next game, whenever it comes, will be as remarkable as its predecessors.