It’s a funny thing booting up an all-time great on a handheld device. In the park on a sunny day, I angle the screen towards a group of onlookers who are squinting at what I’m playing. Rapture is coming into view, this aquatic dystopia revealing itself at my very fingertips. Mere moments in, I’m already sold, and I want other people to see it too.
Nostalgia has powerful appeal and BioShock: The Collection makes a lot of sense on the Switch. The package comprises all three games and their respective DLC, and to a new audience, it’s a chance to add an important series to the library. To an existing fan, it represents a new way to play. Developer Virtuos has taken care of the port, and the team has done an excellent job of honoring Ken Levine’s vision. In fact, many of the flourishes found in the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro editions are present here.
Handheld mode needs to be experienced first-hand. It’s spectacular, with its 720p resolution more than adequate, and a target of 30 frames per second which is often met without a hitch. Blow the games up on a 4K TV and the results are less pleasing — with low-resolution textures easier to discern, especially during intense combat. Still, since you can get these games on all major consoles and PCs, you’re not buying the Switch version for fidelity. Rather, you want the novelty of playing it on-the-go.
Back to the park, and back to Rapture, and I’ve relocated to a shady spot to see the screen properly. The dank labyrinthine halls aren’t easy to navigate against a glare. A shady spot is a must, as is a bump in gamma. As I set off on my mission it’s clear time hasn’t robbed the original BioShock of its beauty. In the long-running are games art debate, this must represent the best example of an answer in the affirmative, and the addition of a developer’s commentary mode makes it fun to revisit.
Of course, as a functional plaything — you know, something anchored to mechanics — I’ve never been completely sold. Look past the extraordinary world — a ruined utopia beneath the sea — and you’ve got a boilerplate shooter with some RPG mechanics layered on for good measure. All of it is functional, somehow, and yet underwhelming at the same time, and the likes of Dishonored and Prey have subsequently improved upon the formula by offering more freedom and a greater number of emergent moments. Feel free to disagree, but you could argue BioShock 2 has stronger fundamentals. In the shoes of a Big Daddy, there’s a change of protagonist as well, and you’ve also got the excellent Minerva’s Den DLC to enjoy once you’re finished the main campaign.
The highest highs and lowest lows come in the third and final act. BioShock Infinite is set in the clouds with a story that’s virtually peerless and an eleventh-hour twist that blows the mind. It pushes the narrative envelope further than almost any other game I can think of, but it’s also the most revealing of the series’ limitations. Elizabeth, the Rapunzel figure you spring from captivity, soon becomes nothing more than an A-to-B assistant in combat, lobbing you ammo when you’re low. And the less said about the combat the better, with far too many arduous firefights especially during the tedious midpoint. What’s more, it’s hard to ignore what Infinite might have been: a far freer, open-ended experience with the ability to traverse the incredible world in interesting ways. Hop on YouTube and it doesn’t take long to find pre-release footage of a game that saw many of its features on the cutting room floor.
Put the games together and you’ve got 40+ hours of content and plenty to mull over once you’re done. They’re not perfect, but it’s hard to think of a series that has done more for the optics of the industry. These are games that are achingly beautiful — not just technically, but artistically as well — and I can’t underplay how gratifying it is to take them on the move. When the world returns to normal and public transport and outdoor gatherings are par for the course again, you’re going to whip out your Switch with a Cheshire’s cat grin in place. Are games art? Armed with a Switch and The BioShock Collection, you can start knocking on doors like a Jehovah’s Witness with tangible evidence in hand. Yes, they are.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided to us by 2K Games.
It's hard to think of a series that has done more for the optics of the industry. The Bioshock series is a true artistic achievement, and these games are glorious to behold on the Switch.