It’s rather fascinating to see how the first-person shooter genre, which began as a mostly single-player thing, has gone on over the years to become much more focused on multiplayer. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but it’s a little disappointing to see memorable, narrative-driven adventures tossed aside in the name of deathmatches and battle royales. Still, this just makes modern single-player shooters that much more special, and all three entries in the BioShock franchise certainly fit the bill of "special". BioShock: The Collection combines all three games and their DLC into one cohesive package, and it’s safe to say that this is some of the best single-player, first-person shooting available on the Switch to date.
For those of you out of the loop, the BioShock games each centre around a dystopian society of some sort that has slowly become corrupted by its ideals. Your journey through these worlds is one of gradual discovery, as environmental storytelling and audio logs fill in the gaps and help explain the events and layers of conflict that led to the place you’re currently in. And though the gameplay is thoroughly that of a first-person shooter, combat encounters in BioShock are generally a bit more cerebral than merely pointing and shooting. Though you have a thorough arsenal of weapons at your disposal, the real flavour of combat comes in the unique usage of "Plasmids", which are basically superpowers you can use to turn the tide in your favour.
These games were lauded in their time for the innovation they brought to the genre, introducing interesting gameplay mechanics and thought-provoking deep dives into philosophy that made each title more than 'just' another shooty-shooty sort of experience. Opinions will always differ on which game was the best and for what reasons, but we can confidently state that each of these releases is alone worthy of the full price of admission. The unique blending of horror elements, plot, action, and puzzle-solving is yet to be matched by modern shooters, and we’ll now take a minute to skim over the important bits of each release.
The first BioShock introduces you to the thrilling underwater city of Rapture, a place of high objectivist ideals that has fallen into a state of depravity and ruin. You – an initially unnamed protagonist who stumbles into the city after surviving a mid-ocean plane crash – slowly make your way through the dark and watery remains of this once great city, guided by radio from a mysterious man named Atlas. It doesn’t take long for you to encounter Splicers, the monstrous survivors of Rapture’s downfall, whose minds have been addled by the copious plasmid use and who see you as their next potential means of getting a fix. Your cautious journey will also bring you into contact with the creepy Little Sisters harvesting corpses throughout the city, each of which is accompanied by a terrifying Big Daddy.
The most striking thing of this 20-ish hour journey is simply how incredibly immersive the environments can be; developer 2K Boston (later renamed Irrational Games) did an exceptional job of creating a tense and detailed atmosphere that shows much more than it tells. For example, just about every corpse you stumble upon has a story as to how it got there, whether that be through audio logs or things you can infer from the surrounding areas, and it’s this kind of attention to detail which makes it so easy to become enamoured with the mystery and tragedy of Rapture.
Additionally, this release sets the tone for player agency that would go on to become a series staple, and the focus is evident in all layers of the gameplay. For example, when you defeat a Big Daddy, the now defenceless Little Sister can either be saved or killed, and your decisions in these situations affect the ending you’ll receive. Then, there’s the combat, which always gives you multiple divergent options for dealing with enemies. For example, you can destroy a sentry drone and fight off your other attackers with a wrench, or you can hack the drone to fight on your side and stun all the attackers with a plasmid while the drone finishes them off. There are some places where BioShock feels a little antiquated (more on that in a bit), but rest assured, this is a title that has earned the legacy status it has achieved.
BioShock 2, then, stands as perhaps the most underrated title in the series, as it builds upon its predecessor and views many of its elements through a different lens. Here, you play as Subject Delta, who is one of the Big Daddies that you so dearly hoped to avoid fighting in the previous game. As a result, you get all the benefits of playing as an enormous juggernaut with a drill-arm, and the results are as suitably satisfying as you’d hope for them to be. The setting remains in Rapture, but the narrative now focuses more on what happens next after the previous title focused on basically exploring everything that had already happened. Sofia Lamb, the new antagonist, acts as an interesting foil to BioShock’s Andrew Ryan; trading his objectivist ideals for a collectivist approach that proves to be equally diabolical in its application.
In many ways, one could say that BioShock 2 feels a bit like an expansion to the original rather than a full-on sequel, but this doesn’t mean that it’s any less effective in attaining its goals. For one thing, the storytelling is much more focused on individual people and their emotions – as opposed to their ideologies or societal roles – and this focus on the more human side of Rapture is both fascinating in its own right while also retroactively making the original BioShock that much better in hindsight. Moreover, the difficulty in combat has been ratcheted up another notch to match your power jump by assuming the role of a Big Daddy, and the additional benefits offered here via upgrade options and combat variability make for a release that feels, in many ways, like the next logical step after everything that the first BioShock laid out. BioShock 2 may always live in the shadow of its predecessor, but we implore that you give this one a fair shake; it’s way better than it gets credit for.
Rounding out the package is BioShock Infinite, which saw series creator Ken Levine returning to the helm and took the series out of the watery depths for the first time. In this game, you play as Booker DeWitt, a grizzled detective with a troubled past who’s been coerced by his debtors into infiltrating the flying city of Columbia to retrieve a girl with the power to tear holes in the fabric of reality. Much like Rapture, Columbia is a city based upon ideals, but where Rapture was built upon mostly political and economical ideas, Columbia is all about strict adherence to religious zealotry. There are many eerie connections to Evangelicalism here, and we get to see it all played out live as this is a city which is very much still alive and kicking.
BioShock Infinite’s commentary on religion and patriotism remains thoroughly interesting, and the introduction of new game mechanics like the Skyhook and having Elizabeth constantly aiding you in combat help to differentiate this release from the two that came before. Thematically, it fits in with the series quite well, and though the narrative is still rightfully polarizing to many, the new setting allows for the writers and environmental designers to tap their imagination in ways that the underwater setting never allowed for. For example, that rollercoaster-like ride with the Skyhook, flying above clouds as you’re pursued by a giant mechanical bird, is just one of many immensely memorable set-piece moments. Of the three releases here, BioShock Infinite is by far the most cinematic and explosive, which gives it a unique identity without stripping away too much of what makes BioShock great.
Though all three games positively excel in many ways through their storytelling, mechanics, and environment design, there are still some ways in which they also feel notably creaky. For example, the first two games don’t have an option to make your character run, and aiming down the sights is a hokey, toggleable action which not all weapons support. Little things like this, while not game-breaking, do nonetheless require a bit of ‘adjustment’ and give the games a more dated and old-school feel. We also feel it bears mentioning that none of these games feature motion aiming support on Switch, which feels like an odd omission given the popularity of the feature in most shooters on Nintendo's console. Again, it’s not a huge issue, but the design of the Joy-Con controllers makes the Switch an uncomfortable platform to play twin-stick shooters on for extended sessions.
As for presentation, this recent video from Digital Foundry can explain the finer points much better, but suffice to say, all three games perform extremely well regardless of how you play. The target 30 FPS barely flinches even in bigger and complex firefights, making for a delightfully smooth experience on both docked and handheld modes. To make this possible, the resolution in both modes targets either 1080p or 720p, but this is dynamically scaled as necessary. Still, we didn’t notice very substantial drops in our playthroughs, and the detailed effects like dynamic lighting and water physics are suitably pleasing to see.
Now, we feel it bears mentioning that this port, pleasant though it may be, isn’t releasing in a vacuum. It’s regularly on sale on other platforms for less than twenty bucks, and just about all those alternative platforms offer up the same exact content in a more visually-detailed experience at a much higher framerate. As ever, the main draw with this Switch port is the portability. Docked performance is fine, and remains at least comparable to the equivalent experience on other platforms, but it shouldn’t be acting as the main draw here. That all said, before taking the plunge on the Switch version, we’d advise you to first think of how much you want it specifically for your Switch. Flying around Columbia is a special thing to experience in portable mode, of course, but the high cost and dip in performance mean that those of you who mostly or only play in docked mode will be getting a lesser experience. Of course, if Switch is your only gaming platform, this point becomes moot.
BioShock: The Collection stands as yet another fantastic port in the Switch’s ever-growing library, combining three excellent games and all their DLC into one convincing package. Stable performance, engrossing narratives, fun gameplay, and lots of content make this one an easy recommendation, even if these releases show their age from time to time. If you’re looking for a good single-player shooter to pick up for your Switch, look no further than BioShock: The Collection. We’d give this one a high recommendation, it’s tough to go wrong here.