Bioshock Remastered Is Pretty Good

A true remaster, not just an old game running up-scaled

The only thing about modern gaming that irks me more than Pro/X enhancements just being resolution bumps

…is remasters that are just basic ports of old games running at higher resolutions with no new graphical work.

Time and again, newly “Remastered” games come out…and they’re just the same game now running at a higher resolution, often ported from the PC version of the original.

Fortunately, 2016’s Bioshock: The Collection had a fair amount of work done to it…at least for the first two games. Infinite is totally just the original PC version but it still looks pretty good and that ruins the point I’m trying to make, so let’s uh, let’s ignore that.

This true remastering work by BlindSquirrel got overshadowed at launch by some quickly fixed bugs, and by how easy it was to remember the original game looking more or less the same without checking it side-by-side.

MISE EN SCÈNE

That right there is some French film school/drama school business.

Basically, it means “visual scene composition.” The mise en scène is everything that makes up the image you’re looking at on the screen in a movie or a video game, or everything on the stage and how it’s arranged in a play.

Bioshock is one of the few games I can think of that tries to take composition into account all of the time.

It’s continually assaulting the player with neat-looking rooms, architectural angles, and color combinations. The game is designed to look good from as many angles as possible.

This attention to visual makeup is part of why the original Bioshock can still look good today, and part of why the remaster isn’t so striking if you haven’t seen the original in a while.

I took these screens in the Steam version of the game. It’s much easier to get to my Steam and Xbox screens than my PS4 screenshots. I think about this a lot.

That’s not to say that it’s without visual quirks.

Bioshock ran on a modified Unreal Engine 2.5, in an era where every other developer was falling over themselves to use Unreal Engine 3. Irrational Games had just created their own fork of the engine to use on SWAT 4, and they were pretty familiar with it…so they decided to keep going down that route for Bioshock,

One of the weirdest things about the original release of Bioshock is that it’s designed to operate at an FOV(field of view) of about 75 degrees, regardless of your screen’s aspect ratio. The field of view is the angle that your character can see from side to side in the world of the game.

In its dogged pursuit of this thinner-than-average field of view, the widescreen version of the game is a 4:3 image that’s been cropped at the top and the bottom. At least, by default.

There’s an option you can engage to widen the FOV in the original game…and this also causes more of your character’s arms to appear on screen. Which looks a little odd.

WHAT’S NEW HERE THEN?

In the new remaster, they’ve widened the FOV by default, and gone with the wider view of your own arms. Even if you decide to shrink the FOV on PC…they keep the wider view of your own arms. Which is odd.

Aside from that one weird quirk…everything in Bioshock 1 and 2 got a visual overhaul. Almost all of the textures are new and higher resolution. The character models and many of the environments are refined with higher polygon counts. The physics system is no longer locked to 30 frames per second, and some items that used to weigh too little now have properly realistic physics reactions. New foliage, fish, and environmental detail are present everywhere. Every piece of cloth in the game now flaps around and hangs realistically.

It probably took a ton of work…and should have been a sign to everyone that 2K was still serious about Bioshock.

WAIT THERE’S A NEW ONE COMING?

Everyone got surprised this week when Kotaku mentioned in an article about Mafia III that a new Bioshock was in development. To the point where almost every other gaming site on the internet wrote news stories about Kotaku’s story to talk about it.

Even though Strauss Zelnick mentioned the series was still in development in 2014.

And this involved, budget-backed remaster came out in 2016.

I’m just saying.

It’s hard to be surprised a new Bioshock is coming when we’ve already known that for years, and when it’s consistently been one of 2K’s top-selling franchises. Don’t make yourself a victim of marketing hype.

STRIKING A BALANCE

Bioshock is a much faster game than I remember it being, playing it again now. In 2007, I remember it feeling like a slow and ponderous thing, in a good way. I remember rooting around in hundreds of boxes looking for money, food, and materials. And it still has that.

It also has some of the fastest, most hilariously intense combat this side of Doom. Once combat begins, it goes at a breakneck pace that easily shows off the PC pedigree of the original development team. It’s amazing that the combat works on consoles at all, and it feels right at home on a mouse and keyboard.

To me, Bioshock now sits in a perfect middle ground between the systemic complexity of other “immersive simulation” games, and the fast fun gameplay of something like Doom. It’s still an immersive sim, but it moves fast.

The remaster captures all of that, and wraps it in a package that’s modern enough to stand the test of time.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If Bioshock: The Collection also included the original artwork, I think it would be pretty eye-opening, and show just how much work was done to the game. When you look at them side-by-side, it’s striking.

Including that art would have satisfied those that wanted to see the game how it was “originally intended.”

I have nothing but respect for the people at BlindSquirrel Games, and all the work they did on these classic games.

Bioshock is still worth playing. Plus, several months after these remasters came out, the original games were added to the backwards compatibility program on Xbox One, so you can do your own side-by-side if you’re crazy like me.

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