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Game On: Whatever happened to BioShock?

BioShock is a timeless game series often credited with advancing the concept of video games being a legitimate art form, but hasn’t seen a new release in nine years. The BioShock Collection combines all three entries into one package for Windows PC, macOS, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.  (Take-Two Interactive)
BioShock is a timeless game series often credited with advancing the concept of video games being a legitimate art form, but hasn’t seen a new release in nine years. The BioShock Collection combines all three entries into one package for Windows PC, macOS, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. (Take-Two Interactive)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

The first BioShock came out of nowhere in 2007 and miraculously made waves despite its stiff competition – Halo 3, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode Two were all excellent first-person shooters that launched the same year to already-dedicated followings. How’d they manage to compete?

BioShock had a ton of hype leading up to its release – sure, it was another edgy shooter, but it’s not every day a game is set in a dystopian underwater city ruled by Objectivist philosophy featuring a prominent art deco style. Rather than fighting off aliens or soldiers like so many other shooters, you’re dealing with genetically-mutated humans called “Splicers” and monstrosities in diving suits.

Top it all off with a highly customizable arsenal of weaponry and a story that poses thoughtful philosophical and sociopolitical questions and you’ve got yourself a rollercoaster ride of a game. It’s no wonder it scored a 96/100 on Metacritic, the average across 88 critic reviews. The game publisher’s parent, Take-Two Interactive, saw its stock value jump up 20% shortly following BioShock’s release.

Publisher 2K saw fit to craft a sequel that takes place 10 years after the first game’s events, and while the gameplay is much tighter, the narrative struck me and many others as tacked-on and almost irrelevant to the events of the original. It came as no surprise to me when I learned Irrational Games, the developer that created BioShock, had no hand in BioShock 2 – they instead went on to make the excellent BioShock Infinite, which released in 2013 after numerous delays.

Despite the game’s superb sales and stellar reviews, Irrational Games shut down shortly after finishing BioShock Infinite because there was simply no way to recoup the costs that went into making a single game across six years. Creative director Ken Levine stepped down to form a much smaller subsidiary of 2K, which has yet to produce a single game. Long story short, there hasn’t been another BioShock in nine years despite the franchise’s legendary status and near-perfect track record.

That’s due to change at some point in the future. In 2019, 2K announced that a fourth BioShock game was in the works under new development team Cloud Chamber. While Levine won’t have a hand in it, several dedicated Irrational Games developers made the jump to Cloud Chamber.

There hasn’t been any official word on the next BioShock ever since, so of course fans are chomping at the bit for more information anywhere they can possibly find it. Admittedly, certain job listings on Cloud Chamber’s website seem to hint at the possibility of the game being less linear and more of an open-world title. Between industry-wide trends and the series’ penchant for creating immersive and imaginative settings, it’s not a far-fetched idea.

It’s also highly likely that the setting will be brand new. BioShock 2 took place in the ruined underwater city of Rapture, same as the original, but BioShock Infinite thrust players into a completely different timeframe and setting – a steampunk sky-city facing issues of cultism, racial injustice and American exceptionalism. The precedent of the series containing multiple settings and timelines has already been set.

Besides that, February saw the announcement of a film adaptation of the first game in the works between Netflix and Take-Two. TV and film adaptations of video games don’t exactly have a stellar track record, but between the well-received “Sonic the Hedgehog” movies, “Detective Pikachu” and even the surprisingly OK 2021 “Mortal Kombat” flick, that reputation is starting to turn around. Furthermore, BioShock is a better candidate than most games due to its linear and narrative-heavy presentation – they wouldn’t have to change too many details.

BioShock is a timeless series that millions of gamers are eager to see expanded, especially amidst the uninspired landscape of AAA titles in recent years. To anyone curious who hasn’t played the series yet, go for it – they’ve barely aged a day. The BioShock Collection containing all three entries and their add-ons is currently available on Windows PC, macOS, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch and goes on sale often.

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