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BioShock: The Collection seems like a worthwhile return to Rapture

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The original BioShock is the belle of the ball

The BioShock series is one of the most beloved trilogies of the previous console generation, and with no sign of another entry in the franchise coming anytime soon, it made sense for publisher 2K Games to bring BioShock, BioShock 2 and BioShock Infinite to the current generation with a fresh coat of paint.

That’s primarily what we saw when we spent about an hour and a half playing BioShock: The Collection last week. In this three-game bundle, the original BioShock has received the most attention — both from the obvious visual standpoint, as well as from a DVD-extras perspective.

BioShock 2 screenshots

BioShock: The Collection comes on two discs: The first houses BioShock and BioShock 2, while the second is reserved entirely for Infinite. For players who buy the package digitally, this split manifests itself a bit strangely on PlayStation 4 (at least in the early version we were playing, which may differ from the final release).

In the digital PS4 version we played, each of the two "discs" appears as its own icon on the PS4 dashboard. You then choose to play BioShock or BioShock 2 upon booting up the "disc" in question. But there’s no overarching menu interface within, no option to return to that choice — the only way to switch between the two titles is to quit the application and restart it, then pick the other game.

Aside from that oddity, this bundle is pretty straightforward. Southern California-based studio Blind Squirrel Games handled the remastering process, and in our time with the three games, we found that they all appeared to run at 60 frames per second in 1080p with few or no dips from that target.

BioShock Infinite screenshots

That’s a major improvement over the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 originals, which all ran at 30 fps by default. (It was possible to unlock the frame rate even on consoles, which allowed the games to run at higher than 30 fps but often produced screen tearing and an uneven frame rate.) And aside from the performance bump, the environments in all three games feature a level of clarity and detail that didn’t exist before, as you would expect. If visual fidelity is what you’re looking for out of this package, you’ll likely be satisfied.

Purists who want the original gameplay experience will be pleased, too. According to a 2K representative, Blind Squirrel remastered the games with the intent of remaining faithful to the way they played back in the day. So don’t expect any tuning to, say, the serviceable but unspectacular combat in BioShock, or the brutal difficulty of BioShock Infinite’s final battle atop Father Comstock’s zeppelin.

As for the content side of the equation, BioShock: The Collection delivers for the most part, with all the single-player downloadable content for each game. BioShock 2 comes with its "Protector Trials" add-on as well as the acclaimed Minerva’s Den side story. (The game’s multiplayer component is not included.) BioShock Infinite features the wave-based combat challenge "Clash in the Clouds," along with both episodes of the story expansion Burial at Sea.

BioShock screenshots

BioShock: The Collection doesn’t add anything beyond the DLC to those two titles. BioShock, on the other hand, is the game in the package that’s universally adored, and it’s unequivocally the star of this collection.

On the DLC front, The Collection includes the "Challenge Rooms" add-on that was initially exclusive to the PS3 version of BioShock. It also offers two bonus features: one that’s solid if unremarkable, and another that’s impressive because it could only be done in this medium.

2K is touting the presence in this package of Imagining BioShock, a 10-episode series that the company is referring to as "director’s commentary." That’s a bit of a misnomer — this isn’t like the in-game audio commentary that Valve has done for titles such as Portal and Left 4 Dead. Instead, the episodes of Imagining BioShock are simply eight- to 10-minute videos of journalist Geoff Keighley interviewing Ken Levine (creative director on BioShock and BioShock Infinite) and Shawn Robertson (animation lead on BioShock and animation director on BioShock Infinite), interspersed with footage and concept art from the series.

The three of them mostly discuss the first BioShock — with spoilers — and from the preview you can watch below, Robertson and Levine do offer some noteworthy insights into the development process. But what’s annoying about the implementation of Imagining BioShock is that you can’t watch the videos from the get-go; you must unlock them by playing through the game and keeping an eye out for a new type of hidden collectible: golden film reels.

BioShock 2 screenshots

BioShock’s other bonus feature in The Collection, the "Museum of Orphaned Concepts," is more interesting — even it if isn’t new. (The content debuted as part of BioShock Ultimate Rapture Edition, a bundle of the first two games that was released in January 2013.)

The museum is literally that: a virtual space in Rapture that you can walk through, with artwork and even full-size models of concepts from developer Irrational Games that never made it into the final product. There are some ideas for Big Daddies in that museum that are even more terrifying than what’s in BioShock already.

Of course, DVD-style extras aren’t the main attraction here; the games themselves are. And BioShock: The Collection seems like it will deliver the kind of current-generation upgrade you would want for these old games, whether it’s the vast improvement to BioShock or the relatively minor one to BioShock Infinite. We’ll find out for sure when BioShock: The Collection launches Sept. 13 for $59.99 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.