Like fine wine, 2K’s BioShock series has aged gracefully into the Nintendo Switch and pulls out all the stops in making the console’s best-looking games to date. All three shooters, BioShock, BioShock 2 and BioShock Infinite make their appearances on a Nintendo platform for the first time while keeping its still-relevant first person shooter mechanics intact. The collection also impresses with balancing its visuals and performance just right, even when enough technical setbacks remind you the series was around since 2007.
As a package, BioShock: The Collection on Switch brings all of the games and their DLC content together. This includes the base games, BioShock 2‘s remastered Minerva’s Den story and Infinite‘s mind-blowing Burial at Sea episodes. As with other digital versions, players can buy each game separately on the eShop. For Switch gamers visiting Rapture for the first time or veterans shooting back up to Columbia, the core BioShock experience is intact and plays identically to past versions.
The original BioShock was ahead of its time in 2007, showing players an advanced FPS experience. A mixing of vintage weapons and plasmids gave visitors in Rapture a fighting chance against Splicers. Its unique enemy variety still challenges players while forcing them to always change up their tactics. Using both bullets and powers are intuitive while it’s satisfying to use Rapture’s different elements to your advantage. Its linear level design is refreshing to see in an age of open-world games at the cost of a shorter experience. BioShock shows that it’s possible to explore a city one piece at a time. Along the way, 2K built its world through audio recordings scattered around the map. The more players listened, the more horrifying Rapture became.
Of course, there have been a few mobile-based attempts to size down the FPS. From a cell phone game, to a cancelled PlayStation Vita port and an iOS version, 2K moved carefully in seeing how the 2007 cult classic can transform for smaller screens. But BioShock: The Collection on the Switch makes the console/handheld experience almost seamless. It’s also surprising to see these are definitely the remastered versions of the games running on a mobile processor, even coming close to striking a spitting image with its higher-tier ports.
In BioShock Remastered and BioShock 2 Remastered, the underwater city of Rapture easily steps on the original PS3/Xbox 360 version thanks to its updated textures and environment effects. Though over a decade old, it’s worth noting small details like water physics and lighting pollution keep the game sharp on the Switch‘s limited capabilities.
Natural ocean light shines in bloody hotel rooms. Flickering neon signs illuminate the aftermath of fresh murder scenes. Reflections and a touch of velvet also make this fallen 1960s utopia different from its less elegant citizens. Between fighting crazed enemies in three games, I remember looking down on a Splicer or Big Daddy to see how their appearances changed as Rapture went further down the hill. BioShock 2 Remastered even goes a step up from its original in bringing these scenes to the ocean floor during outdoor sections. Redone sections of Rapture’s themed landmarks to underwater pathways do their job in getting players immersed – something 2K still manages to do as Switch owners are gaming outside.
BioShock 2 essentially does what it can to make players have more fun in Rapture. Developers took many of the problems that bothered players in the first one and simplified them. Hated Big Daddies? You are one now. Hacking was too difficult? Try a timed one-button approach. Not enough Rapture? No worries. The sequel actually uses new and unseen parts of Rapture while adding more desperation in its people and environment. This is BioShock with more science fiction elements and a DOOM-style carnage under the sea. More importantly, your player choices go past saving Little Sisters and now include the NPCs that help or betray you. Multiple endings are also reflected from your play style and shows how much more tailored the BioShock experience became for players.
2K’s last major series release, BioShock Infinite brings a stunning new world to the Switch and somehow takes more flaws away from the past two games. It’s approach on supernatural theories makes combat much more fun for players. Plasmids return with a different name while progression comes directly from the story. Players become ex-Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt, who searches for a mysterious girl and finds himself in a fight to escape a prophet’s fanatical followers.
But Infinite gives players a new friend in need through Elizabeth Comstock. An opposite version of Resident Evil 4‘s Ashley Graham, Elizabeth has been known as gaming’s greatest NPC, with an ability to take care of herself while supplying you with ammo and vigors in battle. She can also summon turrets and mechanical allies that actually work against enemies. The story deepens a bond between Booker and Elizabeth and makes players personally invested. A shocking conclusion also changes the way most grizzled BioShock fans approach future games to come. Its Burial at Sea DLC becomes a welcome addition on the Switch, adding a bit of Rapture back with Infinite‘s modern FPS mechanics.
Switch players might be relieved to see the same enhanced treatment given for BioShock Infinite. Its opening sequence to the cloud-drenched skylines of Columbia stand as one of gaming’s most jaw-dropping intros. The Switch is capable of making the game look more realistic than it did over consoles in 2013. Rays of light shoot out from glass-stained church windows. Clouds pass through buildings, adding more mystery to Infinite‘s backdrop. Bricks also show their age with cracks, making you wonder how the heck people in Columbia aren’t worried. It’s an impressive way for players to show off the Switch’s graphical prowess to the unconvinced.
At a reduced resolution, BioShock: The Collection looks better on Handheld Mode than it does Docked. While its aforementioned visuals pop on the Switch screen, that level of depth is gone over a bigger TV. Both Columbia and Rapture suffer from blurrier draw distance (how far you can see down a map) while objects like weapons and doors show jaggy edges. The effort to scale visuals down for performance are apparent for Switch users playing on bigger screens.
For fans, it takes a bit of acceptance in seeing cheaper effects through burning floors and plasmid/vigor attacks. The first two games feature barely readable text – a core gameplay mechanic that guides players through objectives and upgrades. But Infinite‘s TV-like scaling on the Switch makes words incredibly hard to read with no way to increase font size. This interrupted lots of information gathering from my time at Columbia and made Handheld Mode less enjoyable.
The biggest compromise from BioShock: The Collection is its 30 frames per second lock on all games. It’s not strange to see it being a standard on other Switch FPS ports including Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, Bulletstorm: Duke of Switch or DOOM (2016). But on Handheld or Tabletop Mode, the scale of BioShock‘s living environments are what make every game drop under 30fps during intense fights with enemies.
The problem is noticeable right away in the first game as players swim through a burning plane wreckage and fight any Big Daddy. More frame drops throw players off from a smooth experience as they defend Little Sisters from Splicers in BioShock 2, while scripted cutscenes come with a small jutter before action starts. Over a Switch that’s already pushing its limits, players might feel like they’re being interrupted in moments where Joy Con input matters the most. But further testing over all 3 games shows a millisecond of delay that becomes a bit tough to avoid in Infinite and 2.
Surprisingly, some of the gameplay became so intense in 1 and 2 that they crashed. That would be less painful if the last autosave didn’t force me to re-play the last 30 minutes again for both (and manually save like no tomorrow). Fortunately, no crashes happened during my playthrough of Infinite (though it’s the most demanding one in the collection). It’s also worth noting that loading times are very quick, with all games taking no longer than 14 seconds to load before throwing you back into the fray.
BioShock Infinite takes the most performance hits, becoming jarring when players go up against a crowds and hordes of automated sentries in one space. The game is chock-full of open gunfights and its enemies hold the Switch version back from becoming a perfect port. As fights get more intense, so did a variety of jutters and spikes which push BioShock Infinite apart from other versions.
Other gripes included being stuck with one control scheme in BioShock Remastered and BioShock 2 Remastered. The Switch shares the same number of buttons as other current generation controllers, so it begs me to wonder why options weren’t added in. On top of that, a different scheme in BioShock 2 meant unlearning much of what I was used to in the first game. Players might expect to press a few wrong buttons on their Joy Cons if they transition from one game to the next. Luckily, BioShock Infinite comes around to adding different control layouts and solves the game-changing issue. Developers also missed a big opportunity in adding gyro aiming for Nintendo Switch players.
Despite their technical flaws, the Switch port also makes all three games their most accessible versions to date. Most importantly, its best feature lets you truly play BioShock in bed – something that feels indescribably good. The benefits from players taking Rapture and Columbia with them on-the-go is its biggest selling point. For 2K and Virtuos, it’s a feat that deserves credit. It’s rare for a handheld port to look so damn good, even if it holds back to keep BioShock: The Collection running on the Switch.