Review – Bioshock (Switch)

There’s no denying that Bioshock is one of the best and most important games of all time. Ken Levine’s magnum opus dropped in 2007, revolutionizing the way storytelling and world building was presented in a game. It was a work of art, a piece of entertainment that made you think and dive deep into tons of books and political theories, without ever forgetting the “game” part of being a video game, as it was an equally amazing shooter in its own right. Ever since its 2007 debut, the game was subsequently re-released and remastered for a myriad of systems; ranging from previous-gen to current-gen consoles, as well as iOS. It is now time for the Switch to finally receive its port of this eternal masterpiece, but sadly, it’s very rough around the edges.

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Hey there, Mr. Bubbles. Want to meet Mrs. Shotgun?

At its core, the Switch version of Bioshock retains everything we all love from that game. Its iconic “I chose Rapture” intro, the plasmids, the gun combat, the jaw-dropping level design, the characters, the secrets, the plot twists; everything is here. If you’ve played the game before, you’ll know exactly whenever the twists and iconic moments will occur and you’ll still watch them unfold with a grin from ear to ear. If this is your first time playing the game, I’m really jealous because I wish I could experience this game for the first time once again. But I also pity you a little bit, as technically speaking, I sincerely think this version is only slightly better than the underwhelming (albeit ridiculously ambitious) iOS port.

The main problem lies in the quality of the overall visuals and performance. The PS4 and Xbox One versions of Bioshock were infamous for how buggy they were at launch, but at the very least, they looked and performed better than their previous-gen counterparts. This Switch port, thankfully enough, isn’t buggy at all, but it looks rough. Really rough.

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This must be the lamest version of Rapture I have ever seen.

By the time the game started, the second our main character swam to the surface of the ocean, I could see how underwhelming the resolution was. The edges of the debris were ridiculously pixelated. Once I got into the batisphere, I was looking forward to seeing the iconic Rapture intro scene for the millionth time. However, I was severely disappointed with the underwhelming lighting effects, as well as the draw distance. Rapture didn’t look epic from a distance, it looked like a bunch of big blocks drowned in a murky bathtub.

Things got a bit better once I finally arrived in Rapture proper. The resolution was still pitifully low and the textural quality was noticeably inferior to other iterations of the game, but it was also being backed by the game’s fantastic art direction. Rapture is, purely and simply, the best setting I have ever seen in a video game. Largely in part to its derelict corridors clashing with its art deco architecture; a fantastic paradox between its ideal state and its sad reality. The lighting and the overall quality of the particle effects, such as the electric bolt’s beam and the flames created by igniting puddles of oil, didn’t look very impressive either. As a plus, however, the game does look nice in portable mode, mostly because you pay less attention to the reduced visual fidelity.

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I used Thunderbolt. It was super effective.

The overall gameplay remains largely the same. Despite being a spiritual successor to System Shock 2, Bioshock‘s gameplay is very reminiscent of Half-Life 2. You can see the similarities everywhere: from the initial weapon you acquire right from the get-go (a wrench that acts like Gordon Freeman’s crowbar), to the one plasmid that works just like the Gravity Gun, as well as the way the story is told without cutscenes, not to mention the mute protagonist.

For the most part, the gameplay is pretty good, even though it’s obviously hampered by the fact that the joycons aren’t suited for first-person shooters. This port also lacks support for gyro controls. This is odd considering it’s something that was featured in other Switch shooters, such as Call of Juarez and Turok.

One thing I don’t understand about this particular port is the fact that it only runs at 30 frames per second. I completely understand the framerate being locked in the Switch version of Bioshock Infinite, but there was no reason not to attempt to push the framerate to higher numbers in here. Bioshock is a game from 2007, a game that ran perfectly fine on laptops from 2010, as it was already unbelievably well-optimized on less powerful graphics card from the time. Why didn’t the developers aim for a higher framerate on a console that, despite being far from a graphical powerhouse, could easily achieve this level of performance? This is beyond my comprehension.

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Say hello to my little friend.

I know my review has been pretty negative so far, but that doesn’t mean this game isn’t good. This is still Bioshock and even the less impressive of its ports is still a great game in its own right. Besides the stable (albeit far from ideal) performance and lack of glitches, I have to point out that the game’s sound design is still perfect. The combination of eerie musical effects and classic jazz tunes is still a perfect mix between classy and creepy. The voice acting is still top notch. Listening to the splicers ranting about how miserable their lives are will never stop being impactful.

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Worst. Hangover. Ever.

It’s a heartbreaking verdict. You can still have a ton of fun with the Switch port of Bioshock, as this is the best portable version of this classic masterpiece. Although, when compared to all of the other previously released versions of the game, this is only technically superior to the clunky iOS port from 2014. Even though the Switch isn’t exactly a beast of a machine, I was still hoping for a port with a less laughable resolution, better textures, and an improved framerate. At the end of the day, this is technically a good game and a fine addition to the Switch’s library. But a game like Bioshock deserved a much better debut on a Nintendo system than this.

 

Graphics: 7.0

Looks great on a small screen, but it looks unbelievably rough on a TV. It does not look remastered at all, and it only runs at 30fps. Thankfully, the phenomenal art style still holds up.

Gameplay: 7.5

The controls are heavily inspired by Half-Life 2. They are still pretty good, even though they are hampered by the lower framerate and the unreliability of the Switch’s joycons. There is no option for gyro controls.

Sound: 10

The music, the voice acting, the eerie sound effects… Bioshock‘s sound department is still a work of art.

Fun Factor: 7.5

No other game in history has ever had a quality of world building and a setting as perfect as Bioshock, but the technical hindrances in this port really bring the experience down.

Final Verdict: 7.5

Bioshock is available now on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, iOS and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.