With a recent rumour circulating, talks of a new BioShock gearing up at 2K seem to be on the cards again. With a new studio rumored to be in early development, the question is how a new BioShock without the tutelage of Ken Levine and his former team of Irrational Games will look or if it can deliver on the series’ monumental legacy. So now seems like a perfect time to list a few of the ways 2K and the series’ new developers can deliver on a new BioShock.
A True Auteur
Opinions seem to become more divided every year over Ken Levine’s decisions and style, especially in regards to BioShock: Infinite. Just how ingrained his influence and methods were to what the BioShock series was and represented cannot be understated. A strong auteur director’s vision is something that defines the first BioShock and Infinite, and it’s an element any future game in the series needs to feel like a true BioShock. While BioShock 2 was fine as the safe sequel that it was, 2K can’t get away with a safe sequel this time around. (Metal Gear Survive shows how people respond to safe in a series governed by an artistic vision). A future BioShock title needs a figurehead, someone with a real idea of what a new generation of BioShock can be. It needs a director at the helm rather than a team of executives, and it needs the creative freedom to take real risks this time around.
With BioShock: Infinite we found that the sky was quite literally the limit for the series. While BioShock 2 might have gotten away with treading old ground, a return to Infinite’s Columbia or the underwater city of Rapture would just feel disappointing this long after the series’ last entry. The story of the fall of Andrew Ryan’s Rapture and the multiple versions of Comstock’s Columbia have been told. The worlds Ken Levine began were firmly wrapped up in BioShock: Infinite’s Burial at Sea DLC, giving a satisfying conclusion to them both. 2K need to bring a new playing field to the plasmids, gene splicing action of the series. But where could that end up being? Underground? In the mountains? In space? Who knows? But somewhere new needs to be at the top of the team’s priorities.
Building On Rather Than Taking Away
What is BioShock’s combat known for? Plasmids, old school weapons, multiple choice, and with the release of Infinite, verticality. BioShock’s last adventure understood one important rule: add to what’s good rather than taking away. A new sequel should keep all the gene splicing and rail flying of the previous games but bring with them new wrinkles and dimensions to how you play it, be it with new unique weapons that change how you interact with the environment, use of gravity in interesting ways, enemies that change the way you approach combat or new environmental hazards that you need to learn to manipulate. The elements that make up BioShock’s combat are some of the most unique in the industry, and adding in extra ingredients will be a sure way to make a recipe for success.
If there’s one element of the BioShock series that gets remembered even now years later, it’s the philosophical questions it puts forward. BioShock 1’s look at an Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged-based society gone wrong. Infinite’s criticism of patriotism and the far right ideals of 19th and early 20th century Western society. It’s a deep and profound look we rarely see in video games and a big part of what makes BioShock so memorable. It’s why BioShock 2 is remembered to such a lesser degree than the other games, the BioShock series proved gamers want their games to tackle more nuanced and questioning narrative ideas, and it’s something any future entry in the franchise needs to consider.
The first descent into the watery depths of Rapture’s deep sea metropolis. Rising up into the clouds of Columbia and hearing the memorable “Hallelujah” preceded the beautiful serenity of the floating city ahead. These moments are part of video game canon as some of the most visually striking and memorable in the industry. If there is one thing the new team needs to nail on the visual front, it’s the wonder. Few series inspire such awe at the scale and detail of their worlds as BioShock. If a new game in the franchise wants to be remembered to the same degree, having that visual marvel will be a must. When I first step into the new city (or village, or space station or arctic research centre), I want it to be a moment I will remember years later.