So the news has finally broken. There’s a new BioShock game in development (a poorly kept industry “secret”), though it’s a long, long way off. 2K announced that Kelley Gilmore is in charge of new studio called Cloud Chamber, which is working on a new title in the series. Additional details are scant.
That’s not stopping us from fantasizing, of course! While a new entry is far away, we all have hopes and dreams.
The BioShock series has a special place in my heart: the first game was a minor revelation for me, as my first immersive sim (the systemic stuff is lighter in BioShock than in other games I’d come to love later like Prey and the Dishonored games, but it was a fabulous introduction to a favorite genre). I replay it every few years, and while some of its narrative tricks have long since worn out their welcome, the core level and systems design hold up beautifully.
The second game took everything that worked in the first, and added much more systemic depth (particularly with the hunting/trapping mechanics). Its famous Minerva’s Den DLC helped solidify first-person storytelling in a new decade — so much so that many members of the creative team went on to create Fulbright and their debut game Gone Home, christening the modern “walking simulator” for story-based games using light puzzle solving and exploration.
And then BioShock Infinite came out. It was instructional for other reasons. Game directors, please treat your staff with respect…
For better or worse, Infinite (and its Rapture-set DLC) closed the book on BioShock in ways that felt pretty final. The devs at Cloud Chamber more than have their work cut out for them, but there are plenty of fruitful directions to go in.
First and foremost, I pray this new game is a true immersive sim. Sure, sure, it can have shooty guns, but more importantly, please give me powers or tools or player verbs that let me solve every given situation in new or unexpected ways. Fun ways. Here’s a gimme: dev team, please play Prey. Now play Prey again, never once using the same solutions/strategy/powers in any one room or area. Maybe do it a third time. Play the Mooncrash DLC and just see how deep the rabbit hole can go when you give players lots of tools to manipulate their environment — and interesting, multilayered level design that supports and complements exploration and experimentation.
Like Prey, you can totally offer a straightforward approach to any given room as well. But please, please support the funky stuff for players like me who love to see what’s possible.
Also check out Dishonored 2 and Death of the Outsider for some incredible level and systems design ideas.
On the narrative end, this is a straightforward request: Please just stay away from creepy dad stuff. Go ahead and weave a wild and wooly sci-fi yarn. Give me aliens and black holes and space lesbians or whatever. Just pretty please, leave the daddy issues to Infinite. And also the “both sides!” racism.
Ok, I’ve hammered on enough! John, Steven, Dillon, and Merritt, what do you want to see in a new BioShock?
A Ken Levine-less BioShock. I know that sounds mean, but the best entry in the series (Bioshock 2) moved the director role to Not Ken Levine. I think the game benefited from it. The original Bioshock sometimes stumbled because it always had to have something interesting to say about Randian Objectivism, of which there aren’t that many interesting things to say other than “it sucks lol.”
Still, the game dug a hole into my brain and stayed there for years, even after BioShock 2 showed up with a better overall gameplay experience and less fascination with failing ideologies. Infinite got its Sky-Hooks into me despite being even clumsier with its political stances than the original BioShock. Infinite also showed more its hand more than it should’ve, leaving little to the imagination about the world in which the series takes place once the credits rolled.
I’d love to see either a retconning of Infinite or even a soft reboot, opting to take its strong immersive sim roots into more interesting waters than the limitless lighthouse ocean.
Having played all three BioShock games, I find myself craving for a return to what made the first two games so great: their environments. Don’t get me wrong, Infinite is gorgeous and creepily perfect at times. Columbia had some real Get Out shit. But it lacked a lot of what made Rapture special.
I feel what makes a lot of immersive sims great is the desire to explore every nook and cranny but having a counterbalance in the form of fear. Whether that’s actual fear from scary settings and happenings like in Bioshock or the fear of stumbling into something I won’t be able to defeat in Prey. There’s a sense of wonder, but the locales usually demand respect. I don’t think Infinite really tapped into that and felt lacking as a result.
It probably didn’t help that you also had Elizabeth attached to your hip for most of the game. While her moments interacting with the environment or taking time to help you certainly helped increase immersion, as a whole they give you companionship. It’s a heck of a lot harder to feel lost, scared, and uncertain when you have someone by your side.
I would be very surprised — and I think disappointed — if the next BioShock took place in either Columbia or Rapture. The one good thing Infinite did was canonize the idea that the series’ games can take place in a variety of disconnected worlds, giving future devs a beat-you-over-the-head-obvious way to use the brand as a thematic promise, rather than a specific toolbox to return to forever. The whole “shock” part of the name was always meant to indicate it was a spiritual successor to System Shock anyway. It’s built into the series’ transmogrifying DNA.
I’d also like to see the game take a different direction with the “bio” part. BioShock was half a horror game, using the mutated citizens of Rapture as ghouls that had taken body modifications too far. Twelve years later, I have very different thoughts about what it means to have mastery over your own body. Rather than present it as some horrible perversion of what is a “normal” human, I’d like the new BioShock to delve into how freeing, fun, and often life-saving that kind of control can be.
Bring back Pauly Shore. No Stephen Baldwin, though.