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What Does the Future Hold for BioShock?
It’s not every day when an IP’s creative head effectively severs his ties to his baby and willingly hands the reins to another. That is the story of Ken Levine and the BioShock franchise. Right around the release of BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode 2, which provides cohesion and closure to the two worlds of BioShock, news broke that Irrational Games was dissolving, with Levine taking a small team of developers on a new venture to produce smaller, narrative-driven titles in lieu of big-budget AAA games.
The natural question was what would become of BioShock. While it would be logical that the franchise should come to an end after the conclusion provided in the latest DLC installment (I won’t spoil it for those who have yet to play it), Levine instead announced that 2K Games still holds the rights to the franchise, and they announced they will continue it. Virtually the minute 2K gained total creative control, Sony registered several domain names suggesting a BioShock film might be planned.
I’ll refrain from speculating much on that right now. There’s little indication that a film is currently in the works, and seeing as how Levine had killed the prospect after Gore Verbinski dropped out, this could very well be a premature maneuver by Sony. However, it does beg a bigger question: what can we expect from the BioShock franchise now that Levine is out of the picture?
An obvious example might present itself in BioShock 2. While Levine largely seemed to refrain from producing direct sequels to any game he worked on, 2K felt differently and so went ahead with a sequel to the original BioShock without involvement from Levine or Irrational Games. While well-received critically, fan reaction remained mixed, probably due to the rehashing of ideas as well as attempts to take things a step further when, really, they didn’t need to be.
What concerns me the most about continuing the franchise is the looming question, “Where do they go from here?” While BioShock Infinite took a completely new approach, in the end Levine opted to tie the two universes together and provide a conclusion that felt like the last word in the franchise. Attempting to continue Infinite’s story seems a bit silly and just opens the door to even more superfluous convolution, while returning to Rapture again would feel like beating a dead horse. Aside from that, it really seems as though they’ve stretched that story about as far as it can go.
The biggest issue here, though, is simply that Levine left. With his outside-the-box thinking and off-the-wall plot twists, I would have faith the BioShock franchise could continue as strong as ever. Sure, Burial at Sea grew a little stale, but that is just as likely a result of returning to Rapture one too many times. Without Levine, 2K runs the risk of crapping out another BioShock 2: a decent sequel with new gameplay ideas that has very little else to offer in terms of plot and even less in terms of vision.
The creative vision is undoubtedly the driving force behind the Levine-developed installments. Without it, the franchise loses an enormous staple. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a new world set in a wacky and impractical locale (does anyone see an underground setting on the horizon?), but would it have the flair and appeal of Levine’s worlds? Sure, there are plenty of minds out there that can construct a memorable world, but BioShock has a specific style. I remember wondering why Infinite retained the BioShock name when Levine stressed the differences from the original. After having control of Booker for about a minute, I understood exactly why. It felt like a BioShock game, even more so than when we returned to Rapture in the Levine-less sequel. Without him, the games just seem to lose their essence.
As for the potential of a film, I question the overall merit of attempting such a feat. By this point I’ve seen about all of Rapture I care to, and the idea of enduring anymore parallel universes following Booker and Elizabeth’s shenanigans sends me in a fit of eyeball-rolling. However, trying a completely original story in a new setting on film just seems…wrong. Of course, if a film comes to light—and I’d be surprised if it did—it’ll be a long way off, so let’s save that discussion for another time, shall we?
All in all, the future of BioShock is dubious at best. I hope for the best, since I found that it was a brilliant and evocative franchise for most of its run, but I can’t help but feeling dread at the thought of continuing the franchise. What are your thoughts now that Levine is out of the picture? Share your thoughts with us!