BioShock’s RPG Mechanics Must Be Implemented Carefully
BioShock 4 is in development at Cloud Chamber, a studio set up by 2k to handle the next chapter of the dystopian sci-fi series. BioShock creator Ken Levine is not involved in the upcoming game, and job listings on Cloud Chamber’s website have already hinted at a few big changes potentially coming to the series.
Several of the job listings for BioShock 4‘s studio have suggested that the new game will include features more often found in open-world RPGs. If implemented properly, these new features could help breathe new life into a series that has been dormant since the final DLC for BioShock Infinite released back in 2014. However, Cloud Chamber will need to handle these features with great care if the next game is going to feel like BioShock at all.
The RPG Features
A few job listings hint at some of the RPG features which may be included in BioShock 4. A listing for the position of Systems Designer described a strong candidate as having “an innate sense of how game systems connect and enhance one another in an emergent sand-box world.” BioShock‘s worlds have had elements of sand-box games in them before. Players usually have access to a small segment of Rapture or Columbia at a time, and are able to explore it fully before moving on. This listing may suggest, however, that player’s will have even greater freedom of exploration in the next game.
Indeed, it seems like freedom may be the name of the game in BioShock 4. A listing for the role of Senior Voice Designer requested experience curating an “ambitious, narratively-driven project full of character and personality.” The listing also requested experience in creating branching dialogue systems, seen in RPG series like the Fallout franchise.
Freedom And Storytelling
All of this hints that BioShock 4 players may be given a greater ability to control their paths through the next game’s story. In contrast, the original BioShock and BioShock Infinite actively subverted expectations of player freedom. In the first game players famously discover that the tasks they’ve been carrying out have been done while under the influence of mind control. In Infinite, players discover that they are just experiencing one version of events in an infinite number of realities, and that many of their choices are merely slight variations with little effect.
These were both great twists, and the strength of the BioShock games so far has always been their ability to craft tight narratives. In comparison, RPGs which offer greater freedom tend to do so at the expense of the kind of character-driven narrative that made the BioShock games famous. Even the stories of some fan-favorite Fallout games like Fallout: New Vegas are far less focused. New Vegas‘ Mr. House can be dealt with in a number of interesting ways. However, none of these choices have the same singular sense of thematic completion as Rapture’s Andrew Ryan insisting that his own son beat him to death as the ultimate demonstration of his Objectivist worldview.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the bargain series like Fallout make, but it is not one the BioShock games have made in the past. If Cloud Chamber is going to include more freedom of exploration and dialogue options which affect the story, it should not do so to the extent that it hands control over the central narrative to the player. If BioShock 4 is going to live up to the franchise’s past, it cannot sacrifice the intense narrative focus of past games for player freedom.
BioShock 4 is currently in development.