Will BioShock 4 dive into the depths of Rapture, soar to the skies of Columbia, or head somewhere completely new?
It's time to take a dip back into the murderous underbelly of the BioShock series and figure out what's next for the award-winning video game franchise. Although BioShock Infinite debuted to critical acclaim in 2013, there was a brief period where it looked like the third game would be the last.
Game Director Ken Levine has said developer Irrational Games always planned Infinite to be the final chapter, meaning complete control has been handed over to the publisher, 2K Games.
Thankfully, the various whispers of BioShock 4 finally came to fruition in December 2019 when 2K announced it was officially working on a fourth title in the BioShock universe - handled by a new internal studio known as Cloud Chamber. With 2K teasing BioShock 4 is still a way off, it's over to speculation and the rumour mill to guess what's coming up and where we're going next.
All we have to go on so far is a job description from Cloud Chamber. The team was apparently looking for someone to join and help "breathe life into a new and fantastical world". This suggests BioShock 4 will be going somewhere new to swap the underwater horrors of Rapture and high-flying terrors of Columbia for a very different locale.
What is BioShock's legacy?
Back in 2007, 2K took us to the murky depths of Rapture and delivered one of the most inventive gaming concepts we've ever seen. As players immersed themselves in a dystopian world sitting at the bottom of the ocean, the introduction of lumbering monsters known as Big Daddies and their possessed travelling companions called Little Sisters made it clear something was very wrong in the bowels of Rapture. That's before we even got to the pepped-up Splicers and the city's tyrannical ruler, Andrew Ryan.
When BioShock swept the awards board and was compared to gaming giants like Resident Evil, it made sense that a sequel was quickly put into production. BioShock 2 was released in 2010 and continued the story as the lead player battled against the sadistic Sofia Lamb. The story came to a suitable conclusion, and with BioShock 2 failing to meet sales expectations, many had assumed this was the end of the road.
Things took a turn for BioShock Infinite as the action reached for the skies and moved to the floating city of Columbia. Here, a new protagonist called Booker DeWitt searched for a missing woman while navigating the warring factions that wanted to take control of this flying utopia. With Infinite boasting new villains, a Civil War-inspired storyline, and a much brighter aesthetic, it was a huge hit and breathed new life into BioShock. The question remains, can anything top it?
Is BioShock 4 a sequel?
Some players couldn't get enough of Columbia's apple pie-inspired mantra and battling imaginative enemies like a robotic George Washington; however, we personally think that "darling it's better, down where it's wetter". Not that there was anything wrong with the lofty ambitions of Columbia - and particular praise goes to the game's skyline mechanic - but it was a totally different game that was more of a spiritual successor to BioShock.
Bearing in mind BioShock itself was a homage to the System Shock games, some were critical that the Rapture and Columbia were only loosely linked. Unless you'd played Infinite's Burial at Sea DLC, you might now know the pair the third game was related to the first two at all. That being said, it's arguably Burial at Sea tying the two eras together that gives BioShock 4 its best potential.
BioShock was inspired by System Shock, which is no real surprise remembering several of the Irrational Games team worked on both games. In fact, Levine was one of those who worked on the OG System Shock. Sticking with System Shock, the franchise's own status in limbo has our piqued interest. After years of legal battles and lapsed rights deals, System Shock has been handed over to Tencent.
It's been some 21 years since we last played a new System Shock (ignoring the remaster), and although a third game is apparently still in development, merging words with BioShock could deliver a crossover for the ages. A sequel of sorts would also solve the problem of where BioShock goes next. Going above and below Earth with Rapture and Columbia has taken two of the most obvious locations out of the equation, while an outer space adventure is another popular choice.
Part of BioShock's charm has always been its olde-worlde aesthetic with a steampunk vibe. Modernising BioShock 4 for interstellar travel might lose some of its charm, but it's not impossible. Syfy once aired a series called Ascension, which took place in modern-day but followed the crew of a spaceship that was launched in the '50s and was stuck with '50s tech.
Similar to how Bethesda's Wolfenstein games have cashed in retro nostalgia, BioShock 4 could take place in a dystopian future where the human race has blasted off to the cosmos with limited resources. We already saw how Rapture was trapped in its own little time bubble under the sea, so it should be easy to replicate.
Where else could BioShock 4 be set?
If shooting for the stars is out of the question, another place the next dysfunctional society could call home would be even deeper than Rapture. Think Journey to the Cente of the Earth as an Andrew Ryan protégé sets up shop near the Earth's core.
Importantly, BioShock Infinite literally opened the door to a whole universe of possibilities. The trippy Sea of Doors showed off an infinite number of lighthouses, leading to an infinite number of realities (hence the game's name). Interestingly, there was an Easter egg of a snow-capped observatory, leading to speculation this Easter egg could be picked up further down the line.
Finally, players have suggested the gene-altering ADAM that featured prominently in the first two games should return and spread out into the wider world. Picture the scene where Earth has fallen to pieces after humans, plants, and animals mutated into genetic monstrosities that are addicted to plasmids. Ultimately, it's all pipe dreams and spitballing ideas for now.
Whatever is going on, Irrational kept the seat warm for Cloud Chamber and left just enough breadcrumbs for the studio to use these lingering plot threats or start completely anew. It's easy to imagine a new city with subtle nods like a Big Daddy statue in a fish tank or a caged bird to honour the games that came before BioShock 4.
When is BioShock 4 coming out?
Either way, 2K and Cloud Chamber are keeping their cards close to their chests. A financial report from 2K parent company Take-Two gave BioShock the nod and said it "will be in development for the next several years". That puts us around 2023 at the earlier - which would at least be in the midst of the next-gen console cycle.
Rarely has a video game franchise premiered to such acclaim and continued to deliver fan-favourite titles across its run. Whether BioShock 4 can live up to its own hype or is lost at sea remains to be seen. Don't worry, though; it's sure to be a wild ride getting there.
Images via 2K Games | Night Dive Studios