So long Irrational Games, thanks for the memories
It came as quite a shock to most of the games industry when Irrational Games announced that they will be scaling back and winding down operations effective almost immediately.
All but 15 of the staff resposible for BioShock Infinite have been let go although Ken Levine, studio co-founder has promised them financial support and assistance in finding new jobs either withing the existing pantheon of Take-Two studios or with other developers.
It's a sad day when a seemingly successful studio is forced to close it's doors but the kind of narrative-led titles that made the studio famous have fallen out of favour in triple-A circles due to the huge budgetary demands that they entail.
Ken Levine will continue his work with 15 of his former Irrational colleages in a new studio with a flatter development structure that has the potential to create games every bit as compelling as the BioShock series was.
Irrational Games was founded 17 years ago in a living room in Massachusetts by Ken Levine, Jon Chey and Rob Fermier all former employees of System Shock developer Looking Glass Studios. Their first title System Shock 2 has now passed into gaming legend and remains a paragon of the merging of FPSand RPG elements with a compelling and deep narrative. Thankfully it is still doing the rounds having been resurrected for sale on GOG and Steam.
The studio then went on to create the entertaining superhero comedy RPGs Freedom Force and Freedom Force vs The 3rd Reich as well as multiplayer hit Tribes: Vengeance and FPS title SWAT 4 before being rebranded in 2007 by new owners 2K as 2K Boston upon the launch of the Xbox 360.
Their work turned back to the kind of game that had won the studio so much acclaim to begin with in the form of BioShock, spiritual successor to System Shock 2. The System Shock series remains locked in limbo due to legal issues surounding the exact ownership of the series. It's tied up in a web of long-dead companies like original developer Looking Glass and publisher Origin which was devoured by EA.
BioShock was a glory to behold. Set in a steampunk-influenced undersea utopia gone wrong, it explored many of the player agency themes that the System Shock series did with a great measure of politics and philospohy woven through the game's core. It was unlike any other game ever created and still stands up both visually and experiencially as one of the finest games crafted on the outgoing console generation.
Handling of the direct sequel was farmed out to 2K Marin (who did a superb job) while work began on the title that would become BioShock Infinite.
In 2010, 2K Boston rebranded again as Irrational Games while work continued on the still secret BioShock Infinite. The game would be unveiled later that year with Levine introducing the gaming world to another utopia, this time in the sky, called Columbia.
As it turns out BioShock Infinite and its narrative DLC Burial At Sea was to be the studio's swan song and what a swan song it was. It carefully wove satirical political commentary with metaphysical musings and a deliberately confrontationally violent style of combat.
The game's ending will be debated to this day as either sheer genius or absolute navel-gazing nonsense. It's certainly one of the most 'what the f**k?' moments gaming has to offer. The lack of absolute closure has caused a certain amount of frustration amongst fans of the series.
Irrational, not wishing to leave fans hanging has offered their ultimate farewell in the shape of the two-part Burial At Sea DLC. It returns players to Rapture during its fall from grace and offers the chance to play as Elizabeth for the very first time.
Episode Two is set for release on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on March the 25th. Levine offered on the conclusion,“Fans of both the original game and Infinite will are going to walk away pretty satisfied with feeling a sense of completeness that they haven't really had in a BioShock game before.”
With the release of Episode Two we will see the end of one of the most creative and entrhalling development studios the games industry has ever seen. We will undoubtedly see Ken Levine again but with the demise of Irrational Games it is unlikely we'll see triple-A games like BioShock ever again.
We bid the studio and wish its departing staff the best of luck in finding a new place to ply their trade. May they all land on their feet.
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