Bioshock rocked gamer’s collective consciousness when it was released on Xbox 360 back in 2007. It oozed style and atmosphere, while its first-person combat managed to blend open-ended gunplay with environmental traps.
Its immersive world and story were high points of gaming, that everyone should try.
With that said, with the game now available on almost every platform, we have to ask ourselves if this mobile versions is really the way to experience this classic?
It is hard to know the audience for Bioshock on iOS. Either you know the game's fascinating twist and turns already, or you have never played it and have managed to avoid ruining it for yourself by never looking at anything videogame related online in the past 8 years (in which case: Welcome!).
If you happen to be the latter of these two, all you really need to know is that the year is 1960, and your plane has crashed into the ocean. Seeing a lighthouse on the horizon you discover that it is the gateway to the underwater city of Rapture - a city created by Andrew Ryan as a home for the elite.
That, and something has gone horribly wrong.
It’s up to you to discover Rapture's secrets, explore its Ayn Rand philosophies, and escape its grasp. Ideally with your humanity and sanity intact.
On iOS, Bioshock features almost everything seen in the original release. In technical terms it is a feat, reproducing the whole Rapture experience in the palm of your hand with very little lost. True, not everything made the cut, but for the most part this is the original experience faithfully reproduced.
While this is great news in some ways, it does have its downside, namely the foot print of the game on your device. Weighing in at a hefty 2.6 GB, you need a lot of space to even consider downloading this. That isn’t to mention the minimum requirements. If you aren't sporting an iPhone 5, iPad 4, iPad mini 2, or later then you will not be enjoying Bioshock’s pleasures.
First-person games that focus on shooting and combat have never worked especially well on touchscreen. Requiring a thumb on both sides of the screen eats into your window on the world. Combine this with the on-screen interface and you are left with a very narrow view that often prevents you seeing vital elements of the action.
Oddly, while each individual interface element works well, the overall effect is far from perfect. Looking with one thumb, before taking your figure off the screen to fire, takes just a little too long to be effective. This is worst when facing the faster creatures that regularly swarm you, because by the time you take your shot they are generally long gone.
Mixing things up over standard shooters, Bioshock also featured a lot of environmental elements and traps. For example, you can electrify water to shock enemies, or burn them by lighting oil on fire with various powers you collect through the game. Unfortunately, like using traditional weapons, this only works if they are still in the area of effect when you activate it.
If you have a gamepad, none of this will be a problem. If you don't, keep the frustration this caused me in mind.
Under the sea
Bioshock's art direction was always, for me, its highlight. The sub-marine city of Rapture, is filled with 1950's art deco that is set perfectly against the practicalities of living deep underwater, with dramatic arches and pillars offset by airlock doors.
The city has been taken over by the greed and selfishness of its inhabitants, which has led to it falling into a state of oppressive disrepair. Echoing licensed music from the era regularly echoes down hallways, further adding to the immersive world.
Characters are similarly powerful in their appearance. The main enemy, the Big Daddy, became an instant gaming icon. Its mixture of industrial design and 50s technology created hulking beasts, that look akin to walking diving bells with huge drills attached. Their pounding footsteps and growl instill fear, befitting of their stature.
Similar care laces every character’s design. Even the standard thugs possess an eeriness thanks to the motionless masks they wear to hide their twisted faces.
While the art design remains wonderful, concessions have been made for iOS. This includes the removal of a number of lighting and particle effects, robbing the world of its texture and depth.
For all its flaws, unless viewed side-by-side with the console or PC version, these small differences are hard to spot. The whole game is somehow indefinably less immersive though, and not just because it’s on a smaller screen.
Amazing, but not
The question has to be asked, who is Bioshock on iOS for? It is a compromise, and when most have access to either a console or PC that can run the original game, why would you settle for playing this classic in a diminished form?
If you are traveling a lot, however, and really want Bioshock on the go, then this does absolutely fit the bill - especially if you have access to a controller. It can't be denied that it’s still a wonderful game and a technical marvel, it just also highlights the fact that mobile devices still can't match up to the home experience.