It’s been seven years since Irrational Games (formerly 2K Boston) unleashed the world of Bioshock upon gamers. An amazing tale set within the underwater city of Rapture, Bioshock was the perfect combination of exploration and FPS with excellent thematics and a story that offered some pretty awesome twists. Now, after a few previews, Bioshock ($9.99) for iOS is finally upon us, brining a new generation of gamers and a new platform to the world of Rapture. The transition hasn’t been perfect, but Bioshock is still great where it counts, and that’s what’s most important.
From the moment you step into that bathysphere that leads you down into Rapture, Bioshock offered a world quite unlike anything that had been experience. Gene-altering plasmids, combined with a dark political upheaval shattered the glory of the populist town. Bioshock follows a personal tale of rescue and discovery as your character uncovers what happened to Rapture, and how you fit into it all. It’s a great story, and if you haven’t experienced it in any fashion, you’re in for a treat. Even if you have, Bioshock is still a treat to replay, mainly due to the beautiful and unnerving backdrop that is Rapture.
For the most part, Bioshock plays like its PC and console brethren, but the transition to iOS brought a few fundamental changes. The biggest and most notable issue centers around the game’s visuals. While I understand that Bioshock is now over seven years old, I still found the overall graphics on my iPad Air to be sub-par and even disappointing. Character models, textures and effects appear to have been sacrificed in order to preserve a stable framerate. For the most part, the game does succeed at a stable 30FPS, but the cost in visual quality feels significant at times. Thankfully, elements key to overall presentation (such as lighting) appear to make the transition, but the overall visual quality is something that that players will notice.
Touch controls are another notable change to the game but are not an unusual transition to folks familiar with iOS. Virtual thumbsticks on both sides of the screen control movement and viewing, while set buttons cover the standard FPS controls (shooting, reloading, switching weapons, etc). For folks coming from another console, the touch-based control scheme may seem like a huge negative, but honestly I found them good enough with adequate practice. When you add in some hot bars for quickly choosing weapons, contextual buttons and auto-aim (combined with the game’s respawn system) Bioshock is easily playable with its virtual controls. If for some reason you can’t (or won’t) adjust to a touchscreen, MFi compatibility makes it feel exactly like playing on a console. In fact, I’d argue this Bioshock is the perfect showcase for a controller.
Make no mistake, I don’t think Bioshock for iOS is the preferred way to experience Rapture. The visuals, long load times, and occasional frustrations with the controls are issues that players would never experience on the PC version. Still, I found myself getting sucked into Bioshock all the same, and that’s because all the important aspects survived unscathed. The awesome music, gripping tale, and exploratory FPS gameplay survive the test of time. That first time you take down a Big Daddy, the journey to discover Andrew Ryan and Atlas, learning what happen ed to Rapture — it’s all still there, it’s still awesome, and now, it’s mobile. Add in a controller, and there’s little to complain about outside the visuals. Bioshock for iOS isn’t perfect, and I can understand the hesitance from those that may have already played it before. But for newcomers, it’s still an experience that needs to be taken.